An Interview With Puta Volcano’s Anna Papathanasiou: On Art, Vocals, and ‘AMMA’

We’ve been pretty blatant about our admiration for the Greek music scene. One of our favorite Greek contemporary acts around the Monster Riff water cooler is Puta Volcano, a quartet specializing in massive, textured riffs and tales of space travel. Their latest album, AMMA, was filled with ear worms that won the record praise from critics all over the world. Much of the band’s sound and success is thanks to lead vocalist Anna Papathanasiou.

We recently caught up with Papathanasiou to discuss her work during coronavirus, AMMA, and filming the band’s first music video.

Monster Riff: How have you been keeping busy during coronavirus? I know you have been trying to stay put, right? 

Anna Papathanasiou: Yeah, to be honest in regard to my other artistic activities, I’ve been travelling a lot, so it involves a lot of traveling and moving around. But right now, the level of the situation dictates that I stay stuck in Greece in the house. To be honest, personally, I don’t want to move that much. I want to keep it real and see where this is going. Which is my take and my point of view on live shows. Unless this entire thing goes down, it’s not really safe. You have to be patient and see how it goes. 

Monster Riff: Congratulations on your latest album. I imagine by now you were planning to promote that pretty hard.

Anna Papathanasiou: Yeah. To be honest, we had almost 50 gigs all around Europe with our agency, Sound of Liberation, but we had to cancel all of them. So we are promoting it in different directions and channels, but we just exclude the live gig part. 

Monster Riff: Has the band continued writing or performing in any capacity over the last few months?

Anna Papathanasiou: Yeah, sure. For instance, last night, we were in the studio for 5-6 hours working and rehearsing. It kind of has taken a burden on us because right now we are turning more into introverts. We are focusing on the aspect of making music, composing, songwriting, and, of course, rehearsing the previous albums. 

Monster Riff: It’s an interesting word to use as you talk about being more introverted as a band. Are you saying that as compared to a band that is currently out on stage and in front of people?

Anna Papathanasiou: Yeah. It kind of changes. We were so used to having an audience and sharing the stage with other bands and sharing emotions with the audience. Right now, we are bound to be the four of us. That puts us in a procedure of creation, to be honest, which is essential. I can see that in the same way with my artistic practice. You need isolation in order to come up with good ideas and have inspiration. 

Monster Riff: What has you most excited about the latest album?

Anna Papathanasiou: It’s kind of connected to the previous one, Harmony of Spheres. It’s kind of a prophecy because it came out really true. In Harmony of Spheres, the premise was that of time travelers and moving around the galaxy. In AMMA, the concept was that we came back to planet Earth, but everything was distorted and changed, and we felt alienated. It kind of feels like that in a way, right now. We stepped in a time-space glitch. It’s something we have never experienced before. 

Monster Riff: It’s something else thinking about when it was written and then the time period in which it was written. It’s oddly on point in world events. 

Anna Papathanasiou: Yeah.

Monster Riff: Was AMMA written to be listened back-to-back to Harmony of Spheres? Should people listen to those as a pair?

Anna Papathanasiou: I haven’t thought about that, to be honest. If you listen to the intro song, it kind of reminds you of the outro song of Harmony of Spheres. So, I would say there is a connection, but it is a bit more strict. I think it is a bit more rough and metallic. I wouldn’t say metal, I wouldn’t put it in a musical genre. I think of it in quality and material, to me it sounds more metallic. I don’t think they go back-to-back, but it’s like if you want to read a book, you go back and read what else has been written under the subject, so you can see it in some kind of way like that. It is a next step for the band and to me it’s an in between step to what is to follow, what comes next. 

Monster Riff: Do you think your follow up album will follow the same narrative?

Anna Papathanasiou: I’m not sure. It would be an essential step we needed to take in order to unlock other qualities. These are the qualities that we have been working on now, for some time. 

