TARTAREAN DESIRE WEBZINE
This interview with Sakis of Rotting Christ was done face to face by Georgios Sidiropoulos a couple of hours before their gig at the Mean Fiddler in London together with My Dying Bride on April 27th, 2002.
Even though I am not the biggest Rotting Christ fan in the face of the earth and I only follow the development of your band from a distance, I have to say that I have a big respect for your band. You are one of the pioneers of the Black Metal scene and definitely the first ever Hellenic (Greek) Metal band that got signed to a foreign / non Hellenic record label and then consequently established a serious international career thanks to some strong promotional and touring activities.
Sakis: Thank you very much. I appreciate your kind comments and yes, I will agree with the above-mentioned statement.
Well, you could not disagree with that statement even if you wanted to. It is a fact ;-) I want to make clear though that I don’t want to put too much emphasis on the fact that you are a Hellenic Metal band …
Sakis: Yes, I too would not like to go on like that. I too don’t like to overstate my ethnic background with my music or in any other way. We are a Black Metal band, so to people that come to us and say why don’t you use some bouzouki (that’s a trademark sort of Hellenic traditional instrument), I have to say that I am not at all sure of how something like that would work out and if people would ever accept a B.M band using an instrument like that in our music. As in general I don’t like it when musicians go overboard with their statements. (He then went on to mention the “we are from Norway, we are the best and fuck the rest” type of attitude that some bands had / have and that R.C have nothing to do with that type of attitude). As in general we just play our Metal wherever there are people across the world that appreciate us or would appreciate us for what we do.
Talking about “people across the world” I certainly appreciate that you play everywhere that you are invited –no matter if we are talking about a far removed city in Hellas or an exotic location in Colombia- and this is the clearest sign in my opinion of a band that has a truly professional attitude.
Sakis: Oh yes, absolutely. Touring is the single most important factor. Personally I measure success by looking at how many offers we receive to play live and how often that happens. We go everywhere that we are invited especially those last 4 years. In the beginning of our career we were like: “let’s play our music and see what comes out of that”. But for the last few years we have really decided to sit down, examine all possibilities and opportunities available, talk to all of our contacts and try to find even more people to work with and promote our band as much as we can. We decided to have a real go, so that we can make sure that we do our best and increase our chances to succeed. What happens after that –if we will become successful or not- I don’t know, but I want to make sure that we have tried and that we keep on trying. But we have to try hard, harder than some other bands, for the simple reason that we live in Hellas (Athens) and we are not “in your face” -in the magazines and international press and media- all the time, like say many of the bands that live here in London have the chance to be.
OK then, since you are mentioning that, I would like to ask you about the record labels that you have worked with and their contributions towards the furthering of your career. Prior to joining Century Media a label that currently ranks amongst the 3 biggest independent Metal labels in the world, you have released records with the Hellenic label Unisound (that went under a few years ago) and the French label Osmose, but those deals did not work for you. How do you see your relationship with those 3 labels?
Sakis: Well, the Unisound and Osmose deals did not really work, that’s true. They did not know what they were doing at the time and we never received any money from them as well. Century Media is indeed like you said big and they can push you if they want to. Labels can push you if they want to, BUT you will have to prove yourself you know and make them want to push you and promote you. Yes, they can put us in most of the magazines, definitely in Germany and also here in England where they have a local branch, these are all very cool things to have and it is great that we can have them, but we are doing our bit too you know. Like with this one-off gig that we play here in London. We have been invited to do it, our tickets and hotel were paid for, so we came to play, we are bothered enough to take advantage of this offer and come and do what we have to do. (Note: having witnessed their concert later that day–opening for My Dying Bride- I have to say that they did play very well. One of the very few bands that can reproduce in concert what you hear on their records and have a good presence too at the same time, with lots of headbanging, movement and fairly good communication with the crowd). We did not have the “know how” even when we signed the contract with Century Media, so we have accepted a very long-term contract –we have to deliver 6 albums to them- and we receive only a very tinny percentage from the album sales. But there is nothing that we can do or I can do at this moment. I signed the contract and I have to fulfil the terms of the contract that I have signed. If we are still around after the current deal expires, we will definitely examine the contracts that will be offered to us very carefully. We will employ a very good lawyer and we will consult other bands that we know of too, so that we can have their opinions. We would not like to sign a very long – term contract and we need to make sure that we will get the necessary respect and support.
So how important would you say that gigging and touring is?
Very important. A good tour can “make you”, but a bad one can destroy you. If you go out on a tour and you cannot compete, then that might really damage your “image” as a band. Bands like us, have been playing as a support band quite regularly, so trust me with this one ;-) I am sure that if we could not compete with the other bands, playing live and leaving bad impressions would not have been to our benefit at all. Of course you will have to start from somewhere. When you first start not every gig is going to be good and the conditions will not be good either, but you will have to do the gigging and touring if you want to go anywhere with your career. There is no way out of it. You really need to do it. Go out and play. Do it. This is exactly what I am typically saying to the Hellenic bands that contact me and they try to find out how to further their careers. You can’t have your pie and eat it too. When you play music in a band and want to have a career you cannot have the same lifestyle as other regular people. You have to really appreciate what this thing is all about and sacrifice some stuff in order to achieve what you dream to achieve as a musician.
So how important was / is gigging and touring for you and your career? I know that some tours like the Colombian one were especially problematic.
Very important indeed; tours really helped further our career a lot. Yes, some tours where not trouble free at all, but this is part of the game. Well, I am sure that those South American guys (promoters, etc.) did try and they do try to do a decent job, but you have to take into consideration that the economic situation and the general conditions of these countries are not at all good. It happened to us that while we were touring South America the promoter of the tour took all the money and left us high and dry. Actually he abandoned us in the middle of nowhere and we had no money to continue the tour, meaning we did not have money to move around and be able to go to the scheduled gigs.
