Ektomorf : a highly sensitive interview with Zoltan

Zoltan Farkas, the brains behind Ektomorf, is a kid living his dream. He’s always thinking about how to please his fans with the same amazement and tearing eyes he must’ve had in front of his idols (idols like Max Cavalera who, as you’ll see, isn’t one anymore). Yes, Zoltan loves his fans because he stayed a fan himself. We’re talking to a kid, a music junkie: colloquial language, no prepared statement – or even thought about beforehand – and answers with a rare honesty. A surprising honesty, disarming at first, but delightful in the end: with him, you’re free to talk about anything.

He’ll tell us unbelievable stories about Danko Jones recording in the back seat of his car, or the conditions of their first acoustic show, or the ousting from Ektomorf of guitarist and Zoltan’s best friend, Tamas. He’ll gladly talk about more “personal” matters, like how it is to be a Gypsy living in Hungary, his personal issues and, of course, the reasons for his choice of ringtone on his iPhone.

A touching attitude, confirming what Zoltan himself tells us: his musical career is the result of his search for redemption.

« … I feel like the music sets me free […] A lot of shit happened, lately. I left my guitar player just two weeks ago, my best friend for eight years.« 

You did some acoustic shows a few days ago (ED: interview conducted in December), right? Was it the first time you did something like that?

Zoltán Farkas (vocals): That was the first, and I have to tell you, man, I was fucking nervous! (laughs)

So how was it?

It was fucking awesome man! It was a small show though. We got endorsed by Gibson guitars, and they have the European headquarters in Berlin. So we went there, and the guys, right away, at the first meeting, said “You guys can do an acoustic show, right?” I said “Why not? Let’s try it!” So we invited the press, some friends and fans (which are also really important, the fans) and we just did it! Actually, it was a little rushed, because we were a little late from Hamburg to Berlin, and we had about an hour to prepare everything, including the sound-check. And the German Metal Hammer was there with the cameras to record two songs, without the crowd, just us. And you won’t believe this part… I had the fucking acoustic guitar, do you play guitar yourself?

No, I don’t

Okay, anyway, acoustic guitars, they have this plug now, and it runs on a battery. And I forgot to plug out! (laughs) So the battery died, and this was our first show, so when we started, the guitar didn’t make a fucking sound. That was a bit of an embarrassing start, so I said “You know what? Fuck it! It’s gonna be a real unplugged!” I just played without plugging the guitar, until they came and gave me another one.

It sounds like that was hell!

Yeah, and you have to know that before the show, my guitar player Tamás was supposed to come with the other guys from Hungary to rehearse, and he had some problems with drugs, so he missed his plane, and this was the last drop, so he got fired from the band. So I had to ask my booker, Yurik, from Dragon Production, from Germany, if he would join us for the show. So everything was a jam, man! But it worked out so well. With Yurik, we had no more than two rehearsals. One in my room and one with the rest of the band the next day, and then we went on stage. And it was cool man! So, to answer your question, I had a fucking killer time, it was great! The fans really dug it. They used to come to an Ektomorf show and freak out, jumping everywhere… Everybody came one by one to tell us that it was awesome and “we didn’t know that you could sing”, I didn’t know either, but I’m glad that they said that. So it was just great man! I think that the songs “Sea of My Misery” or “Stigmatized” open a new door for Ektomorf, it’s a new chapter in the life of the band, and we fucking like it. I love it so much! I love playing the acoustic guitar! And we didn’t play only Ektomorf, we played one Alice In Chains song. You know, Alice In Chains song “Nutshell”.

Yeah, that’s a cool one!

We played that song, and I sang it with the guy from Metal Hammer, who joined us on stage for the song, and it was great. We have to do it more often, I’m sure on the next tour, we’re going to do it in the middle of the set, play three or four acoustic songs, and then go back to the punchy kick-ass stuff.

That’s cool, that would make a really diverse show!

We’ve already done it in Wacken: I played the Johnny Cash song and “Who Can I Trust” with an acoustic guitar, but now we’ll set it up with the whole band. It’s really interesting: it’s acoustic, but it still gives you this really dark and heavy feeling.

Since that show was really unique, do you plan to release it on DVD or live album?

Well not this one, because there were some mistakes with the guitars, but I was thinking about doing a live show with an acoustic part, or maybe an unplugged show. So yeah, I’m really interested in the idea. Now that we did the first step (being the single The Gypsy Way where we covered Johnny Cash and Alice in Chains), I’d really like the band to do a complete live show like this, and release it.

