Mechanimal is a Greek project set up in 2011 by Giannis Papaioannou. The name of the band was given to the project by Angelica Vrettou, the video artist of Mechanimal, as ‘they were looking for something that could represent the bipolar mechanical sound/human voice’. The name of the band sometimes also features an underscore (Mechanim_l) because they couldn’t register the name as a whole on a few social media platforms. This year Mechanimal released their fourth full length “Crux” on Inner Ear Records. This work is a mix between different influences; from goth-pop to ambient-pop to experimental to minimal-electro and even a touch of punk. On top of it all you’ll hear the mysterious, sensual, spoken words by Freddie Faulkenberry.“Crux” is a truly masterpiece and I think one of the most creative works I’ve heard for quite a long time.
(Courtesy by Inferno Sound Diaries)
Q: Mechanimal is active for several years now. How do you look back at the origins of the project and what have been the major facts so far?
Giannis: I have been releasing dark-ambient and dub-techno music since 1996 under the ION moniker. Most of it is instrumental, but there are also a few songs in all my ION releases. So at the end of 2010, when all this new ‘crisis’ problem hit Greece like a comet I felt like any excitement ever existed in search of happiness, seemed to fast disintegrate into a panting decay of mechanical life. I wrote some lyrics to that dub-techno track “Low Land” which was originally released in ION’s “Last Days Of Spring”-EP (June 2011).
I asked Freddie to do the spoken word thing because I liked his low registered voice, but the main reason was that I wanted someone narrating all what happened in Athens like through the eyes of a stranger. Freddie had just moved back to Athens from New-York and we were co-operating in other media projects; him as a photographer and me as a journalist. One day we were listening to tracks that were never released and those were songs with lyrics, off my dub-ambient sound. So, we decided to work on them, and together with Tassos Nikogiannis on guitars, we recorded a 5 track demo. One year later, in October 2012, our first album was released through Inner Ear Records.
Q: Giannis, I get the impression this project is yours, but with the input of multiple guests while Freddie Faulkenberry seems to be lead singer. Tell us a bit more about the line-up and the input of the guest musicians & -singers?
Giannis: I never thought that Mechanimal would have a specific form, nor that it would take a specific musical direction. Of course, I knew from the beginning that the heart of the band would be mechanical, electronic, technological, but of course, I didn’t want to be limited to formalist concepts or categories, because in my head, Mechanimal simply can’t have a very specific form. For example, I would not rule out any future collaboration with other musicians.
My wish for Mechanimal is to work as easily as a band as for an audiovisual project, which can play as easily on a rock‘n’roll stage as it does in a museum room or a theatre stage. The voice of this project can vary, but yes, Freddie is the main singer and has the leading voice part in it. So, as we have said before Mechanimal is an on-going experiment. In the beginning, we got the tag ‘drone‘n’roll’ from the local press, and we loved it, we kept it, we nourished it, but somehow we escaped from it. Instead, we play, without barriers and sometimes extreme, with everything that predisposes us to create a sound universe, which can sometimes be a little more demanding to the average listener.
Q: You this year released your fourth full length album. What did you keep in mind from the writing- and recording process of “Crux” and what have been the main changes/evolutions and challenges compared to previous works?
Giannis: All Mechanimal albums have been recorded in my home studio that we call ‘The Den’. The recording process has not changed much from our first album. The main difference with “Crux” is that it was conceived as a concept album, like a story of a video game with 10 different stages. It was recorded in a period when all political and societal scenery was changing (for once more) around us. We had to choose from many different tracks to tell our story, but I knew that “Crux” would be the crossfade point of a time loop, that would seamlessly bring us to that point when we first meet with Freddie and said we would write electronic music for the city we live in and its people.
Q: It’s nearly impossible labeling this album as one specific music genre, but it rather sounds as the fusion between multiple (dark) influences. But what does it mean to you and how do you explain this sound eclecticism?
Giannis: Based on what I’ve said before Mechanimal is a modular band, a name before a group of artists, which can be maneuvered and evolved. In “Crux” we decided that there would be no barriers in our style oscillators. We wrote punk tunes (one of them, “Holy Punk”, was freely released before the official release of “Crux”), we wrote happy tunes, we wrote dance or more classical tunes. The hard part of the process was to pick the right one for the imagery or words of those ten stories that should complete our “Crux” saga. It was a 6-months constant work.
But, I should also add that in our music there have always been sampled hip-hop beats, post-punk bass-lines, minimal drum machines, and a characteristic vintage analogue sound palette that serves our blend of music. It’s nothing new, but it’s a unique blend of the purest ’80s + ’90s + 00’s experiences we as persons have lived.
Q: One thing is for sure, there’s a great balance between music and vocals. Freddie Faulkenberry has a very unique timbre of voice, but that still has been produced a half spoken – half sung way. What makes this chemistry between you both and what’s your way of working together?
Giannis: For me the goal is to get lost in the chaos of a control process. I know it sounds contradictory, but I always put myself in the position of control with this pretty universal characteristic that people might search for in music. To find that passage in music that it’s literally overwhelming. Our relationship with Freddie includes much chaos, like a brother love-hate-envy-admiration thing, but in the end we both experience something similar. I believe that for musicians, that’s what it’s about. That’s what I’m looking for in different ways. Perhaps at times, I’m adamant about this, or maybe the music on this record is less stubborn than our previous records, but the underlying goal is to create a world in which the members of Mechanimal can lose themselves first, so the audience could follow.
Q: “Crux” has been presented as ‘an in-depth exploration of the past, present, and (possible) future of everyday life with the aim of personal awakening’. What’s the deeper and maybe hidden meaning behind it all and how did you transpose it into the lyrical content and the clips you made?
Giannis: The “Crux” album is based on a concept story, that I started putting together back in 2010. The lyrics to the songs were written by me and Freddie, after we both exchanged ideas and thoughts on each stage of the big story. Like for example “La Poverina Delle Ossa” is the final chapter of this saga and this track speaks about a young girl with the code name Alma who survives as a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict.
The album is all about our needs and how we easily think we cover them when we don’t. We deceive ourselves with ‘ease’ these days because it is now easy and fast to do so. We create easy needs, we easily satisfy them and in the end our existential gap continues to be empty. Even if we write the most beautiful lines in our social media timelines or even if we take the selfie with the most likes. We are so hungry that we can easily eat all our rubbish. Until, it turns out to be very easy to eat up each other. And that will be an easy death.