"One cop would never show up to a rock ‘n’ roll show in Greece."
Acid Baby Jesus is having kind of a rough tour. The Greek garage punk quartet is on their second tour of North America and the only reason it hasn’t been canceled is, as frontman Noda puts it, “We’re not quitters.” If you ask their drummer Marko how he broke his arm he’ll refer you to the curse they’re under. “The jinx, the curse of the totem. It was a totem in the room we were in, made of an Elvis painting,” explains Marko. (It’s also possible that he punched a wall.) Okay, so, it has been a really rough tour.
Noda closed his finger in a porch door. Alternatively, he was saving a kitten from a bear. Don’t worry too much about them though, they have their Greek grandmas on the case and report they can feel the evil eye lifting already.
I crossed the band’s (hopefully, only temporarily) accursed path at the Atlanta Mess-Around, Georgia’s premier festival for primitive rock ‘n’ roll and degenerate pop. For their Friday night set they played their slower songs so Marko could get through it with his arm in a cast. Noda, who usually plays guitar and sings, only sang. He had his arm in an improvised sling made out of a studded belt, his finger bound to a splint with electrical tape. I barely noticed their injuries.
Even at half speed, they were one of the most exciting bands to play the weekend-long fest. A candy colored cloud of reverb distracted you, while an undertow of subtle eastern modalities pulled you into their pressurized psych. After that, there was no escape. By the end of the set everyone but Marko was crouched down, tending to their own bank of pedal and knobs. The noise was amazing.
In our interview the following day, Noda was soft spoken and philosophical, while Otto, Marko, and Tili came across more intense, with a shared flair for irony. Considering their condition, they were remarkably sharp and high spirited, smiling and joking about their recent challenges and even violent run ins with Greek cops and fascists back home. These guys have the fortitude to weather a few set backs on the road. If rioting, a broken economy and government corruption can’t get a band down, a little hex and a few broken bones aren’t going to make much of a difference.
Read on for the true story of DIY rock ‘n’ roll in Athens and tales from the Greek riots that you won’t read in the New York Times.
How did Acid Baby Jesus form?
Noda: Otto and I started playing in his room, drinking beer and playing guitars. We came up with some songs and recorded them and we thought we should make it into a band. And the other members joined later, we were all friends for a while. We met in school.
You dedicated your music video for “Fingerpainting” to a guitar thief. What happened?
Otto: It was an inside job. Someone who had the keys to our practice space stole two of my guitars. We weren’t happy about that, so to give another ending to the story we made that video. In it, we kill the thief.
It’s hard to tell that from watching the video.
Noda: It’s subliminal.
What’s the best show that you’ve played recently anywhere?
Noda: We played a nice show in London with Black Lips.
Otto: We had another great show at our place. It’s a practice space with another space for shows. Our show got canceled in San Francisco so we had to go to Reno. It was a nice surprise because the show was good. There were a lot of people there who were into it, they were dancing.
Noda: They had gambling machines in the bar. So weird.
Why do you think people all over the world are still inspired to start really messed-up rock bands? That garage rock sound has been around for so long now.
Noda: Boredom was my reason. I wanted to have fun on my own terms.
I noticed a kind of Eastern sound in your set last night. Is that a conscious thing you are doing?
Noda: Yes, the second record we’re going to put out is going to be different than the first. For some reason, since we were able to travel so much, we’ve gone back to a Greek sound for it. I don’t know why. Maybe we were homesick.
It’s funny because, at first, you want to escape the place you are living. So you end up playing another kind of music, and then you do escape it. And then you go back to Greece. I don’t know why.
So, is it influenced by music you grew up with?
Marko: It’s like the stuff you would listen to if you were in a café. It’s not like the modern pop music. It’s old Greek folk music.
What are some of your current favorite Greek bands?
Noda: Gay Anniversary. Bazooka are good guys. They have a really powerful live show. They’re kind of grunge influenced, but they’re not grunge. Two drummers. Bazooka. I mean, the name says it all.
What is the rock scene like in Athens?
Noda: There are some clubs that we don’t necessarily like.
Otto: There’s more stuff emerging, like we have our own place, and other people are motivated to do the same, like more DIY stuff. Because everybody’s broke.
Noda: It’s emerging now, that’s what I think. They used to have big shows like Bon Jovi and U2 that cost a lot of money, but those shows suck.
