Q&A with Pittsburgh-based trio Aris Paul Band, influenced by blues, funk, soul, folk, alt. country, and hard rock

"Real music can’t help but reflect the social climate in which it was constructed. I feel that this band sets out to either tell a story or unpack a problem. That may sound depressing, but truth is, singing about these problems and flawed characters allows us to come together and make that a joyous occasion."

Aris Paul Band: Red-Eyed, Road Rock

The Pittsburgh-based, blues rock trio is made of Aris Paul on guitar and vocals, Aaron Wagner on drums and vocals, and bassist Matt Scott. Joining them on new album 11-tracks “Ghosts” (2020) are The Soulville Horns, another Pittsburgh outfit with Phil Brontz – Sax, Steve Graham – Trombone, and George Arner – Trumpet. Their music has the gypsy soul of the Allman Bros., the blues swagger of Freddie King, the rowdy rock 'n' roll of the Stones, and the heavy metal roar of Hendrix and Sabbath. Spanning funk to country, hard rock to blues, APB puts on a rock show that has opened them up to the national spotlight and allowed them to tour the country and work alongside the likes of the Way-Down Wanderers, Joanna Shaw Taylor, Eric Sommers, Joshua Davis, Ally Venable, Raelyn Nelson (Willie Nelson's granddaughter), and many, many more. People often say it’s hard to resist music when you’re born into a musical family.                 (Photo: Aris Paul Band)

Aris is no exception. His father, Paul Pantelas was a lifelong musician and touring guitarist throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1988, Paul and his brother, George Pantelas opened one of Pittsburgh’s hottest blues bars. Just over a decade later in a house full of dusty, old road cases, Aris picked up his first guitar - he hasn’t put it down since. Growing up in a blues bar, you develop an affinity for certain things. Bourbon, the smell of stale cigarettes and smoke, the warm neon glow. Some of these naturally take time to develop but the sour bending of a Stratocaster on a Saturday night is something that's with you from day one. Growing up in a revolving room of blues and punk rock greats, Aris dedicating his life to being a musician is as predictable as the sun coming up tomorrow... Influenced by blues, funk, soul, folk, alt. country, and hard rock, APB's music is hard to pin down. But then again, that's nothing new these days.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I was raised on blues – my dad, Paul Pantelas, was a touring traditional Greek music guitarist throughout the 70’s and 80’s. In 1988 he and my uncle, George Pantelas, opened one of Pittsburgh’s hottest and (currently) oldest blues bars. I was raised on the blues and rock echoing from those walls. Junior Wells, Phillip Walker, Billy Price, Koko Taylor, and even Bruce Willis played in our little family night club. That music is part of my core. It also fueled my love of classic rock, soul, blues, jazz, country, and fusion: Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Allman Brothers, Steely Dan, Freddie King, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Waylon Jennings, Lenny Kravitz, Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa, and too many others to list. As far as rock music is concerned, I don’t know where I’d be today without it…It has grounded me throughout my life and cemented my desire to follow in my father’s footsteps and become a traveling musician. Music is the universal language of catharsis. There is nothing I would rather do with my life than bring that feeling to people.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

We refer to our music as “red-eyed, road rock.” Fierce, overdriven guitars, masterfully technical drumming, and frantically moving bass lines. It’s all very high energy…between myself, Matt, and Aaron, we cover a lot of ground for a trio – we are influenced by a wide range of genres (blues, funk, rock, jam fusion, soul and alt. country). I believe our wide range stems from the fact that we also work together as studio musicians and have worked on countless projects together. We’re very tight and we always communicate whether it be on stage or in the studio. I have always loved writing songs (both instrumentals and lyrical compositions). Putting my thoughts and observations into music has always helped me make better sense of the world around me. Other times, there are stories that I believe need to be told. “Better Man’s Shoes” for instance was written about my grandfather who fought in North Africa during World War II. He was awarded seven bronze starts for his heroism and never spoke a word of it to anyone. He was a quiet, dignified man and I always wanted to tell his remarkable story. Those stories are the ones that impact me the most and I love bringing characters to life for the listener. I will say however, these songs are never complete until the band (Matt and Aaron) write their parts of the song. For me, hearing how they color these works is always my favorite part.

