INTERVIEW WITH SAKIS TOLIS OF ROTTING CHRIST
Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen
Rotting Christ doesn’t rest on their laurels, as the band is always on the road or working on new music. Even though members have and come, but the Tolis brothers have soldiered on thru these years and became one of the die-hard working bands. THE HERETICS being the 14th album by Rotting Christ is another excellent slab in the great discography. The album proves Rotting Christ definitely releases the obscure and apocalyptic material. Metal-Rules.Com sat down with the singer/guitarist, Sakis Tolis, to talk about the new album and of course old school metal spirit.
Welcome to Finland.
Nice to meet you.
BEING ON THE ROAD
You visited Finland in 1996 for the first time. You had TRIARCHY OF THE LOST LOVERS and Moonspell had the IRRELIGIOUS album out at that time. Samael was the headliner. Then you had an incident in Stockholm, because you had the guy from Moonspell helping you out in Helsinki.
Now we have the same story more or less. For instance, our guitar player left the band in the middle of a tour. Our session guy, we had, left the band in the middle of the tour too. After the middle of the tour, there was a new guy, we never had any rehearsal. This is life on the road. The tours are so long. Then something unexpected can happen. Then it happened and it’s now the same story. What can you do? The main thing is to have the idea alive and to keep ongoing.
Then you had the deal with Osmose and you hit the road with Immortal and Blasphemy for the first time.
Yes, yes. It’s hard to be on tour anyway. You leave your people. You leave your people back home and anything can happen. It’s adventurous. Especially this adventure is a two-month adventure. We’re sleeping on the bus with 24 people for two months. Can you imagine it?
It’s like a coffin.
It’s like an armoury. It’s like a crematory. I call this tour an experiment. Who is going to survive until the end? It develops survival.
The condition was a little different back then than nowadays.
Yes. They are better now. We’re not young anymore. That’s the difference.
WORKING ON HERETICS
As for your latest album titled THE HERETICS. You haven’t rested on laurels at all, because you have been putting albums out every second year.
No. Actually this is the third year. Times flies nowadays.
You recorded an album in Greece and it was mixed in…
Yes, in Sweden.
Jens Bogren has been responsible for the mixing of the Rotting Christ albums for a while. How did you start working with him in the first place?
For the last three albums I decided to work with the best, one of the best. It cost me a lot of course, because the price is very different. I think the quality makes sense and makes a difference in the end. Jens is a very good producer and has a very good picture and I’m very glad that I’m working with him. He’s a friend of mine. He’s a very good guy. I’m very glad that he lifted the last album concerning the sound.
Does that mean that you’re going to work with him in the future as well?
Maybe yes, maybe no. Sometimes you need some change. Of course Jens, if he’s available. Yes I will be glad to keep on working with him.
Rotting Christ has a huge legacy behind. Is it kind of difficult to write songs nowadays without repeating yourself?
It’s my nightmare because I’m only responsible for this. I’m only responsible and I realise that keeps on having good albums and good songs. You must develop. You must find your answers in your life. It’s not that easy. It’s easy for me today, grab the guitar and write one song straight like in the past. It’s not the easiest way and I don’t like this. Although for me it’s very important to keep on writing good songs. I try to be different in my life. I try to make steps up and any time it comes to write new songs, I freak out, because I’m afraid not to repeat myself. Sometimes it comes. But come on – Iron Maiden does that too, Slayer does the same. Everyone does that. You cannot be different than yourself that much.
THE HERETICS is a great album. It brings some kind of apocalyptic feeling that Rotting Christ is bringing every time. You’re trying to mix some of your past and your present and the future on the album?
Yes. That was exactly my schedule, my plan for this album. We have been doing this for 30 years. I try to keep all the elements of our history on an album. That thing works very well because the feedback was really good. It was one of the best selling albums of Rotting Christ.
What is the challenging part of writing new songs for the new album?
Nowadays, I’m thinking with myself and trying to find out, “Is there something that I can say to the people? Is there something that people want to hear from me? – Is there something that I can say to the people? Is there something that people want to hear from me?”Because nobody cares nowadays, nobody gives a shit about anyone. I write one album. “Why I do that?” I try to be honest. After reading and thinking, then I grab my guitar and stay for many, many hours in my personal little home studio.
What kind of material do you read and study to have inspiration for your lyrics?