Tili: I like Bon Jovi.
So you have all these shows in practice spaces and DIY venues. Do the cops shut them down a lot?
Noda: No, the cops don’t shut them down.
Otto: I noticed last night that there was a cop sitting outside the venue. I was thinking that this would never happen in Greece, one cop showing up in a place like that.
Marko: They would show up in groups.
Otto: But if they show up in groups it’s not good.
Marko: The cops don’t like rock ‘n’ roll in Greece.
Otto: But our practice space is in such a bad neighborhood that they don’t set foot there.
Marko: But definitely one cop would never show up to a rock ‘n’ roll show in Greece. They would be afraid.
Why would they be afraid?
Otto: Because they would chase him. Because of what is happening Greece.
People fight the cops?
Marko: There is fighting with the police all the time, but it’s not at shows. The anarchists are fighting the police all the time. There are more and more people every day joining the riots, because they see the way the police handle the riots and it’s not good. And older people too, not just younger people.
Marko: People are not satisfied with being led by people that they don’t trust. There’s a lot of corruption. There’s corruption everywhere, but the Greek government doesn’t hide it good. They didn’t bother to hide it so everything collapsed.
So there is an anarchist movement that is constantly fighting with the police?
Otto: It’s not only the anarchists.
Noda: What the media doesn’t show is that everybody is rioting, like old ladies and stuff. They just show what they want. There’s been photos that show the actual people that break things are police officers.
Otto: We’ve seen every corrupted thing. We’ve seen cops running people over with their motorcycles. I got beaten up by fifteen cops when I was alone on the street. I was walking up a street and there were riots everywhere. I just asked them if I could pass by a road because I didn’t know if there was a riot. And they thought I was making fun of them or something and they came and they beat me up. They took all my blings. Ha ha.
They were dragging me in the street and then the chief came and said “don’t do that because they have cameras and lights here, take him in the dark.” Then other people came so I could leave. They were afraid of being seen because it was a very central route in Athens.
Marko: We’ve seen cops going hand in hand with fascists. They help them. Fascist riots in Greece are violent, when they have them.
The police join in?
Otto: Because it’s an immigrant neighborhood and they were punching the immigrants. There was a murder that week. Two Afghanis or Pakistanis murdered a Greek. So, there was a fascist riot for one or two weeks. It was right outside of our practice space, that’s where we saw it. We got locked inside.
Who locked you inside?
Otto: Ourselves. We were afraid.
Marko: There were fascists outside looking for non-Greek people to beat up, immigrants or Greek people like us, with non-shaved heads.
Otto: The thing is, those are minorities. But to what you are asking, the majority of people don’t start fights. They are just displeased with the situation.
Tili: These days, if you are a thinker in Greece, you are not a policeman.
Marko: It’s stupid to protect the people who are fucking up your country and your life. You have to be stupid to be a cop now.
Do you feel like your music is an outlet or a response to dealing with this kind of thing?
Noda: It’s definitely an outlet. But it’s not political. It’s personal.
Marko: Living in those situations you get influenced.
How do you get influenced?
Otto: You get beat up by fifteen cops and you think about blood and killing their kid and making them suffer and then you say “okay, no.” And you go to your apartment and you write a song.
Noda: It makes it more punk.
When you travel and you meet other bands, what do you find people don’t understand about what’s going on that you wish they understood?
Otto: That it’s not as bad as you think. And that Greece is not only about money and the economy.
Noda: Lately, I’ve found it very depressing because everybody just talks about that all the time. If you think about that kind of thing and talk about it all the time, then it’s real. If you don’t … Look, you don’t need money for everything. You can still lead a decent life I think. We have a group of friends and it’s always fun.
And there’s so much nature too. Travel a bit outside of Athens and you see the people there haven’t realized what’s going on.
Otto: There’s no real crisis there. The crisis is in Athens.
Noda: TV is crazy. I don’t own a TV. If I did, I would go mad. Having said that, I got fired. I don’t have any money. I was a Web designer. I was probably not very good at it too, but I want to blame the crisis for it.
Do any of you have jobs right now?
Noda: I don’t even want a job in Greece right now. Nobody gets paid well. I have a friend who is working for a soccer company right now. They haven’t paid him in a year. He works all day and rarely has fun. And for what? For who? It sucks.