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Saving pelicans for Karma, an interview with Zoli Teglas of Ignite

Before Harry can lead us to Ignite’s white cubicle backstage, lead singer Zoli Téglás is already approaching. He introduces himself with a firm handshake and a big smile, his cap turned backwards. Meanwhile “Title Fight” is opening the Area 4 Festival on the Tent-stage. We sit down and before Sanderz can utter the words “Climate change” Zoli takes over. He is dedicated to his philosophies, motivated to act for the better of the planet, open and true to the concept of freedom of speech. He carries his Hungarian heritage close to his heart, where communism ruled for decades. A theory that should have meant equality for all, but turned out to be suppression by the few, as Zoli explains (topic of Ignite’s ; “Poverty for All”) As his monologue comes to a close, mild mannered Sanderz starts his interview. Taking advantage from this moment of an almost silence, I wave the camera about “Can I?” Zoli’s adjusting his cap and he’s ready.


Zoli: I understand there is a climate fluctuation throughout history. There is a medieval warming period that has been warmer than it is now, but we have to have an effect on the climate with all the energy that’s needed for the concrete industry, the methane that comes from cow manure and all the man-made carbon emissions in general. We have to have some impact on the environment.

I’m aware I fly a lot, but I do think of all the planes high up in the atmosphere polluting the air with their exhaust fumes. When you fly over South America for example and look out of the window, Brazil looks like a cancerous muscle. The whole place should be green, but there are those pockets of brown. And the veins -the waterways-  are filthy, covered with chemicals. You can see it’s a sick landscape and unfortunately I’m seeing more and more polluted landscapes. If people think human beings aren’t effecting the climate, that, in my view, is completely irrational.


Zoli Teglas ©Skye

Sanderz:  Flying is part of a musicians’ life. How does the musician relate to the environmentalist?

Zoli: As a musician, I have one of the worst carbon footprints of any so called environmentalist I have ever met. We were at the Warp Tour with the band Pennywise and there were 90 tour buses running their generators one next to each other. I video-taped it. I walked from one end of the tour buses to the other to show it to people, who have never been backstage before. These buses are just running their air-conditioners, engine idling all day, and then drive to the next show. Considering a tour lasts for about three months, I thought:  ‘What carbon emissions!’

While bands shout on stage: ‘Save the world, save the planet,’ backstage they leave a stack of cups this tall (Zoli gestures) And then they take another flight. I talked to Lufthansa, who are recycling their PET-bottles, on the way back. But American airports haven’t got a system that recycle plastics. So another drink means another cup. And all that is thrown into a landfill.

A friend of mine, Louie (Psihoyos), the director of the movie ‘the Cove’  is doing a new movie with James Cameron about global extinction. They took a boat from Hawaii to the Pacific gyre – one of the giant gyres that are spinning around with plastic and other marine litter in the Pacific and Atlantic ocean – and put somebody on top of the boat to observe. From the minute they left Hawaii to the minute they reached the plastic gyre there wasn’t a 10 minute period that a piece of plastic wouldn’t float by on its way to the gyre. It’s a giant soup, the size of Texas, where all the plastic accumulates from all the oceans. They took samples: the plastic is so broken down that zooplankton is able to eat it and as a result, die from it. There is so much plastic that enables sunlight to penetrate. It creates a dead zone underneath the garbage. There’s no oxygen. So when animals swim into the dead zone, they cannot breath and die.

It’s crazy what we are doing to this world. Just plastic alone is going to kill us. Easy!

Sanderz: You have strong bonds with Hungary, land of your ancestors. How organized is Hungary on a grass roots level, fighting against climate change?

Zoli: Communism, fascism and globalization -what we call corpocracy-  they all have one thing in common: The top guys make all the money. They claim it’s for the state, but all they are doing is clear-cutting all the forests, selling the lumber and digging out all the gold. There are no environmental impact reports, no environmental laws. On behalf of the state they’ll take a mountain side, destroy it, use water to spray down the sides to get all the ore, and totally pollute the rivers. If you say anything about it, stand out against it and say: ‘Hey, there’s an environmental devastation going on’,  they put you in jail or a work camp because you are going against the state.

