Tell us about the genesis of Ultra Arcanum here on planet Earth. How did the two of you meet and decide to work together? I know both of you played in several bands prior to UA. What happened to those projects? Also, how did you come up the moniker Ultra Arcanum?
Mark: Things had been a little quiet on the music front for me back around mid-2013 and I was looking for a new project. Kostas had placed an ad on the online noticeboard 'Gumtree' looking for a vocalist and I responded. This was back end of 2013. At first I had assumed he was somewhere local or just outside London. It turned out he was living in Birmingham and our collaboration would primarily (at least for the moment) be online. I hadn't ever worked on this basis before - the previous collaboration was with a guy who lived just round the corner from me. I was a little skeptical, but decided to give it a go. Nothing ventured… So Kostas sent me a menu of instrumental tracks he had written since he had first arrived in the UK (plus some others before that). I recall the very first track I worked was called 'Berlin' and this later became 'Strange Kinda Love'. I would come up with the words, record the vocals to the soundtrack and send them over to Kostas to mix. This is how we would operate for months at an end. Kostas originally proposes the band name Arcanum. However on discovering that another band already had this name we spent the best part of an afternoon going back and forth on how to change this and make it distinctive. I was at a very dry Indian wedding at the time and in the end we agreed the prefix 'Ultra'. Other tracks would follow including 'Twilight Shades', 'Daydreamer' and 'Another Time, Another Place' originally called 'Glance'. We would keep in touch by Skype and occasionally meet up in either London or Birmingham. I think we met up just five or six time in total, including at a gig that took place at the Tottenham chances in North London.
Kostas: Growing up in Greece is not the easiest thing
for someone who's interested in being a musician and doesn't favor Greek middle
eastern like music. All the bands I used to be part of over the years never
really had any other potential than just being a thing you do with some friends
on a Saturday afternoon just for fun. But I always wanted more than that and
when I found myself moving to England I decided to give it one last chance and
see if I could find the right person to start a band and see where that could
take us to. After many disappointments I found Mark who seemed to understand
very well the kind of songs I wanted to make. It was also a very nice surprise
to find out that he is a great lyricist. I prefer to say whatever I have to say
with music, so it was a great relief for me not having to write the lyrics as
How is it collaborating when Mark is in England and Kostas is in Greece? I know the Brexit decision complicated things for both of you.
Mark: We've carried on pretty much as we have done when Kostas was in the UK, so not much has changed prior to or post Brexit.
Kostas: Files come and go via Internet; it's not something unusual. All you need is just being on the same wavelength with your partner and know what you want to do with the song, how you want it to sound like.
How did the referendum work against you to complicate things? Why do you think the majority of people voted for England leaving the E.U? Friends of mine explained their viewpoints on it. It would be interesting to hear yours as you are living it.
Mark: It seemed there were a variety of reasons why people among the 52% who chose to leave made their decision. These included concerns about immigration, loss of control and independence as a result of belonging to the EU and in some cases the sentiment was ‘the EU needs us more than we need them'. In the end, the vote was far less close than I thought it would be, but although I voted to stay in the EU, I had a gut feeling a few days before the vote that the decision would turn out as it did.
Kostas: I agree with Mark's point if view on Brexit. Nothing more to say.
Ultra Arcanum is set to release 'The Silence Inside' LP/CD soon on Nadanna Records. It has been in the works for quite a while. The videos that have made their way around social media showcase songs that have heavy influences from the 80's from Joy Division, The Cure, Bowie, Duran Duran, Interpol, Magazine, Roxy Music, and Roy Orbison etc. What can the fans can expect on the album? What are you most proud of? Will we be dancing into the fire?
Mark: The album I think captures a moment in time. Hopefully, it conveys all the highs and the lows, the moments of excitement as well as dashed hopes and dreams. A rich stream of euphoria as well as a melancholy runs through the veins of the album. My favorite tracks are ‘Epilogue’ and ‘The Silence Inside’. I'm also pleased we managed to complete an entire LP virtually at a distance. I've been really pleased with the videos that have been produced for the songs and these help to give the tracks a new dimension.
