When one thinks of Rock bands and violins, all you can picture in your head is probably something like the country stylings of “Dave Mathews Band”, the classic progressive rock work of “Kansas” or perhaps even the guitar-chugged rock song, ‘Kashmir’ by Led Zeppelin.
(You know, that really awesome riff that Puff Daddy “remixed”?).
This however, isn’t the case with Lebanese band “epiSode”. Utilizing their instruments to the fullest, this trio has been performing their original music for just over a year, with no hint of vocals in sight (as they believe it will limit their musical capabilities). Jamming out instrumentals to the tune of complex drum grooves, a solid foundation of bass, and an all-pervading violin that shapes it all together, this band is certainly something to talk about.
John Laham (drums) and Avo Demirdjian (violin and strings) began the search to find a permanent bassist to solidify their lineup. After the departure of their first bassist due to "logistic and chemistry issues", they eventually found a new bassist, Karnig Baghdassarian. They got together in June of 2010 to start this unconventional and appealing concept known as ‘epiSode’.
Influenced by an array of genres, from classical music like Bach, to symphonic progressive metal like Symphony X, these three musicians have been able to merge the most prominent of melodies into a musical entity, resulting in several original songs sure to dazzle and entertain audience members from all walks of life. Plans of a debut album are also in the works and news of the release will be announced soon.
So what’s so appealing about this band? Take a moment and imagine yourself in the shoes of an observing audience member. Three talented musicians on stage, creating a rich, full sound so expressive that lyrics needn’t be sang. Listeners indulge in the ups and downs, tempo changes, and heavy or ballad-like songs that ‘epiSode’ generates so well, one of the many reasons this Lebanese band is so effective and unique.
ScoopCity got to know more about ‘epiSode’, along with their influences, musical careers, and upcoming events.
What does EpiSode mean, and why did you choose the name?
Behind the name of epiSode revolves an idea of reminiscence: When someone would listen to a particular type of music, he or she would tend to associate that same genre to the period of time during which they would listen to it.
At first, the band didn’t have a name; we just wanted to give this experience a shot. As we were writing “I Am Divine”, “Novus Ortus” (i.e. New life) and “Funeral March”, the first songs we wrote, we realized that our compositions were building towards the same concept and we thought about making each song a different stage or epiSode of a lifetime. Among our never-ending list of band names, we realized that epiSode was the one, which fit us best.
How did the band get together?
The concept of the band EpiSode was conceived back in 2007 by one of its original members, Avo Demirdjian (Electric Violin & Strings). It wasn’t until two years later, in July 2009, that EpiSode found its structure with its two pillars Avo Demirdjian and John Laham (Drums & Percussion); the band was then formed.
Avo: Around the end of summer, 2009, I had just moved back from finishing university in Boston, and had the idea for this band. Shortly after, I got in contact with John Laham (we jammed/performed together in AUB during 2004-2005) and Izzat Ramadan to tell them about this idea so we could possibly start a band and see where things could go from there…
John: “This one day, out of the blue, Avo contacted me, actually he sent me a message on Facebook telling me about this project that he had for a band and that he wanted me to be the drummer with Izzat Ramadan on the bass. We met at Starbucks – Sassine shortly after, to discuss it and to get a better idea of what we were getting ourselves into.”
Due to few organization, logistic and ‘chemistry’ issues, EpiSode decided to take another direction. Izzat was no longer part of the band, after which a search for a new bassist started.
In June 2010, Karnig “Karno” Baghdassarian (bass) joined as the third member of the band. He has been performing and composing with EpiSode since.
Who’s who in the band? Who’s in charge of what (music, gigs..)?
John promptly replies: Avo has been the most proactive member in terms of PR for the band, and he pretty much took on the role of being the manager for the band. As far as music and compositions go, it really is much more of a collective effort, where each one of us has a say in the music; we all tend to discuss everything in the music we write, so I may have something to say about the bass or violin lines, then we sit there and we discuss these issues until we reach a common conclusion.
How often do you get together to practice and write new music?
We always try to maintain the number of practices to a minimum of one per week. We may practice twice or three times a week to prepare for concerts or if we are running behind the schedule set for the release of our first album.
You play instrumental music; do you find it difficult getting gigs?
We were quite amazed by how responsive the music scene in Lebanon was towards epiSode’s sound; to our big surprise, we had a bunch of gig offers more so this year. However, we have tried to be as selective as possible in our performances. Besides, too many gigs for an instrumental band that is playing only conceptual originals can get a bit monotonous with time. We might consider performing more often after we release our first album though.
Is it easy finding a crowd that understands your music?
