Published on September 21st, 2016 | by The Beige Baron0
Interview | Sadhus “The Smoking Community”
With its sapphire seas and rolling hills, Athens seems an unlikely breeding ground for dope-fuelled doom. It’s as far removed from the drear and drizzle of Sabbath’s Birmingham, or the wet, grey boredom of rural Dorset (birthplace of Electric Wizard) as you could get.
Yet Greece is in the midst of a doom and desert boom, and although it’s hitting about a decade or so later than elsewhere in the world, the energy and quality of the music is exceptionally high.
Check out the debut LP of Athens bruisers Sadhus “The Smoking Community”, or their recent 7” split with Agnes Vein to feel the substance of the music: there’s a sense of connectedness to the past, yet it feels relevant and vital.
Searching for a clue as to why this potent slow-burning music is on ascent in Greece right now goes beyond the obvious answer of outrage at the destruction of the economy, the job losses, and the social chaos. The roots go further back.
Expression of social and political issues is interwoven in Greek rock music since the ’60s.
In 1967, as Jimi Hendrix was setting his guitar alight at the Monterey Pop Festival in California, tanks were rolling into place in Athens in a surprise fascist military coup that saw thousands of politicians and citizens arrested, jailed, and tortured: an April night that launched seven years of oppressive dictatorship that further divided a nation only just recovering from the wounds of civil war.
Overseas, Flower Power was withering into the biting cynicism of punk, yet the Greek dictators were piping martial music over the airwaves and attempting to stamp out Rebetiko—the blues—music they considered subversive and immoral.
Despite this censorship, incredible progressive and heavy groove bands such as Socrates Drank the Conium, The Sun of Greece, and Aphrodite’s Child captured the spirit of Hendrix, Sabbath, and Floyd, and made it their own. In so doing formed a plank in the cultural platform that is heavy Greek music today.
Planks upon which bands like Sadhus “The Smoking Community” now stand.
I asked Nick [bass] from Sadhus whether this renaissance of big groovy doom riffs is inspired by a rediscovery of bands such as Socrates, or from the influence of foreign sounds, or whether there is something distinctively “Greek” in the music of today?
“It is true that heavy and psychedelic music is going very well nowadays in Greece compared with in the past,” he replies over email. “And certainly there were some great bands like the ones you mentioned and some others during the ’70s and ’80s.
“But there were great difficulties, social and economic, in those times, so the music couldn’t spread to the people. You needed to make a great personal effort back then to have satisfying equipment and to play live or record anything.
“Then sometime after the mid ’90s, alongside the internet developing and the increased communication worldwide, people here come in contact with several music styles, more and more live shows started taking place, and in this way a music scene started to ‘breathe’.
“A lot of bands playing different rock music styles formed, more records got made, and finally in our day we’ve succeed in having a stable Greek music scene with some great records and an audience that supports it.
“Social and economic crisis has led a lot of people here to release all this life pressure in music…”
“We don’t know for sure if there is something ‘Greek’ in the music, but if it’s true, it has a connection with the Greek temperament and the strong bonds we have with the sea and nature.
“It’s also a fact that the recent social and economic crisis has led a lot of people here to release all this life pressure in music of a specific nature.”
What makes Sadhus “The Smoking Community” stand out even more is the dynamics and contrast in their sound, a compelling blend of crust-punk vocals with punishing, monumentally heavy riffs that build kinetic energy and explode in a satisfying climax.
While it’s easy enough to draw a line from Sadhus “The Smoking Community” to bands like Eyehategod, Sleep, or Iron Monkey, there must be something in the weed to make their music so easy to get into. So what, we ask, is the special appeal of playing big riffs and smoking even bigger bowls?
“From the old days, we used to gather in a group and listen to this kind of music, smoking together…”
“We always liked the heavy and slow music and bands like Black Sabbath at first, and then Sleep, Om, Melvins, Pentagram, Kyuss, bands that are serving the heavy, slow riff style,” says Nick.