The tracks 'Epilogue' with its minimal feel and new wave layering, 'The Silence Inside' with its hints of dark wave reminiscent of Asylum Party as well as several others like 'Strange Kinda Love' and 'Another Time Another Place' enlighten us with the fine synth work of Kostas and the captivating vocals Mark provides. On the other side of the spectrum we have 'Time Destroyed Everything' going in an ambient experimental direction. We also have heard a non LP track called '1973' that unleashes a notorious early 80's electro vibe created using a Roland Jupiter 8, Minimoog and Sequential Circuits Prophet-5. Was the decision process difficult to leave this track off the album? I'm sure a lot 40 + gear heads would go nuts for this? Tell us a little more about the equipment used to create the other tracks on the album.
Kostas: First of all I need to say that I decided early on in my life that I wanted to be musician because of Duran Duran. I'm a huge fan and that reflects always in the kind of music I write and produce. Early 80's English music scene was always my thing. I live and breathe that legendary era of so many great bands and artists. The Cure, The Smiths, New Order, Ultravox, and David Bowie... you can find all these influences in Ultra Arcanum's music. But it's still our own music. We don't try to sound like anyone else. We want to sound like Ultra Arcanum and I think that's the album's greatest achievement. Also you won't find any song on the album that sounds like another song on the album. Each song has it's own personality and sound and somehow they all come together to create a cohesive overall album sound. I really hate albums that give you the impression that you were listening to the same song throughout the entire album listening. I love all the songs on our album but the title track is probably the strongest one, it’s very mystical and dark. It's a melancholic album even on its most uplifting moments
All songs on the album are written and performed on a Roland Juno Gi, which is the closest thing you could find to the original 80s Roland analog synths .Not a single midi file was used on the entire album. Every single sound on every song it's just me playing the Gi. I don't have a particular way of writing songs. I just start playing whenever I feel like it and most of the times something good happens.; many times completely out of blue. I still can't explain why or how it happens but I'm glad it happens. Most of the times I put the vocal melody lines in the song and then it's up to Mark to find the parts he wants to sing and write the lyrics for them. I trust him completely; he always comes up with great vocals and lyrics for each song. 1973 is a really good tune but exactly just because it was recorded with a very different equipment it didn’t’ feel like it belonged on this particular album, but it would definitely be included on the next album that we have already started working on.
Nadanna Records is very careful when it comes to selecting new additions to its growing roster. 23rd Underpass and Nao Katafuchi have landed solid material that received well-deserved praise from the reviewers. How did UA hook up with Nadanna Records? Tell us a little bit about the process of signing with Nadanna. Also, “Doing it our way" or "Doing it yourself" are common themes with independent artists and labels. What's the best part about working outside of a large record label? Have you worked other labels prior to Nadanna?
Mark: We haven't worked with another label prior to Nadanna, so this is quite a new experience. It’s been great to have their support, including the great network they have I.e. for producing videos, the artwork for the LP and CD etc.
Kostas: A friend of mine, Kostas Zachrioudakis was the link to Nadanna. We had three to four songs uploaded on sound cloud and he sent the songs to Nadanna cause he thought the songs were good enough to generate some interest in us. Nadanna believed in us from the first moment and we're really proud we 're part of it's very eclectic roster. It’s a great experience all the way through.
Mark: Its also been great to been put in touch with bands like 23rd underpass and the Silicon Scientist and other bands through the label and a number of them have delivered some great remixes of our tracks appearing on the CD.
Kostas: The best thing working outside a large label is that you don't have people trying to interfere and change your artistic vision just because everything counts in large amounts (as a great 80s band would say)
Besides creating music, it would be very interesting to gain insight into your background as far as work goes. I know a lot artists need to be in a work environment that is flexible due to travel for gigs, time to record etc. I'm assuming you would like to live off your music, so what do you guys do career wise? In the meantime, has or will the Brexit decision impact your ability to do what you want as far as earning a living goes?
Mark: I think most artists aspire to earn a living from their art or craft, however the reality especially in today's digital download music culture means most have to have some kind of day job. Mine is project management / event management and have previously worked in the public sector and also for not for profit charities. Thus far I have been able to combine working on the LP recordings etc. with full time work, which has been great and hope to continue in that way.
P.S. a friend of mine who is a visual artist keeps reminding me that 'art is a terrible business' and perhaps that should remain true as once the money dimension creeps in it can dilute the purity of the craft. On another level, relying on your art to make a living can also present challenges at times.