Monster Riff: Can you tell me a little bit more about the writing process for AMMA? I’ve read a little bit about how you and the band took some risks in moving in new directions, right? 

Anna Papathanasiou: Yeah, along with our producer, Johnny. We had new, fresh ideas. He had new ideas of how the vocals should be recorded. If you pay attention to the over dubs in the main parts of vocals…it was a new approach. As I said before, it expresses some unfamiliarity. To me, the production gives out something unfamiliar and this quality. That would be the new element. In the songwriting and recording process, it was pretty close to the previous one, Harmony of Spheres. It led us to a totally different direction. At least that’s what I get out of it. I think it’s a grower. It has a different quality than Harmony of Spheres. I think Harmony of Spheres was more impressive from the first guitar riff. Even for us, it’s our child, our baby. This one took me about four, five, ten listenings to get to a point that I got to get familiar with the material.

Monster Riff: So, when you listen to AMMA, it sounds like you aren’t quite as enamored with it as you are with Harmony of Spheres. In other words, Harmony of Spheres is your favorite child. 

Anna Papathanasiou: Exactly. I think it’s the way it is. It’s an organic process. It connects to my head, it makes sense because it’s an album we haven’t toured, we haven’t played live, and we have this recorded session without an audience. I realize that this album is better performed live, so it needs to be out there. If we don’t get to the point where we get to share this material with an audience, I’m not really in a place to say which one is my favorite child.  

Monster Riff: For this album, you had your first music video, “Black Box,” right?

Anna Papathanasiou: Yeah.

Monster Riff: The music video for that is pretty interesting because it is a woman running in place with a black screen behind her and people are throwing stuff at her. Tell me a little bit about creating that music video and the ideas behind it.

Anna Papathanasiou: It’s funny because the back story is…So, I have a treadmill at my house and the way I rehearse my own songs or get inspiration from new songs is I’m getting on my treadmill, running for an hour and a half and I’m lip singing over and over again. I came up with this funny idea to have a contemporary woman, or anybody, and have shit hitting the fan all the time. You just need to break through and move on because if you stop, that’s some sort of death, like a pause. You’re not entitled to stop in life. To me it was like, how could I get this emotion of constant struggling and going through stages. So, that was my idea and we met up with Niko, the co-director and we ended up doing it. Of course, Elena was great, the actress that actually performed in it. It’s funny because they think it’s me at some points. I really wanted another person on stage so I would be able to control the situation and see how it comes out.

Monster Riff: Yeah, she obviously is great in it because it takes a certain amount of discipline to have yogurt and banana peels thrown at you for four minutes. 

Anna Papathanasiou: Yeah, it was wild. At some point, because we did a single shot, three times…at one point there was fire because we were throwing anything you could imagine. She was pausing and panting, and I was like, “Hey, guys, there’s a flame behind her.” But she couldn’t see it, so we acted cool up to the point where we stepped in and started putting out the fire. It was super scary and funny at the same time. 

Monster Riff: What caught on fire?

Anna Papathanasiou: I think it was some sort of dress, then we tossed a birthday candle and it went up.

Monster Riff: You did that in three shots…what was it like cleaning up after each take?

Anna Papathanasiou: Actually, it was so organized with everyone participating. I really thank every single person in the room. They were so disciplined; it was like being in the army. I think it would be like 45 minutes in between shots, and then we would take it from the top. 

Monster Riff: That’s great you had such a good crew. I was really impressed with her. She does a really good job keeping it together. I don’t know if I would be able to have a straight face through all of that.

Anna Papathanasiou: She was amazing. At some point, the drummer, Steven, tossed a raw egg because he thought it was going to break, but it didn’t. So, she had blood coming out of her mouth and she was like, “Hey, guys, no, we are going to continue, we are not going to stop.” Like wow, what a trooper. 

Monster Riff: Yeah, a true professional. I want to talk a little more about the band now. Your guitarist is actually your brother, right?

Anna Papathanasiou: Yes, exactly. 

