An Interview with Elias “White Chocolate’ Velouchiotis on SEXUAL TENSION, Busking and Greek Politics.
“My only plans for today involve a bucket of fried chicken and trying to drink off this hangover…”
I have only recently taken down an aged photocopy of a picture that was taped to the wall of my living room of Elias playing with Sexual Tension where he appears to be falling down but was really propelling himself upwards from the ground during a spastic fit during singing.
All answers by Elias “White Chocolate’ Velouchiotis
Tell ...Thwart! Readers about you and Sexual Tension... and why I still think that band is one of the best I’ve ever witnessed?
Well, I got into punk rock because my older sister Olympia was a punker. She went away to college when I was 12, and I went into her room and discovered all her records; a bunch of Bikini Kill, Nation of Ulysses, Ramones, Huggy Bear, and Kill Rock Stars stuff. She also had some 7 inches from local bands, and a 12" comp called "Board Games to Take Your Mind off the Punk Rock Struggle" that was almost all Kent and Akron bands. In eighth grade I started regularly sneaking out of the house at night to go see bands at house shows, the Mantis, and the 1-2-Fuck-You. There was a huge scene back then in Akron and Kent, tons of places that had shows, and some fucking incredible bands like Kill the Hippies, Radar Secret Service, Ligod, and The Go Go Bots. I used to go to the Mantis, find some crackhead to buy my beer and cigarettes for me, drink High Life and rock out until I threw up, and then walk 3 miles back to my parents' house, hiding in bushes or front lawns every time a car passed because I was paranoid about cops.
By the time I finished high school in 2001 I had gotten really into the old Cleveland and Detroit punk: The Stooges, The MC5, and The Pagans, and I really wanted to start a band that was a cross between that stuff, and all the old R&B, funk and Soul I really liked, like Little Richard, Screamin' Joe Neal, and The Radars. The only problem was that I couldn't play an instrument, or write a song. So I went around trying to find musicians, and hooked up with this guy Nate, a bass player who was a raging alcoholic and had just been kicked out of the Army. He lived in this claustrophobic efficiency apartment on the corner in Kent we called Crockton, a bunch of really shitty, really cheap apartments owned by the auto mechanic Tim Crock, that were always occupied by punks, druggies, and other dregs of humanity. (Now they've all been torn down and there's a Sheetz, the Walmart of gas stations, there.) We would sit in his apartment for hours and try to write songs, but neither of us really knew what we were doing. Finally, Matt from Kill the Hippies, who lived next door, came over to help us, and ended up writing "Cookin' with Gas" while we both sat slack-jawed the couch and stared at him in awe. After that, we basically guilted him in to joining the band.
We found our drummer, Scott Davidson, who was playing in a classic rock cover band with Nate at the time called Randy Magik, and were ready to actually start practicing, but one day I went to the efficiency apartment, and found it empty. Nate had just disappeared. (He didn't resurface until about 5 years later.) We replaced him with Sarah Roland, who was dating Kill the Hippies' drummer, put together a set, and played our first show at the Mantis on Valentine's Day, 2012, as White Chocolate (myself,) Erotic Thunder (Matt,) Sarah Tension, and Sexual Scott. We later replaced Sarah Tension with Pine Nuts (Robbie from Radar Secret Service.)
How did the CD-R come into being?
Well, we decided we needed a CD, so we recorded one ourselves at our practice space, which was Scott's apartment above the Mantis. We did it track-by-track, and I remember it being a total pain in the ass. Again, Matt did pretty much all the work, setting up mics, levels, mixing, etc. The only record of that band is that CD, a tape of a live show where the bar owner shuts down the whole show and kicks everyone out in the middle of our set, which one of our friends recorded on a hand held tape recorder, and our last show at a DEVO tribute thing, playing "Girl U Want" and "The Theme from Doctor Detroit."
How would you describe your live shows? The times I remember seeing Sexual Tension there was always a bit of chaos involved.
Yeah, they were generally pretty rowdy. We got in trouble at a few of the more uptight bars in the area, (the Avenue shut us down, the Europe Gyro kicked me out one night, and the Lime Spider refused to pay us after I broke a mic) but somehow, we never got banned. I was obsessed with Iggy Pop at the time, and tried to set into that groove of dancing, freaking out, and self abuse. Things were always pretty crazy, and a few times I fucked myself up pretty bad, but there was never a whole lot of macho punk shit or fighting at our shows, which I really dug. The scene we were in was really tight-nit, too, which helped. Instead of a crazy band going on last when everyone was wasted being an excuse to throw elbows or show off it was usually just everyone throwing beer on each other and wrestling with me.
What do you miss the most from your Sexual Tension days? Do you look at those times as special and unique?
