Exarsis is one of the finest and hard working bands of Greece that has managed to establish –slowly yet steadily- a name in the global market. In the frame of the band’s upcoming, virgin show in Crete (at the Chania Rock Festival) we get in touch with singer Nick J. Tragakis who delivers the…Message for all the Rockpages readers. Interview: Sakis Nikas
Rockpages.gr: It’s been more than a year since the release of “The Human Project”. Are you satisfied with how it turned out and how different it is compared to your first couple of efforts?
Nick J. Tragakis: Yes, it’s been 13,5 months since the release of “The Human Project” and its overall preparation proved to be a hard task. The band’s line-up has changed –three of the band members were replaced- thus we had to prove that we were capable of following a critically acclaimed album like “The Brutal State”. I believe that the result justified us and the feedback (especially from abroad but, also in Greece) has been tremendous; something that was obvious from a sales standpoint but also from the fan reaction during our shows. Musically and lyrically, “The Human Project” really carries on from where its predecessor stopped. However, I changed a few things in the vocals as I added more trad and US Metal references so the vocal lines were different. Despite the fact that we have only released three albums so far, we have always managed to present something different with each single album so the potential listener will be definitely treated with a varied approach with our next album
Rockpages.gr: Speaking of a new album, are you working on new material?
Nick J. Tragakis: Up until recently the majority of the new songs were completed but I decided to work again on the lyrics and the vocal melodies as we want to present something different always within the boundaries that the band is known for. We just believe that we found a better way to bring our message to the masses; I’d say that musically we are 98% ready to push the red button. Not Kim Jong-Un’s red button but the one of the recording process. We are taking our time and we are heading towards a mid-2017 release…if there is still humanity left.
Rockpages.gr: One of the main characteristics of your albums is the flashy cover sleeves that remind other classic artworks of the genre (eg. Evildead, Toxik, Nuclear Assault etc.). Would you say that the cover artwork is an integral part of the while thrash package?
Nick J. Tragakis: Those classic cover sleeves of three beloved bands that you mentioned have been created by the magical hand of Ed Repka. This kind of aesthetic approach represents just a part of the thrash scene and definitely not the whole US scene. Having said that, one of Repka’s best “students” in the last 10 years is Andrei Bouzikov whom we completely trust as he totally understands the anti-masonic concept of Exarsis. As a matter of fact, we have approached him to create another cover sleeve for the reissue of our debut album (“Under Destruction”) so as to fit with the other two cover sleeves. But yes, I agree that the visual aspect of the band is crucial as we are living in a break-neck speed paced lives so one had to know beforehand what the band is all about if he cares to pay closer attention to us. In our case, old-school thrash metal that criticizes the global conspiracy theories and the new order of things.
Rockpages.gr: In the last few years, there is an…exarsis of new bands paying tribute to the old-school thrash metal genre. What’s the reason behind it?
Nick J. Tragakis: We believe that this “outbreak” of bands is starting to decrease. In the last 12 months or so there hasn’t appeared any new band; some of the old ones put a halt or on ice its activities plus the concerts and the releases are evidently fewer compared to the past. This is not that important as our country constantly provides qualitative metal/hard rock bands and that’s pretty obvious to everyone. The reasons behind this rise up in the Greek thrash metal scene are actually many. Suicical Angels’ big success played a significant role, events like Thrashers United, the overwhelming support, the successful operation of such studios as D, Entasis and Made in Hell, the big number of local releases, the social-political lyrics that were definitely linked to the harsh Greek financial reality, the worldwide return of the black/thrash genre and Greece’s rich tradition in thrash with bands like Crucifier, Flames, Acetic Voice, Released Anger etc. But, I must underline once again that this uprising of bands has started to decline and the ones that survive are the ones that work tirelessly towards their goals. Those who have just appeared for the sake of it or for the trend, sooner or later disappear!
Rockpages.gr: How can the old-school metal resurrection stand on its own and outside of the shadow of all these legendary bands?