The historical material. I like to read history very much, because it inspires me very much. Ancient history from all around the world.
Do you get all the inspirations from the historical aspect nowadays, because you used to have more satanic influences back in the day? As you’re getting older, do you think you’re getting more interested in history aspect?
Yes. When I say history, I’m also referring to the history of modern history. Greek, ancient history. From all around the world, I’m inspired. Even for the last album when I wrote THE HERETICS ; I was influenced by poets, writers and they have more or less the same life as we do. I woke up one day and said to myself maybe I’m a heretic. I’m a person close to those people that work at the garage, as blenders – Heretics. That influenced me and I later came with writing something like this. I like reading a lot during the last years. That makes me open my mind. I try to write something different. I can write about “Satan, fuck Christ” or whatever. I love this. I love my story. I love my past. In my opinion, if something does not develop, it dies. If I write the same for 30 years, who is going to pay attention to Rotting Christ?
Do you think that when you’re getting older, you’re becoming more selective and pickier your material? F:ex you listen to the stuff, then you throw away and years later you pick up them again and listen, “Maybe this is the right one.” Do you have that kind of feeling?
The thing for me is to respect your past and to take steps in your life. Of course I respect my past. I never say that I regret all my past or whatever. I love my past. It influenced me, but I try to bring messages from the past nowadays. The messages from the past – That’s very important. If you want to have messages from the past nowadays, it’s different. I try to have it in a more mature way and that comes by reading the history.
What are Heretics people for you?
You, me. All the metal hits that we have said choose this kind of life. We are like all the heretic people that were blamed by a church or were from the system back in time.
Where do you get your ideas to have titles of albums like RITUALS, THEOGONIA and THE HERETICS? Does it pop up your mind or something else?
It comes. Sometimes I try to push a situation, it doesn’t work. Suddenly when you sleep – Wow – a good idea comes up. You wake up, grab the guitar and start writing a riff or start writing a new idea and everything. I have full of ideas on my phone. Every day I write here.
Do you tell the other guys what you think about the title of the album or?
Yes, with my brother, of course he is the only remaining – Of course we have disagreements, but then some…
Yes, of course. Someone who makes the decisions and I am usually the guy to make that.
You usually have quite a few guests on albums, like Ashmedi was on THE HERETICS. How do you get those visitors on your albums?
When I come up with a song, I realize that I have some friends that can lift up the song. I just text them. “Hello Ashmedi. I have this album. I want some Arabian. You know the language. Can you help me out?” As simple as that. The same I did with Xy from Samael and all these and people.
You have been a guest on albums of other bands as well. Is this kind of you’re sharing guesting?
Yes, yes. I have learned in this scene that I have to share things. That’s what I like what metal scene, we share thoughts. At least Rotting Christ is this kind of band as we get help and then we give.
Working with Diamanda Galas ; that question must be asked several times from you. I have seen her a couple of times. The last time I saw her at the Roadburn Festival. That was really scary.
Yes. It is like this.
How did you start working with her in the first place?
Diamanda Galas is Greek. She likes my idea about writing something in ancient Greek and Greek. I just called her and she told me yes. I was very surprised and very glad. Working with one of the most important artists all over the world is very good.
Were you nervous when you started working with her?
Of course, yes.
I guess she’s a little bit dominating person.
Yes, she is.
When speaking of a member of the Rotting Christ. You and your brother Themis are the core of the band.
Members have basically come and gone during these years.
What can I do for this? I do my best. I try to put them in the band. I pay them for a show. People, maybe they have some other visions, so I leave them alone. This is “Do what you will” – This is my motto. This is lessons in life. The rule was passed in my life. “Do what you will” is the spirit of the whole thing. It’s very important for me to free people. I never push people, if they want something.
When you’re losing a member and getting a new member in the band. What kind of process is driving a new member into the band?
It’s very difficult to adopt a new member into the band. Some they come, some they don’t. We have rehearsals and then I see their personalities on the first tour. I realize that like this is a right guy.
Have you tried guys from elsewhere?
I like to work with the Greek people. I want them to be close to me, so we can have rehearsals every day.
You’re not interested in starting to work with people from other countries.
Not that much, not that much. I prefer more the human touch. I’m an old school guy.
BACK TO THE CULT
PASSAGE TO ARCTURO came out…1992 I think ?
It was ’91. The THY MIGHTY CONTRACT album came out 93.
