Stinking Lizaveta - Caught Without Words

By Dr. Abner Mality

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."...Shakespeare

The Bard may also have said "a band by any other name would rock as much", especially if he was referring to Stinking Lizaveta. Let's face it, there are not too many rock bands around with a monicker as peculiar as this. Yet, like everything else connected with Stinking Lizaveta, it speaks of a real sense of independence and a desire to do things differently than the norm. You will soon learn more about the origins of this nom de guerre.

Stinking Lizaveta is a three piece band from Philadelphia that plays a unique kind of instrumental rock. Their style cannot be easily described, especially by this poor scribe, but has elements of stoner rock, metal, jazz, jam band improvisation, ethnic music and movie soundtracks. Each tune is as individual and "hand crafted" as a piece of folk art constructed by some backwoods master craftsman.

The band consists of brothers Yanni and Alexi Papadeopoulos, who play electric guitar and stand-up bass respectively, and drummer Cheshire Augusta...yes, a woman, who hits the kit harder than most guys. Their latest effort is "Caught Between Worlds", which offers up a cornucopia of instrumental rock delights in the distinctive Lizaveta style.

Despite the fact that his band has no lyrics, I found bass player Alexi more than eager to talk about the world of Stinking Liz...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: First, to get the obvious out of the way first, the name Stinking Lizaveta. How did you come by this monicker and what has the general reaction to it been?

ALEXI PAPADEOPOULOS: We were young, (younger then,than we are now) and reading Russian existential literature. We had all read "The Brothers Karamazov"by Fyodor Dostoevski. In this Russian novel is a chapter (and a pivotal character) by the name of Stinking Lizaveta. We just liked the way it sounded more than anything else. We were on drugs. I don't know. Is there any excuse?

As far the general reaction goes, those who react and bring their reaction to our attention are usually asking how to say the band's name. We did not know this would be a tongue twister for some people. That's the honest truth, that's how most people react, so I took to saying, "it doesn't matter how you say the name because it's Russian anyway, and even if I were to pretend to pronounce it right It wouldn't be,so say what you will..."

WC: Another obvious question: could you tell us a little about the history of Stinking Lizaveta?

AP: Yanni and I are brothers, he's played guitar since he was a young teenager (he's the older one) and we've always liked challenging rock music. Growing up exposed to the music of Minor Threat and the Bad Brains from a very young age puts things into a different perspective. Cheshire started playing drums later in life, but had quite a bit of music theory and piano training behind her by the time she started playing "rock" drums.

WC: Instrumental hard rock is one of the rarest genres and is usuallY inhabited by "guitar shredder" bands, which you really aren't. What are some of the attractions of this difficult path?

AP: When we started this band, we didn't think of instrumental rock as a genre. To really play and love music I think one has to keep the mind open. To have big ears, and an open mind. And so we are all constantly discovering new music. [This sort of responds to the idea that we intended to be part of a genre of instrumental bands, which we really didn't (even if we've grown to appreciate these bands.)] More and more of it is instrumental. I think what led us to this path is that we are all composers but not lyricists, so we just did what we liked to do, write music.

WC: Despite having no lyrics, your songs still seem to tell stories. The music itself creates different moods. I was wondering, do you come up with song titles after the music is written or do titles suggest the music?

AP: All possible ways. Some titles are there at the conception of the song. Some songs get played without a title, but I don't think any of us have had a song title sitting around before a song. Does that make any sense? The truth is we don't have any system for songwriting or titling and to try to (self) analyze it feels awkward at best.

WC: Still on the subject of song titles, I'm intrigued by "I Denounce the Government", which has a kind of nervous,paranoid feeling to it. Does this songtitle have a real connection to the music and does it reflect the band's own viewpoint?

AP: Yes, the song title has both a connection to the music and to sentiments at the time that the song was written. However, we do try to point out to those super patriotic freaks out there who get in a huff about this song title that we denounce all governments. (They seem to have led to extreme numbers of mass murder over the past century, Dresden, Hiroshima, etc.) I hate to say any of this, but art is political.

WC: The most unusual track I would say is "Beyond the Shadows", which has a real Middle Eastern feel to it and which builds in a strange way. What was the concept behind this song?

AP: It's an emotional outpouring, sad, sad and a little angry at being sad. That's as close to a "concept" as that song gets. Maybe that's why it seems to build in a "strange" way.

WC: Stinking Liz is different in using the stand-up bass as part of its sound. What are some of the challenges and advantages to using this instrument?

AP: Some challenges ARE advantages. Like it's unique sound, plucking it really hard and really fast at the same time, and being able to bow it, to name a few of the challenging advantages.

WC: What's the songwriting process like for the band? Are the tunes generated spontaneously or are they laid out with a lot of forethought?

AP: There's usually a good amount of forethought, but it (the music) always changes in the mix, I mean, when we get together.

WC: One of the great things about the band is that it has an experimental and improvisational flow to it, but it doesn't get pretentious and go over people's heads. It reminds me of 60's and early 70's rock in a way. Would you agree with that? And do you think that kind of music is lacking today?

AP: Thank you. This is really accidental, that our music is in any way reminiscent of 60's and 70's rock. It really reminds me more and more that everyone is coming to music from a different place. We all have this bank of musical information in our heads that we refer to, and each of us has a unique way to reference music, and what's funny is that we all do it. We have boxes to store our things. So your question is a reminder to me that what I consider modern and contemporary to others is not.

WC:Has there ever been any consideration of adding to the band? Maybe another guitarist, a keyboardist?

AP: We've played live with many different musicians, mostly in Philly, but sometimes in Lafayette, or other cities,- sax, keyboard, sampler, violin, bagpipe,(other) guitar, oh, and the belly dancers.......But none to add to the band as a fixture.

WC: Because Stinking Liz is so unique, is it hard finding compatible bands to tour with? What kind of crowd usually comes to a show? Does the band find its fans amongst metal, hardcore, jam rock, jazz or just plain curious fans?

AP: Can I get away with answering this question with a "Yes." ?We've been touring for a little over 10 years now and have played with all kinds of bands, but we mostly tour by ourselves and play with local bands when we get to where we're going. This exposes us to an incredible variety of music and musicians at all levels of ability and sound. It's quite an experience.

WC: How do you see yourselves evolving in the future?

AP: We could turn back into aquatic animals and live in the ocean. But that's probably not what you meant by evolve.
(Well, I guess I walked right into that one!--Dr. Mality) Seriously, I don't know, we're writing some new songs, we're each trying to improve upon our playing, and we're always writing songs that we can barely play, or that are challenging. So, there's really no room in that process to try to look into the future and take a gander at what might come of our work. It's always a work in progress.

WC: What was the last CD you got for your own enjoyment?

AP: Edd from D.C. burned me Zappa's first three albums and on one, at the end he put a version of "The End" you know, by the Doors that was by Nico, and John Cale. That's intense, also, and this answers the next question too, I've been listening to my own recording of a show I saw at The Tritone in Philly, by a band called New Ghost.

WC: What was the last show you saw for your own enjoyment?

AP: (See Above)

WC: We often ask bands if they have a "Spinal Tap" moment they'd like to share with us? Now it's your turn...

AP: It's really all moments, except THEY didn't travel around in a nearly dead van, across the desert in California, and West Texas losing compression slowly,just desperately trying to make it to the next gig at Wild Hare's in El Paso on Christmas eve, not knowing anything about the venue or having a guarantee, did they?

WC: Any final words?

AP: Free your ass and your mind will follow, or is it free your mind and your ass will follow? I guess it really doesn't matter.

At A Loss Recording's Website

Stinking Lizaveta's Official Website