Interview with RADIO FREE UNIVERSE
The Band: Radio Free Universe
Answers by: George Panagopoulos (vocals)
RADIO FREE UNIVESE is a rock band from Canada, and when I say rock it means rock with all consequences. George Panagopoulos is the driving force behind the project and he takes it serious all the way, he puts all the energy on it and well… the result is just there, their first full length album, “Casa del Diablo”, an intense rock album with lyrics that count. George Panagopoulos has his ideas very, very clear, as you can check below.
Hello George and congratulations for your debut album Casa Del Diablo, we would like to know more details about the band’s story, what can you tell us?
It’s a long story. I wanted to start a real rock band, something unique only because it was not trying to be anything at all. I first played music because it was fun. It made me feel amazing after. Feeling the crush and grind of a well rehearsed band is magic. I wanted that without the drama. Needless to say it took a lot of drama to get to this place. There are a lot of great musicians who have been a big or small part of this unveiling along the way, but we are finally here; free and excited to be in this. It really takes time to find 4 guys in love with the sound each of us makes.
Before recording this Casa Del Diablo have you released any songs or this is your very first record?
We tried but this is our first real release. The chemistry just wasn’t there. The band was trying to produce itself. I had to learn to have two hats and working with Glen Robinsion showed me how to be a real Gemini.
Radio Free Universe is at least a curious name, how did you choose it and what is the meaning behind it?
Well radio free Europe was and is a resistance broadcast that promotes freedom in unfree countries by broadcasting the free press. We kind of feel too many musicians get garbled in the fashion of music. What their friends or society thinks is cool. They aren’t really writing songs they are repeating a condition that they have learned to be a part of. For us we feel the songs have their own ego. They each have something unique to give us and they must be allowed to give it regardless of our attitude. We’ve all had to learn how to play different styles to accommodate what the songs want. Not what we think they want. There is a way we go about that.
RFU are four guys, any one more responsible than the others in the creation of the songs?
Well, we all write riffs of sorts, then in a jam, I kind of surf. Words and melodies just flow in of and then out. The songs whisper things they want you to say. Sometimes I’ll be close to hearing a whole phrase then someone in the room akin to the process kind of feels a word here or there. Perhaps someone comes up with a part or two and the others just hear what should happen next. We really have turned it into a process that serves the songs as they are being created.
How long did you need to complete your album Casa Del Diablo and how was the process?
Well at first it was just an EP and that happened fast. The songs were already mostly done. We had so many songs, perhaps 40 recordings and a hundred ideas. Then Glen Robinson came in. He helped us pick 4 tracks. We had a blast with him. He reminded me who I needed to be when recording the band. From there we decided we didn’t just want to be one of those bands with an EP (sorry if you’re one of those bands we still love you). We had enough to put our best foot forward. Jetpack Records (my indie label) has a great studio, a real Neve class A console and well we just dug in. I recorded and mixed the rest of the album with Mark McMaster (a budding engineer from Hamilton, ON). We made an amazing space with great gear and even better energy. Producing the rest was easy. Glen Robinson had really gotten the process set for us. I sent him the tracks after we mixed them and he mastered them.
By the way, it seems you have a natural instinct for cool names, why Casa Del Diablo, why in Spanish?
Well after the record was done it was clear to me that it was about America and her masters.
What are the lyrics about? I think you have dedicated enough time to it and the result is that we got songs with a meaning, not just the typical cars & girls rock song, right?
As mentioned these songs need to exist. There are already written somewhere on the other side. I mean magnolia girl was actually an out of body experience I had where someone handed me the entire song. I came out of it, went to the studio and recorded it right away. I remembered every lyric. Others took some sculpting to get them to be what they wanted. Leaving the authenticity of each moment behind sometimes takes time. I really feel bands are cheating themselves if they don’t allow themselves the opportunity to record and play a great amount. I mean this is how you find and play back moments of pure connection. Once we did that it was clear to see this album was about America. Something is happening right now. The country is completely divided. The media isn’t free, it’s owned by money and so are its political actors. I don’t believe in the devil, but I do believe that if there was one he or she would live in the White House.
Surely a hot issue right now. You play a rock in a variety of styles: 70s, 80s, sometimes commercial, raw other times, it contributes to make your album very fun and easy to listen
Again, it’s not us. I mean we love all kinds of tunes. The songs want to be played. So we play them.
You, George, deliver a great execution on vocals, a key element in any rock band. What has more weight in your music, the vocals or the guitars?
Well you can’t have one without the other. Not in this kind of music. They owe each other dearly. The vocal will always take the song places. But they can’t get there without the band. (And I do mean band.) They are really all just as important.
The album was mixed and mastered by Glen Robinson (Voivod, Gwar), quite a point, isn’t it?
So yeah, Six, Disclosure, American Gun, and 18 Wheels produced mixed and mastered by Glen. The rest is produced and mixed by George (the singer/me) and Mark McMaster. All mastered by Glen, I mean really he pushed the standard and process in the beginning and that made the rest possible.
What bands have influenced more you sound?
So I hate this question it’s like asking a chief who’s food he likes to eat. To me the songs own me, I don’t own them. They tell us what they want. We try not to impose our influences on them. If we have to learn how to play Middle Eastern modes for the song we will.
Hahaha, I do like the answer, George. Have you played any of these songs in your gigs?
Much better question! Yes, when we feel we needed it. We’ve been known to Motorhead, The White Stripes and The Beastie Boys. I hope that shows exactly how diverse our taste is. We very rarely play covers now though.
Prior to your debut album, you have made quite a name for yourselves on the live scene in Southern Ontario and greater Toronto area since your formation in 2010, right?
Yes, we played our asses off everywhere. We worked so hard that we would eventually love or hate one another. This all led to shedding, eventually you are left with four guys who love each other. I mean after each rehearsal we actually tell each other that. The music live really is the pay off.
As it should be. Canada has a big scene in many genres of rock and metal, how do you see it? Is it easier to be a rock band or a metal band in Canada? Or it is just the same crazy thing hahaha?
Yes, we’ve literally played in between 5 really metal bands. They all came in to appreciate it. What I love about metal is it’s real. It’s all emotion. If you play rock with that kind of passion, then metal fans will love you.
Good point. Now a classic question or debate. Some people think that rock is a style that has come to a no exit road, always repeating the same models, what do you think about it?
Nah, I can say that about anything. The problem is there is way too much crap. People join bands and don’t work at it. They show up drunk and smoke pot or whatever and play once a week if their lucky. No one can afford anything because they all have other priorities. You’re going to suck if you do. To me they are white noise. They are destroying the live music scene. When you put the time in, new meaning and things always come out. Real cats don’t give a fuck. They practice all the time and write all the time. They take advice, they will do anything and play and play and play, 6 billion people on earth and everyone is different. To make each one of us took two lives of living! In most cases a quarter of a century each. That’s why we’re all unique. It’s beautiful. Music can be like that. Just work at it as hard and you can and have as much fun as you can. Put the time in. Something new will always come from it. When you have to think about being different you have already failed. Practice and you will be different in time.
Another good point for you. Are you preparing a promotional tour? Any dates out of Canada?
Yes, an agent is coming on board to handle that. We’re going to radio and talking to you and hoping we can say hi to a few people. When the second single is out a tour should be booked.
Great. What are your plans for the future?
Trying to release a video, tour play record
Thank you very much for your attention, George, rock on!
Wow thank you!!