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Fag Rock, Doo-Wop, and Greek Boys


Evripidis and His Tragedies

Piano, saw, violin, banjo, handclaps, metalphone, bass guitar, sax, and mellotron are just some of the instruments that bring an unusual and distinctive flavor to Evripidis and his Tragedies, a European experimental group, who defies labeling and traditional attitudes.

Experimental is perhaps the wrong word to use to describe the group, considering that they shy away from genre classifications. Understandable, because the music cannot be classified and brings a breath of fresh air for those looking for riveting new sounds. Sometimes sounding folk, dark wave meets baroque, or cabaret mixed with doo-wop. This may seem all too chaotic, but the combination works in sync to create songs deep in rich texture.

With group members and instruments continually changing, each concert is always a surprise. An Athens native dressed in a mod-sixties vintage ensemble, Evripidis Sabatis is the founding member. Evripidis is the main composer, songwriter, lead vocalist and pianist. He plays with an upbeat energy, giving the audience a fun feeling that is equal to the lost memory of a summer roof party from bygone days.

Marisol Simo, reminiscent of Rita Hayworth, adds backup vocals. She is a fiery redhead who walks onstage straight off of a 1940s pin-up calender, singing and expressing her movements like a member of the sixties girl group the Shangri-Las, while the plethora of other members provide a celebration on stage.

Their self-titled first album both lyrically and musically is like a soundtrack to a film, or more aptly described as the soundtrack of your life. Each song changes tones within itself to reflect varying moods like an intimate story.

One of my favorite songs, "Transylvania," begins with a fast-paced cabaret style piano giving a feeling of anxiousness. Evripidis' voice is deep and moody as he sings about searching for a lost love in an urban jungle, at times referencing ancient folklore. "In a land of a thousand nightclubs, I looked for you..." At certain parts of the song his voice inflicts a desperate urgency of a pubescent teenager tormented by unrequited love. Suddenly, the supporting instruments stop, and the piano becomes slow-paced as Evripidis' singing softens to fondly reflect upon his lover's smile. Marisol's vocals add a soothing melody, and a violin splices the conclusion of the song with dramatic undertones.

Thematic elements of the music can best be described as nostalgic. The lyrical content at times explicitly describes a specific sexual experience with consistent allusions to gay love affairs. "I'm dying to go down on you....we will fuck awkwardly in a tent."

Since each song reads like a specific story or insight into Evripidis' life, they are highly relatable to anyone who has cried over being rejected by a lover. Yet, the music is a juxtaposition in classic doo-wop fashion, because the songs can sound strangely upbeat and happy while the lyrical content is fatalist and heavyhearted.

A good example is the song "Ru Ru, I'd Love To." The music is light, upbeat and sixties girl-groupish, with the chorus at times sounding like a vaudeville show. The instruments create an uplifting melody with surfer-sounding guitar riffs and saxophone. This contrasts with painful lyrics, "I can never make you stay/ Nothing but a heartache every day/But you never seem to care."

Although the song is about two men, it was relatable and reminded me of an encounter with an indie lover, drunk and apathetic, as Evripidis sings about vulgar sexuality and romantic idealism. "Well, he's pencil-thin/He's so smart and well-read and knows tons about music!/And yeah, he is kind of dirty in bed/if only I could be in his head/If I could make him understand that/but you never seem to care, you always play it cool and this fact I just can't bear/I don't even recall if we kissed before or after the Beatles song, and I don't remember our ride back home, but I do remember being inside of you."

It's challenging to write about music that isn't bound by traditional genres. Jokingly, the band states that their music sounds like "Scratching nails trying to open a hole and come out in light." To get a better understanding of their music and message, I interviewed Evripidis Sabatis.

There are always new people performing with you during every concert. Why do you keep changing band members/instruments during each performance? Do you improvise?

Evripidis Sabatis: Well, the music is piano-based, but I play with my friends. It's richer with friends and more fun and interesting. There is a core of people that usually play, but in the beginning everyone was expecting eight people on stage. However, some band members have conflicting schedules. There is no money involved; it's an open group and we offer what we can, and sometimes we don't have enough funds to send everyone to another city. I tell my friends, "Whenever you are free, play with us."

For instance, one of my friends plays the banjo, and I liked the sound of it, so I added a banjo player. There was a saw being played at the show, and different instruments are continually added, such as a synthesizer or saxophone. I prefer playing with friends; it's a lot more intense.

