With a name like Hot Day at the Zoo, you had best be good! No fears, folks, this quartet — made up of Jon Cumming (banjo, dobro, vocals); Michael Dion (guitar, harmonica, vocals); Jed Rosen (upright bass, vocals): and JT Lawrence (mandolin, vocals) — has tight songwriting, killer chops and a laid-back, though intense stage presence which makes this New England-based band a favorite where ever they perform. This can be heard on their latest CD — titled “Zoograss” — which is the group’s third album and their first live recording (it clocks in at 77-plus minutes). In fact, they’ll be supporting that disc when they hit Mainely Brews in Waterville at 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27.

To that end, a phone interview was conducted with Jon Cumming from his home in Lowell, Mass.

Q: So you guys are coming back up to Maine, correct?

Cummings: Yes, we are … but I don’t think we’ve ever been to Waterville. For some reason that sounds really not familiar to me. Oh, wait a minute — I think we did an in-store show at the Bull Moose up there once. We have played, though, at the Unity College Centre for the Performing Arts quite a few times. It’s a good place.

Q: I take it you are satisfied with the fans up here?

Cummings: Oh, yeah — we do very well up there — and it’s growing, too. We just recently headlined the Starks Harvest Fest out there. So it’s starting to grow a little bit. It started out slow in Maine, but we’re starting to make a little noise up there now, and we’re really happy with what’s going on up in Maine.

Q: Your latest album is 2010’s “Zoograss,” are you guys working on something new?

Cummings: Yes, we’re actually doing the final touches on our fourth album which we’re targeting to release in the spring — hopefully in March — and we’ve pretty much tracked all the songs. so we’re just doing the final overdubs and edits then the mix and mastering sessions and then we’re done. We’re psyched because there’s a lot of good stuff on this album — we’ve tried a few new things and, yeah, we’re hoping that it’s really going to pop for us.

Q: Is the “Zoograss” CD a live concert?

Cummings: Yes.

Q: Is there much of a difference between the vibe of that and, say, a studio album like the one you’re working on?

Cummings: Well, maybe a little bit, but not so much. I mean, we tend to track live, so a lot of the songs that you hear live will have kind of the same feel … but sometimes we’ll do different instrumentations. For example, one of my songs that we do live I play banjo on it and it kind of has more of a bluegrass/banjo feel, but on the album I’m playing guitar and we give more of an acoustic guitar-bluesy swing feel to it. There are little differences here and there. It’ll really depends on the approach we’re going for. So, it’s little bit of this and that, but for all intents and purposes, it’s basically the same vibe.

Q: Do you prefer one or the other — the studio over a live concert — or is it apples and oranges?

Cummings: Well, they’re two different things all together, you know? I love to perform, because you’re out there and doing it and there’s instant feedback. Being in the studio is fun, too, because it’s creating, you know? It’s a little more surgical and the results are shared not by so many people immediately, but the end result is something solid that you can listen to for years to come, you know? I love writing a song and then taking it out to play live — we usually perform them for a year or so before we take them into the studio to record, so both ways kind of go hand-in-hand. I love them both.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this “What’s Happening” article?

Cummings: “Come check us out.” I mean, we’re a different type of band. I can’t really describe what we do — it’s just a really organic result of whatever we happen to be doing at the time. It comes out fresh, you know, and I think the songwriting’s good — between me and Mike — and if you add to a good song excellent musicianship of JT Lawrence and Jed Rosen, you’ve got a good gig — a good time. So, if I were to say anything I’d say, “Come check it out — see for yourself.”

Lucky Clark has spent over four decades writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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