July 29, 2006

Band Interview: Bebek

BEBEK :: Sixeyes InterviewInterview by Chris Cummins

Bebek is a Philadelphia based pop group who describe their music as "A polished soundscape of organic electronica with European experimentation and American soul in tact", which basically means that their sound is a melting pot of their influences and various stylistic genres. Consisting of Lynn Michalopoulos (vocals), her husband Nick Michalopoulos (keys),Adam Mizelle (bass), Frank Vasile (guitar, bouzouki) and Mike Pietrusko (drums), the group have recently released their new EP Open Eyes. They recently spoke with me about their career, influences and overpriced concert tickets:

Chris: Your sound mixes elements of hip-hop, electronica and good old fashioned shoegazing, did you deliberately set out to fuse these diverse styles, or was it just one of those happy accidents that resulted from rehearsing and playing shows?

Nick: I am definitely a fan of all of these kinds of music i.e. Squarepusher & Wu-Tang. The most important pieces of the music in my mind, aside from the vocals, are the drums and bass…so in that sense, you could say that, as a songwriter, I value the same things that those styles of music put at a high premium on. I think the fusing of styles though has really come from our ability to allow the musical upbringing and taste of each of our members flow in the creative process of the group.

Frank: Fusing our live experience of playing to an audience with the studio experience I think leads to this kind of blend of genres--meaning that a band that can carry around with them all these elements while still executing each style well. What has been exciting of late has also been the edge that we are bringing to our new tunes that have not yet been recorded, (but will be hopefully soon), where there is a stronger rock element for lack of a better word.

Chris: What do you think of the Philly music scene? What is its biggest strength and biggest weakness?

Nick: I think the greatest strength of the Philly scene is alluded to in your next question, - the diversity of music that is present and being done well. I have seen a huge difference in the growth and increase in diversity of the Philly scene from when I first moved here from Chicago in 2002, which is very cool. I think the weakness of the scene is its cliquishness, you see so many bands playing with the same bands all the time. While I think it’s smart to market your music to the your niche audience, one of our goals is to expand our music and we have been happy to see that a variety of ages groups and musical tastes have found a home in our stuff. I think playing on different bills with different bands all the time allows this to grow, plus it’s cool to meet other musicians and exchange professional tips, etc. Also, it’s too bad, because there are some bands, which I won’t name, that I would like to play with, but they always play with the same bands, so we move on & find other cool bands from here or elsewhere.

Adam: The Philly scene's biggest weakness is the same as most cities in general. We're a city evenly divided by race and our social and night lives tend to self-segregate. The mix of cultures, however, guarantees the continued relevance and creativity of the scene. It’s Philadelphia's strength and we'll have something to say as long as it remains the case.

Chris: It seems that Philly is experiencing a musical renaissance with a variety of acts for every taste. Are there any acts locally that you and the band members are fans of/collaborate with?

Lynn: We have played with East Hundred before, as well as Aderbat who we like. We always enjoyed playing with Townhall when they were together. Honestly, one of the things I like about all of these bands in addition to the fact that they are excellent and very creative musicians is that they are nice people. One trend in the Philly scene that has come with the increased visibility many bands in town have, that I don’t like, is that people are less nice to each other. We have toured a lot and accomplished a lot, and sometimes it’s easy to forget about what it’s like to be an opening band playing your 1st show. But I try hard to remember what that felt like. What it felt like when clubs didn’t call us back and all the shitty things you go through when you are starting up and try to make sure that you are always cool with everyone. Not only the bands, industry folks, or such, who can help a band.

Chris: Let's get this out of the way, what are your influences?

Nick: The band’s musical influences are many & I have listed a lot here: Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Bjork, The Police, Peter Gabriel, dub (in particular Scientist and King Tubby), Portishead, lots of world music, Ani Di Franco, Fela Kuti, Thelonius Monk, Sarah Vaughn, PJ Harvey, The Cardigans, Mr. Bungle, U2, At The Drive In/Sparta, Thursday, Jeff Beck, Tom Waits.

Personally, I have always loved bands like Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Bjork Talking Heads, Ani DiFranco--people who are constantly redefining themselves. That’s one of the reasons that being to compared to Portishead and Massive Attack is such a double-edged sword to me: on the one hand, they both made great albums (Mezzanine for Massive Attack and Dummy for Portishead), but at the same time, they never really evolved as groups and I think that’s why Portishead’s career was relatively short-lived. Massive Attack has been around longer, but now they have started exploring shit with dub producers and stuff which is cool, but is not totally their element. If you take a band like Supersystem (From Touch and Go Records) their stuff is so diverse and all so good. I really have a great deal of respect for those guys.

I studied classical music and jazz so I would say that there is definitely that influence in our music (more so of our first album). I especially love Brahms & Mingus, composers who exemplify that well-composed music can still have the spontaneity, depth and passion of more modern music. In terms of musical energy and music that inspires, I am a huge fan of Wu-Tang as well as period of Ethiopian music and a group of musicians from the mid-sixties to mid-seventies, one of which is Mahmoud Ahmed Abdul, whose music is so passionate, so raw, so alive that I can never stop listening to it.

Chris: Discuss what it's like to be in a band with your wife, as I've neither been in either of those situations.

Nick: Being married to Lynn and her being the singer of Bebek is really an amazing feeling. Our music is very personal and a lot of the lyrics she or I write or write together come from personal experiences we have had either as a couple or individually and it’s great to be able to express that to people together. On top of that, the music business is tough and there are valleys and while it sometimes makes it tough when both if us are in a valley together, it’s good to have someone there next to you who understands exactly how you feel. There are times when it’s hard to be a couple because so much of our lives are wrapped in Bebek and we have to sometimes force ourselves not to talk about the band, & give balance to our life together. The other thing is that we both love to write new material and have a very good give and take in the writing process. We will question each other’s ideas, and of course sometimes other emotions get mixed in, but we really both care about this music and it’s cool just to be able to redefine ourselves as musicians while we are evolving as a couple and as individuals. All that being said, Bebek is also all about dreaming the rock n ‘roll dream, getting signed, touring all the time, etc. & I think when that dream becomes a reality it will mean a lot more with Lynn there with me.

Chris: A few years back, a Rolling Stone cover story purported that in order to save themselves, Radiohead had to destroy rock and roll. What the shit does that mean?

Nick: It’s kinda hard to say. I will say this: Radiohead is one of those bands that almost everyone says they like, ( except for some people who think they are phonies), but at the same time, very few people like all of their stuff. When they put out Kid A and Amnesiac, it was very inspiring to me not only because of all the sonic experimentation they did, but also because of the way they put songs together. All of sudden there wasn’t a verse – chorus structure. They started writing through songs—meaning in my mind, the songs begins with one idea then transform into another, but you never return to that first idea. The first song on Hail to the Thief (“2 +2 =5”) is like that, really cool stuff. So in that sense they have broken a lot of the conventions that rock music was based on, and still brought in new fans, albeit they lost some of their old ones. I don’t know exactly what it means, but there’s an interpretation from a fan who admires the band and who assumes there just not saying stuff to say stuff.

Frank: I think it's like the part in The Empire Strikes Back, where Luke is training on Dagobah and he fights Darth Vader and then Darth Vader's head turns into Luke's .

Chris: The Who is kicking off their upcoming North American tour in Philly. Ticket prices go as high as $294. I don't really have a question here, it just kinda baffles me. For that kind of cash, you should be able to go drinking with the ghosts of Keith Moon and John Entwhistle.

Nick: I think the most we have been paid for one gig is $900, which I guess would equal about three tickets to the Who show. I always told Lynn that if Pink Floyd reunited I would pay $100 to see them, but I guess that’s unrealistic.

Frank: As well as with Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd after they catch the ghosts of Keith Moon and John Entwistle fucking up a hotel banquet hall.

Chris: As a indie act, how do you feel about non-traditional media sources such as mp3 blogs and MySpace? Do you think they have a definite, tangible impact? If so, have you experienced this firsthand (other than being featured on *Sixeyes)?

Lynn: MySpace has become for us, like most bands I’m sure, our biggest tool. We have met people like you as well as music journalists, radio DJs from around the world that have been into our stuff and have reached out to us. Similarly, we have reached out to lots of new people about our music and it’s been great to be able to make new fans that actually come out to shows when we are on the road.

Frank: We always meet people who come to out of town shows based on things like mp3 blogs and MySpace. Not only that, but it's put us in contact with a lot of artists all over. You used to just have to meet people at gigs.

Nick: Reading blogs, emailing, communicating via MySpace, all this sometimes makes the music business feel like a desk job, but there’s no denying the huge value of blogs, (we’ve been fortunate to have been picked out by you as well as a few others) and I guess it’s only going to get bigger.

* * * * * * *

MP3: from the EP, Open Eyes + 807 Dub

For more on Bebek and their new EP Open Eyes, visit www.bebekmusic.com

Chris Cummins is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and a gentle giant of a man who will be sporting a different configuration of facial hair each time you see him, if he ever left the house that is. Love him, scorn him, fear him. Or just pay him. He needs dough like anyone.

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