An Interview with Ivan & the Parazol
Take My Hand. Lumberjack. 1965. Love Is Like. Wish You The Best. And the Sziget Festival anthem, Together, which we couldn’t get out of our heads even if we tried. These are just a few of the many hit songs of Hungarian rock and roll band, Ivan & The Parazol. Formed in 2010, the five guys are set for fame. And the road doesn’t seem to be rocky at all. I sat down with Iván Vitáris (vocals) and Bálint “Simi” Simon (drums) just one week after their concert in Akvárium to talk about stupid interview questions, their recent projects, and future plans.
Before we start, let me ask you. What are those annoying questions you guys get every time you do an interview?
Iván and Simi: There are a few. Where did the name come from? How do you write songs? How’s it going for the band? How do you know each other? Why this name? What does the name mean? How does it feel to be on stage? What’s it like being famous? Does it bother you to be followed by fans? It’s also typical that there’s a good question, but they ask it badly. Sometimes they don’t get the names right either.
Iván: It’s funny that the best interviews are either done by very small media people or by old guys who’ve been doing interviews for 50 years. There are very few good examples in between, and a lot of bad ones. People seem to have forgotten that this is a job. But it’s okay. We are happy to answer all questions but those we mentioned in the beginning… The reason why I don’t like to answer those is that since we have been pretty present in the Hungarian media, people could look things up and be prepared. When we are asked these questions abroad or in those areas of Hungary where we’ve never been before, we cannot be offended by them. However, if someone from Pest asks the same question for the 27th time… then what do you say. The funniest is when they have already done an interview with us, and then ask the exact same question again. Preparation makes a good story. No good story will come from asking where the name comes from.
Let’s talk about the band’s fifth birthday a little. In February, you gave a concert in Szilvuplé, the same place where you performed the very first time. What was it feel like going back?
Iván: It was very special because we planned the whole event to present the past five years: the furniture, movie screening, the guests, and there was a very limited number of tickets. We invited people whom we owe a lot: organizers, Dr. Zacher, who brought a Zacher cake…
Yeah, that got me thinking. Why was he there?
Iván: Back in the day when we were just starting out, at the album release party of Mama Don’t You Recognize Ivan & the Parazol, he showed up wearing a medical gown. We freaked out, but later it turned out that he really likes this kind of music. He’s helped a lot, not just in band related things. He was also the mentor we chose for the Sziget Main Stage. That was also interesting, I think, because the other bands all chose another musician, hoping that they would say nice things about them. And then we chose a man who has a very serious job, is older and wiser, and knows us as friends, so he has a different perspective. And also, he is a respected member of the Hungarian group of famous people. Things worked out nicely; we can count on each other. When they (he and his family) come to a concert they have fun, we have a beer together, then the doc goes back to the hospital.
Going back to my original question. What did you guys learn during the past five years about yourselves?
Simi: For us, growing up coincided with becoming a famous band, basically. And you can learn a lot of things about yourself. How to tolerate others, how to accept things, but also, how to be honest. These are important human qualities we learned.
You’ve been working with the legendary Hungarian beat band, Illés. What an experience it must be. Did they give you some advice?
Iván: Well, the work is just about to begin. The concerts went really well, they accepted us and look at us as successors, so to say. It’s insane how good they still are. The voice of Levente (Szörényi), the lyrics of Tini (János Bródy), and the humor and musical expertise of Szabolcs (Szörényi) did not change a bit. Of course, their attitude is different now since they’ve been through what we are just about to experience. I mean, those who have done a 120.000-people show in Népstadion, those can lay back. Yet they stayed very humble. Tini (Bródy) is a weird creature in this respect because he is so modest it’s almost annoying. But seriously, they really enjoyed the whole thing we created out of their songs on stage. And we really enjoyed doing concerts with them. There was some crying on stage when the voice of Lajos Illés and (Zoltán) Pásztory was played into Miért hagytuk, hogy így legyen?. All five of them sang together, even if two of them are not among us anymore. So it has been a lifetime experience, and it is to be continued.
I read on your Facebook page that Bródy wrote lyrics in Hungarian to your song “Love Is Like.” What about that?
Simi: We will use them, of course. But when and how, we won’t tell you just yet.
Iván: It’ll be put aside for a couple of months, and then we’ll get back to it. There is a new song coming out in May, so we want everyone to be focused on that. But we told everyone about the Bródy-lyrics because when one of the best songwriters of Hungary writes you lyrics just like that, that’s what you do. It was a huge moment.
Simi: Our schedule for 2015 is pretty much set, and this can rearrange the whole thing, so we have to think about it.
Iván: Yes, even though there is a spot for it. There is a strategy.
Simi: Just as they teach at the University of Economics, the good strategy is the one that can be altered according to the changing circumstances.
Iván: And we can do that. It fits the schedule. And heck, do not forget that Tini (Bródy) is going to be 70 next year. So this really is a historical moment that no one can take away from us.
Simi: Not to mention that his manager said that if someone wants lyrics from Bródy, he needs to get in line. And we didn’t even ask for it, by the way. We didn’t even think about it. Not because we wouldn’t have liked it, but because who are we to do that…
Iván: This just had to happen. We were even scared to invite him to the concert. We were like “What’s he going to say?” We altered the songs and everything, but he liked it.
Simi: It was fantastic to get to know the personalities of the legends who shaped us, it was such a privilege.
Iván: Yeah, they are kind of like mentors to us. We learn from them and they also tell us what’s good and what’s not.
Simi: And our job is to hang on the words of those who know more than we do.
