Ex-RX Bandits drummer Chris Tsagakis talks going solo
Those familiar with the multitalented pack of musicians that comprised Long Beach's RX Bandits know the swarm of side projects each member has entertained over the years. Among them happens to be drummer Chris Tsagakis' solo drum venture that melds both man and machine in a hail of creative, atmospheric beats.
For a few years, he performed under the moniker Technology. This year, he wised up and realized that the billions of Google references to that name made him a little hard to find on the Internet. In the end, "C-Gak" — his longtime nickname — seemed more appropriate, and searchable.
Since the breakup of RX Bandits last July, C-Gak has turned his aural hobby into his main creative outlet, finding a well of new energy and creative techniques to bring to the table. On Sunday, the Sargent House artist be performing with Brooklyn's highly touted instrumental experimentalists Battles at the Glasshouse in Pomona, the stage where RX Bandits played one of their last show just months earlier.
Pop & Hiss sat down with C-Gak for a brief conversation about his inspirations as a drummer, life after RXB and the excitement of bringing his beats to a whole new fan base.
P&H: In the past, most of your solo work has centered around utilizing your drum kit and programmed samples to make instrumental jams. Is that still your main objective as a solo artist these days?
C-G: There are still some programmed electronic stuff that I’ll be playing along to, but I’m also using a loop station to build the songs live. To some extent people can get kinda bored just watching someone play drums to these songs. So I’m pulling out some keyboards, a couple mikes and a few different instruments on stage and build songs through the loop station and play drums to them while I incorporate some preprogrammed beats here and there to make it a little more improvised.
P&H: You’re approaching your instrument in a different way than most drummers. Are there any influences as far as drummers or electronic artists that really inspired the route you’ve taken with the solo stuff?
C-G: I’ve always been influenced by John McEntire, the drummer for Tortoise. He’s a very creative drummer. And of course Mars Volta drummers like Jon Theodore and Deantoni Parks that utilize a lot of drum-and-bass influence. I’ve found that a lot of times my brain can figure out a lot of drum parts faster than my hands can so I’ll dig into these electronic drum libraries I’ve made and kind of chop stuff around and make a beat that I wouldn’t normally think about if I was sitting at a drum set. But once I’ve made it, I can actually hop on a drum set and figure it out for real.
P&H: You’ve also been known to use a lot of found sounds, like recording the sound of skateboard wheels spinning on cement. Do you find that a lot of those everyday sounds show up in your beat-making process these days?
C-G: There’s sounds everywhere I go, so if I hear something that sounds cool, instantly it makes me think of how I could use it. I probably won’t be using too much skateboard stuff in my live show since I don’t have enough room, but I’ll definitely be bringing lots of random things on stage to hit and make sounds with for the loop station I use.
P&H: What has life been like for you since RX Bandits decided to stop performing and move on to other things?
C-G: It’s been really cool. RX was more or less a full-time job even when we weren’t on tour. We were always planning our next thing, rehearsing or recording. It’s great that everyone’s working on different stuff now and we still maintain this kind of open forum to create other kinds of music for people to check out. Matt [Embree] and I have this other side project called Biceratops that we’re getting new material for and we’re also finishing up a new record for a jam band side project called Apotheke. That will be coming out soon too.
P&H: In addition to being a drummer, you’ve also been a visual artist for a long time. Does that background also have an effect on your music?
C-G: I’ve been a visual artist since I was like 5 years old and that’s just something I’ve always done. I work mostly with oil paints. I’ve also been doing some work with stencils and various other mediums. It’s something that I plan on doing a lot more of now that I have some time on my hands. Eventually I’d like to incorporate the art into my live show somehow and maybe get a projector to create visuals that go along with all the songs.
P&H: What’s it like to present your solo stuff as an opener for Battles, another mostly instrumental band that’s gotten so much acclaim in the last year?
C-G: I’m really excited to play for a different crowd. Most of the stuff that I’ve done on my own I’ve done with bands that are still affiliated with RX Bandits through the Mash Down Babylon record label or other bands on the Sargent House label. So people that come to the shows automatically just know who I am. So it’s cool to get my stuff in front of other people. I’ve definitely liked Battles for a while and really respect their musical style.
P&H: What kinds of themes or ideas tend to inspire you’re instrumentals?
C-G: I got into electronic music about 15 years ago. And for me it wasn’t anything specific about that genre that I liked other than it really had this otherworldly type of feel to it. So my goal with this kind of music is to make music that feels like I can close my eyes and disappear to some other universe.
C-Gak "Watch the Sky" (live)
C-Gak performs Sunday with Battles at the Glass House, Pomona. 200 West 2nd Street. (909) 865-3802, www.theglasshouse.us. Doors at 7 p.m. $15. All ages.
— Nate Jackson
Photo: Chris Tsagakis, a.k.a. C-Gak. Credit: Sargent House