A few hours before their show, supporting Serj Tankian at the Zenith De Paris, RYL! got the occasion meeting Viza, especially three of them, check it out!
Hello! How are you today? Glad to be back in Paris?
Andrew Kzirian (oud) : Yeah we’re happy to be here, very much so.
Knoup Tomopoulos (vocals) : Paris is always great. I’m actually looking for tomorrow to possibly visit the city, as I always do.
How’s the tour going so far?
K : Tour is going great. We’re coming across a few new cities we never been through before, including 3 stops in the UK. And right now, we’re making a lot a new friends and fans, and there’s nothing more you can ask for, as a band, you know. On the road, going to different stops, different locations, just like expand, that’s what we’re doing well right now.
A : It’s a great experience, meeting everyone. We love to share our art and what better ways than to tour, especially with someone like Serj. It’s a really great experience for us, it helps us grow as people and as musicians too, so it’s very cool.
Here you are on the road, with Serj again, how did you learn that you’ll be part of his European tour?
A : It was a funny story. We were doing a lot of press in the UK and through our publicist there, just getting a lot of stories and features, and I think that was something that was important to us being able to get on the tour because it shows that we’re very active. I mean we’re a very hard working band, always pushing ahead, we do everything ourselves and we found that just as that tour was starting we had a show in London; we found out that we were confirmed. We heard that it might happen but we finally heard right one that tour started. It was cool to know that we have another tour and we just started the other one in August.
Talking about Serj, did you listen to “Harakiri”? How do you feel about his new record?
K : I think it’s just another level of his ability to just write music for those outside the bubble. It’s not a typical rock album, much like his other work isn’t. I personally like this album, a lot, for the simple reason that there are a lot of great songs, “Harakiri” is a great song, “Ching Chime” is a fantastic song. It kind of reversed to his “Elect The Dead” record a little bit more so, which is a fantastic album. He’s got a lot of wisdom of his within his words. In this record he talks on a very earthly tone, something that many artists felt to do, everybody has a political agenda but felt to mention the fact that, you know, we live on planet Earth and planet Earth is extremely fragile. So he touches upon that and with that we get to the message across very well, on this record.
For those who still don’t know Viza, can you introduce us Viza?
A : Yeah sure! I like to say that it’s 7 musicians playing really crazy music, and it very kind of comes out when we do our live performance. Our live shows are a big part of our identity; it’s a way for us to communicate what we’re doing artistically, to present our songs, to present our energy as a group, as a unit, as a family together. And what we do is something pretty unique, we take traditional rock and some metal influences and we mix it with Middle Eastern influences, such as Armenian and Greek, and even some Latin vibes too, while our drummer is from Puerto Rico. When you blind that all together you get Viza, which a lot of people have said it sounds like nothing else, which I kind of like that, it shows that what you’re doing is something new and fresh and something that the listener can say “look, what is this?” As an artist is a rewarding experience to see that communicated to them.
K : The music is just, in my interpretation, 7 guys playing their roots, whatever they might be: Greek, Armenian and Russian. Middle Eastern music is still their roots, what we grew up on and it comes out within, you know, the work; and as far as our live can shows concern, I like to think of it as a very theatrical, epic performance. I almost like to think we try to bring back the arena rock that used to be very prevalent back in the day, years ago, none so much now, rock is considered kind of like club show and all that, but we forgot all about like having Def Leppard, Queen, Led Zeppelin.
A : KISS!
K : KISS; the big arena shows and if there’s one thing that I want to be a part of within this group, is an arena show, the bigger the better!
A : And you’ll see it tonight!
This question could be an idiot one but, at the beginning Viza was written with an S, and then replaced by a Z, why?
A : Basically, the last two albums that the band has done “Made In Chernobyl” and “Carnivalia” has been a pretty significant evolution of our sound. We became, although we maintain our roots with the traditional ethnic elements with the instruments and the melodies, those 2 albums became much more aggressive but still keeping our own style. So the Z was kind of like rebranding of the band, to signify a change in our sound.
Your last album “Carnivalia” came out last year, with all these months, what’s your opinion on it?
K : It’s just like another child. Responds has been very well; there’s always gonna be fans saying “I fan of “Chernobyl” and not so much of “Carnivalia””, you can’t please everyone. First you could be able to please yourself, the artist you know when you do your work. I’m very happy with the record, with the experience; we recorded it in Frank Zappa’s studio, which was not just a pleasure but a very inspirational experience. So far everybody enjoyed it; I get plenty of emails, the guys too, regarding fans. It’s a different record, where the next one will go, who knows? But “Carnivalia” is a good record.
A : Can I add one thing? With “Carnivalia”, because we wrote that album after our first real touring, the album kind of reflects our experiences. We’re musicians but we started travelling and sharing it, so it’s kind of interesting touring so much after the record and the record is almost of the result of the touring too, so it’s kind of looking in a mirror, which is cool.
