Wailing City Spotlight: Interview With Emmanuel Thresher of Xenos

Published January 18, 2024
Interview by Meghan Killimade

Tell us about Xenos - who’s in the band, what’s the instrumentation and how did the band come together?
The band came together a little over a year ago after I got back into playing the Cretan lute after not playing it for a while. I had played for a couple years in my early teens, but then switched to guitar and never looked back. So after picking it back up, I had the idea to put a band together to play a more modern style of Cretan folk music, inspired by contemporary Greek bands. Jeffrey May, a good friend and multi-instrumentalist, jumped in to play keyboards and recommended the battle-hardened J Curland to play drums. We played as a trio for a bit until a few months later my brother Alexios LaBonne joined us on bass, and we've been playing as a quartet ever since. 

On your sites, the band is described as “an experimental folk quartet that merges the traditional songs and modern sounds of the Greek island of Crete” – talk more about the culture and how this influence and inspiration has translated to the music you’ve created.

Cretan music, like most other folk traditions, (especially American blues), tends to reuse song structures and melodies relying on lyrics, (in this case Cretan "mantinades" or poems), to differentiate each artist. Our songs are essentially covers of these traditional folk songs with a modern twist. My earliest musical memories are of listening to this music with my grandparents, who immigrated to the United States with my mother in 1976. Growing up, this music became such a significant part of the preservation and appreciation of our culture, so having the privilege to play it and contribute to Cretan music as a whole has been humbling. 

Tell us about your new 2 song release ‘San To Neró / To Ároma’ – what are the songs about and would you be able to translate some of the lyrics for us?
The two songs we chose make for a great A/B single because they really show the contrast in our music, both musically and lyrically. "To Ároma" is a love song by Giorgis Koutsourelis and is from the perspective of a man who "longs to be the aroma she puts in her hair". "San To Neró" is a much more contemplative song with lyrics like: "Like river water, time passes and goes away, but the flame of life never extinguishes". Our version is based on the George Xylouris version from 2012. 

I see your new release was recorded by local musician and well-known audio engineer, Jason Banta – how did that come about and what was the recording process like?
Jason recently set up a new studio and reached out to J about recording us for his first project in the new space, and we had a great experience! We recorded everything live in the room as a full band, playing a couple takes of each song and using the best take for each, and then recorded the vocals and a few overdubs in the weeks following our first session. He handled the mixing as well and really brought the best out of our performances. Jason was such a pleasure to work with, and we’re looking forward to working with him again in the future. The mastering was done by Quinn Music, a friend of Jeff’s who he's worked with on several projects in the past. 

What kind of statement or feeling are you hoping to get across to listeners?
The statement that I'm trying to make is that it's important to embrace and stay connected to your heritage. This band has been both a joyful and healing experience for my brother and I and our sense of identity, as well as being a broader introduction to the Cretan musical language for J and Jeff.

What venues have you been playing recently and where are you hoping to play soon?
We've played at 33 Golden Street, the Oasis, the Warehouse, and RD86, (all in New London, and all experiences have been really great). We're looking to start booking at places like Strange Brew Pub in Norwich, Electric Haze in Worcester, and anywhere that will have us really! 

How would you best describe your set/performance to someone that isn’t familiar?
One thing we really pride ourselves on as a band is our wide dynamic range—in style, in tone, in sheer volume. We try to construct a setlist that has high and low energy points to make it more of an immersive experience for the audience. The music is all sung in Greek, so being that most people can't understand what is being sung, the music really needs to convey the moods of the songs. We will however be printing translation sheets for upcoming shows for those in attendance. 

What musicians/bands do you listen to or inspire you?
Mostly bands like Xylouris White, Altin Gün, Babel Trio, and Balothizer, but Alex and I listen to a lot of traditional Cretan music—artists like Giorgis Manolakis, Yannis Xylouris, Nikos Manias, Manolis Kaklis, and Yannis Markogiannakis. 

Any local bands/musicians you’ve been digging these days?
Shout out Dan at Mystic Disc and Rich at the Telegraph, (we love our local record stores). Artists/musicians-wise, there are so many great local acts… Slyne & the Family Stoned, Acidhenge, A Former Friend, James Burke, Pocket Vinyl, Bards of Gungywamp, Trance Macabre, Russell Linder, Multiplier, the Subliminals, Coma Hole, Fleet… the list goes on and on. 
 
What's up next for the band? Any big gigs or new music to announce?
We just released a 2-song single! It's available anywhere you find music (and especially our Bandcamp page). A couple upcoming gigs too, both at the Telegraph in New London—the Rock Fix on Jan 27th and the Bards of Gungywamp’s album release show on Feb 16th. 

Anything else you want to include or you wish we would have asked?
We’d just like to say thank you to all who have supported us so far, and we look forward to playing for you all again. Thank you to Wailing City for these great interview questions!


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