It came out on Decapitated and then it changed to Unisound. Do you have rights to your old release?
I bought some of them, but only for two out of three. The rest of 11 albums belong to old labels. I’m very sad about this.
NON SERVIAM is under control as well?
Yes, I bought it as well. I have all my albums rights. But unfortunately the labels, especially during that time we never knew anything about the business. We were kids, just play for the idea, which we still do that.
Do you have the rights for the first album as well from Osmose?
No, no. Unfortunately, we don’t. The label does.
What about Peaceville, as they released the vinyl collection of the first three albums.
They bought the rights between the labels. I was the worst guy ever to deal with contracts and numbers. This is something that makes me suffer, because I’m always here for the music and for the idea, but they leave me. A lot of people exploit this and I have lost a lot of money, but I don’t care. I keep ongoing.
As to THE ADE’S WINDS demo. I guess the demo was never released as a real CD?
No, No. It’s not a CD. It’s an official tape or actually an official demo.
If you see CDs sold by wholesalers at festivals.
I have no idea about this. I cannot go through all my stuff.
What about Thou Art Lord
They don’t exist anymore. Well they do, but they don’t play, we don’t release albums. Maybe you can change their opinion, but at the moment all the band members are very busy and it is kind of mission impossible for this.
Necromantia is basically done now as Baron Blood passed away?
Yes, yes – It is.
Speaking of you, you have a couple of kids. When you became the father, how did you change your way of thinking about?
With my first daughter, my life changed completely on a good day. This is where I had THEOGONIA, the album out. Yes. Also my band is getting better and better. Do you know why? Because we’re taking responsibility before that we never took any responsibility. It was quite chaotic, but after you have kids, you’re more responsible. If you’re clever enough, you make steps forward.
I guess your younger kid is about four or something like that.
One is 13 and one is five.
What do they think that their father is always on tours ?
I have no idea what they think, but I miss them very much. I feel sad sometimes that I can’t follow their steps of growing. It’s very bad. I’m on the road for two months, then I’ll be back for one month and I will be back on the road. I will go away. It’s not good, but this is what it is.
THE OLD SCHOOL METAL
I was really obsessed by the Greece black metal bands back in the day because you had the special sound and image. When you heard a band from Greece, they had some kind of strange feeling and sound that you immediately recognised and knew when you heard f:ex Varathron…
Yes, also Varathron. They keep on going nowadays and they had a very good album.
I remember a thrash band called Danger Cross. I still have their demo in my collection.
Danger Cross was one of the first bands to come from Greece.
There was also Flames
Flames. Danger Cross had really talented guys, but they disappeared somehow.
How do you look at back those days?
I never forget these days. I never forget my past, because if you forget your past, you don’t honour your present and your future in my opinion. Those days were great. Those days were out of control, no responsibilities, nothing to take care. Real-life man. The good days. I remember I’ve got many friends like everywhere. I had a lot of friends from Finland, here, everywhere, Norway, Sweden. We’re a community family. Since then a lot of things have changed dramatically. We used to change demos, letters. Now it is like, “What the fuck is going on with you?”
Do you still keep your nose on the underground, checking new bands?
Of course, I keep my underground. We’re underground. I am underground. Maybe the band’s getting bigger, but I don’t give a shit about this. My attitude is always underground. It should stay underground
Do you still have the time enough to produce other bands?
No, unfortunately. My only enemy is the time now
What’s the most important Greek metal albums from your point of view.
It’s hard to choose, but I think Necromantia, Varathron, Rotting Christ of course created something that made history in black metal. We were quite different from what the Scandinavian band were playing. I look at our spot and I think that we bring our own Greek in the world of black metal. I’m very proud that we did something because that’s symbolic.
I remember that you released the seven-inch EP with Monumentum. The Monumentum song was from their demo and you had the demo track as well. It was released by Obscure Plasma.
Yes. Obscure Plasma from Italy. Yeah. It was Roberto Mammarella.
How did that happen?
Never forget. Connect by letters. Good days. Very relaxed, very true, honest, cool. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist anymore, but you have to live in the present.
Most of the people that were around 30 years ago are still around. Look at Samael. You remember Isten Magazine.
Of course I remember. Yes, good days. I’m very glad that I see people that still keep this spirit nowadays
All right. But thank you for your time.
Thank you my friend. It’s always nice to see you staying alive.
The official Rotting Christ sites :