“I am Anarcho-Instamatic!
(Hail to the populist regime!)
I am your law and disorder.
Holy crypto-manic libertine!”
And with that absurd battle cry, my band, the Transmystic Blues Sniffers, released our long-awaited debut album, Seeds and Stems. The album is currently available digitally on music platforms like Spotify, YouTube Music, Bandcamp, Apple Music, and Amazon Music. See the links below to hear or purchase the album. Call your local radio station and demand the DJs to play it—yes, I said demand because civil disobedience demands nothing less!
Now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that when I’m not writing poetry, prose and novels, I’m writing songs. In fact, my writing exploits really began with my writing music and lyrics, which to be honest, I had hoped other bands might cover one day. Life, however, has taken me down some strange paths—including this one with my bandmates, which I am very happy to have been on as they are also my dear friends.
As far as the album goes, there’s much to be said about hit and run art. “Leave the beholders stunned and confused,” I say. By the time they figure out what the absurd lyrics “Long live the leftist Hitler Youth” and “DEFCON: Defecation!” really mean, I’ll be long gone. In truth, I wanted to produce this album two years ago, but (as it always happens) life gets in the way. Now that it has finally been released, I am leaving Greece, my home, for better or for worse, for the last twenty-five years. It’s a shame that due to the coronavirus we won’t be able to perform the album live, but as they say, “that’s showbiz, kids.” I hope the band survives my departure one way or another because we are all friends and play-well with each other. Also, we have a lot of good music we have yet to record officially. Nevertheless, greener experiential pastures, new creative collaborations, regeneration, and even love await.
In the meantime, however, it’s time to sow and celebrate the seeds of social deconstruction and chaos via musical sociopolitical satire. Had we launched this band in the sixties with this album, we surely would have been labeled proto-punk. However, some fifty years later, despite our collective advanced ages, we’ll just call it retro-regressive garage-punk. Even this term is a misnomer cause we don’t have a garage, though we do have a basement. In this respect, calling us an underground band is very apropos.
Who are the Transmystic Blues Sniffers?
- Jay Leonard Schwartz: lead vocals, electric rhythm guitar, harmonica
- Steve Vassilakopoulos: acoustic guitar, electric spoon
- George Yannatis: drums, percussion, kazoo
- Jens Eimecke: electric lead guitar
The band began some years ago and grew out of my partnership with my good friend, Steve Vassilakopoulos. We formed a folk-rock duo called the S&J Experience, released an album titled Disambiguation in 2008, and played in a lot of bars that permanently closed immediately after our performance. Nevertheless, we made a lot of musical friends over the years who jammed with us and some, like George and Jens, even joined us to form a larger band, jam and perform together, get buzzed, etc. ( the dark side of rock n’ roll).
Over the years, Steve and I wrote our own songs but we also played many covers of other songs, but in our own distinct fashion. For a long time we called ourselves a psychedelic blues band, especially since I played harmonica with lots of reverb. We’ve actually recorded an unreleased body of work in this fashion—some of it can be heard on my YouTube channel which has a playlist of our band videos (below) that I created from live versions of our songs, old and new. The channel also has my avant-garde films and my own non-band music, as well as some of the other short films produced by others in which our music was used.
The band name, the Transmystic Blues Sniffers, came out of the psychedelic blues concept and was an obvious and absurd play on words with reference to stoner rock. The album title, Seeds and Stems, followed suit—although the original album concept was supposed to be a mix of our old and new styles. To be honest, our performance style grew heavier over the last few years, approaching more of an old-school punk air because of the response of audiences to my cover arrangements and to my songs with more of a hard edge and angry-esque, sociopolitical and lyrical theatrics. Our older and more psychedelic sound can be heard on the album’s track titled My Wild Muse. However, given its higher energy, the new style was more fun to perform and to jam with and also better suited to Jens’ blazing distortion-laden guitar solos, as well as Steve’s developing proficiency at playing the electric spoon.
I’ve always taken inspiration from wild improvisation while jamming in underground situations. Many lyrical themes come to me in these jams which are less of a performance and more of an anything-goes stream of consciousness—and trust me, I have a lot on my mind, consciously and subconsciously! It’s one part “misery loves company”, another part “drink a little poison before you die” and yet another part “let’s get our kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames.” And, like the blues, it’s an odd celebration of survival despite the insanity and inhumanity all around you.
