The Agonist – As One We SurviveTuesday, 10th September 2019
It’s been a stint since we’ve gotten new music from The Agonist. A solid three years at this point to be exact. But the band has been doing anything but lounging around. They’ve completed their sixth album, Orphans, which is also their third release with vocalist Vicky Psarakis. For a band that has always experimented with their sound, Orphans takes the band into a darker and heavier approach, but one still with that special charm the band has always favored. We chatted with Psarakis about what’s been going on in The Agonist, from the new album to lyrical inspirations, to describing the band as a family and recent return to YouTube covers.
Dead Rhetoric: What was the goal of Orphans – was there anything specific that you and the band wanted to accomplish?
Vicky Psarakis: We will have a discussion before songwriting and everything about where we want the next album to go, direction-wise. But we didn’t even have that talk this time around. We were all on the same page that we should go towards something darker and heavier. It just kind of happened. When I first got the tracks from the guys, it was just like, “Oh, ok. We are doing this.” I got inspired by the music and I found my own way to match that intensity with the lyrics and my vocals. We created what we created. When we sit down and write songs, there’s not really a lot of back and forth, or discussing each part – we just do what feels right in the moment. When it’s done, we take a step back and evaluate it.
Dead Rhetoric: Any tracks that you are particularly proud of this time around?
Psarakis: There’s a bunch that I’m proud of. It’s hard to choose a favorite, it always is. I definitely love “In Vertigo,” I think it was a great first single. I absolutely love the title track – it’s probably one of my favorites, as well as “Blood is My Guide.” There’s a lot in there that I’m really proud of.
Dead Rhetoric: With “Blood as My Guide,” was doing some singing in Greek a goal that you’ve had?
Psarakis: Nope, it was entirely random as well. When I first received that song, that riff wasn’t even there. It was just verse-chorus-bridge-chorus. I did all of the vocals to that point and sent it back to the band. That song was written by our drummer, Simon McKay. He heard the song and really liked what I did, but he felt it was missing a part or a riff. So he sent it back to me, the final version, and something clicked with me and I really felt like I wanted to put Greek on that part. So I did [laughs]!
Dead Rhetoric: There’s been a number of clips and videos released already. Do you feel confidence to show off so much before the release of the album?
Psarakis: Obviously what the album is out we will have even more content to put out. But I think the fact that the album was a bit delayed, gave us time to build some extra content to be able to show the world.
Dead Rhetoric: Was there any reason that the album had been delayed? It definitely felt like it had taken some time to get new material from The Agonist.
Psarakis: Yeah, the album had been done since last summer, so if it was up to us it would have been released last year. It was really hard, because we didn’t have a label at the time. We had contemplated releasing it on our own, which isn’t the best business move, but we had been sitting on the album for so long. We felt really positive about it and we didn’t know what to do. It didn’t really feel like there was a lot of interest going in the scene, and that’s really just due to reasons outside of the music. It’s more about backstage politics and certain people out there that didn’t really want us to release anything. They tried to prevent it from happening, but thankfully that wasn’t the case. We were able to get an offer and we went along with it.
Dead Rhetoric: Does it give you an advantage in having Chris [Kells] able to keep your videos authentic to the band’s vision?
Psarakis: Absolutely, and it’s awesome because he started getting into videos when I joined the band. His first experience was working on Eye of Providence with another director and feeding off it that and learning things. Since then, he has been doing all of our videos. He has been doing them professionally now too for a living. It’s really great to see that progress in him, as a videographer, and the fact that he can apply it to his own band. Every time we do a new music video, it blows us away. It just keeps better and better.
Dead Rhetoric: Speaking of progress, in listening to the new album and hearing your vocals, it seems you’ve increased your range as well. Did you do anything specifically or was it a case of practice makes perfect?
Psarakis: It’s definitely practice makes perfect. But it’s also due to a mentality. I’ve always been restless when it comes to vocals and music in general. I’m a perfectionist to the point where something that I do now and am really happy with, one week from now I will be like, “Ehhh, it’s okay.” I think that is just the way my mind is. That restlessness creates something inside of me where I want to do more, and think I should do more.
Especially with vocals, I think a really good way to go about it is to just listen to other vocalists and kind of imitate them – not in the sense of being a copycat but listening very closely and trying to figure out what they do. It’s almost like voice acting, but you apply your own tone and technique to it. You aren’t sounding like someone else, you are just growing and improving it. I’m just super happy that it shows. I really hope that there will be a similar thing with the next album, where I figure out how to do something else.
