An Interview with Chris Babalis of Acid Mammoth

0 0
Read Time:22 Minute, 19 Second
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Facebook-Cover-Image-1-e1616858481663-1.png

All photos courtesy of Chris Babalis/Acid Mammoth

Acid Mammoth are a part of the new wave of heavy, doomy, Psych/Metal bands which are permeating throughout the Metal universe by way of the incredible European label, Heavy Psych Sounds. Chris Babalis is their singer and guitarist, and I’ve got him aboard for a chat today.

Chris grew up in Greece, and while COVID-19 has, unfortunately, had it’s way with that region of the world, both Chris and the rest of Acid Mammoth’s spirits have not been dampened. Instead of laying back, the band found a way to record another beast of an album called Caravan. If you’d like to check out this monster record, head over to Acid Mammoth’s Bandcamp page here. You won’t regret it.

As I mentioned before, I’ve got the band’s, singer, and guitarist, Chris Babalis, with us for a chat today. We dig into his early and ongoing love for Black Sabbath, the recording of Caravan, how the band has progressed, and a whole lot more. Dig in.

Andrew:
Chris, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. This last year has been rough, right? How are you holding up during this seemingly ever raging dumpster fire?

Chris:
Hello Andrew. First of all, thanks a lot for this interview! This last year has definitely been rough, but luckily we are all safe and well, stuck inside our cozy little covens, waiting for things to go back to normal again. Other than that, it’s life as usual; work, music, films. This band has definitely been the main reason we have maintained our sanity so far and haven’t gone completely mad while stuck inside four walls all the time. It has provided the opportunity for us to be a lot more creative with our time, and it has been essential in us making sense of all this frustration through writing music.

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. What was your musical gateway, so to speak?

Chris:
Our musical gateway ever since the beginning has been Black Sabbath. We were all enthralled by their sound in a way that no other band or artist has. My dad introduced me to a brand new world of music the moment he had me listen to Black Sabbath’s Sabotage for the first time when I was still a child. It’s the record that introduced him to the same music when he was a kid when he saw the record in the “new releases” section of a Canadian record store during the 70s. He bought the record, and as soon as the first seconds of the record started playing, it changed his world, and the exact same thing happened to me when he introduced this record to me. It was a really mesmerizing experience the first time I listened to it; it changed the way I perceived music. I really couldn’t even believe that music could be this awesome, and of course, ever since that first listen, I wanted to make music of my own.

Andrew:
As a musician, who are some of your earliest and most important influences?

Chris:
I remember being exposed to Rock music by my parents, with classics such as Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, Deep Purple, etc., but it’s all murky because I was really young, it’s more like a feeling rather than an actual memory. But subconsciously, all this definitely left its mark on me and played a major role in my musical upbringing. If I grew up in a different family, I am not sure how things would turn out, but I’d like to believe that the calling that this music sends our way would eventually come to me no matter what. After starting to listen to music fanatically, like so many other musicians like me, I think, as I mentioned before, Sabbath is still my earliest and most important influence as a musician. Everything about these first six records has changed how I perceive and play music. Also, maybe irrelevant but maybe not; playing the piano for more than a decade maybe helped me a bit on how to better perceive music in general, how to sequence it and how to write it. 

Andrew:
Let’s jump right in and talk about your new studio album, Caravan. How did the album come together? What was it like recording during the pandemic?