“It is this strong, full sound that beats inside your body and coordinates with your vitals that always pleases us and fills us, and so we decided to express it in our music.
“In our opinion, there is a ritual psychedelia in all this that attracted us. From the old days, we used to gather in a group and listen to this kind of music, smoking together and having discussions about music.
“We think that weed fits to our music and help us to express things in a more psychedelic way, all the feelings coming up from inside.”
In country that has an international image of being a paradise in terms of food, culture, history, and natural beauty, what is feeding the fury that seems to bubble out of Sadhus “The Smoking Community”’s music?
“It is a fact that the environment or the nature of a place can affect the sound of the music, but we believe that this isn’t the only factor. It’s also the social situation and the deterioration in quality of life, everything that happens in the daily routine of a person, wherever they are worldwide, that deeply affects everyone and creates strong and dark emotions… emotions that pass in an unconscious way into the music and determine its character.
“Bands help each other, and this makes the bonds between music people here strong.”
“For sure, our contact with the rich nature of Greece adds an additional dimension or color in the music, but we also have to consider the present global character of music that can make, for example, people of any country play dark and heavy things.”
Sonically, both the debut LP and the split record are the real deal: fat, warm, and shimmering in the valve heat. If times are tough financially, has that led the band to try to strip back and achieve a bigger sound with less gear?
“There is a contrast between the economic situation of the country and the production of music. We are living in a very tough season, however the records and the number of new groups increase day by day,” says Nick.
“There are many difficulties in having your own technical equipment, and the bands here spend precious time and money for a very expensive hobby. From our side, we are a band that uses very heavy equipment in our jam place, on our recordings, and playing live, and that requires a lot of money and time to be spent.
“In addition, there’s transporting all this stuff to the places we play.
“Fortunately bands help each other, and this makes the bonds between music people here strong, and ties the scene together.”
I ask why Sadhus “The Smoking Community” chose to release a split with Agnes Vein—a band that seems in a similar ballpark musically, but with a grimmer and almost malignant edge. Are they a band they gig with often?
“Agnes Vein is a band that we knew from the early days and we always liked to see them play live,” says Nick. “In our opinion, they create great music and they have succeeded in making a personal style of music.
“We have never played any gigs together though, but when Vault Relics suggested to them to be on this split record, we all had no hesitation, were so happy that we had the opportunity to release something together.
“Agnes Vein is a band that we knew from the early days and liked to see play live…”
“We think that their music matches ours, with perhaps a more dark aspect to it.”
With no significant language barrier—many Greek people can speak at least some English—and geographically being a part of Europe, I wonder why more bands from the Mediterranean are not as well known, as say, bands from Germany or Sweden.
Was getting Brad Boatright [From the Ashes/Warcry/Lebanon, innumerable production/mastering credits including Sleep’s Dopesmoker] to master the record somehow important to gaining attention? Is the added “hook” of a “name” important?
“Cooperating with Brad Boatright makes us very happy every time we work with him, and his master of our debut album was right on point.
“It wasn’t important to have a ‘name’ for our master, but to find a person that could communicate on the same level with us…”
“Although he’s based in America, he immediately caught the feeling of our music and that made it easier for us to express what we had in mind for our first album.
“For us, it wasn’t so important to have a ‘name’ for our master, but to find a person that could communicate on the same level with us and have similar approach to the dimension of our sound.
So how has the split record been received so far? And does the band have a tour planned to support it?
“The reaction here about this release has been great,” Nick says. “People seem to notice it and are listening, a fact that gives us energy to go on with what we are doing.
“So far plenty of copies have been sold and we are now scheduling some live shows to promote it. We haven’t yet announced a tour, but we will participate in some great live shows like Desert Fest in Athens, and some other gigs.
“We hope that we will be able to have a mini-tour next season and we will be very glad to play abroad for the first time.”
Sadhus “The Smoking Community” / Agnes Vein Split 7″ is on sale now via Bandcamp. They play Athens Desert Fest on October 7/8. Follow on Facebook for more release and show information. Featured [Top] Image by Marianna Roussou.