Name: Theo Katsaounis
Occupation: Drummer, electronic producer
Current release: In 2009 Theo Katsaounis, as part of the experimental rock formation Hey!Tonal, recorded a fascinating self-titled album of instrumentals filled with raw riffs, layered guitar textures, impetuous rock power and mindbogglingly complex studio wizardry. Written with the drums as a point of departure, the music is in constant motion, occasionally pulsating wildly, at other times peacefully oscillating. The entirely organic juxtaposition between post rock and dreamy electronica, between the violent thrust of hardcore and passages of almost ambient sensibilities (captured in the magnificently ambitious key piece “Kcraze”) make for a sweeping listen that sounds as stimulating today as it did the day it was released. Hey!Tonal sadly never recorded together again. Instead, the formation splintered into many different directions, bands and solo projects. Katsaounis went on to participate in the masterful progressive drone-doom-galaxy of Anatomy of Habit's Ciphers + Axioms and one of Chicago's most consistently surprising experimental formations, Joan of Arc. The legacy of their one glorious collaboration, however, lives on.
Hey!Tonal is now re-released as a 2XLP via Computer Students. To mark the occasion, we conducted interviews with almost all musicians involved in the making of this album.
[Read our Dave Davison of Hey!Tonal interview]
[Read our Kevin Shea of Hey!Tonal interview]
[Read our Alan Mills of Hey!Tonal interview]
[Read our Mitch Cheney of Hey!Tonal interview]
Recommendations: I recommend you read Mutations: The Many Strange Faces of Hardcore Punk. by Sam McPheeters It's a brilliant examination of the past and how it's important to keep moving forward.
I also recommend watching Reservation Dogs if you have the means. It's a charming series that knows exactly what it's doing and doesn't take itself too seriously. It's refreshing.
If you enjoyed this interview with Theo Katsaounis and would like to know more about his work, visit the official homepage of Joan of Arc.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing music in high school. The Eddie Van Halen solo in 'Thriller' forced a guitar in my hand and Bill Bruford's stint with Yes bugged the hell out of me until I started to finally play the drums.
I've performed both instruments simultaneously but have since kept them in their own rooms to allow them to breathe separately.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I hear something in the world, whether it's an unfamiliar song or rhythmic patterns while on a walk and if I end up repeating it over and over again in my head I then take it back to the lab and manipulate it to my liking.
It's not as hard as sticking a circle in a square but it's a fun process to make it my own.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I’m an introvert and as I get older, the less flashy the better.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The early creative challenges consisted of compromise and attempting to let go of that ego.
The challenges now are to continue to be as uncomfortable as possible.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument?
Drums took precedence with bands/touring, once Covid/lockdown hit I no longer had a space to play my drums due to the aforementioned circumstance. So I started to play a lot of acoustic guitar at home and proudly recording some ditties on my iphone.
I have Ableton Live and have had fun playing around with my limited resources. I'm just adapting to my environment and circumstances.
What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/ equipment over the years? Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Ableton and moog aps have changed the way I make music. I used to have more of a complete idea when I went to record on my four-track 20 years ago and now I just approach it with a riff and let it organically/slowly grow as I come up with new and unfamiliar sounds.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I’ve collaborated with many people in many forms and the most positive productive collaborations for me were when it was diplomatic. Unless someone sends me a track and asks me to contribute however I'd like, this method is the most gratifying for me.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Depends on where I'm at in my life but currently I wake up early to go to my full-time job and on my return home I eat a meal and watch a movie. Full-time work kills my creativity and is the most uninspired time of my life.
However, when I hear that pattern on my walk to work I get inspired and all is good again.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
One of the most special performances to me was when Joan of Arc, a band I played drums in for 12 years, performed a live score to the feature film, The Passion of Joan of Arc. I had never done anything like that before and was completely in love with the process from scoring to performing. It was magical for me.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
These days it's just if and when I have the time. Then when I have the time I need to be alone in my room with no outside distractions … if I’m distracted my attention span will bully me until I give in and watch a movie.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Music is the perfect soundtrack for my true authentic self. If I'm sad I don't try to change my music to bring me out of it, forced positivity can create pain. I can sit with it until it's done.
Music also connects people together and I think that can be a way of healing if needed.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
If you're blatantly stealing from another culture or anyone and claiming that it's your original creation, then it's absolutely problematic. If you create something that's inspired by another culture, then give credit to those that deserve it. It can be the best gateway drug in learning about music/art from other cultures you once weren't privy to.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
If you're watching a movie and the picture is pixelated or glitchy but the audio is 100% clear, then it'll most-likely hold your attention and you'll be thoroughly entertained. If it's the opposite and the audio is inaudible and the picture is pristine, then your attention will go elsewhere quickly.
Moving pictures and audio go hand-in-hand and most people either take the audio for granted or don't even notice it and That's probably because we can’t see it!
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Art can be very thought provoking and challenge world-views and I fully support that … but tell me what piece of art have you come across that has no agenda?
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music expresses feelings about life and death that can't be articulated. It's a personal expression and only you know how to be in that authentic place if you choose to do so.