Photos by Natasa Koumi
A couple of years ago a trio of bearded burlymen calling themselves Mechanimal and describing their music as "drone n' roll" exploded in the Greek music scene after the release of their eponymous first album. Each track on the record, they said, was a "great portrait of the urban landscapes of the post-modern world and its inherent chaos, nihilism, unfulfilled desires, and the economic decadence surrounding this scenario." Greece, as you may have heard, has been going through something of a rough patch, and the album resonated with the country's downtrodden youth. A dedicated fan base materialized in an extremely short period of time, and for the past two years those into Mechanimal's brand of industro-shoegazing have been eagerly awaiting a follow-up. Recently the band announced that their next album, Secret Science, will be released in October 2014, and they were kind enough to provide our pals at VICE Greece with the new music video for the track "Freezer," which they recorded last winter.
I met up with bandmembers Giannis Papioannou and Freddie F. at a bar in downtown Athens to drink coffee and beer and talk about their new record.
VICE: After two years of relative silence you’re about to release a new record. What should we expect from Secret Science?
Giannis Papioannou: Secret Science is actually a concept album. It's filled with codes, phrases, keywords, melodies, and harmonies that all show how we're trying to make sense of life in modern-day Athens. I'm excited to hear how our fans respond to it.
How is the new album different from your first?
It's a little angrier. We're calling things out. Not in an expressly political way, although music is an art that is directed at the public, so it'll always be a little intertwined with politics and society. Secret Science is our most comprehensive work—we know exactly what we're doing, where we live, and who our audience is.
Our first record was an experiment. It was something totally spontaneous. But with this one, we thought through it and discussed every detail. The result is something strong, but also melodic and warm. Every track tells a different story about our lives, our relationships, and how this city is changing.
"Freezer" is very melodic.
Think of that song as a bridge between our 2012 record and Secret Science. It acts as a preface to our new work.
Besides anger, is there also disappointment in Secret Science?
No, I think betrayal is more prevalent in the work. The album is a confrontation with a feeling of "dead-endness" that saturates our everyday lives. In our eyes, the situation here is dark—even if there's nothing quite like the Greek sun. All the stuff we've experienced in the past few decades has led everyone to a kind of socio-political decadence.
You have a special relationship with life abroad. Freddie you're American, and Gianni, you lived in Sweden for a part of your life. What are some of the differences that you’ve noticed with respect to Greece?
In Sweden, the state, the City Hall, your neighbors and friends—they will all help to jump-start your creativity. That's the reason why the Swedish music industry is so sophisticated and advanced. If you go to the City Hall in Sweden and tell them you want to play music, they'll help you find a studio to rehearse and record in. If you're unemployed, they'll pay you for it.
In Greece, that isn’t the case. We know how things work here. You either have to do things yourself or, if you're lucky, you might find a company to promote you.
How has your experience abroad helped you as a band?
It helped evolve our sound and think seriously about production and sound design. I experimented with new and old technologies on this new record. I played around with analog and digital cameras and with musicial instruments that sound otherworldly through filters I built. In the Greek music scene, there isn't really anyone who has inspired me enough to trust them to produce our music. What we identify as a "producer" abroad doesn't really exist in Greece.
You are one of the few Greek bands that has managed to find a good balance between sound and image.
From the beginning we wanted to express our own aesthetic in everything we did, from the sound to the album art. The combination of images and music is essential.
The members of Mechanimal all have different musical backgrounds—how has this helped define the band?
It has actually helped us quite a bit, but our every move has to be disciplined and orderly. We need to have a clear direction about where we’re going—that’s my responsibility. I filter everyone's musical influences together, so that the end result will be close to what I have in mind, while ensuring that everyone actually likes it.
How much time do you spend in the studio?
Endless. We could have spent even more time—we’d still be writing new songs.
I read one of your old interviews where you mentioned some bad reviews. Did that bother you?
Papioannou: We respect the fact that Mechanimal isn’t for everyone. And rightly so—not everyone can like us! But certain people, instead of dealing with the music itself, chose instead to talk about us in a gossipy kind of way, without even mentioning our names. That's what irritated us.
What is the most important thing you learned in these last two years as a band?
Papioannou: When it comes to art, you either love it or you leave it. The artist is constantly looking for something and developing. He always strives to be the best. The best is, of course, different for everyone. For me, the best is being happy with what I do and that our work speaks to people and that people enjoy and like our music.
Do you prefer working in the studio or performing live?
Papioannou: I prefer the studio; that’s the clinic wherein the mechanical monster is built. But of course when you give life to something in a concert, that’s also extremely important. Both of these things are connected. You can’t give a live concert if you haven’t first worked for hours in the studio.
Freddie F.: Each thing has its own beauty. I enjoy the isolation when we are recording in the studio—that’s where you really understand what it is you're doing. When you perform live, you are between the world and the stage. It’s a completely different experience.
What's the best fan story you've heard so far?
Freddie F.: We met a couple once who said they came to a concert a couple of years ago and ended up in the bathroom having sex while they listened to our music. They said it was one of the sexiest experiences they ever had and they got married a short while after that. It’s always great to hear that.
Secret Science comes out this October but in the meantime you can download a single from it here.