Interview with Viza at Hammerfest 5

Without a doubt, Viza were one of the dark horses of Hammerfest 5. Hundreds of people dropped their inhibitions to sing, dance and smile to the eclectic seven-piece’s unique and multicultural music. The L.A band had the rambunctious energy to get a conga line started and even a mosh pit, despite being one of the less heavy acts of the festival. I spoke with Oud player Andrew Kzirian a few hours before that spirited performance at Stage Two…


You’ve just travelled across from London. How are things?
Andrew Kzirian: We were just at The Borderline last night. It was actually one of our most crazy shows.

One of the most refreshing things about Viza is that your live shows are delivered with such intensity and are a lot of fun, yet as a band, there are social, historical and political issues at the core. It’s such a contrast, but one that works…
AK: As artists, we let loose. We share our art with full energy and there’s always this dynamic and interrelationship with the crowd and that really reflects itself and manifests itself in our playing – at least with me and I’m sure with the other guys too. As a cohesive group it just pours out. But as citizens and people, there are things that we care about too, so we have both of those things going on.

I suppose the best way to reflect those issues is through fun and engaging the crowd in this way. Has that always worked for Viza?
AK: Music is another medium to communicate a message. It has a different efficacy and a different projection because it’s not coming from a book or a letter or decree; it’s more of an artistic impulse and there’s a different power that resonates with people who listen to the music. It’s just another way to educate people about things.

There are some issues that are closer to the band than others. As activists, you’ve hosted annual benefit concerts in L.A to raise social awareness about the Armenian Genocide. Tell us a little about that…
AK: We’ve been raising awareness of that issue for some time, especially with the 100th anniversary on the horizon in a couple of years. That’s something that is very important to the members of the band for personal reasons.

The band has found some common ground with Serj Tankian – not only for your shared national/ancestral link to Armenia, but for the fact he is equally passionate as a political activist. How has did this friendship arise?
AK: Serj has been an incredible inspiration, supporter and advocate for us, which we are very appreciative of and thankful for that. Through mutual friends in the community in L.A, we started working together and we were fortunate enough to support him for two tours, which was an amazing experience for us. It taught us about the world a little and got us touring a couple of years ago. We just did it again it October and it is an amazing experience. Working with him is just incredible.

Musically, Viza is a box of all sorts influenced by cultures from all around the world, from the Middle East to Eastern Europe. How did you become such a multicultural band?
AK: That’s a very good question. A lot of people have asked us how we started and how did we get this sound and I think a lot of it has to do with how much of a diverse mix of people and instruments that we had because of where we live, which is Los Angeles. It epitomises that melting-pot element of the United States. You’re in such a multicultural large city, there’s so many groups, traditions, immigrants from the different communities and we are a reflection of that ourselves. It’s not only the melodies we play, but the instruments we use. We incorporate some unique hand-drums from the east, we incorporate the oud that I play and then we blend that with traditional rock and metal instruments like guitar, drums and bass. The amalgamation of that is Viza. It keeps life interesting I guess!

How do you put things together in the studio?
AK: We’re a group project – it’s a group entity, so ideas for songs come from whoever then we all contribute to it together as a family. It’s an interesting dynamic too, because – like any family with a bunch of cubs or brothers – there’s some tussling sometimes, but we all love each other and we look on each other’s ideas.

It’s interesting that you see the band as a family. Do you see the membership as being quite open? Would you take on more members if the right person came along?
AK: It’s funny you mention that because the way I joined the group myself was through one of the guitarists in our band had another show and I sat in as a guest, except I played the oud. The show went really well, they asked me to say and I considered it because I knew if I got into something, it was going to be balls-to-the-wall, 100% commitment. I said yes. Speaking personally, I think it’s a living, breathing entity so if things were to come along in the future that reflect our evolution of how we sound and if that means more members or different instruments or whatever, then, that’s just the kind of band we are. It could be, but we’re in the here and now and full-steam-ahead on so many different things. You know we’re hungry and we’re eating everything!

Interview initially published at SoundShock Webzine:

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