Really, I just miss singing in punk band. Not having a shred of musical talent or ability and being able to travel and play shows where my only responsibility was to get drunk and beat the shit out of myself was an incredible experience to have as a 17 year-old kid. Plus it was a great time musically, not just in Akron/Kent, but for a lot of the cities we played in. We played with some great, weirdo bands, and made some really good friends, like The Jeffs in Columbus, The Socials and The Gazelles in Cincinnati, and Valient Thorr in Greenville, NC. There was something in really bad assed about being a bunch of dirty, loser kids and finding like-minded people to play and have a blast with.
Elias, its time to talk about the Cockpunch Records infamous "Lets Get Killed" comp... Tell everyone what that was...
Well, when I graduated high school I made close to $1,000 at my graduation party, and I wanted to start a label with it. My plan was to put out a comp with a bunch of the bands we used to play with at the Mantis: local bands mostly, and some out-of-towners like The Jeffs, The Socials, and Crimson Sweet. After that, I was gonna put out a Radar Secret Service/Sexual Tension split 7", and then a Jeffs full length CD, but I ran out of cash after Let's Get Killed.
I asked all the bands for tracks, and got everything together. Clint Bott, who ran Rubber City Records in Akron told me the cheapest place to get it pressed was this joint in Columbus. I used them to press 500, and about 200 of them came back seriously warped. I still have a couple boxes of warped ones in my Grandma's basement. My friend Sarah Rinear drew awesome covers for it, and Larry from Don Austin worked at Kinko's at the time, so he hooked me up with printing all the covers and inserts for free.
When I started sending it out for review, it got a pretty mediocre response from all the major punk rags. Heartattack, Razorcake, and some smaller zines were the only ones that gave it rave reviews. It sold pretty well around here, and when I put together my next band, The Wildcats, and we started playing in Detroit all the time, people would occasionally ask me if they could get a copy, since Robbie had given one to Tim Vulgar and he would play it sometimes at after hours at his house.
Even though it was a total loss, and pretty much the only legitimate release from Cock Punch Records, I'm really glad I did it, instead of spending the money slowly on Adderall and Miller High Life, which is probably what I would've done instead. Some of the bands, like Kill the Hippies and Crimson Sweet, already had plenty of releases and a pretty well established catalog, but some of the shit on there, like The Pirates who Carve Out Your Eyes and Piss in Your Eye Sockets and that song from the legendary Sweaty Weapons tape would never have been released anywhere else.
Is there ever a chance of re-establishing COCKPUNCH or even SEXUAL TENSION for another go round?
I don't think so, man. Those were great years for everybody, but we're all kind of doing our own things now. Scott's in Columbus, Matt is up in Cleveland, where he's (thank god) still doing Kill the Hippies. Robbie's in Akron still, but he's doing two different bands (Radar Secret Service and David Bay Leaf.) I'm back in Ohio now, but only until May, when I'm going back to Greece to pursue my life long dream of being a full time street musician and hobo.
As far as doing a label, for as much fun as it was to play businessman for awhile, both Kenny from On/On Switch and Jamie from Donut Friends told me that the secret to having a label that people actually pay attention to is either to have a lot of money or to be part of the whole punk rock ol' boy's club. Seeing as how I'm perpetually broke and unwilling to stay in one place long enough to be established as an ol' boy, I'm pretty content with leaving Cock Punch as a one-release label.
Greek Street Musician and hobo? Talk more about these plans Elias. Are you gonna be an ex-patriot?
I don't know about but permanently, but I'm gonna try and be there for at least a few years. I lived in Greece for a little over a year in 2007-2008, and then I spent this last summer traveling around (mostly) northern Greece as a street musician, busking every day and staying with friends, in squats, and on beaches. Greece is going through some horrible shit right now, their economy having basically been raped by investment banks, German corporations, and corrupt politicians, but the truth is I'd rather lived in an economically devastated Greece than a relatively economically healthy USA. There's a whole host of problems now, even on top of crippling unemployment and poverty (including a huge crisis with refugees pouring in from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and the rise of neo-Nazi party in parliament that carries out fascist pogroms against immigrants and counter-culture types on the streets) but there's this base sense of society, where most people seem to actually give a shit about one another, and that creates this kind of tangible social safety net that's very comforting. The other thing is that Greeks have been living happy, safe lives with very little money for a long time, so when something like this hits, there's no huge disaster in social terms. And the huge amount of broke young people has created a culture that operates with as little money as possible: things like hundreds of squats all over the country, hitch-hiking being really prevalent and easy, free shows, most socializing being drinking your own beer and wine in squares, instead of bars, etc. So anyway, my plan is to go back in May, spend the summer hitch-hiking and busking, and then use some of my savings to get an apartment in September and start looking for some kind of work there.
