Chicago has had a long history of significant heavy bands. The underground death metallers Macabre and the now Czech-based Master have both been local staples of the genre for over 30 years. Al Jourgensen’s nonstop list of industrial titans doesn’t stop at just Ministry; the current Texas native also helped concoct other Wax Trax! Records alumni like Revolting Cocks and 1000 Homo DJs. In a corner of the city lies some of the most out-there doom and sludge metal bands that have come through in the last decade. Mixed in with post-metal all-stars Russian Circles, avant-garde wizards Yakuza, and the bone-crushing riffs of Indian lies The Atlas Moth, who are currently wrapping up their first studio full-length in three years.
I sat down with guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Stavros Giannopoulos in his humble Logan Square apartment, alongside his dogs Dahlia and Estelle and his shelves full of wrestling action figures which he’s been collecting on and offline for years.
“I got a knack for that eBay shit. I got a good eye. I’ll go into Target and buy whole cases of whatever the latest figures are, keep two, maybe three for myself, and throw the rest up online. Those things increase in price pretty quickly after release, so I’ve got it all sorted it out.”
Other than finessing his collections of toys, records, movies and comics, Giannopoulos leads a mostly laid back lifestyle and does various freelance work outside of his metal frontman duties. “I do a lot of artwork for bands. Mostly just regular life. Hanging with friends at bars. I’ve been a hustler for a long time so I’ve gotten pretty good at it.” When asked about making The Atlas Moth a permanent livable position, Giannopoulos says, “That would be the ideal. A blue collar worker. I don’t do anything too backbreaking, but I would love to not have to do anything besides play music. I don’t wanna tour for one month out of the year and sit around for the other eleven, I want to work, and I want to go out on tour.”
This will be the first Atlas Moth album to not be produced by guitarist Andrew Ragin. On the change, Giannopoulos reflects, “We knew we wanted someone else other than Andrew. He’s done great in the past, but I believe an outside ear is something we’ve been missing over three records.”
During playbacks of some of the demos from the record, Giannopoulos talks about a few musical changes that the album holds. “There’s a little bit more of a rock and roll thing going on, but there’s also some Meshuggah parts which is a plus in my book. There’s plenty of hooks too,” Giannopoulos admits, “but I never saw what the problem was in having hooks in metal songs.” A contributing factor to The Atlas Moth’s evolved sound this time around comes from the addition of drummer Mike Miczek who has been playing with Chicago death metal stalwarts Broken Hope since 2012. “He’s a young dude, and we’re all in our thirties so having him around has really breathed some new life into us. We’ve been doing this for so long and [The Atlas Moth’s previous album] The Old Believer really took it out of us. We toured for two years. We literally went cross-country three times in three months, back to back.” In addition to Parker and Miczek, Giannopoulos reveals that there are “a few people that will be in town who we have been huge fans of that I’m really hoping we can work with for guest spots on this record.”
Though The Atlas Moth to me has undoubtedly been a metal band, Giannopoulos says people outside of the genre’s following haven’t treated them the same way. “I think people see us as ‘diet metal’,” he jokes. “We’re the metal band for the dude who doesn’t like metal.” Giannopoulos, however, is no stranger to the genre and is excited that his band’s forthcoming album should have no problem being mistaken for anything but a metal album. “I’m the metal guy. I grew up listening to metal, I’ve always been the metal dude. [The Atlas Moth guitarists] Dave Kush and Andrew Ragin grew up playing symphony orchestra together in high school. This kid brought the metal aspect. There’s double kick all over this record, which is really exciting. For once I feel like I’m in a real metal band. The psychedelic parts are real out there, so it’s also the most Pink Floyd we’ve ever been.”
Alongside changing drummers and producers, Giannopoulos has pulled back some of his guitar playing on the album to give the songs a new vibe as opposed to some of their previous output. He explains, “My life’s been crazy the last two years, so I haven’t always been there to jam or demo. These guys go, ‘Hey! We have this song, what do you think? What do you wanna play guitar on?’ And I just went, ‘I don’t think I need to.’ I don’t wanna force it. If it sounds like a song, it sounds like a song.”
The Atlas Moth have always had extremely vivd imagery in their music, thanks to the lyricism of Giannopoulos and Kush. On his personal approach to songwriting, Giannopoulos details, “I always try to go from the inside out. I hate it when a guy writes a song and someone connects to it, and then you find out it’s actually about his cat, or about this blowjob he got in Idaho. That sucks. The more abstract you can be, the better. I’d rather have people find their own connection to the words.”
For the band’s fourth album, Giannpoulos has delved into new territory that will be heard throughout the tracklisting. “I’ve been very obsessed with cults the last couple of years. On this record, I really tried to have my voice as the cult leader. They spout shit that can make sense, and can drive people to do better. Some people need a moral compass if they can’t do it on their own. I find it interesting that there are these people out there who will talk to you, and make you feel like you’re doing good. I think that’s cool. The human mind is very interesting.”
Giannopoulos reveals the album’s working title as Coma Noir, and speaks about its title track. “That was my idea of what my cult would be called. It’s very antagonistic. It’s the idea of, ‘You can do better! But, maybe I’m fucked up.’”
After being in a band for a ten years, Giannopoulos reflects on Chicago’s metal scene and the attitude of fans across the country. “I think when we started ten years ago, the doom scene was really open-minded. There was a lot of variation; you had so many different kinds of bands like Rwake and Indian. When we’ve gone out with more progressive bands, those fans seem way more into what we’re doing than the fans in the doom scene now.” Giannopoulos isn’t concerned at all about staying the same and pleasing metal fans who only want one type of thing. “I’ve talked to people about the new record and they go, ‘Well, does it sound like The Atlas Moth?’ Anything we do sounds like The Atlas Moth. That’s our band. Predictable bands are going to go the way of the dinosaurs soon.”
Despite how he feels about the scene as a whole, Giannopoulos gives praise to some of the newer bands from his city. “Something Is Waiting is killer, and they’re all fans of ours. Without Waves just signed to Prosthetic as well, and those guys are doing a lot of different shit.”
Hopefully, the band will not be forgotten and when Coma Noir is released, they’ll garner an even larger fanbase. Giannopoulos explains, “People are asking me if I’m still in a band. We’ve only been gone a couple years. In reality, it’s not that long of a time. Yeah sure, this is the longest we’ve taken between albums, but where’s the new Tool record, asshole? You guys don’t ask about whether or not they’re still together.”
Written by L. Mounts