Nick J. Tragakis: From a compositional standpoint, this is something really hard as many important bands like Megadeth, Metallica, Coroner, Deathrow were shaped and evolved in the 80s. I am glad that many Greek bands, like Chronosphere or Nuclear Terror, attempt something vastly different. On the other hand everybody needs something more traditional like Suicidal Angels or Endless Recovery and the truth is that you can’t survive without that kind of thrash. Exarsis tries something that was usual in the past and you don’t get to see it nowadays. The bands from abroad rarely try something different, too. Vektor and Power Trip are two exceptions to the rule while the majority of the bands sounds too similar and you only distinguish them –if that’s possible- from the vocal lines. The main difference nowadays is that the music industry has changed and the underground bands cannot spread easily their music despite the fact that we are living in the internet era. The main metal labels are interested in a very specific, familiar formula and don’t want a vastly different approach by the bands. I sincerely hope that the Vector masterpiece will change that notion in regards with how thrash music is promoted. Speaking of the overall state of thrash metal, I must point down that the conditions are radically diverse for the bands compared to what it used to be in the 80s. We are not broke living under the same roof, eating toasts from a broken toaster and waiting for the next tour when the label finances the next release. We still don’t have money but our lives are not the same as it’s not the same the way we create and promote our music thus influencing the status of such a rebellious music. Naturally, we do have two similarities with the past bands: the uncertainty for the future and the passion for music!
Rockpages.gr: How much has Exarsis been affected by the numerous line-up changes?
Nick J. Tragakis: As I previously said, those line-up changes affected the overall character of the band. Of course, we have remained true to what we believe but the times are hard and it’s not easy to be fully dedicated in a band. I wish no one would have left but some changes are really necessary if you want to survive (like it was the case in 2013). Being in Exarsis demands sacrifices…even radical changes. We have still kept in touch with all the past members of Exarsis and if you think about it, I cannot bring in mind any band with a big career behind it that hasn’t changed its line-up…ZZ Top is excluded!
Rockpages.gr: How difficult it is for a Greek band to achieve something significant in a worldwide scale?
Nick J. Tragakis: The Greek bands have the knowledge and all the necessary info but we still have a long way to go when it comes down to a business mentality and overall mindset. Add to all these, the well-known financial problems and you get the full picture. We have managed to make a name in the world by recording and touring but we still have much more potential. Despite the mess in Greece, we must be dedicated in order to make it first and foremost in Greece and then abroad. Nothing is unachievable! Set priorities, work tirelessly on your instrument/voice, rehearse on a weekly basis, save money, invest money, play live shows (better make that…play many live shows), support other bands, make slow yet steady steps, keep a low profile and most importantly remain down to earth with both your feet firmly on the ground. Believe in yourself! Rotting Christ, Suicidal Angels, Septicflesh, Gus G started in a far more hostile environment and look what they have achieved…
Rockpages.gr: You are the opening act of the last day of Chania Rock Festival. What’s the main difference in playing on a big stage compared to a more intimate club show?
Nick J. Tragakis: For starters, we want to sincerely thank the guys behind the festival for what they are doing all these years and for inviting us to play below one of the legendary bands of our genre, Kreator. This would be our first show in Creete and the only confirmed date so far in 2016. If I am not mistaken, we will present a 45-minute show with songs cued from the two last albums. As for the club shows…I think we are better suited to them as the thrash metal bands in general are better suited to them due to its underground style. But the feeling of playing on a huge stage is unique. We had played last year in Rockwave Festival together with Rotting Christ and Judas Priest and that was an unbelievable experience. We get the chance to communicate better with a wider audience and invite people for a bigger mosh pit and a bigger wall of death! This is also a challenge for all the band members not to get “lost” in the huge festival stage. Nevertheless, when you see people that you don’t know singing along to your songs that’s the most important motivation for a musician. That’s what really counts.
Rockpages.gr: What would the ideal line-up for a Thrash Metal Festival be?
Nick J. Tragakis: Sakis, there is so much I want to say that it would take something like the famous Molon Lave Festival at the Rodon Club where numerous bands appeared over many days. I dream of a huge thrash metal festival where all the Greek bands would be united, putting aside their silly differences and playing right beside the beloved bands from abroad. I want to see on one prestigious bill: Toxik, Dark Angel, Midnight, Demolition Hammer, Watchtower, Toxic Holocaust. Quite recently Havok played in Greece and Vector would soon appear, too. That’s a very good omen for the future.
Rockpages.gr: After all these years in the music scene, are you happy with what you have done so far? Would you change anything?
Nick J. Tragakis: Yes, we would change some things but at the moment they seemed quite logical. That’s how you live and learn. We invested many things and we gave everything we got on our two European tours in 2014 and 2016. These are the two highlights of our career (together with last year’s Rockwave). We are satisfied with everything that we have done so far but that’s not sufficient enough for us. There are no boundaries and we want to carry on against all odds. We have a Message of awakening to deliver for the global disaster that it’s taking place and we shouldn’t remain silent. Thank you for the chat…see you in Crete!