Chris:
The new album’s songs were composed during the first COVID lockdown in Athens. It was a completely new situation for everyone, so we tried to make sense out of it any way we could. For us, it was music, as we spent our time writing new tunes, which resulted in us composing songs for two releases; three songs for our Split with 1782 Doom Sessions Vol. 2, as well as the vast majority of Caravan. We finished with the recording of Caravan sometime after the first lockdown had been lifted, but before we could even start with the mixing and mastering, Athens fell into a state of total lockdown once again. As a result, the entire post-production process was a tiny bit of a nightmare, just because it was really difficult for us to meet in person. Luckily, Dionysis of Descent studios knows our sound and what we want really well, having worked with us for all the albums that we’ve released so far, so we managed to mix most of the album from afar, along with a few “secret” visits to the studio under cover of darkness. The result is mind-blowing to our ears; we are all really happy with how it turned out in the end and wouldn’t change a single thing. It’s as heavy, gloomy and witchy, as we wanted it to be. When working on something, whether that is an album or a work of art in general, usually the final product differs from the original blueprint, the initial idea. In our case, we are really thrilled that the final product is exactly like we imagined it to be ever since its conception.

Andrew:
From a songwriting perspective, what themes are the band exploring with your new record? Are your lyrics intensely personal, or are you merely telling stories? How have you progressed as a songwriter compared to some of your earlier albums, such as Acid Mammoth and Under Acid Hoof?

Chris:
I think Caravan is a more personal album than the previous one. The pandemic definitely played a major role in the vibes and atmosphere surrounding the sound of this album. Our mentality state of mind during the pandemic reflects itself in the new album in a number of ways.

Putting the three albums one next to the other, we’d want to believe that you can see a journey between these three albums, the main story that is realized even more with each record we release. Acid Mammoth was our first ever attempt at recording something doomy; it is more primal and more monolithic in its essence than the albums that followed, more spontaneous and a bit swampier and untamable, like never-ending, impenetrable chaos, taking the really long song lengths into account. Under Acid Hoof was this really heavy, very aggressive acid beast reeking of fuzz, bombarding you with riffs one after the other. Caravan is more personal, definitely darker, and perhaps a bit more soothing in its essence, it has a psychedelic, trippy atmosphere of its own, and it could be better characterized as an astral trip into the unknown, a heavy and sublime experience. It’s definitely sadder and more depressive than the albums preceding it, but we would say that it would be appropriately characterized as a dive into a deep, dark abyss. The whole album constantly moves, like a Caravan of Mammoths, stomping angrily and yet marching with a purpose to reach their destination. As for the band’s lyrics, being the horror film nerds that we are, it’s mostly tales of horror, witchcraft, and angry elephantids, combined with a tiny drop of our own personal thoughts and feelings in them.

Andrew:
How about the production side of things? Did you self-produce this record, or did you bring in outside voices to help harness your sound? What went into the decision either way?

Chris:
The production was handled by the same person who has produced all of our records so far, Dionysis of Descent Studios. He has been a really good friend and mentor to us for more than a decade now. He knows our sound so well that sometimes we think that he may be secretly a mind-reader and knows our thoughts and ideas before we can even voice them. He takes our sound and makes it sound huge with each record, taking it to the next level. He is a great sound engineer and an even more amazing human being who has really played a major role in shaping our sound and making it sound like it does. He is not a die-hard Doom listener; even though he really loves Doom Metal, he has a much broader music taste that has made him more open to ideas as well as suggestions on how to better one’s sound. We really think that this time he really nailed it, capturing once again the essence of the new album 100%.

Andrew:
Let’s go all the way back now and talk about the origins of Acid Mammoth. For those that don’t know, how did the band come together?

