Interview // 2022-10-02
Amken was recommended to me by an algorithm, based on music I listened to. I first checked out their old stuff, and then went on to see their videos as they released, and then their latest album, just a month ago. There is something fresh about them. They are keeping thrash alive!
The band is a four piece from Greece. The new album is called Passive Aggression!
I had the pleasure of chatting with the band's drummer, Harris, and guitarist/vocalist, Giannis, about the new album release. Be sure to check it out, if you haven't heard them!
Congrats on the new album that came out just a month ago! Does it feel good to have it out and have people listening to it?
GIANNIS KARAKOULIAS: Really, we can't express how happy we are because we waited on this album for a long time. Because of COVID, too, we had to postpone it for some time. But we are very happy that everything came together. Massacre Records - that was a very good surprise for us, too. And everything seems to be going good.
You started out very young with this band, the two founding members. How much band experience did you have prior to Amken?
GIANNIS: Literally, zero. This is my first band. And yes, Vannias, who plays guitar, we started the band in 2011. And it was our first band. We were 18 years old. Let's play some music together, and ten years later, here we are.
What does the band name mean?
GIANNIS: It doesn't mean anything. If you search for Amken, there is no explanation. We just wanted it to be a short name. We liked the letter A.
HARRIS ZAMPOUKOS: 'Cause it comes up first.
Yeah, you don't want something else to come up in a search. What can you tell me about how you came to the album title, Passive Aggression?
GIANNIS: We used to rehearse some of the songs when we were composing them, with Harris at the studio. I was playing the guitar and he was playing the drums. It was when I started singing, some guy from another band passed by the door outside and he knocked to say hi. He said, "I like the new vocals, they are very aggressive." The title stuck to me. And then later we played with the title a bit, and it became "Passive Aggression." It was the thought.
I know for myself, I hate it when people are passive aggressive with me. I prefer a straightforward approach. Do you guys have a pet peeve? Something that upsets you?
HARRIS: I think everyone does. I think everyone has something that they don't like in real life. We are no exception. I think it is natural to be passive aggressive, sometimes, for your own good. For everyone, it is something else. For myself, it is sometimes my main job.
GIANNIS: For me, I really hate when I feel like something is unfair. And that is a main part of lyrics on the album. If you read them, you see that they are angry, and that is my main inspiration, let's say.
How does the creation of music come together for you guys, as a band?
GIANNIS: Mainly I write the guitar parts. I may be at home jamming by myself, and when I like something, I write it down. First, I show it to Harris and he tries to put the drums on top so it becomes a song. And we make the arrangements and we change stuff. That is first - we make a skeleton of a song. Then the rest of the guys come in, and we throw in ideas and we finish the song. We finalize it. And the lyrics always come last.
Do you find you are always in creation mode, or is it something that just comes and goes?
GIANNIS: Definitely not always. For me, not always.
HARRIS: We have some sparks. The creation part skyrockets sometimes. I think we have to stay consistent to write a song, it's not these random sparks.
How do you guys think you are able to keep thrash so fresh? Is it a conscious effort?
GIANNIS: To be honest, I don't think it is a conscious thing. We still do what we did ten years before. I take my guitar and play, and this is what comes out. It's fast and it's angry, and this is how we like to play. That's what we like to hear first of all, from ourselves. It works both ways.
Are you all on the same page?
GIANNIS: Yeah. We listen to a lot of stuff, but when it comes to the music we create together, this is what comes out. Maybe with a bit more melody sometimes, maybe simpler sometimes, maybe more complex sometimes, but the core of the music is the same for all four of us.
With thrash, it's kind of difficult to put melodic parts into the songs, because of the pace and such. Not all bands are able to, but I noticed you guys have done it well. It stood out to me.
HARRIS: We try to have a different approach, but it's not something that we put it just to put some melody parts. It came naturally.
You have four videos, and I thought they were all pretty creative and done well. My favourite one is Somewhere Past The Burning Sun. Whose idea was this, and how was the experience making this video?
HARRIS: The experience was amazing! It was strange at the beginning. We are starring in this video - we don't just play music. It's not a playthrough video. It was fantastic. It is very strange when you are inside a coffin, also. It took us maybe two days to put it through. I, personally, felt like an actor, even though I am not one. It was fantastic. I think it's part of a musicians life. Video clips now, I think people don't only want music. They want to see stuff also.