Let’s continue with your new song “Modernial” that just came out. First of all, how do I pronounce the name?
Iván: The good thing about it is that you can pronounce it any way you want. It’s Latin, but also Germanic, so it really depends on you. It’s a word we made up.
What was the creative process like?
Simi: It’s Iván who writes the lyrics, and he has a big say in what the title should be. When it’s not obvious first, we usually look at the lyrics together and try to choose from the stressed words. Things like Vintage Modern Life, Our Legacy, and Century came up as possible song titles, but none of them worked. And then Iván suggested we drop them all and try to come up with something that’s not in the lyrics, yet still characterizes the song. So he made up this word, which can be anything. We think that “Modernial” is that kind of modern that we represent: it’s both retrospective and prospective, respecting the traditions, yet showing something new.
For some reason, I associated the word “Modernial” with denial, I don’t know why.
Simi: You see, this is why it’s good, everybody interprets it the way he/she wants.
You made a music video for “Modernial” in collaboration with Gergely Szirmai (Hungarian Youtuber). Gergő talked about the experience in one of his videos, but I’d be interested in your opinion, too.
Simi: We were shooting from 3pm till 3am. We had limited resources, and there were many questions. For example, the technician had no idea how long and how fast the wooden heart was going to burn. So it was stressful, but also very exciting. Gergő had everything under control, even though he lost his “director-virginity” to this… Marci Nagy, who has more experience behind the camera, was our rock: he was always the one telling us to calm down, that everything was alright, and things like that. And we finished without any delay. So all in all, it definitely was a successful collaboration.
What is the message of the video?
Simi: Everyone can interpret it differently. What we think is that in a world like ours, there is dirt, purity, good, bad, angel, and devil. And creating something in it that can set on fire, that’s something valuable, I think. It also symbolizes the people who can take away from our music and can get positive energies. What is more, it also represents the energy we get from those people who have this fire in them. We were in front of that fire, and we felt its hotness, its power. And it’s also true that this won’t last forever, this light can go out, and yet you have to go on and do your thing. So this is a fairly simple symbol for us, but people can interpret it the way they want.
You recently did a show in Akvárium. How was that experience for you?
Simi: Compared to Sziget when there were 5000 people in a huge area, Akvárium’s Nagyhall was full with 1300 people, so it was much more intense. Personally, and that’s what the others said too, I needed a couple of songs to really apprehend what’s happening. The positive energy of this many people is magical, I was almost in a trance. I remember there were moments where I was just blinking like, is this real? So it’s a huge step for us, because we didn’t have such success under club concert circumstances before. It’s great we could do it, and no one can take this away from us.
How do you prepare for a concert like this?
Simi: It’s usually Iván who plans the schedule, which contains the track list and the visual effects, which are later checked by the sound technician. So we know what’s going to happen.
Iván: This always changes, sometimes there is a technical issue, but it can be also because of the mood. Based on the audience’s frame of mind, you can decide whether you need that craziness you planned or not.
How do you relax after a show?
Iván: It’s the voice that needs the most rest. Regenerating the voice is not like playing the guitar or drumming, though you can get tired there, too. The voice is just for one night, and then you need another one to relax.
Simi: It’s Friday, and now I feel perfectly refreshed. (We met a week after their concert in Akvárium.)
Iván: Two days are enough, I think. But doing three or four of a show like this in a short period of time would be tough. We couldn’t do that at this point. Resting would be the best if we were on tour and we could do one show and then have one day off. But unfortunately, it’s not like that. We usually have 2-3 concerts and then one day off. Then it’s really hard to do the third one. That’s when the human factor kicks in. The audience might not feel it, but we certainly do: we skip songs and things like that.
Simi: If you look at the tour schedule of big bands, you can figure out what the next concert will look like. If they had a couple of days off before the show, it will be a killer. If it’s the third one in a row, it will be much more relaxed.
Iván: And that’s why those bands who do not show any sign of tiredness are unbelievable. We don’t know how they do it, it’s really hard. On tour, when there are 60-70-80 minutes of “bring it on” every day… The second show won’t be the same, not to mention the third. You have to learn how to manage your energy. If you can, then you can create the balance which will allow you to give a great performance, yet you don’t die of tiredness. It’s like holding back a wild animal, telling him not to bring full force just yet, because you will need it tomorrow as well. We have had that experience.
Simi: But just like if you run every day, you get used to it. If we had this one-show-one-day-off pattern for two months, then yeah, sure, it would work.
What about future plans? What’s on the agenda?
Simi: To be known worldwide. You always have to have goals that are difficult to reach. If you have a big goal, then you can reach many small goals on the way. And it’s good to reach them because they make you feel good, but if you have one small goal set at a time, then you always have to think about the next move. I think it’s better to plan the road to the big goal very carefully, so you don’t have to think about the next small step all the time.
So can you tell me some of the small goals then?
Simi: We divided Europe into important regions, and we would like to be present in these regions first with albums, and then do concerts.
Iván: Benelux, Germany, France, and Switzerland. Furthermore, it’s also a goal to participate in showcase festivals in England, and to come out with the new album in Hungary, and to have the album in Germany and in the Benelux countries. That would be an important goal.
Simi: It’s like a hunting strategy. If you have Germany, then you probably have Austria and Switzerland, too, since people speak the same language. Then if you have the Netherlands, then you have the Benelux countries. And if you have France, then you basically have all of Western Europe. It all seems logical, but it took a lot of time to arrive to the point where we could formulate these thoughts. We had to experience a lot.
by L. Kovács Kinga
All photos are owned by Ivan & the Parazol.