Radio Free Universe launched their killer CD “Casa Del Diablo” at a CD Release Party show on March 25, 2017 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Frontman George Panagopoulos sat down for an informal chat with the Rev over a little pre-show dinner and talked about the band, album, metaphysics and that one time George met Satan in New Orleans.
Rev: Welcome to our chat with Radio Free Universe‘s front man George Panagopoulos. So, I had not heard of your band George until your publicist Asher Media relations sent me your shit and asked us to publicize the CD release party and when that happens we often check out the album and when I listened to your stuff it absolutely blew me away. The freshness of the songs and the energy of the performance are killer and yet I’ve been around the scene for a few years now in Hamilton and I had no idea who you were. Why?
George: That’s a very good question, no one’s ever asked me that question. We have sort of a weird following, it happened outside first so… I came to Hamilton from L.A. and started this band around 2010 or 2011’ish and we played a lot and people kind of knew about us elsewhere then all of a sudden out of nowhere we started getting a lot of people liking our music and as the thing started to pick up it was tough; I didn’t want to just come out with this record and be like “Hey, I’m coming out with a record”, ya know, I wanted it done right, so I waited until I got the right management people involved and we started the slow build, making the industry aware of us now with the record release party we’re back at the grass-roots in front of people. But I really don’t know why.
Rev: Well with the internet you can be known in Russia but not in your own city. it can be weird.
George: Ya, there’s a lot of great bands in Hamilton but with rock it’s a DIY thing. If you play, like, nice pretty music somehow there’s an industry but it’s a different animal with rock, there’s so many great acts from here over the years but I think that it’s just become a little harder for rock to get credibility.
Rev: You’re referring to RFU as a rock band but you’re being played on a metal station. How does that work?
George: We’ve played metal shows and the fans love it. We’ve played reggae shows and the fans love it. We’ve played hip hop shows and the fans love it. We don’t believe that we write songs, we believe that they write themselves, that they come from this beautiful thing we all share. Somehow, when you let that process happen and you get practiced at it, lots of different people like your music. I understand – we have guitars – but that being said, I think it’s just one of those weird things that we’ve crossed over well. I was having a really hard time understanding how to market the music. But we found a hard-working publicist who liked it and it’s done wonders. He’s gotten us played on internet and college radio.
Rev. So that’s really helped obviously.
George: Ya, it’s good, it’s what I need right now. I started Jetpack Records, built a million dollar studio and it’s got everything that any musician would want for recording and I did it with the philosophy that we would sign acts and give them unlimited time to make something great. Radio Free Universe is about loving what do and doing music that surpasses the elements of genre. It’s metal, rock, alternative rock, whatever.
Rev: I had no idea the label was yours.
George: Yes, because we talked to a lot of labels and even Jetpack was talking to large distribution companies it just all kind of like you know, made me think there’s a better way to do this.
Rev: Ok, how do you make any money?
George: What I’ve seen in the industry is that you have to get music to a track of energy that flows, like, when I was living in California, I saw a lot of authentic bands, popular people, that for whatever reason found their track, for whatever reason at that time they’d found the track, the thing that they did, that they believed in. When the artist believes in it people believe in it and when people believe in it something special happens and then all the other people, the industry catches up.
Rev: Authenticity is attractive because there’s so much bullshit.
George: That’s right and then everyone wants to be a musician – why are there thousands of bands that have nothing happening? Because we all came up wanting to be that band but few people are willing to put the work in. All the great bands played eight hours a day, every day and recorded for months and months. Looking at that and now, all these people have pro tools in their basements, making records, with no idea what they’re doing. I did everything but take anal to climb the ladder of the producer chain, because I begged for opportunities and learned the craft first hand with the artists. There’s all these years of secrets passed down about capturing performances and with this record all that clicked in me.
Rev: I asked a few minutes ago how do you make money but here’s a better question: Do you care if you make money? Is that the wrong measuring stick?
George: I think a lot of people become musicians because they don’t want to be successful and it’s a great place to hide behind non-success. Any successful business venture has one thing: amazing product. Music is an emotional product, it’s less utilitarian, it affects your soul, the philosophy of songwriting for me is what comes first so that you can listen to the record and go, I love this record but I don’t know why!
Rev: There’s something magical in it isn’t there?
George: Yes, but there’s also science. it’s not dark matter but we don’t quite understand the connection between all matter, we’re at an infinitesimal stage in that. The lowest frequency in the universe is sound. Zero to twenty-thousand hertz is inaudible but it’s there. The earth spins and makes a sound at seven hertz. The reason rock music works so well is that we feel the frequencies.
(At this point we digress into further metaphysical discussion which prompts George to tell me about the time he met Satan.)
George: This is a great segue. So, the song Six, on the record, I met a guy named Satan for real, his name was Satan and it was in New Orleans in an alley…
Rev: I met Jesus at the bus station in downtown Cleveland in 1977…
George: No, no – this is serious, this is great. So I wanted to learn how to sing blues and I couldn’t sing blues, I was a studied opera singer with a master’s degree in classical music but I didn’t want do that. I wanted to learn blues so I went to New Orleans and I was told you gotta go meet Satan. They said turn this way off Bourbon street and…
Rev: (interrupting) So someone in New Orleans gives you directions to Satan’s place down an alley off Bourbon street… you’re a brave man George.
George: They said if you think you’re going to get robbed tell ’em you’re there to see Satan. Sure enough a guy tries to rob me and I said, “I’m here to see Satan, I’m just a musician” so I go back and there’s a fire in a bin in the alley and it opens up into a courtyard with a dumpster and a dude sitting playing guitar and singing like I’ve never heard and he looked well over 90 years old.
Rev: Was he playing Robert Johnson shit?
George: Yup, old blues right? I was totally enamored. He stopped playing and said hey little white boy come and sit down. do you wanna learn how to sing? You come back tomorrow and bring me six beers and six for you. I’m like Ok, went back then next day and we drank, and I sang and he was like, ok, the next night he said you bring some wine and we’ll learn about that spirit. the next night he asked me what kind of hard liquor I liked and I said tequila. The last day my voice started breaking and I started singing blues and he’s like “See???” So he says, “If you believe in things like Satan you’ll never make it as a musician. You can’t be afraid of anything. You have to know that’s it’s coming from you, you’re connected to everything when you sing and you’re connected to the whole universe when you sing. That was pretty heavy. And that’s why he called himself Satan. You have to overcome your fears.
All Photos Courtesy of Phoenix Kamerah
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