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Strÿkenine's Andi Sarandopoulos: "I've said it many times that I was born in the wrong era, but as I got older, I've come to the conclusion that the 80's has already happened and there's no point in dwelling in the past, you know?"

Interview with Andi Sarandopoulos from Strÿkenine
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 13 July 2021, 12:02 AM

To be different but the same, but with a focus on being different, because who really wants to be exactly like someone else. In such a vast sea of options, with each resembles the other, it is tough really know what is special and unused. Leave that challenge for those new bands trying to figure out how to become unique. The Swedish Strÿkenine, the merger of Rock and Metal, sends the message through its debut album, that they are on a mission, with the release of their debut "Strÿkenine 1". Steinmetal had a great talk with Andi Sarandopoulos of the band when it comes to the music, the concept and general 80s feel and more…

Greetings Andi, it is awesome to have you for this conversation for Metal Temple online Magazine, how are things on your end?

Hello! It's a pleasure speaking with you and Metal Temple Magazine today. Things are good on my end. It's beautiful summer weather here in Sweden and us Swedish folk couldn't be happier. Out of a 12-month period, Sweden only gets like 3 months of good, warm weather so I'm really enjoying it while I can! The Covid-19 restrictions are starting to disappear as well, so it feels like we can return to a normal world with live shows very soon which me and every other band misses! Other than that, me and the band are full at work preparing for the album release and we are super stoked for the record to see the light of day and for the songs to penetrate people's ears!

A new name for me, but there is nothing better than to find out fresh talents, and I guess that I did with finding out about your band, Strykenine. To be honest, I usually don’t ask this kind of question because I know that there are bands that get irritated by it, but give me some slack this time around. The band’s name has that word game in it, but really, Strike Nine is it? What can you tell me about it?

Yeah man, we get that question a lot! But I guess we have ourselves to blame for choosing such an odd name, haha. The name 'Strykenine' originally comes from the word 'Strychnine', you know, the poison! And according to some old story it was this poison that killed legendary blues guitarist Robert Johnson. We thought the story was cool, changed the spelling of the word a little, added the dots on the "y" and then we had a band name! But yeah, the pronunciation is exactly as you write it. "Strikenine". So you really hit the nail on the head on that one! (Is that a saying? I think that's a saying!)

The last year or virtually melted away chances for newcomer bands to continue growing by exploding their scenes and of course spread their music through stages on tours. Learning about Strykenine’s achievements as a newcomer on the live stage was quite impressive, yet Covid-19 pretty much pulled the rug under your feet. How did it feel really if not being able to do much about it? Was there a drop in motivation within the group?

Yeah, of course it was a bummer. Not just for us and the rest of the music and art world, but every other person as well. People have lost their jobs, lives and loved ones and for me it feels kind of silly to complain about not being able to go out and drink beer, you know? With that being said of course we'd like to go on tour and play shows and what not, but I wouldn't say we've lost motivation. It was rather the opposite, actually. When Covid hit we had a few shows planned both domestically and abroad, but soon we understood that they were not going to happen because of obvious reasons. That's when we decided to do the 'Live in Lockdown' livestream and eventually finalize the album as well. The album, 'Strykenine I' was recorded in the summer of 2020, soon after Covid hit. So I'd say we've kept our motivation up exceptionally during this period of time!

You said something that is quite interesting in regards to what contemporary Melodic Rock is missing. So what is your angle, how did you fulfil the missing factors as you describe them? What is Strykenine’s image in your view?

I don't think it's "missing" anything per se. There's a lot of great bands and musicians out there and they all have that same kind of vibe to their music. It's the lack of versatility that I think I don't like. Of course, you listen to one band because they sound the way they do, and you listen to all the similar bands because they sound the way they do. But, I believe that you need a bit of excitement when listening to a record through and through. That's why we've (Strykenine) made this record to sound a bit "out there" and from one song to the next, keep that excitement going for the listener. One song doesn't sound like the other and that's what keeps it interesting in my opinion!

Continuing the previous question, when it comes to the approach towards the genre, as an overall, would you say that you are at the crossroads between H.E.A.T. and Santa Cruz, melodic yet meaner?

Ah man, it's super hard to pinpoint exactly where on the "H.E.A.T - Santa Cruz spectrum" we are. Haha. Up until this moment I hadn't even reflected upon the fact that such a spectrum might exist. But yeah, it might be a great way to partially describe our sound. I mean, we don't really want to compare ourselves to other bands and be told "oh, Strykenine sounds like this band or that band". We want Strykenine to be Strykenine, you know? But I'm going to be polite and answer your question anyway. And if there is such a thing as a H.E.A.T - Santa Cruz Spectrum, we're definitely a 5 out of a 1-10 scale. Right in the middle!