GIANNIS: Yeah, and it was new for us, not playing our instruments in a video. Harris and the director (who was also called Harris) had this idea. And we just went for it and we were pretty happy with what came through. We are glad you liked it.
Yeah, it made me think of in history how some people have been buried alive. They were actually under the ground alive. There is a museum in Niagara Falls that shows a contraption they had where you could ring a bell if you were buried alive.
HARRIS: I have heard of it, but that wasn't our first thought.
The other video Dead Man's Land, how did you find the artist for this video?
HARRIS: He is the same guy.
GIANNIS: He is a very creative guy. Harris found him.
HARRIS: You like the videos that this guy did, so, that is a good start.
What is the story that is unfolding in the video? Can you explain that to me a little? I have my own idea of what might be going on, but just wondering from you guys.
GIANNIS: It's about the immigration crisis that happened all over Europe in 2015. And it exploded, and Greece was the first country that this humanitarian crisis hit. We had camps all over the country, and people being stuck here. It was a very big issue and a political thing. It still is, to be honest. It was a clear inspiration for us and we wanted to make a song about this. We wanted it to be more important, so we made a video and tried to express more about this idea that we could, in the best way that we can. And for people, not to spoon-feed them our idea, but to make them think about the issue, themselves.
HARRIS: In this video, we tried to say, this is a village with two kids and a monster that represents war and all this bad stuff comes in. At the end of this video, these two kids take a boat and go somewhere else. We wanted to tell that no one starts from the same page in their life. And you don't know the back story of anyone. You can't judge them because of what you do in your own life. You can't do push backs and all this stuff to these people. We don't start on the same page. That is what we wanted to share in this video. We wanted to make this clear.
I am pretty picky about what I listen to. Many bands I listen to I like the song here or there, but not the full album. Your new album I listened to several times all the way through. For yourself, what album could you put on and listen to the whole album from start to finish? Or maybe you are just that type of person that listens to complete albums all the time?
GIANNIS: Yeah, I am the type of person. One that pops into my mind is from Power Trip - Nightmare Logic. That was like my last favourite album. I was playing it all day. When I was younger, you know, all of the first five Metallica albums, the first five Slayer albums, I was just pressing play and every song had to be there. There was no fillers.
HARRIS: I think we are the type of guys that just listen to albums, not songs. When we hang out, I ask a lot about new music. I tell the guys recommend me bands. I go running and I like to listen to something. I listen to the whole album. I only listen to new music now, I don't listen to the same album again and again, at the moment.
GIANNIS: This is why with today's standard we made a short record. It is like 34 minutes, 8 songs. Not 10 or 11, like bands used to make. Because we wanted to put quality over quantity.
I will just mention too, I really liked your merch. I like the artistic presentation. I like to buy merch, so when I see stuff that looks good and is not just slapped on there, it is nice to see. Have you used a variety of designers?
GIANNIS: We want to try different stuff because we know especially now, with the new album, more people listen to our music and they have different tastes. We, of course, like the merch that we put out, but we want to represent more and more people. We are happy that all the designs that we have are very good, and people like it. And we will have even more in coming future.
You have been able to get out and play live. How does it feel being around people again, and getting your music out this way?
GIANNIS: It's the best! We didn't play for 2.5 to 3 years because of COVID, mainly. We did two live gigs, one in Athens and one in Pyrgos, like 3 hours from Athens. It was the best to be around people again and to actively watch people headbanging to your music, and tells you that you played a good show. We like our videos going well on YouTube and Spotify and everything, but after all, it's numbers. When it's a live gig, it's a whole different story.
Myself, I often go to music for different moods. For example, if I am excited or upset. Can you give me a song you might go to for specific mood?
GIANNIS: When I am moody I would put on more new aged black metal, especially is it is winter - you know the cliché. And when I am excited I will listen to the whole Kill Em All album, maybe.
HARRIS: When we go on a tour I will listen to what the guys are listening to. Before, maybe I would listen to Metallica. I don't know if it is appropriate to say, but sometimes if I go running or I do sports, I will listen to Eminem.
Thanks for getting together with me today. I do wish you success and all the best. Have a good rest of you day.
HARRIS: We hope to see you at one of our concerts in Canada one day or maybe somewhere else.
I hope to meet you one day, then!
GIANNIS: Thank you, Sarah. Have a nice day!
After interviewing Amken, I decided to add the song I Am The One to my playlist.
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