Matthew Cullen, better known by his stage name Zero 9:36, has been hitting the rock festival scene hard this summer playing everywhere from ShipRocked to Welcome to Rockville. He will be also be taking the stage today at Louder Than Life, the world’s biggest rock festival, in Louisville, Kentucky.
Zero’s has a rapid-fire flow and a confrontational lyrical style that draws in crowds as he performs for audiences out on tour. He is currently out on a cross-country run with rockers Asking Alexandria and The Hu so make sure to arrive early and not miss his set.
We caught up with Matthew earlier this summer to talk about his early influences in music, the best Philly cheesesteaks, and his craziest travel stories.
What are your favorite Philly spots to visit and the perfect day in Philadelphia?
Spots to visit would all be cheesesteak related.
I like Donkeys in New Jersey. It’s where Anthony Bourdain went when he visited.
Stoli’s is right outside the city. Unbelievable. Max Brenner is a chocolate spot in center city. You should go there after you eat dinner somewhere like Capital Grille or something and then go over to Max Brenner for a maximum bougie day.
What makes a perfect cheesesteak?
Listen, that is your choice of cheese. I’m not going to discriminate. I’m not going to judge you. Don’t put any peppers on it. You got to do fried onions. Some people do ketchup, mayo, some pepper. I don’t do that. People also like American cheese.
For me the perfect one that I like has fried onions and Cheez Whiz. People get freaked out about the Cheez Whiz, but I don’t really know the difference between that and queso. It’s the same.
Favorite Shiprocked moment this year?
Probably when we played in the lounge, it was like a 12:30 AM show, and only because our deck show would have been great, but it started raining, and then we threw tarps on everything, and then nothing was patched. I almost slipped and fell like 36 times. But we have it on film. I would say probably my actual favorite moment would be eating three of the Guy’s Burgers every day. Every day I had three.
You played a lot of festivals the past few years. What is your favorite festival moment?
Louder Than Life. We pulled up like 20 minutes before our set time because we were in I think Oklahoma City or in the Ozarks in Missouri, and nobody realized how far the drive was. So, we had to get two drivers and we switched drivers off halfway through to keep going, pick them up in Illinois and then finished in Kentucky because it’s too far. And we pulled in the festival like 20 minutes before our set, threw everything on stage and the set actually went like flawlessly. Normally when we have all the time to set up, something still goes wrong. So, I would say probably Louder than Life is my favorite festival.
What do you do for downtime on the road?
I design merch for a lot of bands. I’ve done some stuff Pantera, Falling in Reverse, Papa Roach, Hollywood Undead, Wage War, Ghost Inside. I try and just design for bands that I like or bands that are friends of mine. That’s what I like to do in my downtime. It’s something that keeps me creative.
You tour for a very long stretches. What is the best and worst thing about being on the road?
The worst would be losing my voice all the time and not talking for a day at a time. I don’t lose it that often but when you do like 4 or 5 shows in a row and you’re just exhausted, vocal rest is so painful to me because I talk way too much.
Also, not being really able to eat bad food all the time because it gives me bad acid reflux. I would like to eat Raising Cane’s every day of my life, but it’s not good for your system.
I would say the best thing is probably just meeting anybody who comes to the show that wants to say Hi. I go to the merch booth after every show to meet the fans.
What is your craziest travel story?
Rockville 2021 when the festival was held in November. We flew in from Arizona. Nobody could sleep on the plane. When we landed at, like 10 a.m., we had to drive an hour because we landed in Orlando and we had to be there for load-in at 1130. So, we got here just in time. Nobody slept, literally not an hour of sleep since the night before. We were all up for maybe 30 hours. We played our show. It went terribly because our patch list didn’t get accepted when we switched it, so we had to like real-time re-patch everything.
It went terribly and nothing was working so we couldn’t fire any songs off. There’s a video of it online. Don’t watch it. And then we had to play another show at midnight or like 1 a.m. after Metallica for the campers on the Twitch Stage.
So, I bought a hotel room to sleep because I didn’t have my bus with me. The only hotel that was near there was like $500 and had roaches in it, and they were just price gouging. I slept on top of the covers in whatever that position is, when you get put in a coffin, you know, your hands on your chest. I slept like that on top of the covers for like 3 or 4 hours. Came back and played my set at 1 a.m. It was pretty bad. I thought I was going to puke all day. That was probably the worst travel experience I’ve ever had.
I know you like to collaborate with other artists. Who would be your dream collaboration in the future?
Lil Wayne would be one of them. Corey Taylor would be one. I love Lil Wayne. He’s the reason I started even rapping to begin with.
I thought it would be Eminem.
No, Lil Wayne and Kanye were my two main influences, and Meek Mill because he is from Philadelphia. My brother had a CD when I was like ten years old. He was like, I bought this off the guy and I was like, “Oh, then I can rap too.” I’m ten. So, I started rapping into an Xbox headset onto Audacity and then I started watching all the YouTube rappers to learn.
Around the same time, Kanye and Lil Wayne were what I was getting into. I was carrying a Slipknot lunchbox to school, but I was listening to like Lil Wayne. When I was with my dad on the weekends, we would listen to Slipknot and when I was with my brother I listened to rap.
We moved when I was like eight. When I was with my brother in our first house, we would listen to Limp Bizkit nonstop, and my Mom would be like, you know, Kev, why are you playing that for him? He’s eight. Don’t play him this. My brother got me into Lil Wayne and DMX and Kanye West and my Dad got me into Slipknot, and bands like Shinedown who was his favorite band at the time.
I’m always impressed with the fast style of rapping that you perform. Have you always been able to do that and how did you practice?
Some of the stuff that we have out now doesn’t really have the double triple, quadruple time stuff in it that I used to do. But the way that I learned to do it was by using a song by Twista and T-Pain called “Creep Fast”, and when I was like 10 or 11 years old, I would just have the lyrics on the screen and just read them over and over again until I got the song down flawlessly. And that’s how I learned how to rap fast – it was that song.
I know that that you wrote a lot of songs after your Dad’s passing. My Dad passed away. That was definitely one of the hardest things that ever happened to me.
Yeah, it sucks because I know he’d be very stoked to see what I am doing now.