"I really miss seeing people enjoy concerts without staring at their cell phones every ten seconds. Social media and cell phones have ruined a lot of the concert going experience (in my opinion). I sincerely hope that after the quarantine protocol is lifted here and abroad, people will take more time to enjoy the moments and the music, without having to miss half of the concert trying to film it or take photos with their phones." (Photo: Aris Paul, Aaron Wagner & Matt Scott)

What would you say characterizes Pittsburgh’s blues scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

Pittsburgh is rooted in decades of jazz and blues history. Our music scenes are well-developed, and our circuits cater to local bands, touring acts, and even international superstars. Times have been tough during the COVID lockdown and we’ve lost some great historical venues and a lot of bands, but regional music is like a phoenix – it always rises from the ashes. I am confident that our live music scene will come back stronger than ever before. I’m also very proud to say that my family (the Pantelas family) has played a major role in keeping the blues alive and thriving in Pittsburgh through our small blues club on Pittsburgh’s historic southside. While everyone is shut down currently, the Pittsburgh blues scene is one giant family, and we are here to support one another and make it through the lockdown. Under normal circumstances, we also have some incredible festivals including the “Pittsburgh Blues and Roots Festival” that benefits children on the autistic spectrum and keeps the blues alive and rocking in the city.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and "Ghost" studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Recently one of my favorite memories has been our last gigging memory before the COVID lockdown. One week prior to the outbreak in March 2020, our band was gigging with Raelyn Nelson Band (Willie Nelson’s granddaughter). We played two back-to-back, sold-out shows and it was so much fun. After those gigs, both bands played a small house party that was packed with 150 people and it took me back to all of the college party houses I played when I was 21. Everyone was cutting loose, partying, and the band was just on fire…I remember looking at Matt and Aaron and saying, “Fuck yeah, that’s exactly what ‘red-eyed, road rock’ is all about!” We were getting ready for a cross-country tour in May but unfortunately the pandemic took over and the rest is history. That was my last gigging memory before we stopped gigging. We are hopeful that things will soon open again for Summer 2021.

"That’s a tough question…if I only had one day, I'd probably settle for a festival over just one concert. I would love to go back to Day Three of Woodstock (1969). So many artists in one day…Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Sly & the Family Stone, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and of course, Jimi Hendrix. That’s a hell of a lot of music…" (Photo: Aris Paul Band)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I really miss seeing people enjoy concerts without staring at their cell phones every ten seconds. Social media and cell phones have ruined a lot of the concert going experience (in my opinion). I sincerely hope that after the quarantine protocol is lifted here and abroad, people will take more time to enjoy the moments and the music, without having to miss half of the concert trying to film it or take photos with their phones. Could you imagine Jimi Hendrix or Queen performing in a world where concert goers are more concerned with their phones than the music?!

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

If it were possible, I would love to see a world without social media. It’s become such a colossal waste of time for musicians and in my opinion, has pushed the focus off of the music. These days labels, venues, fans, and even bands all look at an artist’s social outreach as much as the quality of their craft – I think that’s tragic. Promoting music has always been a universal need but I think we’ve passed a point where many incredible musicians go by the wayside while others with a larger social media following are catapulted into the spotlight for no other reason.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

I think a lot of folks like to associate this sort of “Rockstar” lifestyle with their favorite touring bands…unfortunately, that’s a far cry from reality. Music is an incredibly demanding career and getting anywhere is going to require not only your best efforts but possibly everything else: your money, friends and loved ones, and every drop of blood, sweat, and tears you can muster. Still, it’s what we do and we’d have it no other way. But while we enjoy ourselves on stage, we have learned it is unwise to let those gigs turn into long nights. Partying takes its toll, fast. I’d wager most bands on the road these days would love a warm meal and a place to crash over the next drink any day. I know I would. The musicians that can’t separate the party fantasy from the reality of being a working band aren’t worth the time of day and will only hurt you in the end. There always more work to be done. That’s probably the most important lesson I can impart on other aspiring musicians. That and, never lose sight of who you are as an artist. Don’t try to emulate others, even those you look up to. You can be influenced by others but always be genuinely “you” and in the long run, remaining “you” is what will define you as an artist.                                                                (Photo: Aris Paul)

What is the impact of music on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications? How do you want to affect people?

Real music can’t help but reflect the social climate in which it was constructed. I feel that this band sets out to either tell a story or unpack a problem. That may sound depressing, but truth is, singing about these problems and flawed characters allows us to come together and make that a joyous occasion. It’s healing through rock ‘n’ roll. “Southside Serb” for instance, was written about the gentrification of my grandfather’s proud ethnic neighborhood. It was a very painful, angry song for me describing the process of witnessing the neighborhood I grew up in losing its identify to spoiled college kids who have no desire to join the community or preserve its history. However, while it’s written about the southside of Pittsburgh, gentrification is a universal problem and many people relate to that.

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

That’s a tough question…if I only had one day, I'd probably settle for a festival over just one concert. I would love to go back to Day Three of Woodstock (August 17/18, 1969). So many artists in one day…Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Sly & the Family Stone, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and of course, Jimi Hendrix. That’s a hell of a lot of music…

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