So what I saw in Hungary under the Communist regime were really devastating environmental policies. After the change there was no way to get a grass root level going, because it meant you would still risk your life. So there isn’t really a grass root yet. They’re just starting to get together and organized, as ‘the people against’, but it is a little bit too late. Our environment is totally destroyed. While we are trying to stop climate change,  the problem in Hungary is that the people cannot afford to eat. Prices have gone up drastically, so instead of looking at climate change, they’re looking at how to pay their bills. There is a small grass roots-push to get climate change on the map in Hungary, but it is so small in their mind-set.

Let’s look at China and Russia. We just buy our carbon credits from them. That’s the crazy loophole. If you really want to do something about climate change, why have carbon credits? It’s like saying, let’s pollute, we can buy it off anyway.

Sanderz: Hungary has suffered for more than half a century for lack of freedom of speech and as a result denied the individual of being the master of their own destiny. How has the knowledge and experience of oppression influenced your views?

Zoli: It made me really appreciate America and the opportunities that the American system gave me and my family. We truly live the American dream. My father ran away from the Russian soldiers in WWII, from the eastern front. My mother came to America in the 60ties. I was born in the US and saw the duality of the capitalist system compared to the communist system. Even when you look at the similarities, the difference is that in America I had the opportunity to be a musician if I wanted to. My brother studied to be a veterinarian. So we worked very hard and got to keep some of the money we had earned, to invest or to buy a house, something the communist regime wouldn’t allow. We were able to grow, and in Hungary that was not an option. You either worked at the factory or you drank yourself to death. There was always a lot of alcohol.

So what I really appreciate are the opportunities to live the American dream and to do music for a living, that wouldn’t have happened -and it still wouldn’t happen- if I was born in Hungary today. It’s only because we’re from California that people gave us a chance at first. We have been touring in Japan and South America, and they would say: ‘A band from America! Let’s check ‘em out.’ If I would have said we are from Poland, then it would be,  ‘Whatever…..’

Sanderz: “No compromise in the defense of Mother Earth” is Earth First’s slogan. Are you actively involved in the fight to defend the planet?

Zoli: I have a non-profit called ‘Pelican Rescue Team’ and I rescue pelicans of the coast of California. We’re almost like an ambulance for pelicans. We go out and find pelicans that are being hurt by fisherman, fishing lines. There is hardly any fish left in the ocean. The coast of California is so over-fished. We depleted the stock so bad that sea lions are starving. You can see their ribs because there’s no fish to eat.  If you kill off the predators species you disturb mother nature’s balance. Due to these shortages more pelicans starved, so I had to buy fish from the East Coast to feed the pelicans of Southern California. They were dying by the millions.

Sanderz: What do you feel when you see a bird that’s covered in oil?

Zoli: It’s really disgusting what happened in the Golf and how BP was allowed to take charge of their own mess. They sprayed down all the oil with a peptide bond that reacted with the oil and turned it into little balls. A friend of mine did a study of the Golf and it is all still there, it’s just a foot under water.

The pelicans were covered in oil and most of them were killed off. They didn’t tell you that, but BP burned most of them alive. Many of the oil covered pelicans were on the outside islands in the middle of the Golf. So BP surrounded the whole place and just burned the top layer. They burned all the dolphins, turtles and pelicans to death.

You couldn’t even get close to BP. Obama was a real let-down. The government stated: if you get too close to a BP-worker, you will be put in jail. I have my paper work (hazmat permit) that means I can work with oil spills. But even with the permit, I couldn’t get close to an oil covered pelican  -an endangered species in America-  and a BP-worker at the same time: I would have been thrown in jail. It’s crazy. It’s what Noam Chomsky called ‘Corpocracy’, the new communism. These huge corporations run the world. It’s not about politics anymore.

Sanderz:  The BP oil spill was a visible  example of the dangers of deep oil drilling. Now the Arctic is in danger of becoming the popular place to drill for oil. What are your thoughts on that?