Monster Riff: Had you guys played music together long before you were in the band together?

Anna Papathanasiou: Yeah, to be honest, because we both have classical training in music. My mother used to be a classical guitar teacher. I used to play the piano since I was three or four, so we would be in the house and music would be given to us, provided. We would jam together, but when he turned 17 and I was 18, he was like, “I want to play the guitar and I want someone to sing, so it’s not totally boring.” So, I stepped in. That was the first time that we got into the process of thinking it would be cool to have a band. 

Monster Riff: Some of the artists I talk to who perform with their brother or sister often say that one of the big advantages they have is that they grew up listening to the same music, so they have all of the same reference points when they are writing or jamming together. Is that the case for you and your brother? Did you grow up liking and listening to the same type of music?

Anna Papathanasiou: Pretty much. We have our own personal taste in music, but even though it may sound funny, we’ve always had this classical…we love classical music. Then we were introduced to the Beatles by our mother. We then started listening to our own punk rock music and so we have the same taste, same discoveries. We would sit in the living room and listen to the same album. It’s pretty much like being twins in that aspect. 

Monster Riff: Since you’ve been with your brother and have been playing a lot, was there another band before Puta Volcano, or were you 17-18 and figured out you wanted a band and jumped right into it?

Anna Papathanasiou: No, there were a couple of bands and we ended up being Puta Volcano back in 2007. 

Monster Riff: Have you always been primarily the singer?

Anna Papathanasiou: Yeah. 

Monster Riff: With that in mind, I’d love to talk a little more about your approach to singing. You have such a stage presence, but your voice is so powerful even on record. Tell me a little about your approach and your preparation in each album recording. 

Anna Papathanasiou: I would say that it’s kind of instinctive and that is something that I am trying to work on more. To be more consistent and not too impulsive. When you are in it, you don’t see the pros. Like I think my voice is really nasal, really heavy and loud, and even my speaking voice. So I struggle with that, to the point that I say, “Fuck it,” and use them and incorporate them as my personal ID and the way I sing. As I grow older, my voice is getting a bit more raspy. I’m discovering my voice as we speak. It’s taking me down paths that I don’t put much effort in controlling it, I’m just letting it show me how to be and express myself. It’s a tool and a difficult instrument. I’m just letting myself be guided the way that it matures. 

Monster Riff: As we start wrapping up here, is there anything else with the band or your other artistic pursuits that I haven’t asked about that you are really excited about?

Anna Papathanasiou: One thing I am really excited about is as I told you before is stepping into the studio and creating more stuff. On the other aspect of my visual artistic practice, I’m starting to work on a new production, a solo production. It’s the first time that I am going to incorporate my vocal element into it, so we’ll see how it turns out.

Monster Riff: Tell me a little more. 

Anna Papathanasiou: I had this idea. It’s kind of a combination of my music video and my performances in a 45-minute production and solo. I would say it’s like a thematic theater with vocal elements. That’s the most I can tell right now. See how it works out.

Monster Riff: That sounds exciting. Speaking of your visual work, the cover of AMMA is one of your sculptures. 

Anna Papathanasiou: That was a performance I did back in 2018 in New York.. I made this replica of myself of my bust, made out of white chocolate. I was eating it up. I was consuming it. 

Monster Riff: I remember seeing some footage of that. 

Anna Papathanasiou: What remained there was the half-eaten head, which was a different sculpture. I wrapped it up in plastic. To me, it was like a monument of time passed. We thought it was a good idea because AMMA is like “mother.” The term for “mother.” It reminded me of traditional women in the Greek countryside, wearing black.

Monster Riff: Right, and I think that gold gives that feeling of outer space that the album captures. 

Anna Papathanasiou: It does have that aspect and, to me, personally, the silver blanket that they give to refugees in camps. So, it’s kind of like a refugee in your planet if you want to make a theory out of it. But that’s kind of my concept and the way I see it. 

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