Q&A with singer/performer Tolis Fasois - Rock n' Soul music always reflected a passion for his life and paths

"Rock music was an integral part of the counterculture movement of the 60's all over the world. It is true too that it expressed the aims and ambitions of many young people all over the world who saw the growing pains of the capitalist lifestyle."

Tolis Fasois: Happy To Be Groove

As a singer Tolis Fasois paid his dues while fronting the groups Fred Smith and later The Introverts in the nascent punk and new wave scene of Cape Town, South Africa in the late 70's early 80's. A recent documentary "Punk in Africa", illustrates the role this music scene played in the anti-apartheid movement due to the rejection of these young musicians of racial discrimination. Soon after immigrating to Athens, Greece he fronts the group Sharp Ties who play a mixture of ska-inflected new wave and whose first album "Get That Beat" manages to go gold within a year. For a Greek English-lyric rock group this is a feat in itself. It has been argued that the phenomenal sales of their first album opened the doors for many young Greek rock musicians and bands who followed in their wake. Their second album "Safari Boys" is a critical success but does not sell as well as their previous work. Adopting an overtly commercial sound for their third album "Sharp Ties 3", finds Fasois in disagreement and he leaves the group firmly believing that the indie rock scene is more representative of his work.

Sharp Ties release a final album called "Positive" where Fasois writes the lyrics but does not provide vocals. The 90's see him taking on the role of producer and lyricist and he avoids performing live. The end of the decade finds him in the studio having written the lyrics while also providing the vocals to two songs for the multi-platinum selling Greek group called Pyx-Lax. Considered as one of the most exciting frontmen in the country, he is coaxed back onto the stage where he performs with the group for 3 years while their album goes platinum. In 2003 once again he is asked to write the English lyrics for Pyx-Lax who invite Eric Burdon, Marc Almond, Gordon Gano and Steve Wynn to provide the vocals to this project called "Happy In The City Of Fools". All this activity and audience reaction spurs Fasois on to leave production and get down to writing and performing once more. Touring Greece for the next 6 years, he enters the studio for his first solo album in 2000 called "Just For A Day", which receives warm reviews. In 2012 he starts work on his second solo c.d. slotted for release in late January 2015 called "Happy To Be Here".

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has Rock n' Soul music and culture influenced your views on the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

For me, always reflected a passion for life. If the world was staid and conservative, which it always was (and is), music was my escape from these confines. It was an enormous release which hinted at worlds that as a child l did not even suspect existed...a kind of medicine for the pain of existence.

How do you describe Tolis Fasois sound and songbook?

Do not know...ha ha. My love for the groove is obvious and the most important aspect of a song for me is the rhythm. I have a pop sensibility too which can be seen in the structures and melodies of my songs. On the other hand, in concerts l decidedly have a more rocky edge (l want the guitars way up in the mix). Lastly, my lyrics are not mainstream and my themes deviate from the norm. If an answer is necessary, l would say indie pop.

What characterized “Sharp Ties” sound and name?

Influenced by punk, we wanted a band that is not rockist...short SHARP bullets without drum or guitar solos. TIES comes from social or family ties, which more often than not smother you and limit your visions of who you are. One could say also that SHARP TIES are the relations that are bound to hurt you (cut you till you bleed)... Oh and we were anti-racist and fascist, pro feminism, accepting of differing sexual orientations and of course, politically we veered to the left not the center. THE NAME WAS NEVER THE ITEM OF CLOTHING!!!

"I would make Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen immortal so that they could continue writing songs forever...(terrible thing to wish for l know)." (Photo: Tolis and Sharp Ties on stage, Greece)

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences?

My meeting with Steve Wynn of the Dream Syndicate was important to me. l had written some lyrics for him to sing and we started talking. The conversation was about literature, one of my pet loves as l am an avid reader. Writing English lyrics means l seldom had any engagement of any kind about them. However, here was Steve discussing not only the lyrics but exchanging favorite authors with me. It made me feel that all these hours spent carving out the words in the sentences, were well spent...He had made me feel like an artist and is responsible for my involvement in music still.

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

"Manners cost nothing" an adage that has accompanied me through my life. If people knew how effective it is in real-life situations, more would cultivate them ha ha. Yeah-nobility of the soul...

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, studio sessions you'd like to share?

l especially liked working with Eric Burdon, Steve Wynn, Gordon Gano and Marc Almond as being in the studio with them l got to see that in reality they were jobbing musicians. Gone was my perception of them as "STARS" and in its place was a more realistic understanding, appreciation and respect for them and of the intricacies of their lives as musicians.

