Maria Callas had in her blood, in her veins, in her subconscious, all the traditions of the Greek Tragedy. She was born that way. She was an electromagnetic force on stage. The others didn't exist anymore. It's a gift of Nature. A gift of God. It's a talent. A great talent.
Learning is not always a cause and effect process. Sometimes, learning is a spontaneous epiphany. Learning is creative. And in some cases, learning is inborn. The only thing that is predictable when observing the universe and nature, is that most things are unpredictable.
Lakis and Aris Ionas are based in Athens, Greece, and known as The Callas. The brothers produce music, films, artworks, mags, events, and art shows. Through the Do It Yourself tradition, they fuse traditional Greek elements, such as architecture, costumes, myths and embroidery, with elements from Punk Rock culture.
The band is Aris (guitar, vocals) and Lakis (bass, vocals), Chrysanthi Tsoukala (drums, vocals), Marilena Petridou (percussion), and Chris Bekiris (guitar). They’ve been doing live shows since 2003. The Callas is just the tip of an artistic factory, producing music, films, artworks, magazines, events, and art shows. After establishing a partnership with Jim Sclavounos (Nick Cave, Grinderman) who is steadily producing the band's discography since 2015, they recenlty joined forces with Lee Ranaldo on the soundtrack of their new feature film The Great Eastern, and on their new full-length album, Trouble and Desire. Lee is a musician, composer, visual artist, writer, producer, and a founding member of Sonic Youth. The Callas’ first feature film, “LUSTLANDS”, premiered at the 7th Athens Avant-garde Film Festival, and their artwork has been exhibited around the world.
Always on the hustle for those next shows, they took a few moments:
"A woman sings with her ovaries, you're only as good as your hormones." — Carol Neblett
"It’s all about creativity and fun with friends, being productive and trying to survive."
You've been involved in so many creative projects through the years, tell me about the process and how did that all come about.
It’s all about creativity and the fun of working with friends, being productive and trying to survive. It’s always a tiny idea, a rough drawing, a clumsy sound, an interesting face or building, a lyric that, little by little and with hard work and dedication, ends up an artwork, or a song , or whatever. We studied Fine Arts in London. But we've always been involved with music. Growing up listening to The Beatles and greek Rebetico playing on our father’s cassettes in the car, that was our first contact with everything we’re involved in up until now.
What or who inspired you to cross from one art form to the other?
For us, art is one solid thing. Like a delicious meal or a cocktail. Films, album covers, poets, magazines, lyrics, friends and faces, places, sentiments, memories, smells, weird stories are like ingredients for a cooking session. Depending on many different and multi- layered reasons, and each time we're liable to take either one direction or the other.
And what inspired you to go into making films?
I guess it was pretty shocking when we first came across the works of Jim Jarmusch, along with Aki Kaurismaki and the French Nouvelle Vague. We kind of saw ourselves in those films. We saw what we would like to be doing for the rest of our lives, really. Contemplating the fact that weirdos can co-exist in society by just being creative, being drunk and in love.
Did that coincide with you getting into music?
Well, after eventually buying a 4 track tape recorder, we soon realized it was cheap fun, it was also so fucking exciting to produce and play our own stuff live. Aside from that, it was also a mixture of what we were into at the time, things like Andy Warhol with The Velvet Underground, the NY No-Wave scene that wasn't only about music but art, films and poetry, bands like Television Personalities. The whole DIY culture of the late 70’s really kicked our ass in and pushed us to go and do it.
You worked with Lee Ranaldo on both the soundtrack of your new feature film THE GREAT EASTERN, and on your new full-length album, “Trouble and Desire”. How did that all come together?
Lee and that whole Sonic Youth aesthetic around sounds and images were always one of our main influences. Getting in touch with the work of Raymond Pettibon, or Mike Kelley, Hal Hartley, was such an apocalypse for us! We were like, “Fuck! That’s exactly what I want to do!”. So it was like a dream come true to eventually work with them. It came about through a dear friend called Theodore, we had initially sent Lee some ideas for our film, our music, and art. He didn’t reply for some months and we were a bit disappointed. But we later received an exciting email from him, telling us that he loved everything we sent him, and that he’d love to work with us. Everything was smooth and so cool after that. We’d drink together, travel and work around the film and record. The album is actually a separate entity from the film, the initial ideas were born while working on the soundtrack, but it took a life of its' own and turned into an entire different thing in the process. The film is about Utopia. It’s about Lust, and how weird Eros is.
Your first feature film, “LUSTLANDS”, premiered at the 7th Athens Avant-garde Film Festival. What brought about making the movie?
There was no real particular reason behind it, we just wanted to do it, we wanted it really, really bad! It’s a story of 4 girls going to a country house, spending their days smoking, drinking etc. There’s an old secret, a snake, and some cool and weird local guys that turn those sunny days into a Helter Skelter death party.
Making films and putting out albums is a costly proposition, how would one acquire funding to make their visions into an art reality?
Yes! It fucking costs a lot. Our first album was recorded and mixed in 5 hours, while our first feature film was shot in merely 5 days. There’s only one real tip we can give, group your friends and collaborators together and set up the best possible scheduling! You got to bring forth your most positive and optimistic side, get booze, food, drugs, whatever, and just go out there and do it!
For many, seeing an artist's exhibit may be confusing, so help me out here. Yoko sends about 10 wooden caskets with an olive tree planted in each to an art gallery in Athens. What was the message?
I don’t really care about messages. For me, creating art is not about sending out messages, that’s isn't art, it's politics. Art is so much more multi-layered than that, it's complex and contradictory. Another thing is that art, as with music or books, demands attention. It’s a two way tango-for-two situation. Everyone needs to use their brain and body to get in touch with something. But of course, it doesn’t mean that all art is good, too! The vast majority of the art produced is fucking boring, pretentious bullshit.
Agreed. So what's next on the Callas agenda?
We’re currently working on a solo show at Spaghetto, it'll be a show curated by the New Museum (NYC) and on another Spaghetto project for Art Athina. We're also working on a new feature film. We have new songs quite ready for recording. Lastly, we have some live dates lined up in late May that include Greece, Italy, the Balkans and London at The Lexington and Scala.