Johnny Phatouros is a dangerous man.
His slight frame and Mona Lisa smile are just a thin disguise for the killer inside. Phatouros is the quintessential rock and roll animal.
When he gets on stage Phatouros turns inward to find a wellspring of equal parts mischief, malice, insouciance, aggression, charisma, madness and serial-killer charm.
As front man for Perth band The Volcanics, Phatouros is a big part of what makes them so can’t-look-away good when they’re doing their thing live. When he gets on stage Phatouros turns inward to find a wellspring of equal parts mischief, malice, insouciance, aggression, charisma, madness and serial-killer charm. It makes for mesmerising viewing and it’s just dangerous enough to make you feel that things could spill over off the stage at any moment during a Volcanics set, that it could all really kick off.
Ask Phatouros, though, and he’ll play it straight down the line. “It’s practice, practice,” Phatouros told Around The Sound, “Just like a golf or tennis player, same thing.”
So, the healthy sport analogy, eh! What about your reputation for damaging equipment on stage, we countered?
Phatouros flashed a smile, just for a brief moment and said, “Mainly photographers more than equipment. The rude photographers. The ones that are so visible to everyone in the room, they get on the stage and they’re in your face.”
We thought it wise to let that one rest.
The Volcanics are a band that make you want to go home, pick up a guitar and start a band of your own. There aren’t many outfits that can move punters in that way. Trawl through the ages and Around The Sound’s list might go something like this: The Stooges, The Ramones, The Saints, The Clash, The Strokes, Parquet Courts. There’s an immediacy about such bands that leaves you needing to make music and it’s the sort of company that The Volcanics keep very well. They’re no aspirants, they’re the real deal.
The Volcanics are a band that make you want to go home, pick up a guitar and start a band of your own. There aren’t many outfits that can move punters in that way.
The band have been around the Perth scene for around 10 years now and have clocked up plenty of frequent flyer miles building an audience interstate as well as in Europe.
Around The Sound caught up with The Volcanics guitarist, Tommy Hopkins and vocalist and quiet troublemaker, Johnny Phatouros over a few beers one Saturday afternoon at The Charles Hotel.
Asked what keeps them going and how they got so good, they went back to the practice makes perfect mantra.
JP: “What keeps a person going who loves playing golf? They love it. Same with us; what keeps us going is we love it. Love keeps it going.”
TH “When I’ve been away from it for a while and we haven’t jammed for two or three weeks, I’ll have this small depression and then we’ll get into the room and have a jam and I’ll go, ‘Fuck! That’s what I’ve been missing’. It’s a healthy addiction, I suppose. And a lot of years doing it, mucking around with the sounds and a lot of years with, the three of us at least, playing together. A lot of gigs.”
JP: “We love it! We love the music. We’re just normal human beings. It’s hard work and love. I don’t think it’s that special.”
TH: “The only thing I’d add to that is that everyone in the band, we’ve all been friends, good friends, and I think that probably helps as well. We’re having a good time on stage together because we all really love each other.”
Phatouros is right, of course, these people are normal human beings, just like you and I. But what they possess that few of us have in our keeping is this gestalt capacity to be a collective, in this instance, a rock band.
Talking about his singing abilities, Phatouros said, “When I first sang in public I was so scared; I was scared for years. After being scared for years, it feels like, ‘Fuck it! I’m sick of being scared, I want to enjoy it more’. But it’s just practice, the more you do something, the better you get at it. It’s not magic.”
We can go along with that to some degree. But we can’t help but feel that Phatouros is hiding something. Not wilfully, it’s partly out of humility, but there’s also something he doesn’t want to reveal. Go back to the magic motif and you’ll get a glimpse of what it is. Once you’ve seen how magic works — taken it apart and seen how the pieces go together — that’s the moment you kill the magic. No magician would ever want to do that and Phatouros is definitely a magician of some sort.
Expanding on the topic, Hopkins had a go at what makes his band turn on that magic when they play together. “It would be kind of like getting moved by the music,” he said. “It doesn’t always happen. It’s the right combination of having a good night building up to the show, having a few drinks, it being a decent show and all the band getting into it. I know myself, if I see the crowd getting into it, then I’m getting into it more, then they’re getting into it more and the next thing you know, you’re not thinking about anything.”
That’s it, right there. The moment you’re not thinking about anything. Rock and roll works best when everyone in the room is existing in the same bubble of energy, set off by the music and repeated and amplified by the flow between band and audience. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it creates moments of transcendence that switch people from consciousness to a state of being that requires no conscious thought. It literally carries you away.
Black Door is a record that does justice to The Volcanics’ reputation as a legendary live band. There’s not a single track on it that sounds like it doesn’t belong.
The Volcanics are one of the few bands capable of creating such transcendence and, for that alone, you should go see them play live.
They’re just about to launch album number five, Black Door, at The Rosemount on 31 August, so your chance to see The Volcanics do their thing is coming up fast.
“It’s our latest and best record,” said Phatouros, “and we want to get as many people to hear it as possible. Then we’ll take it to Europe like we have for the last three albums. Anything beyond that is out of our control.”
“Five is a significant number,” added Hopkins, “so we want to try to make it a bit more of an event.”
So, what sort of record is Black Door? Around The Sound has had it on high rotation since getting an advance copy and our assessment is that it’s fucking good! The 11 tracks on Black Door serve up new treats on every listen, and we’ve now listened to it a lot. There’s riffs for miles; hard, driving rhythms; lead breaks that pick up the story right where Phatouros’ perfectly imperfect vocals leave off; and arrangements that take you from full blast to stripped back, and everything in between, with the deft ease of a band that knows its way around the studio.
Black Door is a record that does justice to The Volcanics’ reputation as a legendary live band. There’s not a single track on it that sounds like it doesn’t belong. We guarantee that, if you go to the launch of this album, you’ll need to buy yourself a copy before you head for home and it’ll be number one on your hit parade for a long time to come.
Black Door is that good and so are The Volcanics.
See you on the 31st!
The Volcanics launch Black Door at The Rosemount Hotel on 31 August with support from The Caballeros, The Tender Hearts and The Killer Hipsters. More information and tickets here.