Zoli:  The Arctic is so pristine. An environment can usually bounce back. A rainforest can regenerate, but some places like the desert or the Arctic cannot. If something devastating would happen to the Arctic the damage would be irreversible. There is no such thing as a clean drill, even in the best of scenario’s. You have a 10 % oil run off. It is going to destroy the area.

I mean, why don’t we look into solar? The Chinese are. They made the biggest solar deal in the history. A 100 sq. mile solar park is being build,  which will create enough energy for half of China’s East Coast. And it’s not because they are so environmentally conscious, they build it because it is fuckin’ smart. It is cheap energy.

Why can’t we do it? Because the Bush administration, and all the administrations before, let these oil company’s regulate themselves. With all the money that they funneled back to lobbyists, who in their turn were buying votes from senators. Why can’t we commit to renewable energy sources on a large scale? Why do we go into the Arctic? Because Sarah Palin wants to do it? It’s so stupid, it’s so stupid. I can’t get over it. There are so many ways to make paper without cutting trees down. There are so many ways of making electricity without fuckin’ drilling for oil.

Watch the movie ‘Who killed the Electric Car’ (2006, dir. Chris Paine). There was an electric car back in the eighties which was working really well. But the car industry bought up all the rights of the cars and destroyed all of them. To keep one of those cars ment going to jail. It’s a documentary about the last car that’s left in a guy’s backyard.

Sanderz: Ignite has been known to donate their proceeds (amongst others) to Earth First! Is there a comparison to Seashepherd in the way they approach activism?

Zoli: Earth First! is like Seashepherd on land. Dave Foreman and Paul Watson are friends. They have the same mentality. When lumber companies go in and illegally clear-cut an area because of a loop-hole in the law, Earth Firsters! will put their lives on the line trying to stop that from happening. 90% of our lumber is send to China. Then we buy it back from them in the form of a shitty throw-away product. 60% of it are chopsticks. What a waste. 

If you take a hammer to the wailing wall in Jerusalem or a chainsaw to the Vatican, you have a problem. But if you take a fuckin’ chainsaw to a three hundred year old tree, that has a symbiotic relationship to maybe 60 organisms, and sell that fuckin’ thing for chopsticks, that’s ok. It’s called industry. So Earth First! and Seashepherd are the same thing. They share the same ideology.

Sanderz: You’re a supporter of Seashepherd, publicly promoting the organization and described as the Volunteer Music and Outreach Coordinator. Can you tell us what that job entails?

Zoli: Seashepherd is here at this festival. I’ve been pushing them since 1989 at all my concerts and they follow Ignite around on all the festivals. I was on the boat with them in the Mediterranean pretty much cleaning toilets all day. It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever done in my life,  worse than having pelican shit in my mouth. So the next time I had toilet-duty I had 20 dollars in my hand. I paid my way out. They were really mad about that.

I’m a member and I do background-research on any musical band that wants to be a part of Seashepherd . We have signed up probably 20 to 30 Seashepherd members because of Ignite. We also did an art show called ‘See No Evil’ and raised about 100.000 dollars . I’ve helped to set up their LA office and they can stay at my house. They’re like family.

Sanderz: I can see that you are very passionate about this. Do the other band-members share your passion?

Zoli: Yeah, those guys are very conscious about it all as well, but I’m the one who goes out and actually act on it, the one who’s really crazy about it. It comes from my upbringing, being familiar with a system that’s pushing you down, that thumb of oppression I felt when I was a kid. I try to stand up for the underdog. I feel sorry for the ones who can’t raise their voice.

When I’m at the ocean and I see someone abusing an animal, I’ll stop it. I’ll get in the way. My upbringing brought this out in me. I’ll try to be a voice of the voiceless. Ironically in the most educated time in history of mankind, we’re doing the most damage. Nowadays you’re able to get all the information at the press of a button, so saying ‘I didn’t know about this or that’, is because you’re fuckin’ lazy. You’ve got to do something. Get your hands dirty. I want to get my hands dirty.