‘Busking' I’ve never heard of that term. You need to enlighten me a bit...
Busking just means playing on the streets for change.
You sound as if your politics lean toward socialism and/or anarchist. Would you like to explain it further and deeper? Is Greece perhaps ahead of its game with similar crashes in store for 'the west' and develop a new insightful path for others to follow? Will Greece once again develop a 'new' way of life for others to emulate and copy?
What's happening now in Greece is a really deep, complicated thing tied to thousands of years of history, I can't say I really understand it. I can say that there is a general misunderstanding that Greece is part of 'the west.' Aside from ancient Greece the country's history and culture really places it closer to the Middle East than Europe. While Europe was forming, Greece was Byzantine, and when catholic Europe sent the crusades to the east, they started out not as wars against Muslims, but against Byzantium and Orthodoxy (i.e. Greeks and Slavs.) Then Greece fell under 400 years of Ottoman Turkish occupation, and when it emerged in 1832, it was regarded as a "peasant state" and placed under a British-installed King. Even in the 20th century Greece was considered part of the "backward" world by the west. It was the only country behind the iron curtain to not become communist, and only because the US and UK funded a war of extermination against the Greek communist resistance who had liberated the country from the Nazis, and then installed fascist dictatorships that lasted well into the 1970's. The other big thing is that the credit economy didn't exist in Greece until the European Union. Until 2002, Greeks couldn't get credit cards, or get a car or a house with a payment plan or mortgage. If you wanted something, you saved up your money and then bought it. The result is that the western ideas about the sanctity of private property, education being tied to social class, and the cult of individuality never really took root in Greece.
Now the crisis really started in Greece in 2002 when the euro was launched, and employment and standard of living plummeted, especially for young people. The big social reaction then was the explosion of the Greek anarchist movement, the biggest and most volatile in the world, as was shown by December 2008 there, and the current demonstrations happening daily, all over the country. But during my last trip it seemed like the anarchists were really starting to crack under pressure from the cops and the fascists. A lot of the more political squats were being raided, more people being arrested at demonstrations, horrible in fighting between groups of anarchists, and even stories of kids being tortured by the police. I was with some friends at a free concert in Thessaloniki when a fight broke out between two different groups of anarchists got in a fight and started beating the shit out each other with clubs. Shit like that is really turning people off to the anarchists.
It seems like the big shift that's happening now is that people are realizing the west has screwed them, and they're looking back to their roots. Where 5 years ago all the kids were playing blues and rock and roll, now there's a ton of people playing Rebetika (a kind of underworld Greek music developed by Greeks in Turkey) and the regional folk musics. Most of the trendy, European stores have closed, and instead of going to the grocery stores, everybody has gardens, or buys their produce straight from the farmers and gypsies who come through the neighborhoods with trucks. A lot of young people are leaving the cities to go back to the villages and homestead, some even going to the "martyr villages" (villages burned by the Nazis in retaliation for resistance) and reclaiming abandoned and destroyed land.
This crash is definitely happening in the rest of the world (just look at Italy, Spain, and Portugal) but I think the Greeks are especially enabled to handle it, not because they're looking forward, but because they're looking back. The fact that the idea of being totally reliant on consumer capitalism by working your ass off to buy a bunch of worthless shit still be just as poor and miserable never really reached cultural ascendancy in Greece really helps.
Man, we've really gotten off the subject of Sexual Tension. Ha.
Well, yeah. We have but the story of Sexual Tension... if just to me even. Sexual Tension=Elias XXXXXX (‘Real’ last name withheld) to me. You represent 2000-2003 for me... You represent an era. The story is YOU. Elias, in general, would you say THOSE 'back then' times were really the shit and its all down hill from here OR are the best times to come?
I don't know, man. Everything was definitely different then, but I can't really say if it was better or worse. It seems like life consists of the same highs and lows all the time. I will say, for me, looking back at it, it seems like it was this period of fresh-faced enthusiasm and innocence. Not too long after we broke up a friend of ours was hit by a train and killed in Kent, and it seemed like that ushered in a new period of darkness. A lot of relationships went south, people started moving away, and some of us (including me) started getting into harder and more dangerous drugs.
Now I'm just thrilled with the prospect of getting out of the country again for a significant period of time. Life keeps marching on, and as long as you live it with out fear the best is ALWAYS yet to come.
Well said. Verily well put. Is there anything else you want anyone who has interest in you or your various projects to know?
Nothing too significant. I'm playing in a band for the next few months called The Koproskilos Rebetiko Orchestra, and when I head back to Greece I'll be setting up a soundcloud to post field recordings of street musicians and friends there. So if anybody's into Greek or Eastern music, keep your ears peeled.
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