Straight from Budapest, Ivan & The Parazol has gradually established itself as a sure value in Hungarian indie rock music. So much so that their new album, Exotic Post Traumatic, recorded in Los Angeles, has opened them the doors to the international scene. I had the chance to meet Iván and Bálint in Paris, a few hours before their show at the Supersonic in April, and to discuss the band, their new projects, their on-going European tour and Hungarian rock’n’roll in general…
You’ve been a band for 9 years, and it seems like you never changed your line-up. What’s the secret?
Iván Vitáris (vocals): It’s a strange question, because from now on, it’s not true. Our original bass player got sick two years ago. We faced a huge problem with that. He’s not able to work with us anymore, or to play live. So the secret is that we wanted to be focused and never changed the line-up, but suddenly shit happened. And you can’t do anything about that. We thought that we’re gonna be together forever, when we started in 2010. We thought that we’d grow old together and play like reunion shows 50 years later. That’s not gonna happen, but, hopefully, if he’s able to go back on the road anytime, we’ll always welcome him. Doors are still open. So the line-up changed, but not because of us, and we have a great bass player with us now, a friend of ours who was a solo guitarist. He learned the instrument just because of us.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the story of the band?
Bálint Simon (drums): Iván and I went to the same high school, and to the same private music school. We just thought that friends getting together and playing music was great fun, but we were very powerful and enthusiastic about…
I.V.: … changing the world! Making a band and creating art.
B.S.: This is very linked to your previous question, all this desire to create generated a bond between us. It all started in 2010, we were jamming and writing stuff. Our first album came out in 2012. It was… I don’t know, very straight, easy to listen but also ballsy, very fresh. Then we made another record in 2014, another one in 2015, and then we had to do a 3-year break because of our bass player’s injury. And we also wanted to explore and experience more, we wanted a certain sound and work method. We recorded our new album in Los Angeles in January 2017. It was a very big step for us obviously. To work with one of the best producers in one of the best studios, East West Studios, where Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Muse or Red Hot Chili Peppers recorded. It was an amazing experience and huge fun. But one part of the story of the album is very sad because of what happened to our bass player, and we had to record with someone else, who is also a good friend of ours from Budapest. This bipolarity inspired the title of the album, Exotic Post Traumatic, positive and negative at the same time. But it’s also like a mix of so much more. This is our first Europewide release, thanks to our German label. It’s a big step for the band.
When you’re looking for new bands in indie music and rock in general, you tend to look more at the UK or the US. I’d like to ask you, how is the scene in Hungary? How did you manage to work, to find shows?
I.V.: To be honest I think that in the last 40-50 years, none of the eastern European rock’n’roll bands made it to get big or huge in the international market. And that’s not because they were not good musicians, or that they were not producing good music. The thing is we weren’t connected to the international worldwide music industry because of the Soviet era. It was kind of nothing during all this time, for us. Of course, some bands were touring in the US, Japan, or Poland, places like that, related to Hungary. But the gates are open now, it’s time for Eastern Europe to break out. If you ever get the chance to listen to Hungarian rock’n’roll bands from the 60’s or 70’s, you’ll be amazed. Some songs are tremendous. We even recorded a cover of a band called Locomotive GT. They were one of the most famous bands in the country. When we played the song in the States they were like ‘Oh my God what the fuck is that song?’ and we were like ‘That’s an old Hungarian song, come on!’. And this band toured in the States, and they still have records sold there. That was a huge experience for me also. When you’re walking around Los Angeles, you don’t expect to find Hungarian records. But yeah, we always wanted to play abroad, go out and spread the word. And I think that as time goes by we’re stepping further and further. We got the chance to play together with Deep Purple or Rival Sons. We’re also gonna play with Whitesnake next June in Budapest. This is huge, they’re like our ancestors (laugh). We’re grabbing every opportunity that comes in front of us, and we’re trying to do our best. It’s really hard, because if you see a band and there is “HU” after its name, are you gonna come down? No. But if there was “UK”, you would! Brits and Americans kind of invented rock’n’roll music. And they’re still great at that. But I think that in the next ten or twenty years, it’s possible that more potential musicians or bands will come out of our area. When you think about some popstars today, a few are from Albania… It’s like… Come on! (laugh)
B.S.: We now feel like it’s time. People are more interested in Eastern and also exotic culture. Whether it be in architecture, fashion, or even in music. And if you’re willing to put in some effort, time and energy, something is gonna happen. And in the meantime, traveling through Europe to play music is great.