So I guess the band will do more acoustic shows like this one…

Yeah, that’s possible. We’re working on the next tours, and we’re going to be playing in some really cool clubs, so we’ve got the opportunity to do some separate acoustic stuff, maybe in the afternoon, you know, for the fans. That would be great: we could meet them, put together a signing session, make some photos… I know how fans like it, because I’m a fan of some bands myself, so I know how I would like that, to meet the band, especially if they play a separate show.

Was it hard to find a way to play these songs? Because Ektomorf is a really aggressive band, so it’s hard to imagine an Ektomorf song played on the acoustic.

It wasn’t hard because I didn’t really change my voice. We tune the acoustic guitars in D, so it’s lower than Alice in Chains or Nirvana, but it’s still in a tune that you can sing in, and I kept my voice raw, I sing everything like you can hear in “Sea of My Misery”. And of course, we cannot play every song, we cannot play “Outcast” or “I’m Against” or “Fuck You All”, these songs will never work in acoustic. But from the new album, we played “I’m In Hate”, which is the third song in the album, and that worked really well! There’s a lot of atmosphere, some melodies, some harmonies… This is what you can hear in the new album. Even in the heavy stuff, you hear some harmonies, which are changing my singing as well.

This record seems much more varied than its predecessor. Did you feel like you’d released too repetitive an album, hence your need for diversification?

Well, I can’t really tell you why it happened, you know, it just happened. Everything changes, and first of all, what you can hear in the album is that I started to sing, and I actually don’t know how it came. Actually, I moved home from Germany about eight months ago, back to my hometown, and I got an acoustic guitar and I started to sing, and I thought “why not do this?” So I showed it to my friends, and it started to work out. And this has also influenced our writing of the heavy stuff, you know, more bridges, a lot of different things in the songs. Actually, there are some things that I didn’t change, the guitars are still tuned in A, so really low, and it’s still really heavy, but it’s very different. You know, the album What Doesn’t Kill Me was like a tunnel, you go in, and you go out, that’s it. With this album you walk from room to room, and every room is different, and I was really fucking enjoying the recording, the writing, and especially now, to listen to the result.

Your new album is called Redemption. Did you feel the need to be forgiven for something?

Well like I always said, I feel like the music sets me free. When, eight months ago, I moved home it wasn’t the happiest time in my life, it was a really dark time and a lot of shit happened to me. The only thing that was making me feel better from all the stuff that was dragging me down was to write the songs. So in the end I thought, let’s call the album “Redemption” because this is going to set me free from all the bad things I did or that happened to me, and I definitely feel that music does that for me. Also, the headliner tour is going to be called “Road to Redemption”, which is really cool. We’re really going to be on the road to get some better life, I hope. A lot of shit happened, lately. I left my guitar player just two weeks ago, my best friend for eight years. We had to say goodbye because we couldn’t handle any longer someone who we couldn’t trust completely. So definitely, music is like a redemption for me.

« …instead of going down and being weak, be fucking angry ! « 

The subject of anger is very present in the album. What infuriates you that much?

Well, with anger… it’s kind of what I just talked about. I know that some people think “he’s always writing about this, and that, and anger” but in my life, I always had to fight for what I got, to get where I am right now. I moved to Hamburg for two months to do the album and I’m coming from Hungary, from a really small village where there is no chance for anything, plus: I’m a Gypsy, meaning that all my life I had another cross on my back to carry – which I’m not ashamed of, but it was never easy – and it’s always coming out. This is how I live my life. It’s not like if I was always down and angry, but I definitely have some moments. I think you have them too, man. I think everybody has to cope with the feeling that they can’t swallow, because their life is just choking them. This anger, instead of just blaming people, or screaming, or beating someone up, I just put it in the music; that’s what I do. And if you listen to the lyrics of “Anger”, when I say “all you need is anger” what I mean is: if you’re dumb, so many people will just commit suicide, especially in Hungary. We’re one of the countries with the highest suicide rates. So instead of going down and being weak, be fucking angry, and just let it out, then you’re going to feel better.

So you’ve never thought about suicide, have you?

I think everyone has thought about it. I wouldn’t be honest if I said no, I did think about it. It was in my head through a few situations in my life, and I thought about it, but I never got even close to doing something like that. It went through my head, but the music always helped me, and I’m so fucking glad that I’ve had music in my life for so long.

Apparently, because of your Gypsy origins, you’ve been faced with racism, which was one of the reasons Ektomorf was created. Has being successful with Ektomorf changed people’s opinions of you? Do you face less racist remarks?

No, it didn’t change, man. That’s why if you listen to the title of the song on the new album, called “Cygany”, it means Gypsy. In German they say “Zigeuner”, I don’t know how they say it in French.

