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Stray Gods's Bob Katsionis: "We kind of need the “old” Iron Maiden back, but we definitely respect them as they are now"

Interview with Bob Katsionis from Stray Gods
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 09 April 2022, 2:10 PM

It was only a test, but a test that didn't go wrong, or right, a new foundation was created. It started out of merely fandom, and became a prospect of what could be a promising future. Stray Gods was born. Venturing through the history of Iron Maiden, taking the greatest elements of the British giant's music, in their golden years, the essence of Stray Gods was forged and energized. Bob Katsionis, an initiator of plenty of projects, collaborated with great musicians for the release of the band's debut album, "Storm The Walls". Steinmetal had a good talk with Katsionis about how this craze started and what the future holds

Hello Bob, here we meet again, I hope you have been doing well. I am glad to have another chance to talk with you, this time about your new venture Stray Gods, and your debut album. How have you been doing?

Thank you Lior, it's always nice to talk about new stuff and music. As it’s always busy here constantly making new music. That's my legacy, that’s the footprint I want to leave in this world…well, besides my carbon footprint, haha!

As if you haven’t been the busy bee, constantly having yourself something to do, whether playing, songwriting or producing. Out of curiosity, and other than the fact that it is a way to make a living, how do you keep it up?

It’s not easy, as I told you, what motivates me is that my only goal is to make more and more good music and leave a trace behind me. You know, leave something positive in this world. I’m lucky enough to make a living out of playing Heavy Metal, what else can I ask from my life?

The foundation of Stray Gods, as you put it, was virtually a form of studio accident if I am not mistaken, just by playing a new bass guitar. Have you ever imagined that it would end up being a band? Was there a sort of plan in the books to follow one of your most favorite bands of all time?

Nope, there was no plan, I just thought that it would be cool to make a “maiden-like” album and release it from my own lane, Symmetric Records, just because I have both the means to make and sell it. But it turned out to be more than this!

What I like about your energy is that you didn’t stop there at the studio, you wrote material, had enough for an album and went out there to search for suitable musicians to help you out fulfil your around the corner passion. Is Stray Dogs now a full time band, with plans to actually perform live, or will you be maintaining it as a studio project?

Everything changed when Aky from ROAR Records asked me to sign Stray Gods. Until that point it was a studio project. Then he asked me for 2 “real” videos, so I had to bring the musicians to Greece and produce them, and the moment we all got together we realised that it would be awesome to go out live since we liked each other and we are pretty much compatible characters. And now we are planning our first gig in like 2 months from now!

Going back to the search for musicians, we will discuss later about Artur Almeida, have you already had an idea at the time of who is to be part of this venture or simply sort of went out shopping?

Gus Macricostas was my first and only choice for the bass position since I love this guy from the days back in 2002 or something when we played together in a band called “Casus Belli”. But for the vocals, what I had in mind was Monument’s singer Peter Ellis, also a good friend of mine. But I couldn’t trace him, so Dan Baune from Monument too (also a good friend and lovely person!) introduced me to Artur and the rest is our short recent history, hehe.

As a matter of influence, and devotion, Iron Maiden has been one of your top favorites, perhaps even the no. 1 band on your list. Before we dwell into the heart of this sense of admiration that led to Stray Gods, I wonder, what do you find in Iron Maiden that sends you to different places of consciousness?

I think it has to do with their choice of harmony and definitely their imagery and colours let's say. They have drawn so many images to my head, you know, from time and space travels, to aerial invasions, to Egypt, to the hanged man, to the Clairvoyant, you name it. Iron Maiden is a whole lot more than just a music band.

Stray Gods’s debut album, titled “Storm The Walls” is a kind of a higher form amplification of Iron Maiden’s melodic Heavy Metal efforts, and their tremendous contribution to NWOBHM. As you stated, the band’s music is no cheap mimicking of the past but rather you being the pupil and putting to work what you have learned all these years. Therefore, I ask, how does “Storm The Walls” portray your musical vision and how you identify with Iron Maiden’s music?

It was mostly a “test” to see if I could do it. In my head it was like I’m the producer who is hired to write some new good material for the next Iron Maiden album, only that it was 1994. Something like that. There are some hints of my personal sound in there, but it’s mostly the production and sound that make it sound SO Maiden-ish. And of course…the vocals!

When you listen to Iron Maiden of the present, for example their new album “Senjutsu”, and in light of “Storm The Walls”, does it make you long for the very first time that you listened to the band back in the late 80s?

Yes, you are right. People change and you can’t expect them to be the same persons or musicians they were 30-40 years ago. It’s understood. However, they created something that no-one ever got even near to it again, and this is causing big waves of nostalgia to all of us. We kind of need the “old” Iron Maiden back, but we definitely respect them as they are now. But, with all these iconic musicians aside, if someone is longing for some new music that sounds like that, I think they Stray Gods can serve him pretty well.

