The Sweet Smell of Stinking Lizaveta

Listen to Stinking Lizaveta on MySpace and/or Rhapsody

By: Chris Pacifico

Stinking Lizaveta by Christie Harrison
Naïve music journalists are proclaiming a progressive/art/jazzy/whatever you want to call it metal movement is spawning right now, and while it’s starting to take notice with the rise of bands like Mastodon, Isis and Pelican, aficionados of loud music know that it all stretches back over a decade and a half ago to Neurosis, Tool, Kyuss and even Primus to some degree. If you bang your head regularly then all of the abovementioned is basic horse sense. But, it seems as if the self-proclaimed “doom jazz” instrumental trio Stinking Lizaveta never got their due and now is the time dammit!

“We’ve seen metal change in our lifetimes a few times, from the glam-hair thing to Meshuggah and what have you. There’s definitely a progressive metal trend,” says Lizaveta guitarist Yanni Papadopoulos, who just recently appeared at this year’s Bonnaroo playing with the Gypsy Hands Tribal Belly Dance Troupe.

“They all have the different veins that they draw from like whether it’s the Slayer/Sepultura vein or the Neurosis vein,” says Papadopoulos, speaking of the transparent influences of today’s thinking man’s metal bands. “Our band is trying to pick up the threads that a lot of people left untouched. We’re more like an SST band. We’re not trying to be super killer but just a good band.”

Cheshire Agusta by Dan Beland
Makes sense, but astounded impressions – and lots of them – is what Stinking Lizaveta has been getting since their inception in 1994 in West Philadelphia. Their newest long player, Scream of the Iron Iconoclast is their most exhilarating smorgasbord of heavy jazz transgressions and psychedelic wipeouts yet, with raids of metal menace, jagged post rock, mutated blues riffs and drummer Cheshire Agusta‘s esoterically woven, technically crunchy drum patterns that signal a sonic clutter in the middle of a black hole. Joined by Yanni’s brother Alexi Papadopoulos – whose rapid fire upright electric bass lines force out the soul of Stinking Lizaveta’s rhythmic bedlam – their live shows induce a lumbering hypnosis to the eyes, ears and minds of the crowd, especially when Yanni howls into his pickups and grinds his teeth against them.

Live, their facial features seem chiseled and intimidating, sort of like Clint Eastwood before he fills someone full of lead, which makes it abundantly clear they’ve reached a bewildering state in their heads that feeds into their vigorous performances. Their body language is enraptured in a way that can’t be fully explained. Agusta is quick to label the sensation as “desperation” when she is onstage but it’s a bit deeper for Yanni, who remarks, “It’s like you’re trying to fit into this zone that’s just about a foot off the ground, and you’re trying to step on it and stay there. It’s a feeling like levitating”.

Yanni Papadopoulos
Taking their name from a character in the 1880 novel The Brothers Karamazov by the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, Stinking Lizaveta had, in theory, planned to add a singer. “When we started the band we figured that within a few months we would have a singer, then it turned into a year and then it turned into like three years,” says Yanni. “And we also figured, ‘Who the hell would want to hang out with us?,” chuckles Augusta.

With Augusta and Alexi both mastering their respective instruments for 20 years and Yanni for 26, Stinking Lizaveta’s influences are as broad and eclectic as each of their songs. “We could keep going on and on so that’s just why we say everything,” says Alexi, who grew up in Washington, DC on a steady diet of punk rock. Aside from the obvious greats of metal, each member has a refined palette all their own. Agusta used to play in a band that was influenced by West African pop music and African club music, while Yanni is an admirer of jazz greats Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Thelonious Monk and “all the great and not so great guitarists of the world” are given props, to with special accolades aimed at Philly’s local jazz musicians such as Elliott Levin, Rick Iannacone and Jeff Lee Johnson.

Continue Reading for Page II of our Stinking Lizaveta feature…

It’s like you’re trying to fit into this zone that’s just about a foot off the ground, and you’re trying to step on it and stay there. It’s a feeling like levitating.

-Yanni Papadopoulos on performing live


Scream of the Iron Iconoclast was recorded at Electrical Audio Studios with none other than Steve Albini, whom the trio has the utmost respect for. “He works really hard. He never seems driven. He’s never bitchy. He got the best drum sound I’ve ever had,” lauds Agusta.

Alexi Papadopoulos
Each of the tracks from Scream were laid out live-in-the-studio from beginning to end. Yanni lays out Stinking Lizaveta’s bare bones songwriting blueprint, “I’m one of those guys who sort of picks up the guitar and in the first five minutes I’m going to hit something if I’m going to hit anything at all that day. Then I develop that.”

“Yanni will bring riffs to the rehearsal studio and then we’ll learn chunks of it,” Agusta adds. “He’s really good at thinking about what a composition means. We’ll be like, ‘Okay, we got this part and got that part’ and ‘What is this thing?’ and ‘What should we do with it?'”

The final compositions are a mixture of what is already mapped out with space for improvisation built in, according to Yanni. “We always leave a little bit of room somewhere in the song. And that’s the hardest thing about when you get in the studio because the part in question is no longer in question anymore.”

Shortly after releasing Scream, Stinking Lizaveta embarked on a tour of Europe with The Hidden Hand before making an appearance at this year’s Roadburn Festival this past 4/20 in Tilburg, Holland along with the likes of Pelican, Clutch, Blue Cheer, An Albatross, The Sword and The Melvins.

Yanni Papadopoulos
When it came to grading the reception of touring the European mainland, it passed with flying colors in the eyes of Stinking Lizaveta. Agusta declared the basic word of mouth among their fans to be a “functioning organ.” Yanni was impressed with the more congenial side of the promoter’s business acumens. “In the States there are good promoters and great people running some of the clubs, but in the States you hit the ceiling real fast if you’re not involved in the ‘corporate rock dream.’ In Europe it seems like a lot more people act more independently. There isn’t some remote corporation running the venue. You’re going to actually meet the person that runs the club, and they’re actually going to tell you what they thought of your band and if they’re going to have you back or not,” says Yanni.

As far as tour stories go, Stinking Lizaveta has more than they can count. There was a weekend encounter with a mysterious figure known only as Dr. Fly in Ridgeland, South Carolina that remains at the tip of their tongues. Dr. Fly wasn’t a medical doctor but a “doctor of something” remembers Agusta. An ex-garbage man and Vietnam vet who drove around without a driver’s license and almost played for the San Francisco 49ers, Dr. Fly spent a few years selling whippets at Grateful Dead shows. “He’s the only guy that ever tried to get into our tour van with a shot gun stuffed in his pants,” recalls Alexi of the man whose regular outfit was a leather jacket while shirtless.

“He had a wife in Ohio, and he had just gotten done building their house but his wife was running around on him,” Agusta continues. “So, one night he said, ‘Woman, if you don’t come home tonight then I’m plowing this house down.’ She didn’t and he actually bulldozed the place and split.”

Dr. Fly was always keen on sleeping with his gun but Yanni is one of the few people who ever talked him into leaving it behind. “We got along because I kept playing ‘Dust In The Wind’ on the guitar. It all ended with a big birthday party at a K.O.A. I hope Dr. Fly is doing well.”

Stinking Lizaveta – Live at the Northstar

JamBase | Philadelphia
Go See Live Music!