Music ruled in my home in my Wonder Years. Dust, Buffalo, Black Sabbath, Yes, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, Blue Cheer, Rory Gallagher It was all great then and so diversified. Time portal to 2021, Christos Athanasias guitarist extraordinaire brings his diverse music, talent and love of music to us here for a special conversation
By Mark Partin
Thanks for sharing the time with us Christos. What artist's and/or music was an influence for you in your youth? You were born in Greece?
It is an absolute pleasure to be chatting with you Mark! I was born and grew up in Greece. In Volos, Greece to be precise. I grew up with my brother’s (Aris) vinyl collection and I remember vividly being 7 or 8 years old and just looking at all the different vinyl he had and predominantly what was visually the most appealing to me as a young kid. I did fall in love with Iron Maiden artwork and shortly thereafter, their music. I had been given a Sony Walkman and wanted to have my own mixtape, so he made a deal with me. ‘Christos, you pick an album you like from the artwork, I will play songs from the album randomly, you listen for 30 seconds and let me know if you want it on the tape’. And literally, that’s how I ended up with my very first mixtape that spanned all the way from Iron Maiden and Metallica to Paul Simon and Fleetwood Mac. I still have that mixtape to this day and have been meaning to make a playlist from it. For many years, I didn't even know who half the artists on that tape were! Even now, I need to go back to it to remember the full content. But that was literally the beginning for me.
It wasn’t until I was 11 - 12 years old though, when I had my first true music epiphany moment. My brother had a compilation CD from a magazine and the 2nd track on that CD was Black Sabbath - Paranoid. I loved that song, and was intrigued for more! I happened to be visiting my cousin’s (Dimitris) place in another city in Greece. He is a drummer and a huge rock and metal fan. He had to step out for a few hours and told me I could play any of his CDs. Of course, I picked up the album Paranoid for a spin; and then it happened; War Pigs. My mind was totally blown. I fell in love with Iommi’s riffs and Ozzy’s voice instantly. I can’t even describe how I felt. It was like my mind opened up! For the rest of the weekend, I listened to no other album than Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. I got my cousin to tape me that album and any other Sabbath and Ozzy stuff he had. Throughout my teen years I was a massive Metallica and Iron Maiden fan as well.
My second music epiphany moment though was when I heard Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes. The clarity and perceived simplicity of that riff, how memorable it was, how the vocals sat, everything about it. I loved that song so much, and then fell in love with everything about The White Stripes and all of Jack White’s projects and his overall approach to guitar playing.
My third music epiphany moment when I first came to Australia when I was 15 years old. Kids here in high school didn’t really listen to Maiden and Sabbath as much at the time, but one day one of the dudes hands me his headphones and says ‘listen to this dude’. It was Rage Against the Machine which I had not even heard of in Greece. And just like that, I fell in love with Tom Morello and his approach to guitar playing.
When I get asked about my main influences as a guitarist, I say these 3 names: Tony Iommi, Jack White and Tom Morello. All 3 pushed the envelope of guitar playing. All 3 had uniquely different styles but I believe also share one common thing: clarity. You can clearly follow and remember their riffs and their songwriting. You can instantly know a riff played by them. I love that.
Introduce us to the members of the band and share what bands you al were previously with.
Russell Clark on Vocal, Nicolas Dumont on Bass, Joel Martin on Drums, and Christos Athanasias on Guitars. Out of all us, Joel has been in the most bands. Check this list for Joel from most recent to oldest. The Ugly Kings, The Evils, Dead Preachers, TAMMA, Highway Beauty, Twisted Pistol , Marianne Digs, Six Shooter, and The Velvets. Rusty was in high school bands and also Dead Preachers with Joel. Nicolas was in high school bands back in France.
For myself, I am in The Ugly Kings, Devil Electric, my solo project Black Bird Rising and my very first band in Greece before I left to come to Australia was a band we created before we even knew any instruments. Haha…we were called Black Eternity and then we decided who would play what. Just a bunch of close friends from high school wanting to learn rock n’ roll.
The music scene in Australia Melbourne, Sydney, etc has to be very exciting with so many talented bands of many genres. What difference might you see from when you 1st started to where it is today?
Honestly, the biggest and main difference I see is the sheer output of Australian music. There are new artists and great artists coming out all the time. There are great creatives, combining forces in different projects. It is absolutely amazing to see and hear their music and it is even more amazing to be part of it all. Australia produces fantastic music and I hope more and more of it spreads far and wide to the rest of the world.
The band's debut "mini album" 'Of Sins' in 2015...WOW, when I heard it the 1st time I felt I needed to find out more about The Ugly Kings. How did you get there from forming the band?