“Tsigane” or “Gitan”

“Gitan”… That sounds different. But if you check that song out, you can hear in the end that I say “it’s me Gypsy”, so it’s like the second part of the song “Gypsy” which I wrote in 2004. So it didn’t change. No matter how much success we got with the band, because the band is really there, on an international level: we do our own tours, play the biggest festivals. I’m always saying that Ektomorf is from Hungary, but it doesn’t matter, because whatever I do, I just get shit in Hungary. They always say “the Gypsies this, the Gypsies that…” even though we played a festival in Hungary this summer, and we had one of our best shows. So there are a lot of great fans, but still a lot of jealousy and angry people, and I think it’s never going to change. The Hungarian people choose the Gypsies to blame, saying that we are the criminals, which is true; most of the criminals come from the Gypsies. I’m happy that I’m not doing something criminal, that’s why I was angry at my guitar player, because he went into drugs and dealing with shit, because criminals are not good, no matter your skin color. So it didn’t change and it will not change, that’s why I wrote that song “Cigany” on the new album.

So success isn’t a solution to racism apparently.

No, unfortunately not!

[Note : in Hungary] »There’s still a lot of jealousy and angry people, and I think it’s never going to change. The Hungarian people choose the Gypsies to blame, saying that we are the criminals« 

So do you think that if you hadn’t become a musician you would’ve become a criminal, and that music saved you from being a criminal?

A criminal, definitely not. I don’t think I could do that, but who knows where I would’ve ended up. Fortunately, music saved me from a lot of things, just by being in my life. Even if I’m not playing on stage, or in the studio, if I just get my guitar and I just play on it, I already feel better. It’s really like that, it just saves me. I don’t know where I would’ve ended up, but I don’t think I would be a criminal, I don’t think I could do that. It’s so much stress man, I know people who are connected to criminals, and they are dealing with some shit, man. I see what they do, and I don’t think I could do that, even if I were in a worse situation; I would do something else. I always planned to do something with my life, not to be let down, so I don’t think I would be a criminal.

Have you heard of the Gypsy Pistoleros? They’re a hard rock band from England, and their inspiration comes from Gypsy music. The music is excellent, but this very particular Gypsy atmosphere is kind of missing. Do you think that only a Gypsy can play Gypsy music?

No, everyone can play Gypsy music, just like some white people can play on some African instruments. But the real emotion that comes out, I think just Gypsies can do that. You know, we had this album, Kalyi Jag, back in 2000, or 1999, and a lot of the inspiration came from the band called Kalyi Jag, which is a real, traditional Gypsy band. I saw them live once, and it was killer. This is not heavy music; they only use acoustic guitars and percussions they hit with spoons but it’s unbelievable. And their singing…

[Note : about Danko Jones] « …he went down in his garage, man: in the back seat of his car. He said he was surrounded by a lot of old people so he couldn’t really scream, so he did the recording in his car, with this small microphone, and sent it back to me, and then we did the song.« 

You have collaborated with Danko Jones on the song “The One”. Can you tell us more about this experience?

Yeah, Danko Jones is a friend. We’ve known each other since 2006. We both played Wacken, and I just went to congratulate him because I really, really love what he’s doing. So when I said “hey, my name is Zoli from Ektomorf” he said “Ektomorf, fuck, man! I really love the album Instinct”. Later on, in the backstage, we just had a drink together, and talked, and we kept in touch this whole time. When I was writing the new album, I wrote him an e-mail saying “man, I’m in the process of writing a new album, and I was wondering if you would sing in a song, then I would write a song about how you live your life with music.” I think we’re connected in this way; he’s doing everything alone for his band, like me. He wrote back the same day, saying “yeah, let’s fucking do it!” (phone rings) Can you wait just one second? My fucking mobile is ringing… (a moment later) Okay, I’m here.

That ringtone was horrible!

Yes, I know, it’s an old tone. It’s an iPhone, and this is the only ringtone I can hear, given my hearing went down a little bit, so I need to put this really loud to hear it. Anyway, he wrote back, I wrote the song and I sent it to him, and he said “I’m on tour, and I’m very busy, but we’re gonna do it.” So I when I was in the studio in Denmark, I put the song in Garage Band, you know, the recording software in Mac, I sang on my part and sent it to him, and he went down in his garage, man: in the back seat of his car. He said he was surrounded by a lot of old people so he couldn’t really scream, so he did the recording in his car, with this small microphone, and sent it back to me, and then we did the song. I met him four weeks ago in Hamburg, he fucking loved to song and I’m glad that we did this together. It would be awesome to do it on stage once together!

Yeah, that would be cool. Did you consider singing on a song on the next Danko Jones album?