Your musical style evolves since your debut. Was it natural? Did you need to change or it’s more like an evolution?
Hiram Rosario (drums) : When you’re writing an album, for playing and playing so many years together, you just naturally evolve as a musician, getting better, and you also start to understand each person’s style; that comes through the songs you write, so I want to say that the album have evolved since the very first one, because we’re getting to know each other, hanging out more, work together a lot now, so the friendships and our musical influences are combined, ending up in the final product.
A : Hold the mic’ until the next one (laugh)
Talking about that, how did you find yourself playing music? What elements convinced you to make music for your living?
K : Me personally, music was more like a calling. Early on, I mean I was introduced into music from my family, I believe I was 7 years old, where I started playing trumpet in a philharmonic band
A : (Laughing, again, imitating the trumpet’s sound)
K : And it was fun doing that and later on, exploring my best of interest, which is guitar, introduced to rock, that element took over. It was an instinct “this is what I wanna do, I want to hit the grand stage, I want to be like Bono, like Freddie Mercury” and I believed that; it wasn’t written in the corner of a paper like “I think I want to do this”, no, it was immediate. I woke up one morning I said “I want to do music for the rest of my life, till I die, I can’t think of myself doing anything else” and that whole process was such a long journey, downs more than ups, especially at the beginning, when you’re trying to find your voice as an artist, you met so many people, especially in the culture which I came from. Everybody wanted to me to become a lawyer, a doctor, you know, an engineer, not necessarily a singer. So to do what you do now, and see obviously the rewards of it; it makes all those years, of just struggling, worth it. To be here in Paris, I never thought to play the Zenith in Paris, and here I am, it’s a pleasure and I’m very humbled by that.
A : My path is very, very different. I always grew up playing music because my family was a very passionate family of artists and musicians. So I always played music both Armenian and American stuff too. But the pressures, what Knoup was saying, the family pressures, I’m a lawyer, that’s what I ended up doing but I kind of, much later, found myself in Viza, with the guys, when I joined the group, it was kind of an opportunity, for me, to let all of the creativity and artistic stuff that was in me to flow out more freely. So my path was very different and much later, but I think it’s kind of “better late than never” and working with the guys is amazing, they’re like family, brothers fight sometimes but at the end of the day, we love each other. I think it kind of helps our music too, because it comes out when we play. Hiram, your path?
H : I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. You know, every kid thinking about being a firefighter or a policeman.
A : (Laughing, one again)
H : Something like “yes, that is what I want to do” (using a high tone kid’s voice). But ultimately, I grew up, music was something I was very prominent in my household, from 7 in the morning to midnight, always music on TV, on the radio, my dad was playing and singing on the guitar, it was always around me, I just it came out a natural progression becoming a musician. I’m just glad I still have the support of my family; they were like “if you’re happy, you’re happy, and that’s it”. So far so good, now I’m in Paris, that’s fantastic.
When we take a look at the artwork, from Ari Roussimoff, can we say that it defines your musical environment? With multiples genres, colorful, a great melting-pot.
K : Yes, I think so. The minute I stumbled on his work, through the beautiful tool of the internet, amazing how you don’t need to walk out of your room, going to the museums anymore. I saw his work and immediately knew that this man needs to represent our record somehow, because his choice of characters, neighborhood, colors, tones and personalities reflected that, at least, lyrically what I tried to reflect with “Carnivalia”. And he embodies that melting pot very much so, with his worked and not just “Carnivalia”. If you look to his other works, he does so many neighborhoods; he’s kind of like a very obscure world like “Sesame Street”, very childhood.
A : Yeah, it’s like a children’s show.
K : And he has that children’s touch. The man is a genius; it was a privilege to share his work with ours.
Is there a possibility to see a darker record, comparing to “Carnivalia”. Something really strong and heavy for example.
K : That’s funny you said that, because we’ve discussed that recently. We’ve done the bright and wacky world of Viza and, yet don’t touched the dark side. The one issue here is that we try to resemble our lifestyles, our daily activity; it’s a reflection of us. And here we are, thinking of possibly recording a dark record but with all the smiles and stuff, you can’t force that. The best of darkest music, it’s when you hit the bottom and when your emotions are extremely low and you compel to write that down. Hopefully, we can get it without feeling such somber. I, personally, am fan of dark music and I’d love to see that kind of music with this band.
H : (15 seconds later) definitely.
(Everybody in the room laughs, again!)
Have you ever thought about exploring the darkest face of oriental music? Which is often sad with a lot of melancholy.