It was a very organic approach, we didn’t forcibly plan a specific sound, but just evolved over time. I always of course had the influences I spoke about earlier and Rusty brought his amazing voice, songwriting and own influences to the table, alongside Nic and our drummer at the time, Ryan. It was only meant to be an EP of 4 songs, but we had songs recorded from previous sessions as well, so even to the last minute, it kept evolving. I always wanted to release music on a vinyl record and that was the very first one, so I really wanted us to have enough recorded songs to do so. The band started acoustic with just Rusty and I and another guitarist. Rusty is a drummer as well, so eventually he sat behind the kit and sang at the same time. We then got a drummer so that we could get Rusty to be a proper frontman and eventually our other guitarist left and we got a bassist. Really, it was very very organic, with lots of unplanned changes, but in the end we believe it worked out and hope people who listen to our music also feel the same way.
Pulling double duty in 'Devil Electric' (and damn well I might add) 2016 releasing the EP 'The Gods Below' in 2016 and then the debut lp s/t 'Devil Electric' in 2017 both these stellar releases being Traditional Doom/heavy hard rocking with an old school feel. How did Devil Electric come to be?
Thank you once again! That was another very organic joining of forces. The song on ‘Of Sins’ - Goodbye, features Pierina O’Brien from Devil Electric. How it all started was 'The Ugly Kings' playing a show with Pierina’s old punk band ‘The Love Bombs’. At the time we had 'Goodbye' as a written song and wanted a female vocalist to do the part with Rusty because that song was always written to be a duet. Just so happened to be that we were blown away by Pierina’s voice, so we approached her and asked her if she wanted to sing on ‘Goodbye’. She accepted and absolutely nailed that performance!
It was then a year or so later, Mark (drummer of Devil Electric) who used to work as the designer at Cherry Bar, asked me after a show we were playing with The Ugly Kings if I wanted to have a jam with him. I accepted and then he invited Tom, the bassist as well who was at the time taking over from him at the Cherry Bar. I had written a few riffs at the time and we started jamming. Mark then went on to book a show 2 months out, and we didn't even have a singer. Haha…we discussed options and sent some rough recordings out to find a singer, before I threw the idea out there about Pierina, referencing what she did on 'The Ugly Kings - Goodbye' song. We asked her, she came in to the studio, she blew our minds with her voice and what she could do with the songs and then we told her…‘Hey, we got this show coming up. You in?”…And the rest is history.
No make-up or gimmicks to be seen nor heard here. Various artist are used as a template in The Ugly King's music at different times, but with your own signature sound.
Nah, we don’t need make-up or gimmicks. We are just 4 guys that dress sharp and play rock n’ roll. In that respect, I love bands like 'Queens of the Stone Age' and 'Arctic Monkeys.' Really, it’s pure rock n’ roll. Raw, energetic, with attitude and our own style of portraying that. We are not glam and we don’t really need to tie it to a gimmick.
2018 brought your debut lp 'Darkness is My Home' high energy blues rock intertwined with heavy, hard rock that at times carry an abrasive, rough, gritty kind of Allman Bros feel. That Southern blues rock that the band has taken and molded a killer album. The cover of David Bowie's 'Lazarus'...just wow. How did this album get from start to finish?
There were ideas floating around in various forms for different songs, as there are always, but the album as a whole came out of necessity. Our drummer at the time, Ryan, was heading overseas and we were like. ‘Before you leave us man, let’s record something’. And so we busted our chops for a few months to finish it all! When it comes to Lazarus, what happened was when Bowie passed away, we were asked to play a few songs for a tribute show. I had this bold idea at the time that one of those songs should be Lazarus, a testament to his last album before passing. The reception for our adaptation was fantastic and we got to do another Bowie tribute show. Rusty loves Bowie and it was an honor for him to pay his respects. We had never recorded a cover before and we thought it would be amazing to do and release, so in the end it became part of 'Darkness Is My Home.'
Your newest release out Friday August 13 2021, out on Napalm Records called 'Strange, Strange Times.' Love the hard edge, the high energy punkish vibe and blackened and bruised blues and your now signature sound. The songwriting is absolutely outstanding, hearing you guys playing this album live has been added to my bucket list... Tell us about it and what it took to bring this to fruition.
Thank you for your kind words Mark. It’s been quite a journey getting this album written and recorded. We were meant to record it in March 2020, before we had even started talking with Napalm. Then the pandemic hit and all those recording plans got cancelled. Although the ideas of the songs and their formation were there, in the end it became different. During the various lockdowns, new songs came about even though we couldn’t be in a room together, and the songs that we did have also evolved. New riffs were written, new melodies crafted, and new lyrical themes surfaced. When we were finally able to get in a room together again as a band it was all go go go. We were in conversation with Napalm and we wanted this thing recorded. We still had to battle lockdowns and restrictions, but in the end we found the time and space and ability to spend 10 days in the studio with our sound wizard, Julian Schweitzer, to make ‘Strange, Strange Times’. We believe the process worked and the result is out right now for the world to listen to!
