Bob Katsionis – Progression and ExplorationMonday, 5th March 2018
Best known for his keyboard and guitar work in Firewind, Bob Katsionis never rests on his laurels to become a well-rounded musician and creative visionary. He loves everything from the behind the scenes work as a producer and video director just as much as performing, songwriting, and developing music in numerous situations. The latest of which includes his fifth solo album Prognosis & Synopsis – a brilliant, breathtaking instrumental outing that still possesses the fluid shred chops in the power/progressive metal realm that put him on the international landscape, but also veering into cinematic and atmospheric takes be it of the AOR, progressive, or soundtrack twist.
Feeling the need to hear from Bob, this interview digs into the ideas behind Prognosis & Synopsis, his thoughts on the changes that took place to develop Greek metal into a stronger scene, and of course insight into what to expect with Firewind, Outloud, and his own label development in the future.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s your approach when it comes to developing your solo instrumental records? Do you map out specific themes or just let the creative muse take you and then decide where things will go from there?
Bob Katsionis: Most of the times, like any other musician, I have a musical idea, and I develop it. But in this album, most of the compositions were like a short movie, a trip from point A to B. Like an exploration using the notes to travel through you. That’s what I think makes this album so unique. I don’t like it when people play music with their fingers and not with their heart. I can have one thousand notes in a solo, but still, it all acts as me saying something to someone, not as someone is trying to show you how good he is.
Dead Rhetoric: Prognosis & Synopsis is the latest Bob Katsionis solo effort – which in my view sums up your abilities within the power/progressive metal realm while also exploring those left field nuances of AOR, melodic, and progressive rock themes. How did this set of tracks develop, and do you feel you accomplished as best as possible what you set out to achieve in your mind, body, and soul with this output?
Katsionis: Well, the whole album was conceived and recorded in 10-15 days mid-August! It was a time that I wanted to focus on ME and do things that will benefit me, and that can grow up in the future. That’s when I quit Serious Black, I decided to (start) my very own label Symmetric Records and also work on my ICON-DISC App format. So I stayed home, playing Playstation games and watching movies with my girlfriend for like 15 days. That’s when my body and soul relaxed and when the music started flowing. This set of compositions depicts and represents a certain period and that’s how an album should be for me; just like the old times when bands like Black Sabbath or even ELP or RUSH were making one album per year, and they were all so different, yet you could see and feel a group of people developing over time.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you give us some insight into songs like “Dark Matter” and “Aegean Sunset”, as both tracks showcase the diversity you put forth on the record?
Katsionis: “Dark Matter” is a track clearly influenced by the music of the “BIG” guys like Vangelis, Jean Michel Jarre and Hans Zimmer. I remember I just found a cool sound on my Korg Kronos and started jamming with it. It was like I “saw” the whole song in front of me and I just had to perform it. You see it’s based on just two chords! It’s the first time I ever do such thing, (laughs). Still, I think it’s one of the best four minutes of music I have ever written. And then the video…oh, that video! Regarding “Aegean Sunset,” I think it’s a ‘brother’ track with “Tomorrow Starts Today”: they both sport my trademark way of writing a simple melody while keeping the background simple and powerful as well. They also leave a nice space for soloing over, and I clearly took advantage of it!
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the greatest challenges in developing memorable instrumental songs versus vocal-led efforts?
Katsionis: This is something I kinda ‘learned’ from the master Joe Satriani. He is like the number one guitar player in the world not because he can shred on the guitar but because of his melodies. It’s like he writes music to be sung but the singer never showed up, (laughs). That’s what I’m trying to do here too. You see, sometimes people like or dislike a certain singer, and I think this can do no justice to a nice melody, so that’s why I keep it on the guitar or the keyboards.
Dead Rhetoric: What came easiest to you when learning and advancing at the keyboards and guitar? Do you still believe you are consistently learning and becoming better at the craft of playing and songwriting?
Katsionis: I wish I had more time to practice the way I did when I was a teenager. Still, I think I am developing my songwriting and production skills daily by practicing on other people’s music, and this is of utmost importance to me. It’s like I always find new tricks on how to make an idea sound better.
Dead Rhetoric: At what point did you decide to start your own record label with Symmetric Records? What criteria do you have for the bands and artists that you decide to work with and sign?