We believe it’s safe to assume that not all the people who enjoy our music necessarily understand it, but then again this could be because our music is subjective to each and every one of us. Also, not to mention that the music is fully instrumental, our style may be harder to grasp than other commercial styles of music… I guess it depends on how well we portray our ideas through our instruments. We have been approached a couple of times though, by fans and fellow musicians, highlighting how the progressions of our music really feel like a journey through a story-line, which goes to show that some of our fans are understanding us. That being said, art in general doesn’t necessarily need to be understood to be appreciated.
With an unlikely mix between metal and classical, how would you describe your music to new listeners?
The toughest question we’ve had to answer is always “What style do you guys play?” Whenever one of us is approached with this question, there’s always a set number of answers that comes out; some of these answers are:
“Put drums, violin and bass together; what would you get?”
“Progressive Symphonic music, but it’s not really heavy.”
“A fusion of progressive rock with orchestral/symphonic music.”
I guess we can say that our repertoire consists entirely of our original compositions uniting elements drawn from all sorts of genres from classical and orchestral soundtracks to progressive rock. We like to call it symphonic melodic progressive music.
How did the idea of creating a band revolving around instrumental music come about?
When we started this project, we thought about making it an instrumental one, for it to be as experimental and as limitless as possible. Having a vocalist would only set boundaries to our work and with time this decision made more and more sense.
We felt that the audience would be very critical when it comes to our potential vocalist’s voice whereas an instrumental sound would make it more universal.
But the main reason why we didn’t want to add lyrics to our music remains that we wanted the listeners to interpret the story behind our pieces in their own way; we want to give them the freedom of imagination.
What bands/artists are you inspired by?
Music has been a major influence in all of our lives for as far back as we can remember. Having been exposed to so many genres and bands we managed to pick up from things here and there. To list a few of our major influences (in no specific order) we would have to say: Beethoven, Bach, Vivaldi, Stravinsky, Apocalyptica, Metallica, Dream Theater, Porcupine tree, Opeth, Symphony X, Tool, Kamelot, Rhapsody of Fire, Angra, E.S. Posthumus, Immediate Music, Two steps from hell, A perfect circle, Joe Satriani, Pink Floyd, Muse, U2, Scorpions and others.
You are currently working on your first album – what mood and feel does it put the listener in?
Colorful! Each arrangement in the album is artistically inspired from different events in life. From the moment of birth to the final breath of existence, epiSode’s musical pieces represent milestones of experiences in life from joy to sorrow, loss and compassion, to feelings of love and hate.
What inspires you to create your music?
Past experiences, our environment, family, friends and loved one… and of course the music we’ve been listening to.
What are your dreams for the music scene in the Region?
I think all musicians feel with us when we say that the music scene’s expansion in the Region – more so in Lebanon – is limited due to the lack of sponsors and big production houses supporting local musicians that play non-Arabic music… Quite unfortunate don’t you think? Having a greater national support would really be on top of our list to answer your question. This would boost the local musicians to pursue their ambitions and take their writings to a further step. The organization of more concerts promoting local bands/musicians and the establishment of more international facilities would help and motivate local and regional talents that are trying to make their way to a more global scene, possibly even creating a career out of their talents.
Who are some local bands you support?
In the past two years, we had the chance to meet and perform along with some of the most talented musicians in Lebanon. You probably know them all: Lazzy Lung, Arcane, Amy Smack Daddy, Who Killed Bruce Lee, Pindoll, JLP, Limelight, Eileen Khatchadourian, Jay Wud and others.
What is something your readers would be surprised to know?
EpiSode is currently working on their first album, expected release in April 2012. Surprise?! We are also planning on performing remixed medley arrangements of some of our favorite bands after the release of our first album; we are considering some vocals for this side project.
Where can our readers see you perform?
As mentioned earlier, given that our music is quite conceptual and less trendy, we try not to perform too much. For that, we avoid performing in pubs as much as possible. Fete de la Musique, Rock Festivals and Music Festivals are performances we try not to miss. Our fans can always follow us on facebook and soon on our website (which is still under construction) to keep up with the band’s news and be informed of any of our upcoming gigs.
Why do you love Lebanon?
You kinda caught us off-guard on this one... Definitely no place like home!
Where do you go out when you are not in the studio or performing?
We usually like to go for drinks at some of the pubs in Lebanon, mostly in Gemayzeh… Attending gigs is something we do quite frequently as well.
What was your favorite gig?
Our favorite gig to-date was the last Fete de la Musique that took place in late July of 2011. We performed on the stage that was located at Samir Kassir Square, in downtown Beirut. Probably not as big as the concert we had in Zouk Roman Amphitheater in early September 2011 for the opening of Serj Tankian, but we definitely had a great sound on stage, a comfortable ambiance, quite a responsive crowd and a lot of fun.
Catch 'epiSode' at venues all around Beirut and keep up with their news on their Facebook page here!
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