Sanderz: Fighting for the preservation of whales (and other sea-animals) is a fight that has been going on for many decades. Do you think we are able to save the whales without a change in mentality?

Zoli: We’re all interconnected. So if we stop hunting them we would. But now we are taking krill out of the oceans for Omega 3. Fishing-boats nowadays are not these small fishing-boats you see on TV. They are the size of cruise ships. The Taiwanese made a net, to trawl the coast of Africa that equals the size of twelve Boeing 747’s. They pull up tons and tons of different fish, throw it in a grinder and make fish-paste of it for animals. Pigs eat more fish then sharks do. It’s cheap protein.

So how do we save the whales from this giant trawling company fishing for omega 3’s when they have helicopters, radar and satellite to detect fish. We can stop the killing of whales, but then they are going to starve to death.

Sanderz: “You got me all depressed now.”

Zoli: I was 19 and body guarding Dave Foreman for Earth First! in 1991. My first tattoo is my Earth First! tattoo. Dave received these death threats and the cops didn’t want to protect him, because they thought he was a terrorist. So I had a gun strapped to me. We were having a beer and I said to Dave: ‘Dave, all this shit is going on in the world man. I’m so depressed.’ He answered: ‘What you do, you should focus on one thing, just one thing, because you can spread yourself too thin. There is so much need. Then, have a beer, because sometimes you gotta drink a beer, Zoli.’(laughs)

My passion are pelicans and Seashepherd. I want to start a sanctuary for all the pelicans with broken wings, as fishing games and government agencies do not want to deal with them anymore. They are mandatory to kill them, unless you have some sort of sanctuary and the only one is in Florida. I want to start one in California. When I’m going home I will actually try to raise money to make a sanctuary for pelicans and a small surgery centre. If we can’t release them after surgery, we put them in the sanctuary on a beach somewhere.

Zoli's Earth First! tattoo photo: Skye

Sanderz: “Let it Burn”, “Poverty for All” and “Bleeding” for instance are songs with a message. What is the feedback from fans on these lyrics and the advocacy on stage?

Zoli: We have a very good, cool fan base. They really listen to our lyrics and read the note-liners. It’s pretty cool. If they download the cd, the lyrics are available as well. 

Lyrics are really hard for me. It takes me a long time, because I want to get a message out. So it is really nice to have a fan base that cares about the song content. I’m really, really thankful for that.

Ignite live @ the Area 4 Festival photo: Skye

Sanderz: Any new releases coming up?

Zoli: Yep, we’re going home to write music. We’ve already started writing some songs for a brand new album. We took a little break and now we’re back full bore. Really excited about that.

Sanderz: The question we ask all interviewees; What do you do in your daily life to reduce your carbon footprint?

Zoli: I have a giant carbon footprint. I try to make up for all my bad karma. I call pelicans ‘karma-cleaners’. I wasn’t really a good guy when I was young. But now I’m trying to settle down with my pregnant girlfriend. Every time I when think that I’m too tired to rescue pelicans, I’ll go anyway, because of my insane energy consuming lifestyle of travelling and so on. So when I go home I’ll try to rescue animals as much as I can and do Seashepherd stuff. At least it makes me feel I’m somehow even for today.

Sanderz: ….do you recyle?

Zoli: We take our bottles and cans back. They give money in California for that. But they only take what they can sell. It’s half ass recycling. I also have a compost pile at home, but on the other hand my cars, my rescue vehicles, a 1956 Ford truck and a 1956 Chevy truck, beautiful old school trucks with big V8 engines, need 50 liters a day. So I’m the most non- environmentalist. As Dave Foreman said: ‘The only way to be a real environmentalist is to kill yourself.’  (Laughs)

Sanderz: Thanks for the interview….

Zoli: Thanks.

© Circles On The Water

Zoli Téglás is the frontman for the hardcore punk band Ignite and the Zoli Band. Other members of Ignite are Brian Balchack, Nik Hill, Brett Rasmussen, Craig Anderson and Kevin Kilkenny. Visit them at

Zoli’s recommendations:


© Circles on the Water, 2019