From the recording to now, it’s been non-stop. We had never before released an album so quickly. We recorded the album in late Feb / early March 2021, had the mixes / masters in a month, artwork finished, vinyl orders placed, videos done, singles and now the album out in August, with everything else going around us. It’s been really a mammoth effort by everyone and we are super proud to have been able to do it. We would absolutely love to have you at a show with The Ugly Kings one day. It would be great fun and hopefully we can make that happen either in Australia or even the US. Who knows what's around the corner.
Favorite gig you have played? Artist you would dig doing some shows with? Favorite venue? Vinyl, CD, digital or cassette, your favorite media? Touring plans for the future?
Really hard to pick a favourite gig, but if I was to combine a feeling of being terrified, nervous, excited, being able to overcome all that anxiety and delivering a great show with great reception by an audience who hardly knows your band, I would say the best run of shows was when we supported Airbourne in Australia. It was nerve-racking! They were the biggest shows of The Ugly Kings at the time and we managed to pull it off perfectly. Very proud of those shows.
Can we bring back Sabbath and play shows with them? That would be the ultimate for me! Interestingly enough, we supported the band who supported Sabbath. Haha…None other than the almighty Rival Sons! Would love to tour extensively with Rival Sons. They are one of my favourite bands in recent years. Love vinyl. The large form medium with the art experience as well as the music. It’s perfect!
We have plans for a tour in Australia, but were recently impacted by the pandemic lockdowns unfortunately. We hope to still be able to play a few shows before the end of the year and hopefully we can make it over to Europe and the US in the not too distant future!
Share you Desert Island 5 must have albums.
Well. I did come to a desert Island, that being Australia, and I did have 5 Metallica CDs with him and that was it at the time. Haha. Kill ‘em All to the Black Album. Does that count? Haha. I would have to pick some new ones though: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Ghosteen, Black Sabbath - Paranoid, Rival Sons - Great Western Valkyrie, Olafur Arnalds - Island Songs, and Queens of the Stone Age - Songs for the deaf.
Album art really represents a lot about what a band is trying to bring to people. Your album cover art has been simply stellar. Who, what, and where does the inspiration for The Ugly Kings art come from?
I love that you love the artwork! Both Darkness Is My Home and Strange, Strange Times artwork were done by a gentleman called Reginald Pean in the US. I accidentally found him on Instagram and loved some of his pieces before I approached him for the Darkness Is My Home art. One of my absolute favourite album art packages is QOTSA - Like Clockwork. Outstanding art and packaging which resonated with me and my personal taste.
For Strange, Strange Times we went all out. Every song represents a character and that character is illustrated and interconnected with the front and back cover. It’s a full experience of being able to feel the emotion of the music, the theme of the lyrics and at the same time have the visualisation of that specific character and song inter-relating to the overall theme of the strangeness of modern society.
'The Ugly Kings' not a band name one is inclined to forget or have get lost, one of the better band names to come around. Group choice or after a good long party someone had inspiration?
It was not as relatively accidental and based on an urban dictionary whereby Russell apparently means ugly and Christos means King. Now…Rusty is not an ugly guy and I am not really a king of any sort, but, it hit a chord. It’s the juxtaposition of those words. We liked it and we still do. Over time we have embodied that juxtaposition in our songwriting, our blends of styles. We grew into the name of the band, we feel. But hey, Rusty is still not an ugly guy. haha
Is there any one thing or regret in music that if you could go back and change it you would?
Nothing really. Reason is that everything is an evolution and purism is never actually real in my mind. Technology evolves things, whether it is in the sound of my guitar or the way we distribute and consume music. Lots of people talk about the good old days, but I am sure that back in those days, people were talking about the other good old days. It’s a perpetual thing. I wouldn’t change anything I reckon. Just let it all evolve and we all evolve with it.
Advice to the many artist's who yearns to be a part of the Underground scene who are just starting out?
Experiment as much as possible with juxtapositions. Make the things that were not meant to be, a reality. One of my favourite artists of recent years is Zeal & Ardor. Mind blowing blend of music genres. But he made it work and he made it work magnificently. I keep reminding this to myself too and hopefully it will allow me to keep evolving musically. There are no rules really, just a series of creative decisions. Be bold and brave about those creative decisions and never look back because you can’t change them once they have been made. Again, this is also advice for myself too! Thank you so very much Mark for this opportunity. I loved it! Take care and stay safe and I hope you continue to enjoy these ‘Strange, Strange Times’ for many years to come!
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The Ugly Kings are on Napalm Records: https://napalmrecords.com/english/