Chris:
The band was formed by me and our bassist, Dimosthenis, back in 2015. We’ve been really close friends since we were pretty much kids, enjoying heavy tunes and jamming together. One day while we were jamming, we both realized that we had lots of ideas that could be implemented in a Doom band, so without even discussing it more than necessary, we just formed the band. Dimosthenis is such a good bass player; he can become really creative with his sound, playing with his own unique style with different gear while experimenting on different frequencies. Every time we record a new album, we don’t even need to ask him what he intends to do with his sound, we trust him completely, and we know that he will do something rad with his sound each time. After jamming for a bit with Dimos, from there on, the whole thing just skyrocketed. We added to the band my dad on guitars, who is a really old Sabbathian, who experienced Sabbath first hand growing up in Canada during the 70s. He has this Iommi style guitar playing that is really vintage and really doomy at the same time, so there was no one more appropriate to fill the role of the lead guitars. He’s not a metalhead in the traditional sense as he has a more “Hard Rock” background, which only enhanced our sound because he perceives music a bit differently. Not long after that, our very good friend Marios joined the band to play the drums. He is an absolute barbarian on the drums; we’ve often joked that the way he hits each drum reminds you of a barbarian blacksmith, forging weapons of steel and prep them for the battlefield. His playing style fits the riffing like a glove. He is a hard hitter who does this in a really groovy and creative kind of way. We’ve never had a line-up change ever since, nor will we, as we are also really good friends, which makes us connect even better as musicians. And of course, having my dad on the band makes this connection even stronger; knowing each other so well has bonded us as guitarists more than it ever would if I shared guitar duty with anyone else.

Andrew:
Shifting gears a bit now. The Metal and Hard Rock scene here in North American is pretty stagnant. It’s almost become indie in a way, with only the major bands getting a lot of traction- it’s a struggle, it seems. In Europe, the Metal scene is thriving and seemingly always has been. Why do you feel the ferocity for Metal and Hard Rock is so much stronger throughout Europe than it is in the rest of the world?

Chris:
From my experience in Greece at least, the Metal scene here has always been really strong, with a massive following, in almost every single one of its genres, with lots of different bands and lots of different styles of Metal. The same can be said about the entirety of Europe, which has a strong Metal following. I am not sure why this might be happening in North America, I think that it has given birth to an endless amount of amazing bands that continue releasing gems today, and I do chat regularly with a lot of passionate Metal fans both from Canada and the US who share the same passion for music as I do. Maybe it does make sense in the way that Greece is different because it’s such a small country and everyone is close to each other. In North America, because both countries are so massive, maybe the case is that every metal fan lives not as close to each other, making it not as easy to connect. From my experience in the Stoner/Doom/Sludge/Psychedelic scene that we are a part of, while it can be widely considered not part of the mainstream and more like an underground scene, it has its very own community and fans from all around the globe, who now thanks to the internet and social media are connected to each other, making it one single scene shared and loved by so many people, regardless of which side of the Atlantic you are on, or any ocean or continent for that matter. Especially now with COVID, the Doom scene feels like one big and loud family, full of bands and people from all around the world who actively and lively support each other. It’s one of the most beautiful things about playing in this band, getting the chance to connect with so many different people with whom we share the same passions and interests.   

Andrew:
More on the subject of Metal. Oftentimes, “Metalheads” are judged for their appearance? It’s odd though, people will judge someone for looking “too metal,” but in the same breath, someone can be judged for not looking “metal enough.” What are your thoughts on that?

Chris:
I’ve experienced this, alongside a handful of friends in our early teenage years, at school. We were the only metalheads in our school and possibly all the other schools in the area, so we were sort of like the “outcasts” that no one wanted, the weirdos with the growing hair and the black shirts. However, at the same time, we didn’t really care so much what everyone thought since we had each other, and we didn’t mind being looked at as the weirdos. On the contrary, we had lots of fun listening to Sabbath and My Dying Bride while playing yu-gi-oh and all sorts of nerd shit during the school breaks, skipping school to go to record stores and buy CDs, generally things that we’d always found more fascinating than playing sports with the “cool kids.” There were some cases of bullying, but I think looking back that we were bullied mostly for being “nerds” and not for being “metalheads.” Fast forward a decade; I’m not so sure that this is happening so much today between adults; I’d like to believe that I wouldn’t be judged by someone for looking “too Metal,” but the reason we wouldn’t be able to connect would be mostly because of different interests and hobbies rather than my “Metal” appearance. As for metalheads judging someone for not looking “Metal enough,” I don’t think that this is a cool thing to do. I would never judge someone for not looking “Metal enough.” Each individual experiences music in their own way, and how they dress has nothing to do with how music and art speak to them. After all, as someone said before, it’s called “headbanging,” not “hairbanging.” I don’t remember who said it, but this quote can be implemented quite appropriately on this subject.

