THE SOUND EXPLOSION – An informative study of the early years of the band with leader JOHN ALEXOPOULOS

I first became aware of Athens band The Sound Explosion in the mid ‘90s when I bought their album ‘The Strange Sounds Of The Sound Explosion’ released on the German record label Music Maniac.

At the time Music Maniac were one of the few labels in the 90s releasing full albums by neo garage and psych bands from around the world under the banner of ‘Teen Trash’. They also put out discs by The Fuzztones, The 99th Floor, The Jaybirds, The Others and The Ace Tones amongst others.

I was immediately blown away by the authenticity of the 60s garage sound The Sound Explosion had with the important added ingredient of an influence from early 80s scenesters like The Chesterfield Kings and Lyres. This Greek band really kicked ass with their mix of 60s/80s and I immediately became a massive fan.

Not only did The Sound Explosion have the sound I craved they also used vintage equipment and had a fabulous image. Good looking garage bands rarely exist. They all must have been a big hit with the girls! For the first time in years I had found a band still going that I could really ‘connect’ with if you know what I mean. I made it my mission to track down their singles.

Trouble was all of their 45s had passed me by and I was living in a pre-internet world and these discs were impossible to find. Sadly I had to soldier on without the singles for years to come.

When I finally got a home PC and internet connection in 1998 I began to search the world for my ‘wants’ and The Sound Explosion debut ‘Hangover Baby’ was high on my list. I joined a few yahoo groups and made pals with a fellow from Greece called John.

‘Hangover Baby’ rules

At this point in time I didn’t realise that John was in fact John Alexopoulos, the singer/songwriter and band leader from The Sound Explosion.

Now John has NO ego whatsoever and is NO big shot fancy Dan who boasts about his time in one of the best bands ever to come out of Greece. It took him months before he even admitted to me that it was his band I so admired. To this day he still doesn’t think anyone will be interested in his band or story.


Fortunately, I managed to convince John otherwise and he has kindly given me his thoughts about the early years of The Sound Explosion in particular my main interest being the 45 ‘Hangover Baby’….surely one of the very best neo garage band debut singles ever.

Last year I managed to track down a mint copy from a seller in USA for $25…..It remains one of my most played records of all time and is a vital addition to my record collection.

Most of the photographs that I will use in future Sound Explosion entries are promo band shots, gig pictures and candid studio shots sent to me by John. I have his permission to use these. Many of them are from his own archives and have never been published before. So it’s a real scoop for my blog ‘Flower Bomb Songs’


(taken from my old blog back in 2008/09 period. Everything has been updated here, including enhancing all photos provided.)

BEFORE THE SOUND EXPLOSION: “60’s KITCHEN PUNK”

Q1. Tell me about the very early days. How did you become interested in 60s garage and what sort of equipment did you use?
 
I started playing in garage bands in the mid 80’s with some friends of mine. I was in my mid-teens but was already a fan of all those Pebbles and Back From The Grave comps that were coming out at the time and of course the then current wave of new garage bands coming mostly from USA, Sweden and Italy.

We had no gear really, we were using beat up old guitars, sometimes even acoustic guitars, drum sets that consisted of a snare drum and some Tupperware (filled with jam), an old Casio organ which could not play chords and for an amplifier I had a “device”, a friend of mine had made, that was made out of telephone speaker and a cable, that created the most buzzing fuzz sound I ever heard (wish I had that one now)!

We called ourselves The Underground Shades and we used to play stuff like “Surfin’ Bird” and “Night Of The Phantom”, but we didn’t do any gigs as we were not a really serious band, just a bunch of angst ridden teenagers having some fun!

the early years

In 1987 or so I met Stelios Drissis and we started talking about forming a band with me on guitar and him on the organ. We started jamming in the kitchen of his house of all places for two reasons, a) it was the only place where we could not annoy anyone and 2) for some bizarre reason we thought it had better acoustics!

We played stuff like “I Never Loved Her”, “Be A Caveman” and “Psychotic Reaction”. We called our style “60’s kitchen punk”. You see, garage bands played in a garage, but we played in the kitchen, hence “60’s kitchen punk”!!!

We couldn’t find a steady rhythm section. The main reason was that we were still at school and our school mates and friends of our age had exams to take in order to go to a university. So again no gigs and our plans for spreading the word of “60’s kitchen punk” were cancelled!

THE EARLY DAYS OF THE SOUND EXPLOSION

Q2. How did The Sound Explosion form and what was Athens like for a neo 60s garage band? Tell me about your early gigs.

After we finished school Stelios Drissis met Dimtris Dimopoulos who along with Stavros Daktylas played in a band called The Daylight Dreamers, who had made some gigs and had a song on a comp, but had just split.

Dimitris was playing guitar in this band but switched to bass and brought along Stavros for the drums so in 12th May 1991 The Sound Explosion were born! We were all crazy about those wylde garage sounds and from the moment that we started playing “Shapes Of Things To Come” (Max Frost & The Troopers) in that first rehearsal I knew we had something good

The good thing is that we shared the same vision, to form a garage band that was dedicated strictly to that fuzz’n’farfisa 1966 USA garage sounds. The sound, the style and the look played a big part to us. We all had adopted the garage look (mop tops, black turtlenecks, black tight jeans, pointy boots, medallions etc), that would cause us some laughing at!

We were very rough and primitive and most people in the local scene (local music mag scribes, radio DJ’s, fanzine editors etc) were either neglecting us or considering us a joke!

In the early 90’s the grunge and Madchester thing were the then “hip” thing to do, so being a moptop garage band in the early 90’s in Athens was totally doing the wrong thing in the wrong time! But we really didn’t give a dime, as we were 19 years old and at that age you just do what you like and you don’t care about what other people think!

We started doing covers like “Blues Theme” (Davie Allan & The Arrows), “Meany Genie” (Tony Brook & The Breakers), “Nothin” (Ugly Ducklings), “Don’t Need Your Loving” (Chocolate Watchband), “I Want My Woman” (The Emporers) and tons of Pebbles and BFTG.

We also started trying out our own songs. I would usually bring the main parts and chords and then everybody would add their ideas on their instruments, affecting strongly the overall sound of the song. That was the way, we worked out songs.

AN Club gigs

We started doing gigs in Athens and the first one was on a free open air festival. Half of the audience were drunk hippies and the rest were old people who happened to be on the square the festival took place. It was really bizarre.

Then we did a gig of our own in “AN Club” which was the main place were local rock’n’roll bands played. We made a poster full of catchy words like ”primitive”, “wyld” etc and literally filled Athens with them! It was a miracle we didn’t get arrested as it was (and still is) illegal to hang posters in places like the entrance of the local metro stations or the front doors of public buildings!!!

Our “shows” were very chaotic affairs where anything could happen and being naïve and primitive usually we ended them in mayhem! So we grew a small core of garage fans that followed our gigs everywhere.

In November 1991 we were lucky to open for The Fuzztones here and that was really our big break! I still remember how nervous and frightened I was before going on stage for that gig! It was our 2nd or 3rd gig and here we were, opening for one of the biggest and most successful garage bands of all times in front of almost 2000 screaming people!

THE SONGS OF THE 45

Q3. Tell me how your classic debut 45 came about. What were the songs about?

From our gig at the “AN Club” our reputation grew a bit, as we were really the first band here to adopt totally that 1966 sound and look and so we attracted the attention of a guy called Mike, who had a label then called “Who Stole The Summer” that had released a couple of records, including the 1st LP of The Ultra 5.

He came to one of our rehearsals in early 1992 and offered to release our 1st 45. We had already done a couple of demos till then, but they all sucked! So, we started working more on our own songs and sound. After long discussions we chose to record two songs, “Hangover Baby” and “Some Other Guy”, which were totally different from each other, but we thought showed both sides of the band.

“Hangover Baby” was a simple, fast and furious fuzz punker, while “Some Other Guy” was a bit more complex and sophisticated.

I had written the main core of “Hangover Baby” when I was 16 years old and it was one of the first songs I brought to the band. It was really based on a classic riff that has been used on so many garage and rock’n’roll songs in different variations.

If I remember right, we sped it up, changed a bit of the chorus, and added a change before the solos, so the song was completed.

I wrote the chords of “Some Other Guy” in the very early days of the band. I used parts from 3 different songs I had written and glued them together, but all the band members contributed their own ideas on the song until the final result.

I guess it was our attempt to write something in the vein of “Spend Your Life” (First Crow To The Moon) or “Shame” (Kings Ransom), a song that’s a bit more complicated and ambitious and breaks a bit from the typical 3 chord garage sound. It actually had 7 chords!!! I don’t think we’ve ever written any song with more chords than that!

Both songs had stupid lyrics, really. “Hangover Baby” is an ode to being wasted on alcohol. I was drinking vast amounts of alcohol at the time on a daily basis and I woke up every day with terrible hangovers, so what better way to exorcise those demonic hangovers than to write a song about them! I know, it doesn’t make any sense, but it somehow did back then!

“Some Other Guy” was a typical “guy gets his revenge” story that can be found in millions of garage songs! Both songs stupid lyrically!!!

THE RECORDING SESSIONS

Q4. How did the recording sessions go for this single and what equipment was used?

As I already said we had done a couple of demos, but they sucked because we had no recording experience and those studios had stupid sound engineers who were into Phil Collins instead of The Gravedigger Five!

So, we chose to try out a studio called “Praxis” where many local rock’n’roll bands had recorded with good results. Also we asked Costas Constantinou from The Purple Overdose, who were a wonderful and very talented psychedelic band, somehow closer to our sound than any other band at the time, to produce it.

Both Costas and Coti, who was the sound engineer at “Praxis”, completely understood what we were
trying to do and their contribution and help was invaluable. Both of them were older than us and thus far more experienced and so they contributed some fantastic ideas especially in the vocal arrangement department and the “layering” of our sound, really helping us a great deal to shape up our sound.

The recordings took place in September of 1992 and I recall that they consisted of two 3 hour recording sessions. We played the songs live in the studio and then added solos, vocals and other stuff like tambourine and maracas. I think we did each song in a couple of takes, and a great deal of time was spent on the backing vocals on “Some Other Guy” and engineering the recorded parts.

I used my old beat up Kawai guitar, as well as a vintage Gibson guitar and an old Fender fuzz pedal, Costas had lent me, Stelios a Farfisa Professional, Dimitris a beat up Fender Precision copy and Stavros Ludwig drums (a couple of months later we would find our Vox, Ekos and Farfisa Compacts that we used on our rest of our records).

All amps were Fender Twin Reverbs. The recording console and tape deck were all analogue. The recordings were financed by the band, mostly from money we had gathered from our gigs or borrowed from families and friends. I think a great deal of the budget was spent on the multi-track tape we bought for the recordings, which were very expensive back then! The rest of the “budget” was spent on hamburgers from the local burger joint!

THE RELEASE: THE SOUND EXPLOSION – ‘Hangover Baby’ / ‘Some Other Guy’ (Pegasus 010 ) June 1993

Q5. How did the release of the record come about, how many were pressed and were you all happy with the results?

It was the first time we were very satisfied with the final result of a recording session. We finished the recordings and send the tape to Mike. Time passed on and he kept delaying the release of the 45 coming up with all sorts of excuses, so we decided to end the deal with him.

We were in a very difficult position, being a new band, unfashionable by the local press and media, that had recorded a 45 that we financed and which no one wanted to release!

We were lucky that almost immediately after that, Petros Koutsoumbas, who apart from looking like Rocky Erickson’s long lost twin brother, was the manager of “AN club”, where we played almost exclusively, and owner of the Pegasus label who had released some great and cult LP’s in the 80’s, made us an offer to release it.

It was the 1st 45 on the label and we decided to press it on green coloured vinyl using a pressing plant on the Czech Republic. The cover of the 45 was made by our friend George Paraskevopoulos who, with his brother Thodoris designed our gig posters.

We used two colours for the sleeve, Green and Purple, as a kind of homage to the song “Voices Green And Purple”. I think the first and second pressings, came enclosed in a cellophane wrapper, too.

As you may have noticed the sleeve opens from the left side, while the norm is to take out the record from the right or the top of the sleeve. Well, this was actually a mistake, that we found out, after the sleeves of the first pressing (500 of them) were made.

We could either dump them or keep them, but as they cost a lot of money to Petros and the mistake was on our own part, we decided to leave them as they were. The funny thing is that most people thought that this was done on purpose and they always came to us saying stuff “hey, what a great gimmick” or “really nice and inventive idea”!!! Yeah, whatever you say mate!!!

The 45 was released on June 1993, a very bad time to release a record in Greece, as no one buys records here and instead prefers to hit the islands and beaches. To our surprise the first pressing was sold out within a week. It got some airplay here on local rock’n’roll radio stations.

I still remember my excitement the first time I heard it on the radio. It was like that famous scene from the film “That Thing You Do”. It also got some nice reviews on local

magazines, which were snubbing us till then, and most surprisingly on the local equivalent of “Time Out”, in which it was something like “record of the week”.

The 45 was repressed more times in the few years following, the total sales reaching the range of about 2500 copies overall, which was a big deal at the time for a small band like us. Most copies were sold here in Greece, but we sent some copies to mail orders and record stores mostly in Germany, Italy and France.

It got airplay on foreign radio stations and some garage zines from abroad gave it favourable reviews. Remember, back in 1993 no internet or MySpace or blogs existed and the international garage scene exchanged information exclusively by mail!

A funny story happened years after the 45 got released. I had left 2 boxes of 45’s of “Hangover Baby” and a separate bag with their sleeves on my parents’ apartment and after a while the apartment got renovated. After the renovation, I tried to find my boxes and sleeves.

While my boxes were intact, I couldn’t find the bag with the sleeves. When I asked my mother about it, her reply was “Oh, this bag! I threw it away! I thought it was garbage! Your room is filled with garbage anyway!”

THE SOUND EXPLOSION – ‘Hangover Baby’ / ‘Some Other Guy’ (Pegasus) 1993

Never let the tired old garage prophets tell you that nothing worthwhile was recorded after 1967, in fact many insist that everything is rubbish after 1966. Thankfully, I’m young enough to make my own mind up and I’m so glad I discovered this brilliant Greek garage band from a Teen Trash LP on Music Maniac in the mid 90s.

I sadly missed out on all of their 45s as a result of catching on late and unfortunately The Sound Explosion’s killer debut 45 on Pegasus is long gone. Amazingly I started sending emails to a guy called John way back, possibly 5 years ago.

This was after posting 80s garage punk nostalgia on a long gone and defunct yahoo site. The ‘John’ in question turned out to be the cool leader of Greek kings The Sound Explosion. He was kind enough to compile a CDR of all of their 45s plus live-in-the studio demos and rehearsals. It’s a killer comp.

‘Hangover Baby’ knocked me sideways the first time I played it. What an awesome garage punker. Everything, including the kitchen sink (as they say) is on this slab of teen punk genius. Screaming guitars, hand claps, fuzz solos, farfisa organ solos, punk snarls…the lot.

It’s a definite for consideration in the unlikely event that there is ever a neo garage Back From The Grave type compilation.
‘Some Other Guy’ can’t live with this monster but it still has it’s merits.

other info:

The Pegasus 45 was recorded in September 1992 but not released until the following year.
line-up:

John Alexopoulos (6 and 12 string Vox guitars, vocals and harp)
Jim Dimopoulos (bass)
Stelios Drissis (farfisa organ, maracas)
Stavros Dactilas (drums, tambourine)


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