When I listen to the songs of “Storm The Wall”, there are plenty of bits and bites that could have been great features in the early Iron Maiden material, as if Mr. Harris actually missed something earlier on but you were able to forge it decades later. How does it make you feel, this sort of exploration of how Maiden oriented, and driven, you can be to brainstorm and hash such material?

Well… look. I became a Metalhead after listening to 7th Son back in 1989. Then I made a career in music, that someone could say it’s been successful, if you ask me I would say it’s like “ok”. Reaching a point that someone tells you “hey, this could be written by Steve Harris” it's a great achievement, a huge compliment and one more box that’s ticked on my long list of life goals.

There aren’t too many Bruce Dickinson vocal style singers that can use that prolific operatic sensation to good use. The veteran Artur Almeida, who has been the voice of Attik Demons, is virtually the closest example to the British singer’s abilities. Other than his closeness to the Dickinson’s vocal pattern, what did you find in Almeida as a singer that you didn’t in others that you might have thought about?

I knew Attick demons since we are label mates, but when I had to invite Artur, I listened to their stuff a bit more closely. I mean, it took me like 10 minutes until I sent him the email, hahaha, that “closely” were are talking about here! I liked his power and harshness and the way he pronounces and highlights the words he is singing. Funnily enough he is NOT a huge Iron Maiden fan, his favourite band is actually AC/DC! And I definitely prefer him to the other Bruce Dickinson clones, he is a real singer and artist, not just a YouTuber.

Hanging in for the ride, your label mate, Dan Baune, took upon himself to play the solos in the entire album, and there is quite the fine selection of lead guitar prowess throughout “Storm The Wall”. How do you find Baune’s style of playing on the record? Was he able to capture the essence of the twin-axe of Murray and Smith?

Dan did a great work and the last thing I cared about was to make him sound like one of the Iron Maiden’s guitarists. I could and he could definitely could but instead he played some really cool solos and more than that he introduced me to both the singer and Use, the person who did the artwork, so for me he is kind of the 5th member of the band. This guy is in my heart!

Usually I come to talk about the lyrical sense of the record earlier on, yet this time around I went with the music first, I hope you don’t mind. What can you tell about the narratives of the songs on the record, is this a form of escapism from our troublesome reality or rather sending pure hints of our faults as people?

There’s an interesting story here as well. There was a guy who I never met and he kept on sending me random lyrics for over 3 years. When I finished the album’s music, “ping” an email notification arrived. It was him again with a new one! We are talking perfect timing here! So I dug on my email archives and started modifying some of his lyrics plus I wrote some new ones myself. There are definitely images like a castle under siege, or “Silver Moon” talking about a mercenary soldier who has regretted for his actions, but there’s also songs talking about the whole recent cover situation (Naked In The Fire) or even the stage fright of an actor (The World’s A Stage)

While the music of “Storm The Wall” gestures that melodic Heavy Metal vibe that could only be created by British hands, there is a single anomaly that I found to be different, and that is the semi-balladry, “Love In The Dark, which has an 80s AOR mixed with Heavy Metal vibe. The keyboards drive part of the road, a kind of a refreshing point of the record. What can you tell about this song?

This one was actually the 3rd song I wrote for the album, following “The Seventh Day” and “Black Horses”. It was initially a guitar oriented song based on a guitar riff, more in the style of early Dio or something. Once I realised where it was heading to, I kept this style to the end and I think it’s a song that stands out from the album.

The album’s finishing touch of the self-titled, “Storm The Wall” probably has the purest Maiden spirit, converging in a well-structured tune that has a lot to offer to every listener. What can you tell about the creative process of this track? What was your initial vision for it?

As you can guess, this was the last song the I wrote for the album and I definitely went for a longer structure, having songs like “7th Son” in mind and an intro similar to Alexander The Great. The funny thing about it, was that I actually wrote it in one go. I mean, I got the guitar, and started playing and singing. That was it. Took me like 10 minutes to make the basic structure of it. I don’t know how it happened, really.

Since you were able to write “Storm The Wall” over the course of a week’s time, is there the next chapter of the band in the works?

I would be a terrible liar if I didn’t tell you that I already have 3 songs ready, demo’ed and done! Plus, other 10 ideas in my cell phone that just need to be properly recorded and arranged. Next album is going to be a killer, I promise. And for a fun fact, I’m giving some working titles to the songs like “Somewhere In Thyme” and “The Evil That Girls Do” so it’s more fun to listen to them, hahaha!

Bob, once again, a pleasure, thank you for your time for the interview and I do hope to hear from Stray Gods once again. Cheers and all the best

Thanks for one more time my friend! Up The Irons!


 



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