If you are looking for a band that takes rock music and combines a serious cultural sound with a political message then look no further than the band Visa. Visa has their roots in both New York and L.A., but they boast a cultural sound rooted in the Armenian/Greek culture. I had the chance to chat with Visa frontman K’noup about the origin of his band and what the future holds for this unique ensemble.
David Carr: When did Visa form?
K’noup: I formed Visa in the summer of 2000 in New York City with former co-founder and member Johnny Nice. It was meant to be strictly a side project of mine due to the fact that I was in another band, Neurobox. In 2004 upon moving to Los Angeles and with Johnny Nice’s departure from the group, I made a band out of the project with the members of Neurobox with the intention of exploring a more international sound.
DC: How did you all get together and how long have you been together?
K’noup: In 2004 the members of Neurobox (that included me, Hiram, Suguru and Alex) came to play with Shant Bismejian, Orbel Babayan, Jivan Gasparyan Jr., Chris Daniel and Andrew Kzirian through the large community of musicians that inhabit the city of Los Angeles. The band has been playing local shows now for 5 years.
DC: Your sound seems to be a mix of heavy rock and traditional Armenian music. How did you all agree to create such a mix?
K’noup: The music itself represents a natural progression. I created Visa with the intention of exploring different musical cultures of sound whether it is Greek, Armenian, Russian or such. There has never been a contract to adhere to a specific style or origin; everything is all about our ability to create together naturally. Some people think we’re just as Greek as Armenian as Arabic and so on. It makes no difference to me as long as they feel the music in a positive spin and feel our energy.
DC: Why is it important for you and the band to celebrate your culture in your music?
K’noup: It’s important simply because it shows no disguise; we all come from strong distinct cultures from around the world. These homegrown characteristics are necessary in our music to not dissuade the audience in our music and because of that I think we connect with so many people.
DC: You have made it a point to play shows that commemorate the Armenian Genocide. Why is remembering this tragic event in world history so important to the band?
K’noup: As people alone, we feel that we should stand up for what is right. This was a tragic occurrence that should never be allowed to happen again and we take part in events to expand the public’s knowledge of this atrocity that to this day is ignored. It’s the youth of today that will keep our future safer, so if these events open their eyes then why not take part and make the world a better place.
DC: Should art and politics mix?
K’noup: That all depends on the artist. Politicians certainly don’t like the idea of “their” people being influenced by some artsy fartsy guy who has something to say to change the world. And for the most part the artist wins because he has the medium that can influence millions faster than some boxed up collegiate scholar or politico. In my opinion music is the most powerful form of expression, I always said if a politician wanted to come across stronger then write it in a song!
DC: Have you done many shows within the heart of the Armenian community in Los Angeles?
K’noup: We have done quite a number of shows in the Armenian community as a large portion of our fan-base is Armenian based. From Glendale to Little Armenia in Hollywood we have been part of many social gatherings that have promoted the culture and lifestyle of Armenia. These shows complement our standard LA performances and provide another outlet for Visa to reach its fans.
DC: Who are some of your musical influences?
K’noup: I think our distinct sound is directly due to our diverse influences. We as a unit are all over the place in terms of influences from international artists like Notis Sfakianakis and Despina Vandi to more mainstream artists such as Mr. Bungle, Metallica and Queen. Regardless, we all come into one room and create a new canvass on which to work artistically.
DC: You have a new disc coming out soon. What can fans expect on the up coming disc?
K’noup: We have a new record in the works called “Made in Chernobyl” in which we venture into a new aggressive sound. It also has a more Eastern European flavor than our previous efforts and I think it will take many by surprise but that’s the whole point of Visa, to delve into other worlds and cultures without second guessing ourselves.
DC: Will you be touring for this new disc?
K’noup: We are going to Canada in the middle of October with more dates to follow elsewhere around the world. It will be very exciting to say the least!!