I don’t know, man. If he’d ask me, I would do it right away! He did it for me; I’d do it for him. You know, he really likes heavy music, he’s a cool guy, he has an amazing voice, he’s killer on stage, I love the new album “Below the Belt” so why not. If he asks me, I’d be really happy to do it.

We interviewed his bass player recently, and he told us that in real life, Danko is far from being as crazy as he is on stage. Can you confirm that?

That’s true! He’s really – I won’t say shy – but he’s laid back, he’s not drinking alcohol, I don’t think he’s taking any kind of shit, he’s really concentrating on the band. He’s really quiet. But this is my experience, not knowing him that well. My feeling was the same as the bass player, and he knows him very well, because they’ve been together in the band for years. So he’s like that, really down to earth, which I love about him, he’s fucking cool.

« … I don’t want to say anything bad, but it really wasn’t good. Max just doesn’t move anymore, he just puts the guitar around his neck to hang there, because he doesn’t play, for 90% of the show. […] Max Cavalera is no longer an inspiration for me. […] Schizophrenia is an album with a crappy sound, but it’s full of anger. His new album, it’s nothing. Singing about blood, fire, warheads… but why?« 

The audience and the media often compare you to Soulfly, to the point of calling you “the Hungarian Soulfly”. What does Soulfly represent for you?

Well, it represented a lot for me in the past, but not really anymore. Soulfly and Sepultura represented a lot, they were an inspiration, I don’t know… Other musicians have this band or that person. For me, that was Soulfly and Sepultura. But I’ll tell you honestly, after the album Prophecy nothing really worked out for me from Soulfly. And I just saw them one week ago, here in Hamburg and, I don’t want to say anything bad, but it really wasn’t good. Max just doesn’t move anymore, he just puts the guitar around his neck to hang there, because he doesn’t play, for 90% of the show. Honestly, it was disappointing for me, and I went there really happy to see them. Max Cavalera is no longer an inspiration for me.

I listen to the first three records, they’re still amazing, and of course all the old Sepultura is killer, but this new thing he’s doing, I’m really sorry, but it’s not him. I know that many people consider the last album to be the best, but I just don’t know why, because for me it has nothing. No power, no anger, no energy, it’s just going fast, and that’s it. Even Sepultura was better than what he’s doing now, Schizophrenia is an album with a crappy sound, but it’s full of anger. His new album, it’s nothing. Singing about blood, fire, warheads… but why? It doesn’t come from him, I can feel it. Just listen to the first Soulfly album. Listen to the songs like “Tribe” or “Bleed”. That’s all real anger man, that’s why I was so much into that band. Even Sepultura’s “Roots” and “Chaos A.D.” have a lot of anger. I know that you can get older and tired but really, really… I mean really! That was a big disappointment. I know so many people around me who were disappointed too; they didn’t even come to the show. I went because I wanted to see him with my own eyes, and I was disappointed. You can’t even hear his guitar when he’s playing at the show.

It’s true that Max Cavalera’s shows are disappointing these days…

I saw Cavalera Conspiracy here in Hamburg almost two years ago, and he doesn’t play his guitar. Why? He has only four strings and he doesn’t play. He used to be full of fire, and there’s not even a drop of it left. I know that you get old and you gain some weight and stuff like that, it’s alright, but to go on stage and just put your hands in the air and scream, that’s not enough.

For me it’s disappointing because in my eyes, he was like my other big idol, James Hetfield. He is fucking there man! I saw Metallica in Hungary this summer. It was unbelievable, man! It was killer! James Hetfield, older than Max, coming on stage and still rocking out like shit, man! You know? And those guys are older. I don’t know how old, but they are closer to fifty than to forty, and they’re fucking good! So it shows that you can still be in shape and enjoy what you do, and that’s how I want to live my life.

Since you are so disappointed with Soulfly, does the comparison between the two bands annoy you?

Not really, I’m used to it. You know, I’ve been doing this for fifteen years, so if someone says that, what can I do man? This is a free world, you say whatever you want. Of course, there were some good times, when someone said it in a good way, then it’s okay with me. And there were some bad times… You know there comes a time where it’s like a bad relationship; you get used to who you’re with, so you don’t care if it’s raining or sunny. For me it’s like that, and if someone wants to compare this album to Soulfly, I think he must be really fucking deaf!

Now’s time for the stupid question of the interview: can you teach us a cool insult in Hungarian?

All right. Well “fuck you” is Baszd Meg!

Interview conducted in december, 2010 by phone.

Transcription : Stan

Myspace Ektomorf : www.myspace.com/ektomorf

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