"For me, always reflected a passion for life. If the world was staid and conservative, which it always was (and is), music was my escape from these confines. It was an enormous release which hinted at worlds that as a child l did not even suspect existed....a kind of medicine for the pain of existence." (Tolis Fasois / Photo by Alexandros Karaiskos)

What do you miss nowadays about the music of the past?

If l were to say "the immediacy of the primal expression" it would be unfair. The music of the past was appreciated by another and younger me so the question can probably be answered "l miss the way my younger self listened and felt about music" However, l can tell you what l miss about the past as a musician. l miss the simplicity of 4 guys in a studio making music. Today when a song is being crafted there are too many parameters that get in the way like-target audience, commerciality, promotion, video clip etc. etc. etc. It is nearly impossible to just focus on the music.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Absolutely no hopes and no fears. Good music will always find a way to survive. The changeability of music is its strongest quality and it will ensure real diamonds that you can find even today. Music will always be an expression of the joys and sadness’s of our lives and as such, it will continue to be a vital backdrop to it.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would make Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen immortal so that they could continue writing songs forever...(terrible thing to wish for l know).

Make an account of the case of music in Greece.

On any given Thursday night in Athens you can see 4 or 5 great bands performing. This is a huge change from the 80's where the audience did not trust Greek rock bands at all. In an article (Pop and Rock magazine) about Greek rock in the 80's, it actually named ALL THE ROCK GIGS OF THAT YEAR, which cannot have been more than 20. We, who were a part of that scene can attest to that...just look at how many rock venues there are today!!! l have heard fantastic rock/blues/soul/jazz/punk/pop/folk/swing played by excellent Greek musicians. So, l would say that, the music being played all over Greece is at present some of the best we have ever heard.

Most interesting period in local music today?

As aforementioned...TODAY.

"My love for the groove is obvious and the most important aspect of a song for me is the rhythm. I have a pop sensibility too which can be seen in the structures and melodies of my songs. On the other hand, in concerts l decidedly have a more rocky edge (l want the guitars way up in the mix). Lastly, my lyrics are not mainstream and my themes deviate from the norm. If an answer is necessary, l would say indie pop." (Photo: Tolis and his band in Cape Town,  South Africa)

What are the lines that connect the legacy of music from Ska, Rocksteady, Blues, Soul to Punk and beyond?

On a musical level there is and has always been cross-pollination and music analysts have noted them. For me the connecting line has always been that all these genres directly talk about the disenfranchised. Whether due to unequal economic conditions, skin color, cultural or religious reasons, sexual orientation, even personal freedom, the music has been a comfort and a haven for minorities, the misfits, those who do not belong. Lack of clean running water, droughts, floods, pain, joy, death, birth or just to accompany the gathering of people, music in all its forms expresses life. Not only that-but it (in many cases) bestows an identity on individuals...the realization that those living in the margins of society are just as vital as those who make up the majority and have dignity too.

What has made you laugh from “The Introvert” era (in Cape Town, South Africa)?

l might laugh now but when it happened l was very scared. After a gig (we played in really dangerous clubs), as usual there was a fight. A guy had broken a chair and had used it to cause real damage to the bouncers of the club. l had packed my dad’s car with the equipment and he came out of the club with the chair leg in his hand demanding that l get him out of there. My dad’s car was a large VALIANT (this was the 70's), and there was no way that l was going to get him out of there. What followed was comic-a bloodied maniac with a weapon chasing me around the car like a Disney movie. Whatever he did it was impossible for him to catch me and the more he tried, the worse it got and the angrier he became as he was in a cartoonish (pun not intended), kind of Roadrunner situation of not being able to catch me due to the size of the car (and my speed)...just horrible and funny.

What has touched you emotionally from your African experience?

What l hated with a passion was the racist white South African who hated not only Black people but any culture outside his own... (Greeks, Portuguese, Jews and even the British).

What makes it worse is that this individual was a devout, church-going Christian. To have such a hate for anything outside your culture is reminiscent of Nazi Germany and unfortunately rhetoric that we hear more and more today. l have lived it and can attest to the damage that fascist ideologies bring about. l sincerely hope that we will resist this second coming of fascism.

What is the impact of music and rock counterculture on politics and society?

Rock music was an integral part of the counterculture movement of the 60's all over the world. It is true too that it expressed the aims and ambitions of many young people all over the world who saw the growing pains of the capitalist lifestyle. We are now witnessing the end of this era and the rise of rule by corporations. We lack the musical backdrop at the moment but who knows?

"Good music will always find a way to survive." (Photos by Alexandros Karaiskos)

Let’s take a trip with a time machine-where and why would you want to go for the whole day?

l would like to go back some years and go to Loutraki to visit my father, who passed away 2 years ago exactly. l would just like to see him again and spend the day with him. Just an ordinary day.

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