We are an ongoing collaboration that keeps changing; it's not like we improvise each time, but we have a different version of each song in every show. We play so much, but people never get tired of us because our songs are different each time they are performed. The band has evolved. The signature is the same, but we learned to compose better over time and incorporate different instruments.

What do you classify your music as, since it's hard to place the band in a genre? Do you think you appeal to an indie crowd?

ES: Pop. Sometimes, like The Beach Boys. It all evolved throughout the years. The songs are cabaret. There are some bizarre moments in the songs. The song changes and doesn't stick to one genre. We don't have a commercial "pop" beat, but we don't try to appeal to an artsy crowd either. An indie crowd won't like us, because we aren't bizarre for the sake of being bizarre. I've been criticized that I don't have a certain style because some songs are tragic. Some people are lazy and look for thematic labeling in songs, and I just write what comes into my head--sometimes total euphoria, or total depression or total noise without a particular style.

Your lyrical content is like a story in your life dealing with thematic elements of love. Do you believe in it? And does your writing style change when you are in different relationships?

ES: I sing about the impossibility of love. I flirt with the idea that true love is something that doesn't exist. Sometimes I believe, sometimes I don't. My writing style doesn't change, but there is always a feeling of heartbreak and being afraid of the future. The songs are about being in a relationship or having a dinner with missed friends or a particular incident that happened which I can write about three years later.

As I've been growing older, I found it more difficult to do very bleak songs. In a way, people tend to respect melancholy, like Joy Division. But, my lyrics have a "love like a teenager" theme. The album has sad lyrics with lighter melodies. I consider my music to laugh at life's misfortune.

Music for me can be like a painkiller. For instance, one of my influences is the Magnetic Fields. There is humor in the lyrics although the melody itself can make you cry for a lost boyfriend; you start laughing in the middle of crying. Like Brian Wilson, who led a sad life but the songs had a positive message; the songs can be a reflection of sadness.

It's nice when a record brings some kind of hope. The name "Tragedies" reflects this attitude, because it's not like I'm singing about a real tragedy, like war or some violent death. Love is not a tragedy; the world suffers bigger tragedies, so the meaning is funny.

Jens Leksman is a big influence. I wanted to do something home-made and indie like The Magnetic Fields, but girl-groupish piano playing and singing. I had inspiration from other artists who played the piano like Regina Spektor, that gave me hope that piano-playing didn't have to sound like Elton John. The sound can affect you emotionally.

Now's a time in my life where I feel I can do anything, like play with a harp for instance to express myself. In the '90s I was too young; a piano project in my teens wasn't normal. When I was younger, I had much more adrenaline fit for a Brit-Pop group.

How does it feel playing in English-speaking places like New York and London? Do you find your accent to be a hindrance?

ES: When I played in New York, nobody knew me. We played for two hours because the other group canceled. The audience reacted well; yeah, it was really nice. I used to feel nervous when I played my first shows in Europe, then I thought, "They are my friends. They are not going to judge me." If I played in a new place, it's a new audience. I find it more interesting, more challenging.

I like the way we present the songs. People would get tired of me if I played the same show all the time, since we have so many shows in Europe. In London, the people enjoyed it. My accent isn't a problem. People in London would love a Virginia accent because it's interesting. It's not like someone is expecting the group to sing in the Queen's English. If they are then they are going to laugh at me.

What is your favorite song or concert?

ES: I like the song "Gregory" because it was my first song written and my record's oldest song. It evolved to be the song that it is. I still have the scrap of the original. It's very special to me and speaks about a special person. One of my best songs is about a music festival in Northern Spain and having a breakup in the festival.

Playing at Primavera Sound Festival was really nice. I had a pain in my hand, so it was also very painful, but it's my favorite festival. At each show, the majority of the crowd is very responsive. Although I sometimes do concerts at the opening of an art gallery or a party, and it's normal that people don't pay attention. I don't worry too much in a closed shop; it's more of a happening than a concert. So I'm very happy with the audiences that I've had so far.

What are you goals for the band or how you view success?

ES: I want to make a collaboration with other artists and travel. If I stopped enjoying what I do, I would stop. I don't want my music to become an obligation. Sometimes bands become like a slave to the music. Success can be good or bad; only lucky artists do what they want without compromising to their record company.

For more information on Evripidis and His Tragedies check out his myspace:

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