Shooting the shit with John Vagenas

Just before Naxatras — along with Half Gramme of Soma- gave a sold out show at Dürer Kert in Budapest, we sat down with John Vagenas to chat a little bit about how things are. We’re in no way real journalists and this reflects in our style and work ethic, but hopefully we will reveal some cool things about the band that hasn’t been said over and over before.

There is a little back story to the interview. This is the third time Kutya secured some alone time with the band, but it seems like this is the time any of it sees the light of day. Third time’s the charm, they say, so we invited John to join us in our office right above the venue.

Kutya: I think we’ve done this before.

John: It’s the third time.

K: It’s pretty hard to ask new questions at this point.

J: Yeah, first one in Freibourg and then Lake on Fire. The one on Lake on Fire was the funniest.

K: We were a little bit out of it.

J: We were like, fuck the questions.

K: Actually I met him there for the first time.

J: Ah really!

K: He was working at LoF

Ákos: It was my first year there, we met as well.

J: So you know Jacob and all. We were with them last night, with Timestone.

Á: I don’t think we’re a lot more prepared than Kutya was the last time you met. So, where should we start…

K: That’s what I asked you an hour ago.

Á: Then I’ll just start where I thought I’d take it at the time. My first encounter with Naxatras was during the first youtube boom. There were a lot of bands who became popular at the time, but since then many disappeared but you are still going strong. Why do you think that is?

J: When I became a fan of this music, it was because of these YouTube channels. I was listening to Electric Wizard, Samsara Blues Experiment, My Brother the Wind, Earthless and all these bands. This was around 2012, which I think was the first boom. We released the first album on youtube in 2015, so we could say we were in the second wave.

For us it was a very good head start, but it was just the beginning. It was a good step, but you can’t rely only on this. As you said many bands had a good start but didn’t keep up. But we kept playing and writing.

When you have a certain budget for a recording, you need to find how you can spend it in the most efficient way.

Á: I saw and heard about the gear you are using during the shows and in the studio. Especially, your bass rig last year…

J: Yeah, that was last year. Laughs This year I have one that is much more practical, because last time was really tough.

Matching 2x15 cabinet (spacing for scale)

Matching 2x15 cabinet (spacing for scale)

Á: The equipment and the tape masters, etc. do you think that it contributes to the sound that sticks or…

J: In some way it is really important, but it’s not the whole deal. When you have a certain budget for a recording, you need to find how you can spend it in the most efficient way. For us, recording at Magnetic Fidelity, was the cheapest way we could get a sound with identity. It gets the texture with the tape and also Jesus is a really dedicated guy who really knows his shit. It’s much more unique than the digital recordings around our home town, which have no personality at all. I think it’s not the only way. Maybe in the future we might try something else.

Actually the first album was recorded as a demo, but it was good enough for an album, so we put it out as an album.

Á: So far it works really well. If I put on a record from you guys it just sounds different.

J: The vinyl you mean?

Á: Yes, the vinyl, but also the digital masters. It has the texture from the tape, but also the musicmanship is outstanding. How’s the creation process?

J: The song writing. It was first more about jamming, taking the best parts from the jams, maybe adding new parts and making them into songs. From the third album, it was more traditional. Someone brings an idea, then we start working on it, make a progression, everyone contributes. For example if John [yes, the guitarist is also named John] brings an idea, we figure out the bassline, Kostas brings a groove or the other way around and when we are ready, we hit record and get everything live.

The band and engineer proudly presenting the tape masters. L eft to right: Konstantinos Xarizanis (drums), Jesus I Agnew (engineer), John Delias (guitars), John Vagenas (bass) Photo:  Naxatras

The band and engineer proudly presenting the tape masters. Left to right: Konstantinos Xarizanis (drums), Jesus I Agnew (engineer), John Delias (guitars), John Vagenas (bass) Photo: Naxatras

Á: I’m happy you had those jammy years, because it seems to still bind the whole thing together beneeth the structure.

