John Vagenas (Naxatras): In difficult times music is the only thing that can do no harm

Naxatras Elektropionir BeogradNaxatras is a four-piece psychedelic rock band coming from Greece and at the moment they are promoting their latest album release. Their next stop is Novi Sad where they are going to play along with the band Puta Volcano, so we asked them to stop by and answer a few questions. In conversation with their vocalist and bassist, John Vagenas he opened up about making music and finding inspiration in difficult times.

Balkanrock: You spent 18 days in the studio recording the latest album IV. What was it like to create and record music during the first wave of the pandemic and lockdowns? Where did you find inspiration?

John Vagenas: It was like an oasis. The measures were a bit more relaxed during the summer and the studio temperature was perfect compared to the outside heat! It was our first time recording in multi-track and we were blissful with all the possibilities. We wanted to try out everything, synths, percussion, soundscapes, sound manipulation, anything.

BR: In 2020 “the synth wizard” Pantelis Kargas joined the band, John (Delias) released his jazz single, while John (Vagenas) has its own electronic project Ni Moya and Kostas plays drums in a post rock band. You wrote that during the recording of the album IV you experimented with more sounds and genres than ever before. Who brought which genre to this album?

John Vagenas: First of all, thanks for doing all this homework! Well, I brought some of the more conceptual ideas, even some electronic references, John Delias brought in the mellow stuff, funk, jazz, ballads (heavier riffs too, of course!), Kostas has his trademark drumming style and experimented with different instruments and Pantelis was really a jack of all trades, he can play Ozric Tentacles-style synths in one track, soulful Rhodes on the other, prog strings on the next, he’s really versatile. You can hear many subconscious references to genres too, from classical to ambient to black metal, but they’re under the radar for most ears!

BR: In our digital age it must be a tough decision to sell custom-made CDs and coloured vinyls. Whose idea was that and do you get a feeling that you have found audience that appreciates that kind of work?

John Vagenas: We all love this, to do things ourselves, to create beautiful works of art and pay attention to detail. The fans definitely appreciate it, the response to the vinyl editions is always great.

BR: Many of your songs sound like a TV show intro, especially the song Reflection (Birth) from the latest album. Which of the existing TV show(s)/movie(s), book(s) or game(s) would you like to write a song for?

John Vagenas: I’ll go with what some people commented on Youtube: fantasy video games such as Morrowind and Elden Ring.

BR: The song Horizon keeps repeating “I’m losing my mind, I’m losing my mind”. What do you do to not lose your mind?

John Vagenas: First of all, talk about it! To your friends, your family, your partner. You can also talk about it through your art, like this song. When we find ourselves in tough positions, we should breath deeply, find some perspective in order to not overstress about things and look at the bigger picture. All our trials make us stronger and wiser.

BR: The song The Answers says “Future could be written in the ancient past”. The release date of the album may not be the luckiest one. Have we learned anything from the past and could the future be brighter than the present?

John Vagenas: It’s bizarre that this album, dealing with these concepts (there’s even “The Battle of Crystal Fields“ ) came out one day after Russia invaded Ukraine. It was heartbreaking and we were also thinking that maybe it’s not a good idea. But it seems like people found solace in our music during those days, in difficult times music is the only thing that can do no harm. And this is one of our favourite lyrics in the album, because it’s so true. Humanity is doing circles around itself, forgetting its roots, but all we have to do is take a look at history and we can improve our position in the world.

Naxatras Elektropionir BeogradBR: Where s Narahmon and is it possible to get there on Muscle Red Horse?

John Vagenas: Hahaha! Narahmon is a magical land somewhere in the universe of the album. It’s a desert during the hero’s journey there, but it used to be the home of an Elder race that could manipulate reality. You can probably get there with the Muscle Red Horse I think!

BR: Have you discovered any new music during the lockdowns and what was the greatest discovery or surprise?

John Vagenas: Oh, tons! Where to begin? A moment of clarity was on the day the first massive lockdown in Greece was announced, I went for a long walk in that Sunday afternoon and I was listening to Brian Eno’s “Apollo” album. The song “An Ending (Ascent)” made me feel so much calmer, it was a very deep feeling of knowing that all things pass and that humanity has went through so many hardships and endured. It was very wholesome.

BR: This is not the first time you are playing in Novi Sad. You have many fans here in Serbia and a great number of them have beautiful memories of Greek islands and summer holidays spent there. What memories of Serbia do you have?

John Vagenas: The best! We’ve played in Belgrade a couple of times, Novi Sad too, we’ve played a festival called Mount of Artan and another one called Malomfestival. Serbian people are so friendly, they make us feel super special and they take the energy to a whole new level. We always look forward playing there!

BR: What is it that makes you happiest, and what is it that you hate the most while you’re on tour?

John Vagenas: The feeling after a gig that went well is the most rewarding one, sharing the music with people that appreciate it is beyond any other emotion. Waking up early in the morning is what sucks most for me, I really can’t get used to it…