Katsionis: As I said before, the idea came to me last August where I wanted to build something that can be grown in the future, like an investment. On the other hand, I just like helping people. Especially the bands and artists who record at my studio. They are all showing me a great amount of trust, by trusting their precious music in my hands and ears. So, rather than answering a thousand questions on how to do this and that and what to avoid and what not, I decided to keep everything under one roof. This also helps them do more strategic and organized moves rather than just throwing their music at the jungle of the internet or paying a shitload of money to some unknown people who promise them unrealistic things. The criteria to be in Symmetric Records, for now, is simple: one has to work with me in my studio and let me make an album that I personally like. But it seems that some non-Symmetric studio bands are knocking on my door recently, so I have to make some decisions. Simply put: I hate when people take advantage of an artist’s hunger and passion, and I want to help.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you think the major breakthroughs occurred in the Greek metal scene to take things from national recognition into the international landscape? Do you believe during the 80’s and early 90’s many bands were held back due to primitive recording studios and the mandatory military service regulations which made things difficult to keep people together?
Katsionis: That’s true, and I’m glad you recognize it! But the biggest problem of all was that back then no one wanted to help anybody else. If some band achieved something more prominent than the others, they were holding it for themselves while also rubbing it in anyone else’s face. My very personal opinion is that Gus G. and I opened some doors that were sealed before. Look at how many Greek metal musicians have instrument endorsements today. Before Firewind, this was just out of the question. And then it was the video thing I was doing; suddenly Greece was exporting guitarists with a decent production and a pro-looking video, all of them trying to follow the lead and steps of what Gus G achieved with his guitar playing. Plus, we inspired young musicians to do more by having a ‘you can do it too’ attitude, rather than being like ‘you will never be like us’.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider some of the greatest memories or takeaways that you’ve had in your musical career? Any specific albums, shows, or festival appearances where you could notice or feel an impact with your playing and rising popularity?
Katsionis: Oh, that’s a lot! But I can definitely remember the day I played “Alison Hell” on stage with my idol Jeff Waters and Annihilator in front of the Greek audience. Or our support gigs for the Scorpions in Greece, or my first time at Wacken, or Grasspop, Hellfest, Download & Sonisphere festivals. And of course the 70000 Tons Of Metal Cruise with Firewind and Wacken Metal Mountain with Serious Black. These were like the best thing a metal guy can do in his music time!
Dead Rhetoric: Do people ever seek you out for advice when it comes to playing, recording, or musicianship/business matters, and if so what do you talk to them about and have them take into consideration?
Katsionis: Well, that’s the reason I started my label! But on the other hand, I see that there are kids who get into this music business for the business side of it and not for the music itself. They desperately want to be famous and make a living out of it but skipping the whole patience and experience part. And of course they can get disappointed once they find the truth: it takes time, effort and a lot of sacrifices.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the biggest misconceptions that people might have about the metal scene today?
Katsionis: There is no ‘Metal Scene’ today. It’s like pop but with distortion and blood.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe yourself as a person, and how do you think you’ve changed or developed as a player from say your twenties and thirties to today?
Katsionis: I think I can be stubborn when it comes to my music or how business works and what people want. That’s why I (started) my label and my studio, that’s why I create my graphics, visuals, and videos. I also like to create stuff. One day there is nothing, and then the next day you have a song, a video clip, a photo. I love putting my signature on stuff. I am also sensitive and emotional, I cry very easily at the movies, especially if there’s a touching soundtrack! Regarding development, over time I can say that the biggest change is how I look at things: I don’t really care about making the next viral video or sell thousands (of products). It would be cool to do so, but I learned to be grateful for what I have and not whining all the time cause ‘the world doesn’t understand me’. That’s really hard to achieve.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the horizon with Firewind and Outloud?
Katsionis: We will embark on our first Latin America tour with Firewind! After this, I’m coming back to work on some new releases of my label, and start working on the next (Firewind) album! I have some great ideas, not musical ones, but more of a concept on how to record and get inspiration for it. I also have to deliver the new Outloud album, and I can assure you: it is the best one we have ever done! It is impossible even to make a proper track list since all songs are like hits and no matter what we do, we still end up having ten opener songs (laughs)! It will be out through ROAR Records later this year.
Dead Rhetoric: Are there any possibilities of performing these instrumental tracks in a live setting, and what’s in the future for Bob Katsionis over the coming year?
Katsionis: Now you touch upon a very sensitive string… This is something I’ve always wanted to do, something that everyone’s been asking me to and waiting for me to do. But looking at the reality of the music business, for me it doesn’t seem worth the hassle. But it’s always in the back of my head, maybe that’s what I’m thinking every night when I’m going to bed.