Dead Rhetoric: Speaking to your restlessness, it must have really drove you nuts that this album was done last year then.
Psarakis: Oh goodness, yes [laughs]. It was recorded and all done since last summer, but the demos are about a year and a half old. To me, the only factor that makes it feel like new music to us is that we haven’t played any of these songs live. That’s a new experience that will happen very soon. But in listening to the music, I wouldn’t say I spend all that much time listening to it anymore. I spent months reviewing it now, and I’m already to write new music at this point.
Dead Rhetoric: So where do you draw lyrical inspirations from?
Psarakis: There’s a variety of different sources. I like to take it track by track. I’ll get a track and listen to it. I’ll try to figure out the mood that it is putting me in and what emotion I want to draw from it. Depending on that, I’ll use personal experiences or a real life story – or I might take it to the other side entirely and draw inspiration from something fictional like a book or a movie. So there’s a wide range of sources I use. I like the variety, and if you are only using one source, you are kind of likely to run out at some point.
Dead Rhetoric: What is The Agonist to you, now that you’ve completed three albums with them? How do you kind of define what The Agonist is?
Psarakis: I think this album, in particular, is very representative of what The Agonist is all about. I think this is what we are supposed to sound like. As a band, even before I joined, they would dive into different styles and experiment. We are always going to experiment, but this feels like the right direction for the band – this dark setting in the music and lyrics. But what I’m particularly proud of with this album is that sometimes you’ll read the lyrics and you’ll think that they are dark and unpleasant, but there is always a moment when the positive light shines on the situation. I think I really like that lyrical style and message for The Agonist. The music and the lyrics are a struggle. It’s not necessarily something pleasant, but there’s always something good to be drawn from it, or happens in the end. You don’t want to make people upset, or mad – there should be a positive message. Why not [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: How do you feel you’ve grown as a person in your time with The Agonist?
Psarakis: Immensely. I think my life really changed when I joined the band. First and foremost, I moved. I was living in Greece at the time, and I was looking for ways to get out of there. I had family back in Chicago, so I was contemplating the move anyways. So when it happened, the move made sense. It’s a different culture completely. I went from doing this as kind of a hobby and working in my living room and having small town gigs, to performing on big stages. I’ve had to write albums pretty quickly. I would say that the albums were done in 2-3 months. All of this pressure, I guess, didn’t really exist in my life before. I was moving at a slower pace. So just being thrown into this was really an eye-opener. It made me grow so much faster. You have to keep going or you will fall behind.
Dead Rhetoric: I saw you started doing vocal covers again on YouTube – is this something that we can expect to see more of in the future?
Psarakis: It’s something that I wanted to get back into, but obviously when I joined the band time was an issue. But resources were also an issue – I wasn’t settled and didn’t have my own place. I didn’t have a home set up to record and film stuff. I was always putting it on hold. This big gap that we had where the album wasn’t being released – I had nothing to do back home. We had recorded the new album and there was no songs I could write vocals on, so I decided I should start doing covers again. I did two that have been released, and I recorded a bunch more, which I will eventually release. There’s a lot of material from Orphans coming up now, so I don’t feel the need to put it out immediately. But from now on, I’ll be putting more material out there.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have a particular moment that stands out with you since you came into The Agonist?
Psarakis: There’s been a lot of moments, it’s hard to think of something specific. I think a general feeling being in the band is that it’s kind of like a family. Especially when we are on tour and we see each other every day and live with each other. There’s so many ups and downs. There have been moments when we’ve had a shit show and everything was going wrong where we’d be like borderline crying and mad at each other to a few days later being the complete opposite. We get extremely good news and everyone is in high spirits. There’s been a lot of those moments, a lot of those up and downs. There’s been a lot of drunken moments too [laughs]. There’s just a real family feeling in the band.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your other interests outside of the music realm?
Psarakis: I have two dogs, so they take up a lot of my time. The second I sit down to do something, they want to go for a walk or something [laughs]. But that aside, I do love working out. I love cooking. It’s really simple, regular stuff – reading books or watching TV/movies. I don’t have any extreme hobbies like skydiving or anything like that [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: What’s planned for the fall/winter for The Agonist, outside of the European tour in the fall?
Psarakis: We don’t have anything else solid, like 100%. I do know that there are talks about doing North America in early 2020 hopefully. There are also some talks with places all over the world to get us back there. I think it’s too soon now because the album isn’t out yet. But I think once it is out, we’ll start getting some more solid dates out. We are all on board that we want to tour as much as possible for this album. I’m confident that it will happen.