I.V.: Spending money is great! (laugh)
You were talking about opening for Deep Purple, what souvenir do you keep from that moment?
I.V.: I signed one of my Deep Purple records with some of the members of the band. But the biggest thing for me is that I kind of started music because of their music. One night, when we were in high school, I dreamt about a rehearsal that we had, and that Roger Glover, Deep Purple’s bass player, was coming down and telling us we were great. And you know what happened in the arena when we played with them?
He came to your dressing room to meet you, right?
I.V.: He came to our dressing room and said the exact same thing. For me that was a breakdown. That’s my souvenir!
B.S.: We had a PR agent, back in 2014, he called me one morning and asked ‘Hey dude, do you wanna open for Deep Purple?’, I said ‘Yeah, sure…’. I was completely convinced that he was joking. And then he said ‘Okay because Live Nation picked you to be the support act for the show in Budapest’. I couldn’t believe it. It was the first time we got to play for 12,000 people. It was incredible.
I.V.: That was the same year we got the opportunity to play at Sziget Festival. A tremendous success.
Let’s talk about your music and your new album. It obviously sounds old school, and pretty much psychedelic. What are your main musical inspirations?
B.S.: We listen to a lot of small, fairly unknown bands from the 60’s. I personally like lots of modern stuff, and hip hop as well. As far as my drumming is concerned, my idea is to clash the modern aspect of rhythm with this kind of old school psychedelic melodies that the guys brought. That’s a cool mixture!
I.V.: Yeah, I think that what came out is kind of weird. Because the music we listen to is very different. Recently, I’ve been discovering the music of Motown, a lot of soul music. Of course, David Bowie has a lot to do with this record. We also listen to a lot of ‘guitar hero music’. Rival Sons also inspired us a lot. They have their own guitar sound, it gets through their music. It’s highly energetic. But yeah, again we listen to a lot of music, from country to blues through to hip hop. So I think the thing was that we realised we knew what we wanted to do musically, but we didn’t know how to get in the right direction, and to get the sound properly done. That’s what our producer Wil Anspach did very well in Los Angeles.
You’re mentioning soul music, Motown. It’s an influence that can be felt on a song like “Serial Killer” on the album, notably with the backing vocals. How did you approach and work on this song in particular?
I.V.: It took a long time. As I remember, that riff comes from Maté, our guitar player.
B.S.: He used to play it on sound check, every time.
I.V.: Yes, he always started with that riff. It’s an old one. We were like ‘Ok that’s great, lets do something’.
B.S.: Then I think we were hanging out at his apartment, in the kitchen, and I was doing some beats on Garage Band. We felt like we wanted to be open, so we added a saxophone, what we never did before.
I.V.: And the wife of our producer, Kyiki, sings in Crystal Fighter, and we thought I’d be so great to have backing vocals on the chorus, but not male voices. So let’s have female voices behind me. And she said OK right away. We were so surprised! We were like ‘You really wanna do that’?
B.S.: She’s a huge star in the US.
I.V.: She was like ‘Yeah of course, just let me get a beer and I do that’. And it was really great. It ended up that she put more backing vocals to other songs as well, such as “Nr 1003” or “Changin'”. She brought a lot of melodies to the songs.
B.S.: She also became a creative asset for the record. It shows well how open and easy-going people are in the States, in terms of production. We wanted to record the saxophone at East West, and our producer just called someone up. An amazing gentleman named Aaron Leibowitz showed up and it turned out that he was a world-famous touring musician.
Have you started to work on your fifth album?
I.V.: Yes! I don’t think we’re gonna wait that long. From now on we’re planning to come down to France to write it and record it at the same time. This city, this place is so amazing… after Budapest of course! (laugh) It’s really close to that. You can’t compare the two cities but they have something in common. We also have this ‘café’ culture, a lot of huge great buildings and avenues… There is a vibe in Paris that we need for our new album.
Interview by Clément Duboscq
Clément Duboscq is a music journalist and critic from Paris, a current collaborator for New Noise magazine and a music programmer for FIP radio. He is the co-founder, booker and social media manager for Post In Paris Festival, and a great worshipper of our saviour Trent Reznor. You can find him on Twitter and on Instagram… and don’t forget to check out his Vinyl Porn account!