With an EP at hand, carrying on the wave of its flame, you made a step forward and recorded a debut album, and in the process signed with your first record deal, with Pride & Joy Music from Germany. I usually like to ask this question; how did you know exactly that it was the time to write a full length album? What was your source of motivation (Other than the Covid) to do it?

I talked a bit about this a few questions back, but yeah of course Covid was a part of it since it opened up a lot of time for us so we could focus on the whole process of the album. You know, writing, composing, arranging, recording and all that other good stuff needed for an album. Other than that, it's fucking embarrassing to have been a band for a number of years and not have a full album out. Hahaha. And as you said, we recorded an EP a few years back and since then we've been focused on playing shows and touring and there haven't really been a priority to record an album. But now that we have a taste for it, we're sure that it's going to be plenty more in the future.

Simply calling it “Strykenine 1”, as your first volume of things to come in the future, you set yourselves on a journey. From what I could gather on a lyrical basis, you are more or less positive, even hopeful, yet you don’t forget your regrets, failures on a personal level while trying to work out mistakes, usually on a relationship level. Is that the case of “Strykenine 1”?

Yeah, pretty much! As you say, it's a pretty simple and straightforward name for a first album. We wanted to introduce this chapter in our career as a "new beginning". We've had some members come and go and we feel that this line-up is the line-up we're sticking to. The songs on the album represent the versatility in all the members and their respective musical influences. As the lyrics go, it's mostly stories and tales from our own personal lives and how we cope with different things in life. Whether it's questioning your religion or if you're feeling suffocated in a relationship - it's there on the album. The songs capture highs and lows in all our individual lives and it's our hope that our audience can somewhat relate to what we're saying as well.

There have been plenty of attempts to implement the 80s Hard Rock, even Hair Metal, as a modern form. I believe that even with a Pop driven songwriting style, it is not that easy to find that fine line in order to capture attention. Gladly, “Strykenine 1” offers a bite on that challenge, knowing how to capture the 80s AOR and Hair Metal with conviction. What is your take on that? Are you reliving the 80s in different forms?

Obviously the 80's is a huge influence on all of us but I wouldn't say we're an "80's revival" kind of band. We have our roots in classic rock with influences from Def Leppard, Europe, Kiss and Whitesnake, but we also have influences from thrash metal, classical music, jazz, soul and to an extent, modern and old school rap. It's quite a mixture of musical backgrounds within the band and I think and I hope that it's very clear when you listen to the album. I've said it many times that I was born in the wrong era, but as I got older, I've come to the conclusion that the 80's has already happened and there's no point in dwelling in the past, you know? Keep your eyes on the horizon in front of you, gaze forward and look back once in a while to remind you of where you're coming from. But the main focus should be on the present. This applies to life in general and that's the state of mind we're in when we write songs. We don't want to be restricted to a certain time period or genre when we write, we just want to write what comes to us. I'd like to say that even though the songs are different from each other, we think that they blend in together really nicely. But I guess that's something our audience has to determine!

Would you say that you found, as a songwriter, a new edge in your approach to songwriting, while working on “Strykenine 1”? Did it change your perception to a certain extent?

I mean, when I write I usually have a series of steps I go through. I might get a melody pop up in my head or a lyric line pop up while I'm driving or enjoying my morning coffee. I record the melody or write down the lyrics and then find some chords that go with the line and the melody and I just build the song from there. I then record a rough demo and show the other guys in the band. Usually I have a song that, in my mind, is 100% finished but when we all get in the rehearsal space the rest of the guys show me an alternate melody line, a different chord or a different drumbeat and we just mix and match right there and then. And that's pretty much how the writing process was throughout the entire album.

One member comes in with a song idea and then we just jam it out and finalize it in the rehearsal space. That's the main reason why the songs are so different from each other! We're five guys with five different personalities and musical backgrounds and we all write and contribute to the musical side of Strykenine and that's the way we like it.

You mentioned it in your dossier, there is that aggressiveness aspect to your music, which takes a step out of the so known style of Melodic Rock, which I usually refer to as AOR. How do you think that this aspect displayed on “Strykenine 1” worked in your favor?