I am not saying that these things happened many times and they never happened here in Europe, when we can always phone the label up, tell them about any possible problems that we encounter and ask for their help. I also believe that things like that will not be happening too easily to us in the future.
I would really like to know more about the South American concerts and tour.
Sakis: Well, 5 gigs into the Colombian tour, the promoter suggested that we should go and play the neighbouring country of Ecuador. It was not really planned in advance to do that, there was in a way “talk of doing it”. So we said: “OK, if we can have the air fairs for that, we will go and play for the fans. No need to get paid for that concert”. I need to explain that it would have been impossible to make the journey by bus through the mountainous jungle that is ruled by the rebels and that as far as the money issue goes, tickets only cost one dollar there. So we knew that under these circumstances any talk about money would really be irrelevant and out of context. We only wanted to play for the fans. But as this talk was going on, the tour manager decided to get hold of all the money available and make a run. We had to look for the Hellenic embassy in Colombia and it so happened that the representative was on holidays. So I had to act as a travel agent as well, to book us flights back to Hellas. I had to go and pretend to the representative of Air France that we got robbed and attacked and that they would have to help us get out of Colombia, because we had no money, there was no Greek embassy available or any other way to leave the country, since the only other available tickets we could find where not coming up sooner than a whole calendar month! They felt sorry for us, they were nice to us, and this is how we got back.
I also remember that in several cases in order to reach the stage that we had to perform our gig in, we had to actually climb scaffoldings with our instruments in our back, thinking at the same time that if we make a wrong move and fall down, we are going to break our limbs or our backs. In some cases we did not get paid at all and in some others the backline that we have ordered did not make it to the gig and we had to settle for a very inferior one. But you have to tolerate all these, what else can you do? Once in the game you have to play the game.
I think that you have also made a small East Coast US tour. Any interesting incidents there?
Sakis: Yes, we were supposed to have a driver for our mini van, but I don’t know why we did not. So our drummer and our guitar player had to drive without even having a driving license. We went trough the whole tour driving the van by ourselves, with no driving license and just the aid of a road map! If the police have stopped us for a check, we would still be in the jail ;-)
You know, the reason why I am asking those things is because many bands –especially Hellenic ones- more or less think that once they get signed and have their album released they are done with what they have to do and they are not actually bothered to do put any serious effort after that.
Sakis: Oh yes, believe me I had some conversations with some bands that think like that and I told them to get serious. Some of them did not get my point and they were thinking that I was having a go at them. Not true though, because not only do I not feel that I have to compete with or/ and antagonise any Hellenic band or any other band for that matter, but I would also have liked it if the scene in our country Hellas would be stronger and more professional so that we can all have a bigger and better growth, like say the Norwegian bands and scene have. There are many good bands in Hellas, many good musicians, but I think that the bands have to change a lot attitude wise. They will have to get out of Hellas and do stuff, go and tour, go and promote their work. You cannot just sit around and blame the label for everything that goes wrong. You have to make an effort to promote your own band. Otherwise don’t sign contracts with any label, just release demo tapes. The moment that you sign a contract you have to change what you have been doing and the way that you were thinking. You have to play the game and there are rules to that game; you have to play by those rules.
Can I have an opinion with regards to how you view the current state of the music business? My view is that there are too many labels around that can not promote their bands as effectively as the top independent Metal labels, for the simple reason that these top labels are becoming very dominant by each passing year and as a direct result they suffocate the smaller labels and their acts. The small labels have to push their acts very hard if they are to achieve anything and their bands will have to work really, really hard if they are to become even slightly successful. However most bands don’t do that, because they are mistakenly thinking that their label’s promotion is the most important factor for their development and recognition.
Sakis: Absolutely, this is what the bands believe. With regards to what is going on with the labels, it is pretty much the same that was and is going on with the small shops. Not too many of them can survive or have managed to survive. People nowadays are doing their shopping in the big supermarkets. The same thing, the exact same type of development happens with music. I also see that the free MP3’s are making people stay clear from buying records and that the mentality of the people (not just the mentality of the consumer and the buying public) is changing as well. People are becoming more egotistic and self-centred by each passing year. If they can have something for free, if they can copy some record they will do it, without thinking too much about anything else.
So given all these difficulties, all the problems of the music industry and all the troubles that you have and had to face in the past, how easy can it be for you to continue doing what you are doing and keep Rotting Christ alive?
Sakis: It is very hard and I cannot guarantee that we will go on for much longer. It is possible that we could split up soon, because it is very difficult to keep doing this thing. You really need lots of courage and persistence. The fact that I personally don’t have a day job and only play, compose and tour for R.C and don’t really have enough money to get by or have a secure life, doesn’t really help matters at all. My life is definitely not comfortable and is not “easy”. This sort of pressure can become too much for some musicians. Some can become alcohol or drug addicts. I would not like to end up like that. I better give up, before I reach that sort of stage! I would not like to become a 40-year-old alcohol or drug addict in 10 years time from now, while still struggling to lead Rotting Christ!
I appreciate that; just tell me a few things about the forthcoming album before I go.
Sakis: It’s almost finished as we speak. After we are done with this gig, we are off to Germany (beginning of May 2002) to put the finishing touches! It is going to be heavy, mature, fast and also modern. When I say “modern” don’t think of nu-metal or anything like that. It is going to be Rotting Christ, but with a modern sound.
Links of interest:
Century Media UK
Century Media Germany