VI∙ZA at Aftershock
Intertwining an Armenian folk sound with Western traditions combines to create an extremely revolutionary sound. Featuring an oud player (Andrew Kzirian; to read an exclusive interview with him (click here) in a band will undoubtedly place you on a higher level than bands close to your genre.
I would describe VI∙ZA as a cross-cultured rock band that is not afraid to dabble in new musical concepts and explore different sounds.
I sat down with guitarist Orbel Babayan and lead singer K’noup Tomopoulos backstage after their set at Aftershock. Somehow, it always works out that VI∙ZA only plays at twenty-one plus venues whenever they come to town, so this was only my second time seeing them live.
Recently, Tomopoulos says, “We’ve just been laying low, writing, playing some local shows on the West Coast. It’s been a quiet summer. It’s okay. We recorded a little bit; we recorded a new song with a couple of other covers that are associated with our kick-starter campaign…and here we are at Aftershock. Good times.”
Babayan adds in, “The opening slots that we got for Serj [Tankian] and Gogol Bordello increased our following the most over the past few years. We’re in Europe for a couple of months at a time. We would do just fifteen shows with Serj, or we did a couple with Gogol...That’s pretty much what got us a lot of our following in Europe. We’re still working on the States. It is more difficult in the States.”
The States are indeed probably the hardest of the places to make it because in general the crowds are so fickle. Unfortunately, our culture here has developed into loving songs instead of albums, loving noise instead of music, and loving looks instead of lyrics. Despite these setbacks, the opportunities are still there to make a name.
Each member of VI∙ZA brings different sounds into the band. “Individually, I like to bring passion,” explains Tomopoulos. “Everyone in this band brings passion. But, I grew up watching the greatest front men and have studied them, and for the most part I like to take a page from them for their one hundred percent in every time. That’s what I bring in.”
Babayan brings in a different side of music. “I joined the group later, after everybody was in…so the style was already there. I grew up listening to classic rock, more Western style music. But, when I met these guys, they were into the more Armenian sounding stuff…I think I bring a more Western side. Andrew, for instance, he plays the oud, so he brings that sound, and Shaunt, he’s really into the ethnic stuff, too. So, they bring in a lot.”
Tomopoulos adds, “Songwriting—I like to call it magic. It comes out of nowhere. We don’t sit down and say, ‘Okay, time to write this.’ Songs just come out of nowhere. Ideas are spawned out of just the smallest of things. The old saying that we wrote it in the shower, that’s literal. Many times, we’ll be—well, not together—we’ll be individually be in the shower, and [at least] I will be like, ‘Oh, I just got an idea for this an this and this.’ Where music and songs come from, who knows where they come from? We’re just messengers of the songs.”
“That is the most difficult question for me,” confesses Babayan. “I will try to narrow it down, and then I’ll feel like such a jerk later for leaving something out that I really like. It’s hard to say. That’s why I usually like to say, ‘lately.’ Actually, on the drive over here, my girlfriend showed me this Tom Waits song called “Poor Edward,” and I’d never heard that song before, but I was just like, ‘wow.’”
“I’m a huge fan of Tom Waits,” chimes in Tomopoulos. ““Blood Money” and “Alice” are the greatest off his records I own. I want to throw Tom Waits into the mix. I love his caricature.
“[Waits] said, ‘I’m going into the Hall of Fame and yet I’ve never written a hit single.’ I love that about him. Well, the songs that I have are very eclectic when in comes down to music. Lately, I’ve been listening to a Hebrew rock band from Israel. They’re called Orphaned Land. They’re fantastic, they’re very along the lines of our passionate side, and hopefully someday we can tour with them. So I’ve been checking those guys out. I listen to Andrea Bocelli, I listen to Queen, and I listen to various artists. I actually checked out U2’s new record because it was put into my iPod, and I’m a fan of U2, so I accept that.”
Adding on to the subject of U2, Tomopoulos articulates his opinion: “To those artists who are giving U2 a hard time for putting their music in their iPod, I’d like to see you last thirty years and sell a quarter of the albums that U2 has sold. Then you guys can talk. Until then, please be quiet. Just delete the album if you don’t like it.”
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Zoe Adler is a music journalist from Long Beach, California. Besides her website, which is her pride and joy, she works with the GRAMMY Foundation and the Long Beach Independent. Additionally, Ms. Adler is a musician, spending half of her time playing the flute, piccolo, trombone, and marching baritone. She has been with TeenView Music since the very start and hopes to make something of it in the future.