A : Yeah, that’s a great question, I’m actually happy you asked that because it’s very suited for Viza. Lot of the music that we play kind of does that a little bit, but it’s definitely something to explore more, and I like to explore it more, on parallel with the previous question too, where you were talking about darker, heavier music and the darker side of the Eastern music. I think it’s great because there’s a special quality and soul to that heavier music that you don’t really get with the brighter and wackier side, which has its one advantages and strong qualities too, but there’s another color, feel, emotion, depth that you get, especially in oriental style. For example, when I play, I use quarter tones sometimes, because it’s fretless, and in the right spot, it adds a distinct flavor to the music that you can’t get with the guitar or the keyboard. That’s just another thing part of Viza, something we can do and hopefully we’ll do a lot more.
You recently a cover of “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)” as a single, why this choice and whose idea was it?
K : We listened to The Doors and I think, I’ve listened for so many years, it stumbled on my iPod, and I felt “wow, this has a very Viza flavor”. And I remember bringing it to the room and I said “hey guys, what about a cover” and a lot of the guys, and even myself, were not into that, and the idea of bringing The Doors into the mix, was a 50/50 thing, but we all give it a shot and gave the Viza signature. The original has more of a loungy, bar kind of feel; we bring a little bit more of Oomph! to it.
A : Oh yeah.
K : Life essence, but still giving respect to the original artist which was…
A : Curt Weill. The Doors covered it.
K : It was a musical and The Doors made it popular. But I bring it to the mix, the guys took it, we revamped it and here it is, hope you all like it.
A : One thing a really love about this song is that we gave it a Viza version and also added a hint of electronic, and I love that. It almost makes the song even more Viza, with this eccentricity.
Will you cover other tracks in the future?
A : Yeah…I mean covering is kind of a feel thing. You know if the timing is right, if the touring is coming up, or an opportunity fitting in our plans, but it’s not something we do every day.
Even if your last record was released at the end of last’s year, any new projects on the way?
H : New albums you mean?
H : Oh ok.
A : Just personal bands and stuff.
H : To be honest, we’ve been touring so much this year, that we really don’t have the chance to write any new tracks. The ideas are obviously there, but we haven’t got the chance to put it all together, which I think is the next plan. As soon as we get back, we’ll hit the studio and start writing as many songs as we can and choose the best ones. And then come back to Europe with new material, and around the world! That’s pretty much the new stuff I’m concerned.
It’s nearly 4 in the afternoon, there’s plenty of time before going onstage, and how do you manage your time before a show?
K : Hmm…
H : To interviews (laugh)
K : I like to keep cool, keep calm and communicate a minimum, clear my head, and what happens on stage happens. I try to warm up; cup of tea, maybe a shot but the hardest part, for us, is getting all on the side of the stage. It’s like “well, how’s missing?” kind of a rollercoaster.
Did you get the opportunity to take a walk in Paris today?
K : Not today, but I plan on doing it tomorrow. I’ve been in Paris a few times, we’ve done shows here.
A : Yeah, it’s our fourth time in Paris.
K : Right, fourth time. So I’ve been able to walk around.
A : Bataclan, Divan Du Monde and Zenith.
K : As a matter of fact, Yann, over here, has taking us to the streets of Paris. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, obviously, as it said in the textbooks. (laugh)
H : Red-light district.
(Knoup and Andrew laughing)
A : Bad Hiram, bad.
K : That was Hiram.
Yann (our photographer) : You’re actually in the red light district.
A : Oh no, why did you tell us that?
H : We’re all back tonight!
Y : After the show, I can bring you over there (laugh).
Before ending the interview, any message to the French fans?
A : Our experience playing here has been awesome. I know the guys got an extra kind of kick and happiness performing in France. They’re responsive, every time it has been so warm and welcoming; we have even people bringing us crepes, snacks. Everyone is so kind, that’s really cool and we really appreciate because one of the things we do is, we love to meet our fans, it’s something we really take pride in, to take the time to meet people who listen to our music, supporting our art, that’s really something important for us. So that dynamic here is very strong and we appreciate that a lot. We’re looking forward for tonight and we definitely want to come back. Paris is such a highlight when we tour Europe. More to come with Viza! Stay tuned!
K : I said this before and I’ll keep saying it: Paris is our home away from home.
H : Yes…Agreed! If I could afford living here, I’d live here man! My wife is French-Canadian so she knows the language well, she hasn’t learnt me anything though, but we’ll see. Yeah, it’s beautiful.
And as always, at the end of an interview, we ask the same question. Our media is called “RockYourLife!”, so basically, what rocks your life?
K : Life. Seriously, life. The more important thing is to stay healthy. You’re healthy, you can do anything you want, and you can rock as long as you live. If you’re not, nothing interests you, not money, not women, the superficial stuff in the world. Life is what rocks life, as far as I’m concerned.
A : Positive energy, it’s the key of everything.
(Hiram wants to add something, but in the same time)
K : Drums? (laugh)
H : Actually for me it’s the energy from the crowd, I really enjoy, not just during the show, meeting everyone, signatures, taking pictures, that totally rocks my life, ‘cause I’m just a normal guy and they treat me as little bit more, it’s very humbling.
Website : experienceviza.com