Andrew:
Since the days of Satanic Panic, the Metal and Hard Rock music in allitss forms has seemingly been on trial. What are your thoughts on the persecution of Metal/Hard Rock as a genre? Do you feel it will ever be widely accepted the way that Pop or more mainstream Rock music is?

Chris:
I think with the passage of time, people have started to become more open-minded and more accepting of things that are different. Personally, I’ve never experienced any sort of persecution for listening to Metal. I grew up with parents who are into Rock music, so on the contrary, my passion for Metal was nothing but encouraged by them. Well, there was some confusion when I brought home my first Black Metal CD. Haha. But other than that, my entire family has always been really cool with my music taste. Even my grandma, who is like the most religious human on the planet and has never cared for my “evil-looking” Metal T-Shirts. I think nowadays, people have expanded their bubbles, even if only a little, and have become more accepting of things that are not part of what they perceive as the norm. I was born in 1992; therefore, I didn’t experience any sort of “Satanic Panic” like many people older than me may have had, growing up in the 70s and 80s. My only source of information on this particular subject is documentaries that I’ve watched, as well as my dad, who grew up in the 70s, whose parents though didn’t even know or care what he was listening to in the first place. That being said, all this satanic panic by so many people in the days of old was nothing but an overreaction in my eyes, and insecurity and a failure to accept anything that didn’t fit the norm at that time.

Andrew:
You’ve got this amazing new record set to drop, but like most bands, you’re stuck at home, right? How frustrating is it now to get out and promote your new music?

Chris:
Really, really frustrating! Just when we were at our hungriest to play live, after releasing our second album Under Acid Hoof, COVID-19 hit, and it hit hard. Luckily, we did manage to do a live stream gig during the summer, but it still isn’t the same without people. We can do nothing but wait for the world to get back on its feet, the situation to reach new normalcy, and we’d be more than happy to start playing witchy tunes onstage. We’ve been discussing this exact thing with Dimos the other night, that as soon as things are back to normal and the call comes, we’ll drop everything and run straight into the dragon’s mouth, play gigs until we can play no more from sheer exhaustion.

Andrew:
One disturbing fact I’ve learned over time is that Spotify doesn’t pay artists well, if at all. Meanwhile, Bandcamp seemingly goes out of its way to take care of its artists.  What are your thoughts on that issue? How do we as fans do our part to help?

Chris:
To be honest with you, I’m a caveman when it comes to Spotify. I’ve never fully understood it. I know that it doesn’t pay artists well (if it pays them at all), and I fail to see the appeal of it, other than having instant access to anything you want to listen to. To me, it feels kind of faceless and impersonal, and I rarely use it as a platform to listen to music. However, that’s not the case with Bandcamp. I mostly use Bandcamp for music, which is helping me discover new bands almost every day. Bandcamp is a much more artist-friendly platform, which is designed with the intention to help artists. Speaking for ourselves, Bandcamp has been essential to the band, both for us getting discovered by new listeners as well as getting our merch out there for people to get. It’s the best way for fans to help is to support the artists directly, especially now in these difficult times we live in. Bandcamp has proven to be really valuable in that regard, and that’s the reason why most artists choose it as their main platform upon which they display their music in the digital world, as well as their real, physical records and merch.

All photos courtesy of Chris Babalis/Acid Mammoth

Andrew:
In a world dominated by social media, can artists truly get ahead? How do we keep the playing field level so that everyone has a chance to succeed?

