Friday, June 21, 2024

Interview with Viza at Hammerfest

Viza are a seven-piece band from Los Angeles, California. They play an erratically amusing blend of highly energized international rock.

Their music combines a fascinating fusion of the old and the new, employing traditional instruments such as the ancient string instrument – the oud – blended with more traditional rock elements such as guitar, bass and drums. Viza have managed to garner significant successes all over the world.

Their recent album “Carnivalia” is the band’s most animated work – a journey through a symbolic theme park derived from satirical and dramatic influences. Inspired from Gogol Bordello’s multicultural rhapsodies and System of a Down’s notorious screams and riffs. This (their fifth album) was recorded at Frank Zappa’s UMRK Studios by Jared Gosselin (D12, Macy Gray).

At this year’s Hammerfest – Episode V “In Fear of the Dragon” – at the Hafan-y-mor camp-site in Pwllheli RAMzine spoke to Chris Daniel (Percussion) and Andrew Kzirian (Oud) from VIZA about their festival appearance and their music.

RAMzine: Welcome to Wales. And to Hammerfest. Where were you playing last night?

Viza: “The Borderline [London. ] It was awesome. It was a perfect size for us, about 200 – 250 audience. It was a nice cosy little club show. Very intimate.”

RAMzine: So, you have flown out from L.A . What’s the scene like out there right now?

Viza: “The scene out there has changed a lot… It’s changed, honestly, 180 degrees. Its complete sh*t! (Laughs) Because [if you] go 5 years back or so there was, you know, The Whisky a Go Go, The Roxy Theatre, Key Club, etc. All that whole strip [along Sunset Blvd.] And for five or six nights a week you had up to eight or nine bands in every club … Friends, family, fans – it was packed, business was good, everything was good.

Then “Guitar Hero” came out, or something … And everyone became a musician …D’you know something … Everyone became a musician and the people just stopped giving a shit because – hey – everybody’s in a band – everybody plays an instrument, everybody, anybody, can walk up the to The Whisky and book their band to play!

You know, it became like [deep breath] real bands kinda suffered …”

RAMzine: Yeah, I follow you…

Viza: “So, in that scene, it meant that the dynamic was different – so your voice, if you want to speak up louder [than the others], then you’ve gotta be creative, you’ve gotta have different angles … So it changed the whole calculus, y’know.”

RAMzine: Yeah, at the end of the day, it’s actually the creativity that cannot be replicated.

Viza: “Well that’s it. The whole art is based, or is predicated on creativity right? (Laughing) That’s the core of it … right?”

RAMzine: Well you wouldn’t believe that if you listened to some of the people at the top of this business.

Viza: “Yeah, because they’re the ones that are kinda like parasites. It’s a parasitic industry. First you have the artist … And if the artist is succeeding or getting somewhere then everyone [starts] to surround the artist : The attorneys, the management, the label, the publicists, the agent, I mean you name it. Because, I mean, the artist does need them in a way … but the artist also should be conscious enough not be taken advantage, of y’know …

These days.. you gotta kinda look out for yourself too.. You don’t need anybody to make it now, you need, you know … you just need yourself.”

RAMzine: Right, so let’s have a chat about your fifth album, “Carnivalia”. Tell us about the imagery behind that.

Viza: “We took a couple of cool images last night that relate to Carnivalia actually… (Both laugh inscrutably. )

In the music that we were doing, we were writing after we’d just come off the road, and so everyone was really silly, really wacky, guitar players were just diddling all day with like wacky riffs and then we just started building ideas, then ideas into songs and, you know, the singer was like “this is [like] some kind of like carnival”. Weird, psychedelic … all that.”

RAMzine: Was it based on the TV series Carnivale, the HBO series?

Viza: “We haven’t seen that show in the States. We’ve heard of it but we haven’t seen it. But this album, this album was thematic in nature and it did very much reflect our touring experiences. During the last two and a half years we went from not touring to touring all the time … it was a dramatic shift in our musical experience …

So we’re all like packed together in a van and a bus and we’re like ‘on the road’, playing shows, meeting people, good shows, bad shows and then there’s more good shows and it’s kind of growing. And soon it’s like ‘Holy Shit’ things are changing – and I think that this album kind of reflected that newness and that evolution for us …

And even in the videos that we did for the album, for example, the first video we did, it kind of reflected a lot of the things you said about the Carnivale TV show – it was grotesque, satirical etc.

But then, later, we released another video from the same album and that was a little more, umm, sophisticated, it was like in a film noir style, like Casablanca. Murder mystery. So the album embodies a lot of different things and ultimately it’s up to the listener to get what they wish from it.”

RAMzine: What about your approach to song-writing? How does that come about?

Viza: “We’re all involved in song-writing. Normally it could be … An idea comes into our heads … Just a riff, an idea with the oud (the pear-shaped stringed instrument that Andrew plays) or the guitar – and then we just put a beat behind it … Start structuring, all of those things.

And then, just slowly, we put the words to the music. The singer usually takes in the song, and just puts his own touch to it, and whatever vibe he got from what we have produced.”

RAMzine: What about the lyrics? How do you arrive at those?