K: How long have you played together before the first release? I know this is the third time I’m asking…

J: Before the first release, three years. We started the band in 2012, with four members. After two years of playing, we decided to continue as a trio, change the name and focus on the more psychedelic side of heavy rock. We picked the songs that we thought were the best and recorded them. Actually it was recorded as a demo, but it was good enough for an album, so we put it out as an album.

Á: You mentioned changing the name. What was it before Naxatras?

J: First name was Dust, but there was already a band named Dust.

K: Quite a few actually.

J: Yes, I think many bands started with the name Dust and then changed. Even one of the Ramones has band called Dust. Then we were named Temple for just one gig and then we chose Naxatras.

Á: And where does Naxatras come from?

J: It’s from the Hindu mythology, it’s a term used for the phases of the moon, but it’s spelled nakshatra originally.

K: How’s your film making career with all the mess of touring?

J: It’s not very active right now. The last thing I did was my thesis for film school. This was shown in 2016 and finished in 2017. That is my biggest project so far, it’s a half hour experimental film.

Poster for  Warp: Paramorfosis

K: I think you mentioned you were inspired by Holy Mountain.

J: Holy Mountain and David Lynch and all that. John also worked on the film with me. Helped in many ways. That was the last of it. I sent it to some festivals, some of them accepted it. I haven’t done much else due to touring.

Á: You are really busy with touring…

J: This is the longest one yet and we are going again in the spring for almost a month and before that we’re playing in Greece and there will be some mini trips around Europe in the summer. The whole year will be about touring. In the time between tours we want to work on new songs, but I don’t think it will be enough for an LP. Maybe after we finish touring with the third album, we can get back into the studio and really work on it.

K: I believe, and I’m sorry if it’s a rude question, but at this stage of your carrier, you don’t have to work nowadays, right?

J: Yes, but it’s not like we solely rely on the band for income, but it’s much better than before. Everyone of us gets help from our families. Most of us live with family actually. It’s not very very very comfortable yet, but we are getting closer to be sustained by the band.

Every tour, every gig, every release, is another reason to keep going.

Á: Do you have any advice for bands?

J: The only thing is to play the music you want to, without trying to be another band. Play until you find your sound and start focusing on it.

Á: You make it sound very easy.

J: It’s the simplicity of it that works. If you think a lot about the subject, it will never work.

Á: Was there a specific moment, when you knew that this was going to be for the long term.

J: For me there was no question about it from the start. Maybe when I saw that the first album is going well. That was the first time we thought that this could become the most important thing for us. For real. Every tour, every gig, every release, is another reason to keep going. When you see it’s getting better and more people come to your gigs and more people are listening to your music, it’s easier to say that “I’m on the right path and I will keep doing this.”

Á: I hope that you guys will be doing this for a long time.

J: Yes, we hope so to.

Á: Seeing how the habits of rock stars changed in the past years, I think you’ll be fine for another fifty.

J: Maybe when we’ll be 70, we’ll be playing I am the Beyonder. I think that’s my future, man, I can see myself doing it. I don’t know what to think of it yet, but I can see it.

K: You should always just change a little bit.

J: Yeah, we always try a little bit, especially on such a long tour. Sometimes you need to spice things up a bit, like in Brighton on Halloween, I dressed as Little Red Riding Hood.

All laugh

J: I told Dimitris, in Brighton, I will do something crazy, because last year I dressed up as well. You know Brighton. I told him, you choose whatever, I’ll trust you and dress up, I won’t object to it. Then he finds this fucking thing.

K: It is also nice to see for me, that you don’t use many show elements, other than dressing up as little red riding hood. What we can see from the crowd is three easy going guys, who give a fuck whether we feel good or not, but don’t give a fuck too hard.

J: Yeah, we don’t try too hard.

Á: Merely offering the option of feeling good.

K: For a long time I’ve been a fan and I think I told you this already, but you are my second favorite live band.

J: Really? Who’s first?

K: Jethro Tull

J: Thank you, that’s a very nice think to say.

So, that’s basically it.

As you can imagine, good things are cooking in the kitchen of Naxatras. Make sure you check them out at a gig near you, you heard Kutya, they’re only second to Jethro Tull as a live band and on the record, well buy it and listen for yourself, it will not disappoint.