In this respect, with some songs, I tried to channel the Sex Pistols, the Stooges and the Dead Kennedys. Between the attitude of the music and the in-your-face lyrical and satirical content, there is a very clear message of what-you-see-is-what-you-get and what-you-get, reflective of the zeitgeist of our times, is perfectly human—stress relief via satirical social commentary that prompts listeners to bang their heads and laugh nervously at the expense of the chaos and confusion of normalcy.
Like my poetry and prose in my book Loitering Words, as well as in my novel O Little Central Florida Town of Bedlam, the lyrics reflect my penchant for absurd commentary. Yet, in the punk idiom, the style allowed me greater freedom to lampoon conventional notions. The song Jump into the Vortex, for example, is a politically rhetorical call-to-action that includes an attack on cheese. Go ahead and figure it out; I do consider myself, after all, a dadaist-at-large, so being absurdly nihilistic goes with the territory.
Fuck the Gouda!
Fuck the Mozzarella!
Fuck the Feta!
Emmental! Eat! Eat Emmental!
Other songs, such as Misguided Missile and Too Many Broken also wax sarcastic on hypocrisy in partisan politics, floating an “equally guilty” sentiment. Of course, as a bleeding-heart liberal, my sardonic take on fascism and right-wing politics is also expressed in the songs Welcome to a Meme World and Trump Abstentia.
We’ve got the makings of utopia!
We’d rather build fucking dystopia!
We will not tolerate differentia!
We check our minds in abstentia!
Some of our songs also contain a slight science-fiction vibe. The song Seeds and Stems, which I wrote after we had decided on the album’s name, suggests a rather bleak prediction of the social and political fate of mankind and our planet, also set up in the song’s intro, Meanwhile, which is a short bit of radio theater I wrote and on which Steve nails the narration. Among other references, the song Motley Charms pays subtle tribute to a Dada Goddess by comparing her to a black hole.
And now I’m drifting in peaceful distress.
Event horizon when you start to undress.
The album’s cover art, expertly crafted by our drummer George Yannatis, an expert, professional, and inspiring graphic designer in his own right, also reflects the sci-fi theme and our defiant “don’t give a fuck” attitude, even in the face of alien abduction.
Although our harder sound developed over the last few years, the songs were written over a 13-year period. Some were written during my heaviest dadaism-inspired period. As lyrical poems, some also appear in my book, Loitering Words. Others grew out of the shifting band styles and can be heard in various forms in my film, Dada Ausfahrt. Steve Vassilakopoulos, also an EFL teacher/teacher-trainer and materials developer like me, has been a regular partner of mine in education projects and art crime, and George Yannatis also appeared in my film, Dada Venduza as the dada butler and dada drummer. Jens Eimecke joined our musical collective in the past few years. By day, he is a professional dental prosthetist (technician). In other words, he makes false teeth and as such fits right in (and hopefully so do his teeth).
The album was recorded in Thessaloniki, Greece, at two studios, between 2019 and 2020. The first recording sessions was completed before the coronavirus raised its ugly head and the second recording session took place between the first and second lockdown periods. We would like to give special kudos to our good friend Dimitris Karavasilis at Revolver Studio, where parts of the album were partially recorded in 2020, for mastering the complete album and making the best of our it-is-what-it-is music.
Also, on behalf of the band, I’d like to give our sincere thanks to our many friends—you know who you are—who have inspired us over the years to keep doing what we do at our performances and music jams. And to everyone who ever braved coming down to our basement practices and smiled at our music, despite the surroundings, we also give thanks. It was always encouraging whenever a party danced in from the street above after hearing our music floating up from a tiny metal grate in glass-tiled sidewalk window. You can see your basement in many of the band videos I posted on YouTube—such as the one below of our practicing the song With You from our album.
Definitions come hard when you are constantly trying to shuck labels and champion non-conformism. I’ve never cared much for the term rock and wholeheartedly agree with Jim Morrison’s musical and poetic assessment that Rock Is Dead. Still, there is only so much you can do with a few guitar chords in the key of E and, at the very least, escape with your dignity intact by calling it the blues.
Thanks for reading and hopefully listening! Watch my sneak-preview trailer for the album below:
Get your “Seeds and Stems” below!
Also available on the following platforms:
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