Viza: “He (K’noup) writes the lyrics … If there is a moment in time or one of us feel like: “Hey, I really want that lyric in that song.” Then it’s in there. It’s a group project you know? So that’s one of the things that kind of keeps things spicy and exciting for us …

The lyrics have a lot of satirical elements … Um, a lot of story telling, life experiences, things of that nature. But then again it’s also up to the listener to just put it together how they want to- you know – based on the words and lyrics …”

RAMzine: If I was talking to a folk band they would say, em, we’ve got a political dimension to our lyrics…

Viza: “That’s a touchy subject (Laughs). Well, it’s not that we’re not political but there are things we care about and we’ve tried to incorporate politics in our music and performance in a positive way – to raise awareness of things that are important to us as people too.

There are things that matter to us, and so – whenever we have a chance to make a positive contribution – we try to make a difference. For example, we’ve fund raised for charities, orphanages …

An issue that matters to us, the Armenian members of the band, is Armenian genocide …”

RAMzine: Right.

Viza: “So we do a concert every year on April 24th which is the commemorative day – Just to raise awareness. We feel that it’s a great way to have a little bit of a different message that is coming from our ‘podium’.

Through music and art you can really convey the importance of something to your audience, in a different style. We think that comes across in a unique way. For the younger fans I think it’s a cooler way for them to relate and to feel like they belong to something because, I mean, [we are all] just growing up… We are all passionate about political things that are happening all around us – and if you connect that to music and going out, and having a good time, then that 10 or 15, bucks you paid to see that band (the money either went to an orphanage …or to feed people) well then, you don’t mind so much.

We actually try to research worthwhile charities that can really use [our help] the most. We don’t want to just give it to anyone. Yeah …There’s a lot of charities … Especially in L.A. which are … you what we mean – scandalous … (Laughs).”

RAMzine: Have you ever played in Armenia?

Viza: “Yes. That was in the August of 2010. It was actually our first show with Serj [Serj Tankian] – We were support. So it really hit home and it was his first time in Armenia too …”

RAMzine: Wow.

Viza: “Yes, that was a crazy show. It was a really interesting and a unique experience.”

RAMzine: So the instruments, (for example the Oud we talked about that earlier) Do you play that?

Viza: “The oud – He plays the oud. (pointing at Andrew.) We bring a lot of the Eastern elements in with the instruments that we play …”

RAMzine: I know that The Oud is an ancient instrument. Is it based on a hollowed out root ?

Viza: “I’d say it’s more like a water melon …that (to me) is how I would describe the sound that is created.

But the origin of the instrument is based on mythology- and that was that they hung a man from a tree that died as a tribute – and his corpse developed into the shape of the instrument. That is going back 6000 years … Back to the Sumerian …

What’s cool about Viza, and what we do, is we take a lot of the old stuff and we kind of re-publish or re-invent it with a lot of modern feel – and our own experiences – in it.

We have all the basic elements … When you listen to the songs they’re heavy, the balls are there (Laughs) … But there’s a certain little twist and that’s, to be honest, why we were wondering, like “We’re coming to Hammerfest… We’re coming to the land of the metal-heads … Hard core music, how’s this gonna work? Is it gonna work? Are we gonna get our arses beat?” You know? We couldn’t predict what would happen.”

RAMZINE: But we think that metal people really do appreciate something different. They know their stuff. But they are not afraid to experiment. That is why metal is such a rich and dynamic force.

Viza: “D’you what – We have noticed that too, and it is kind of inspiring, there’s a groove that we have in our sounds … And I think that’s very universal …

It’s very contagious and universal. Then once we see [the crowd] getting amped – and then we’re getting amped – and it’s kind of building and building …It’s probably elemental ‘cos … It’s going crazy. … It’s awesome.”

RAMzine: And how was the Hammerfest audience?

Viza: “It was unexpected and it was beautiful. I mean, there was a lot of smoke enfolding the drums but all I could see was people just tearing up the place…There were mosh pits, there was folk dancing- I even saw there was line-dancing … then back to the moshing. I was like “This is really awesome” – all those different styles all in one little area. It was cool.”

RAMzine: It’s really superb to have you here – touring in the UK – so what’s next for you?

Viza: “Well. We have one show left. In Paris. Then we go home, rest for like a week and we’re amped to write. We’ve been writing [on tour], but we want to write more… And, um, we will see where touring takes us in the future and just stay busy man. Stay active, and do stuff.

Last year we did three different tours, we kind of did a winter, spring, summer … It went by in the blink of an eye. We don’t have management, we do it all ourselves …. We can push hard and we bust arse – then we feel happy ‘cos we’re kicking!”

RAMzine: Congratulations on your show at Hammerfest and your European tour.

Viza: “Yeah. And it’s been really cool. There’s been such a great buzz. A lot of people have been coming up to us saying they enjoyed it – which was kind of very cool for us to hear.”

RAMzine: Enjoy the rest of your dates and enjoy yourself in Paris. Do a good show.

Thank you, Viza.

Neil Mach
Neil Mach
RAMzine Senior Writer - With a career spanning 30 years author / journalist Neil Mach is an expert on the music business and is a reliable guide. He especially loves heavy metal, prog & blues.

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