Taking All Worlds By Storm – Athena Hiotis
Long-time readers of Wordkrapht may recognize the name Athena Hiotis. As the lead singer for RÊVE (formerly known as Playground Etiquette), and a founding partner of PopRiot Music Group (a boutique artist agency and label that specializes in independent pop, rock, dance and hip hop), we have featured her and her artists multiple times.
In covering independent artists for close to a decade, the one thing that stands out about this poll of musicians, is that while they create amazing music, there are other parts of this business where they are not as talented, experienced or knowledgeable. Hiotis is an anomaly, an exception to the rule. Her business sense is as strong as her talent for song writing. There are big things happening for the PopRiot artists, and her band just signed Steve Agee (New Girl, 2 Broke Girls, Community, Adventure Time) to star in their upcoming video. We will be doing a behind-the-scenes series on the making of that video throughout the year, but for now, let’s get to know Athena better.
There is so much information other musicians can use from talking to her. Hopefully we’ll all learn a lesson today…
Last movie you saw? The Cell
First album you purchased? Jagged Little Pill
Last meal you cooked yourself? Stuffed Eggplant, and asparagus. lots and lots of asparagus.
First live show you attended? The Spice Girls. No shame whatsoever.
Last song you listened to? It’s either going to be one of the songs off of Bjork’s new (and incredible) album or Puscifer’s “Momma sed (Tandimonium Mix)”. I’ve been drowning on those two artists lately.
Other than music, what do you like to do? I love to read, swim, and go on adventures.
If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be? Canada or a Scandinavian country.
Something that people don’t know about you? I used to be in a dance crew and I can juggle.
The one thing in your life you can’t live without? Imagination
If you had to make a play list to introduce yourself to someone what would it be?
“The Dragster Wave” by Ghinzu
“Digital Sea” by Thrice
“Momma Sed (Tandimonium Mix)” by Puscifer
“Santa Rosa” by Trifonic
“REV 22:20” by Puscifer (such a sexy song)
“Szerencsétlen” by Venetian Snares
“I Believe In Your Victory” by This Will Destroy You
“Heartbeats” by the Knife
“She’s So High” by Tal Bachman
“7/4 (Shoreline)” by Broken Social Scene
“Happiness: We’re All In It Together” by This Will Destroy You
“Hustle Rose” by Metric
“Chicken Bone Circuit” by RJD2
“This Is How We Do” by Katy Perry
and finally “Spice Up Your Life” by the Spice Girls because they should know what they are getting themselves into from the start.
Playground Etiquette/ RