It’s not every Monday you get to sit down with a highly intelligent and brutally honest lead singer, so as I made my way to Souvlaki GR in the LES, to meet John Pasagiannis of herMajesty I was more excited than normal. JP is not unlike the many Greek figures we had been taught about in school; He is intelligent, has an enormous vocabulary (he dropped the word TEMPESTUOUS, like it was nothing), and is a generous soul. I wanted to know more about this fast rising band so we met over red wine and had quite the discussion about his childhood, the current state of affairs in our world and much more. While the interview lasted almost an hour and a half, it will be impossible to recite all that was said, so here are the highlights. Be sure to catch herMajesty this Monday (4-20) at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 for their Single Release show for “Fashion Trance.” Listen to Fashion Trance HERE
We heard you moved here at six from Greece, where in Greece are you from?
I did, I’m from an Island called Samos, in the North Aegean Sea, which is the closest Greek island off the coast of Turkey. As a youngster I swam half way across the straight. On the way back I got caught in the current and it took me over an hour to get back to shore, it was brutal…I learned a precious lesson!
Why did your family decide to move to the States?
Mother’s family was here and we decided to move to come together as a family. There I was at the age of 6 in Astoria, Queens. The transition was difficult, I did not speak the language and the culture shock was intense. Imagine arriving to New York from a small Greek island and trading the waves for concrete… I went back to Samos and returned to the States when I was eight. At that age, I felt a bit more comfortable with living in the States.
When did you realize that music was a big factor in your life?
I had a strong emotional connection to music when I was four years old, my parents were avid music lovers and we listened to traditional Greek Music. One of the styles of Greek music we listened to is Rembetiko, which is the Greek Blues. It was the music of the marginalized, the thieves, prostitutes and drug users – I connected strongly to it although I didn’t know what the songs were about but it spoke to my soul. It is a music rooted in suffering, you can hear the pain and struggle to survive in the raspiness of the singers’ voices. Then at the age of 14, I discovered Punk Rock and David Bowie, that was it for me!
At this point the first of our plates of food arrives and we talk about Bowie for a bit while munching down on fresh pita and salad and washing it down with some house red.
What did you listen to as you got a bit older?
A: In the 90’s I was exposed to the second wave of Indie rock – alternative bands like the Pixies and Nirvana. They were doing something fresh that was different than punk rock but was still rooted in the ethos of punk. It was anti-establishment, it placed personal expression above corporate expectations, it was genuine and soulful. Indie music at that time revealed that all was not as it seemed in Reaganomic America. Folks were hurting.
When did you start singing and or creating your own music?
I started getting serious in my early 20’s, and towards my late 20’s I had the privilege of having one of my bands produced by Carlos Alomar (Bowie’s guitarist and bandleader). That was a wonderful experience for me and I began to find my writing voice at that time. I was digging deep into raw emotion and things that mattered to me like love and loss, human experiences that connect us all.
I often write out of a place of loneliness, isolation, despair and tap into the redemptive qualities of love. Those are the emotions that feed my creations. Having been born in Greece, I was also exposed to the aftermath of the Greek Civil War, albeit a couple of generations removed. There was trauma in the air and it was transmitted inter-generationally.
When did you play your first show?
I played my first show in my late teens. The experience left me with a lust for being onstage. I became this other person by getting on the stage; I was able to access a part of myself that wouldn’t be available to me in any other way. I let go of my inhibitions, and I felt complete as a front-man, that was the instant buzz I caught.
When and how did herMajesty come about?
It was an idea that I had been playing around for a few years. I fleshed it out when I connected with Nic Hard, herMajesty’s producer who has worked with bands like the Bravery, The Church, and The Kin. We’ve been collaborating for about 5 years now, and Nic is producing our new EP. It’s a relationship that has evolved over time and is based on trust in each other’s vision.
He’s kind of the “silent” 6th member of the band.
What’s the inspiration behind your lyrics?
The inspiration is hard to talk about, it’s such an abstract thing and so emotion based. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint the event that triggers the writing of any song – the process isn’t linear. I think what happens is, I hear a sound in my head, or I come up with a couple of words that spark other associations that bring back memories of things that I experienced as a child. Usually it always goes back to childhood and there seems to be a connection to early childhood experiences and things that are happening to me now.
What is the songwriting process like in herMajesty?
I write the majority of the material, I write all of the lyrics and most the music. I bring the band a demo which, usually, is close to a finished product. Then I open it up to everyone else; I am not a control freak, I know what I do well and what I don’t do so well and that’s when I rely on and tap into my bandmates’ expertise to flesh out the songs.
We get some more food delivered to the table, including some kabobs that were delicious and talk about meeting Joey Porter from Fountains Of Wayne, who ended up playing guitar on ‘Days Turn To Nights’ and ‘Crystals’.
Let’s talk about one of my favorite songs, One By One, the chorus is fun and super catchy, who sings on it?
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One of the children is the daughter of a good friend of mine, and another friend’s kid who sang on it. We layered the vocals so it sounded like 40 kids. The thing I have to say about that song is; It’s about the dissolution of a romantic relationship, but it’s also about the dissolution of this sort of- adolescent-early 20’s, world view. I felt it was fitting to have children sing on it, who are innocent, playful and have no boundaries. So I wanted to introduce that kind of tension between playfulness and the dreamlike quality that the children brought and the somber lyrical message of the song.
What is your take on streaming services? There’s been a lot said lately on each side of the subject, which side do you fall on, being a newer band?
Right now we are very excited that the band is catching a buzz, that is important to me. I’ve made an investment to get herMajesty’s music out there, any way I can, and I’ve accepted that we aren’t going to make money right now….eventually, we’d like to make money of course!
Do you guys have a favorite place to play?
We love The Bug Jar in Rochester!! It reminds me of an old NYC club with an amazing sound-system and history. It’s got all this warm old wood and incredible PA, the people are lovely and treat us well. We also had Days Turn To Nights play on an NPR station up there, which was pretty amazing. We consider Rockwood Music Hall our home in New York City, we love it there.
We are excited to play stage 2 this time around for our next show on the 20th. We’ve played stage 2 before, but we are approaching this one with whole a different mindset since we’ve grown from the last time and we are really tight and cranking right now. We are a big-sounding band, the music deals with intimate issues, but the sound I think is big…I like to describe our music as big music for small rooms and intimate music for large rooms.
When you’re singing on-stage, it’s obvious you are really into character and put everything you have into the performance. What is going on in your head, that we, the audience, not know of – what are you thinking about?
I always see myself as one of the characters in the songs. I imagine the place that I’m singing about in the song, the physical and emotional space. For example, one one of our new songs; I have a simple line…”On These Hills,” and in my mind I conjur up that place, and I see it and live it and have this sensory connection to the place. I have to feel very connected to the message contained in the songs to be able to communicate it to you or whomever else is in the audience. I have to feel it for you to feel it.
It’s about creating or accessing this big internal, generous place to sing and communicate out of. That generous place is full of very complex emotions and it’s the ability I think, or the courage to access that place and communicate it to others, that draws people back to our shows.
As a band, what do you want to accomplish this year?
We are in the process of completing our new EP Called My Body Your Mind, which should be released this summer or fall. We also hope to tour a bit more including Florida, and maybe even California.
Since we are Pancakes And Whiskey, we must know, what’s your favorite hooch?
herMajesty is going tour soon, do not miss out!
4-20 – Rockwood Music Hall, NYC
4-22 – Dusk, Providence, RI
4-30 – The Fire, Philadelphia, PA
5-7 – The Bug Jar, Rochester, NY
5-14 – BSP, Kingston, NY
Article by: Shayne Hanley
Cover photo: Nick Karp