I think the aggressiveness really shows in the songs like 'Once and for All' and 'Toxic'. In those songs we explore the heaviness in a way that we really haven't done before and I think that this will put us on better terms with the musically "heavier" audience, haha. No, but I think it works in our favour in a way that we're showing that we don't just write cheesy love songs and catchy melodies because it sells, but we also write stuff that is not "commercial" because we want to write what we want to write and no one can stop us. That's what I think is so great about the album. I think that no matter what genre you're from originally or what music taste you may have, you will (hopefully) find at least one song on this album that is appealing to you. Whether it's the heavy hitter 'Once and for All' or the dark ballad 'Alive', you'll find your cup of tea somewhere in there!

Let’s talk about the Strykenine sound, which I found to be exhilarating, an adaptation of the 80s, yet complementing it with modern juice. Were there thoughts about crossing paths with nostalgia soundwise, to actually conjure within the boundaries of the old sound of the Hair Metal or AOR scenes?

Yeah, like I said we keep our eyes on the horizon in front of us and try not to look back so much. So yeah, there's no denying that the 80's is a big part of our general sound, you may even say that it's the foundation that we build the songs on. When we write songs, it's not like we're thinking "oh yeah, this has that 80's vibe to it". If it has the 80's vibe to it, that's great, and if it doesn't that's also great. So no, there was no compulsory mind-set that made us "write within the boundaries", we just wrote what we wanted and made an album out of it!

If there is something that is rather different than most Melodic Rock albums I stumble upon is that the presence of the keyboards isn’t that dominant, not even as a lead role to be honest. “Strykenine 1” is song and riff oriented. However, your Keyboardist served you well on this one. What is your appreciation of the work done? How will it carry on in Strykenine in the future?

Yeah man, the keyboards work on this album is phenomenal in my opinion. That's all thanks to the two keyboardists we brought in. Patrik Törnblom and Pasi Oksman. Patrik was a part of the band for a couple of years and then decided to leave the band as a member in the summer of 2020. He was still very keen to play on the album and we of course let him do it since we all love his keyboard work. So yes, there's not just one keyboardist on the album, it's actually two, which is quite uncommon haha. Both great guys and great keyboard players and it's been a pleasure to work with them. There's nothing that has been discussed regarding future keyboard work but I sure hope that both Patrik and Pasi are open to working with us on future releases and projects.

As a fan of heaviness, even in such a melodic genre, I was taken away by the magical experience of the hard riffer, “Fool For Love”, letting that American vibe in so hard and mighty. It also revealed that your vocalist is quite the diverse type with his voice. Did this tune feel like the past is back to kick your ass or what? How do you find the performance of your frontman, is this pushing one to his limits?

'Fool For Love' is a real heavy hitter and one of my favorite songs on the album! It has that ripping guitar intro, mellowed down verses and exploding choruses. The solo is fun as shit to play as well, haha. Jacob's performance on this song is, in my opinion, fantastic. He has this dynamic and raw voice that perfectly fits the song and he captures the feeling of the song so well. As far as his limits go, I'm not so sure. This song is very hard to sing because of the high notes and amount of words but he pulls it off perfectly! We'll try to push him even harder on the next album, haha!

A little bit on the modern edge, crossing a sweaty type of ballary, but not really, there is “All I Need”. Frankly, I expected this kind of touchy mood in the air while it played, but it extended to be atmospherically soothing and somewhat surprising. How do you find this track and its impact on the band’s style?

In all honesty, I did not like this song at all the first time I heard it and I was even voting for it to be taken off the album haha. But since I've listened to it a couple of times since it's been recorded and we've played it in the rehearsal space, it's grown on me! I like the simplicity of the song and the chill feel throughout the song. And as the song progresses it gets more and more interesting and towards the end it gets a whole different feel than the previous parts of the song. I think this song, along with 'Better Believe' and 'Hold on to You', shows the soft and emotional side of us that we necessarily don't show otherwise.

What does the coming future hold for Strykenine? Is there a hope for shows in 2021 or are you patiently waiting for 2022?

There is absolutely still hope to squeeze in a couple of shows for 2021 since the restrictions and all that is starting to lift, and we're preparing ourselves for the road by rehearsing and planning. We have high hopes for 2022 and hopefully it will all be back to normal by then.

Andi, many thanks for your time for this interview, you left with a great pleasure with this awesome debut, may you continue releasing solid gold. All the best.

Thank you so much for having me and thank you for such great questions. Hopefully we'll see each other on the road in the future, but until then, take care. Love, peace and rock n' roll!



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