Chris:
While social media definitely has its downsides, when it comes to music, platforms like Facebook and Instagram have definitely helped small acts like ourselves and so many others, especially now in the COVID era, which has resulted in all live events getting put on ice, social media have become one of the major ways through which bands can promote themselves and their work. Social media have given bands the opportunity to get their music out there, not exclusively in their home town, but for the world to listen. What’s more, they have also provided the opportunity for artists to connect with each other from different areas of the world, as well as engage with fans. While the sheer level of information that we get bombarded with through social media every day might feel daunting and chaotic, a relatively small community like the Doom scene has been helped a lot by the use of social media, as it has given us the opportunity to find and discover each other and connect in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

Andrew:
Are you into records? Tapes? CDs? Digital? Where do you like to shop for music? What are a few albums that mean the most to you and why?

Chris:
If you asked this question to my teenage self, he’d tell you that he’s into CDs, because I really was. I was buying CDs like a maniac every weekend until, at some point; I grew tired of them. I think this happened when years ago, I was gifted on my birthday by my friends a double LP of Monotheist by Celtic Frost, one of my favorite records that introduced me to more Extreme Metal sounds. As soon as I spun it on my parent’s turntable, I just never felt the same way with CDs ever again, and I started buying records exclusively afterwards. Ok, maybe I’ll support a band I like by buying their CD if they don’t have vinyl available, but I am generally a vinyl guy. Before COVID, I used to buy records from record stores and vinyl bazaars or directly from the bands themselves at the merch tables of their gigs (aah, those times when gigs were still a thing…), but now with COVID, I mostly order online. About the albums that mean a lot to me, it’s a difficult thing to answer because depending on what period of my life you ask me this question, I’ll most likely offer a different list of records, but some will always stay with me, no matter what. Like I mentioned above, Monotheist by Celtic Frost is such a gloomy record that I’ve listened to more times than I could count. And of course, Sabotage by Black Sabbath, which introduced me to Metal in the first place, as well as the rest of the albums they released during the 70s.

Andrew:
Who are some of your favorite artists? Ones that mean the most to you. How have these artists helped shape the sound and aesthetic of Acid Mammoth?

Chris:
Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler make the top of this list. In our eyes, they are the fathers of this music that we have come to love, with their masterful work on Sabbath’s records during the 70s. There wouldn’t be Doom Metal without them, and quite possibly not even Metal in general. Their influence spoke to multiple generations. This can be realized in this band through my dad, who came to love Sabbath during the 70s, and the rest of us during the 00s. The four of us share this influence, and it is also the main reason why we wanted to start the band in the first place, to jam Sabbathic heavy tunes. Other artists have influenced us greatly too, but none more so than the two individuals I’ve mentioned above. When I say artists, I don’t mean necessarily musicians, there’s a lot of film directors out there who have really influenced our music with their films, providing us with the right vibes and the appropriate atmosphere to make us want to write Doom Metal music.

Andrew:
Last question. If you could go back to the earliest days of Acid Mammoth, what advice would you have for your younger self? Any regrets thus far?

Chris:
Maybe if I could, I would go back to the first day of recording vocals for our self-titled debut and tell my past self, “Don’t use this Messiah Malcolin vibrato in your vocals; you sound a lot better without it,” or maybe I’d say, “Don’t be afraid to use more fuzz, turn it up to 666%, you’ll thank me later.” However, despite thinking about what I could have done better, I don’t regret anything that we did initially, as everything happens for a reason. If we changed anything, things might have turned out quite differently. We are quite content with how things turned out, and any mistakes we may have made have only made us stronger and more equipped to meet any challenge that comes our way!

Thank you so much for this interview, Andrew!

Cheers, Chris.

All photos courtesy of Chris Babalis/Acid Mammoth

Interested in learning more about the work of the Acid Mammoth? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
Happy
Happy
0 %
Sad
Sad
0 %
Excited
Excited
0 %
Sleepy
Sleepy
0 %
Angry
Angry
0 %
Surprise
Surprise
0 %

Average Rating

5 Star
0%
4 Star
0%
3 Star
0%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%

Leave a Reply

Social profiles
%d bloggers like this: