After spending a decade playing in NYC’s underground, punk scene scene, the Queens-based Panopoulos brothers, Teddy (vocals) and Nick (guitar and backing vocals) originally teamed up with Fabien Stret (drums) to form Dead Waves. And in a relatively short period of time – currently about two years as Dead Waves – the band has been extremely prolific releasing two EP, Kill the Youth and Take Me Away which won quite a bit of attention across the blogosphere for the Queens-based trio for a sound that’s been compared to the likes of the Melvins, Bleach and Incesticde-era Nirvana, the Pixies and others.
A little while ago, the Queens-based trio went to Chicago’s Electrical Audio Studios to record their recently released “Oracles of the Grave” 7 inch, produced by the legendary Steve Albini, And interestingly, the new 7 inch has the band showing a change in their songwriting – although both “Oracles of the Grave” and “Promise” show the band’s penchant for layered and scuzzy power chords, the songs are goth-like, heavy dirges that feel and sound punishing. By far, “Oracles of the Grave” is the hardest, heaviest and scuzziest thing the band has written to date, seeming to owe a debt to the Melvins, complete with howled vocals; while “Promise” seems to owe a great debt to Nirvana – and it may well be the most radio-friendly of the two singles.
I recently spoke with Dead Waves’s lead vocalist and bassist Teddy Panopoulous about recording with Steve Albini in Chicago; how it’s like for Teddy to write, record and tour with his brother Nick; the borough of Queens’s strange reputation for seeming much further than what it really is; the band’s writing process and much more.
Check it out below.
Photo Credit: Gianna Leo Falconhi
WRH: How did you get into music? And when did you know that it was your calling?
Teddy Panopoulous: I was always into the arts, but there was something about music, it was the one medium where I felt a certain freedom that I couldn’t get from anywhere else. When I play I feel alive, like I can connect and channel into something.
WRH: How would you describe your sound?
TP: We always like experimenting as a band and just play whatever comes out naturally. We usually let the songs find us. Some people say it sounds like drone, noise, sludge, while others say it sounds like post-hardcore, grunge. I don’t really care for genres or any label trying to describe art or music in general, but I guess we fall under noise-rock, which in a way umbrellas all that.
WRH: Who are your influences?
TP: Anyone trying to keep this real artistic realm alive before all of it succumbs to a corporate paradigm of what music should sound or even look like for marketing schemes and bottom-line agendas. So influences range from any genre to any era as long as I can feel something and believe it.
WRH: Who are you listening to right now?
TP: Right now, I’m actually listening to a Josef K record that I just got a couple of days ago.
WRH: How did you meet your drummer?
TP: I put up an ad on Craigslist. We auditioned some drummers, but when we auditioned Jordan, we shared a certain affinity for the same kind of music and everything else. I guess we’re just kindred spirits in a sense.
WRH: How does “Oracles of the Grave” differ from your previous releases?
TP: We recorded it with Steve Albini on analog tape and pressed vinyl for it, which is something we’ve never done before and always wanted to.
WRH: The legendary Steve Albini produced the “Oracles of the Grave” 7 inch. How did that come about? How was it like to work with him on the record?
TP: Everybody kept telling us that we should record with someone, and the only person we wanted to record with was Steve Albini, so I reached out to Electrical Audio in Chicago and we set something up. Words can’t describe the experience for us as a band. This is someone who has recorded, or who has been in, pretty much all of our favorite bands and we got to work with him. We flew out to Chicago and recorded everything in one day. It was a surreal experience, playing our music in the studio and on the other side of the room, having Steve there recording and then mixing it, bringing out the monster in the tracks…just making the songs sound so heavy and big. He gets noise and just knew how to record our sound. It’s funny, I actually got kind of sad leaving Electrical Audio the next day, the whole band did. I felt it. We can’t wait to go back and record.
WRH: The “Oracles of the Grave” 7 inch has you going towards a scuzzier, grimier dirge-like direction. Was this intentional?
Something that I’ve learned over the course is to play whatever comes out naturally and at the moment this 7” reflects what we’re feeling and more of what’s to come.
WRH: How do you know when you have a finished song?
TP: Most of our songs are created in our rehearsal studio when we’re just making noise and getting into it and the melody and song tends to find us as we find it. We know when the song is finished when it starts feeling unnatural to the original essence of when it was created. I feel once you start consciously contriving something into it rather then subconsciously letting it develop then it’s time to stop and the song is finished.
WRH: Although I knew of you for a while, I met you guys in person while at one of Kelly Knapp’s showcases at Shea Stadium and I was struck by how incredibly close you are. So how is it like to write, record, perform and tour with your brother?
TP: It’s great because we both have a lot of the same ideas towards life and music in general, so when it’s time to create and record it makes it easier for us because we’re on the same page with a lot of things. In a way, we understand where we are going without having to say much. When you know the other person is as dedicated and serious about the music and band as you are it plays a big role in making the idea a reality.
WRH: Like me, you’re based out of Queens, New York. And I can tell you that while out and covering the scene, I’ll be at some venue chatting with someone and as soon as they learn that I’m from Queens, the response is as though I could have said Turkmenistan or the Democratic Republic of the Congo – in the sense that they may know of it, but it seems utterly foreign. Have you received a similar response?
Yeah, I never understood that, I still find it funny though. It’s only a ten-minute drive into Brooklyn or Manhattan but it’s like we might as well be from another planet or something. We never really fit in anywhere so maybe I just got used to being an outsider.
WRH: You’ve been involved in New York’s music scene for quite some time. What advice would you give to an artist trying to make a name for themselves? Is there anything you’d do over again?
TP: To us music is therapy and our outlet. if you’re in it for money or fame you’re on the wrong path. If you’re doing it because it’s your passion then that’s all that really matters. Don’t wait for someone else to take interest in you. Do what you can now, take matters into your own hands and start respecting yourself or nobody else will. Get out there and get involved in your own community and support your independent artists, they’ll support you, that’s where it all begins… Don’t wait for managers, record labels or any of that old paradigm thinking…It’s 2014 and the Internet has helped give musicians independence. You don’t need to rely on anyone except your own creativity and energy. You are the label; you are the musician, start taking yourself as serious as anybody else would if they were to invest in you.
Everything is a learning experience so I wouldn’t do anything over again.
WRH: So what’s next for the band?
WRH: We’re working on creating new tracks for our first LP, which should be released sometime in 2015. Until then we’re just booking a lot of shows throughout NYC.