Kostas: My working background is as an accountant/accounts assistant at least the last 10 years. I’ve done many other pointless (at least for me) jobs in my life as well, just to pay the bills. I wish I could make a living out of our music but the potential of even the slimmest chance requires to play the game big labels want you to that involves foremost a lot of artistic compromises that I'm not willing to do whatsoever. So I'll keep doing pointless jobs (even that, is a great privilege in my financially destroyed country), and escape their misery and unbearable reality through music.
I know both you enjoy the music of the 80's. You have mentioned several artists that influence you. What are some albums or songs that have a special place in your hearts and why? What would be your dream concert? Also, what are the chances you get to play a show with Duran Duran?
Mark: For me the
special songs would be 'Dead Souls' and 'Heart and Soul' by Joy Division. I
also think 'A Means To An End' on Closer is another great song. These showcase
among the best lyrics that Ian Curtis wrote although he wrote many other great
words too. The music, particularly on Heart and Soul is ethereal, haunting and
other worldly that still captivates. I also really like 'Vanishing Point' by
New Order on the Technique LP and 'California Dreamin' by the Mamas and the
Papas. The latter conjures up a better and brighter time and escapism. Chances of playing with Duran Duran? I'll leave
that one to Kostas.
of you addicted to MTV in the 80's? They played a lot of Duran Duran as well as
a myriad of songs that are now classics. Many of these classics acts still
release new music to this day. What are some your favorite releases over the
last few years by legendary 80's artists? Who are some modern artists you
appreciate. You mentioned The Silicon Scientist. I personally adore 'Outside
The Night'. Who is peaking your interest?
Kostas: There was not such thing as MTV
in Greece till 1988, only a weekly TV show called Mousikorama. I have great
memories watching videos for the very first time on it.
There are a lot of great albums by many great
artists, which are really special to me. My top 6 albums of all time would be
Rio (Duran), So Red The Rose (Arcadia) Meet Is Murder (The Smiths),
Disintegration (The Cure), Technique
(New Order) and Low (David Bowie). Many special songs too, but the most
special of them all is 'The Chauffer' by Duran Duran. Nothing beats that song.
It’s pure perfection and an absolute masterpiece.
Dream concert would be one in a parallel world where
David Bowie is still alive and he's touring to promote Black Star. Opening for
Duran Duran? Yes sure! In my dreams, every night. Not a single chance in the
Mark: In terms of other modern artists, yes the Silicon Scientist is great and 'Outside the Night' is a really cool track. Yes, 23rd Underpass is a fantastic contemporary band as well. I love their style and very distinctive vocals too.
the great 80s artists who are still around, most of them, they still release
great albums, but there are a few of whom I think they should call it a day. U2
and Depeche Mode are the first who come in mind.
I'm not that much into new
bands but 23rd Underpass is a really great band. I really like their stuff!
Why do feel that way about Depeche Mode?
are one of the greatest and most influential bands but I find all their
releases after ‘Ultra’ quite boring. Somehow the spark is gone.
Given how far apart the two of you are from
each other, where are you on playing live? Have you played live? If so, tell us
a little about the live experience and the fans first impressions.
played live at a venue in Tottenham in North London. The event was billed as a
festival by the organizer; involving around fifteen bands playing on a Sunday
afternoon. The event was a bit bizarre and the stage area couldn't be used as
the floor was rotting away. So the area where the audience normally stands to
watch bands had monitors, the PA system and other equipment set up in a semi
circle. People sat on old wooden chairs to watch the bands. I remember when it
was our turn to play; most of the audience was hidden behind one of the huge
speakers to our right. As most of the bands were of different genres, those who
came to see a band promptly left when the next band came on. It was a fairly
bizarre experience, but I guess you have to start somewhere...
prefer not to recall the Tottenham Chances experience. Never felt that embarrassed
in my life. Hope we get the chance to play some nice gigs in the near future.
That gig sounds a lot like some of gigs we attend in NYC and Philadelphia. It's amazing where people organize shows. Anyway, I appreciate the last twenty-four hours or so chatting about the band and other assorted topics. To wrap this up, perhaps you could share some short term and long term goals for Ultra Arcanum as well individual goals for both of you?
Kostas: My individual goals for the future are to have no goals at all. That would spare me the inevitable disappointments. As for UA my only goal is to keep doing songs even if it's just for only our own ears.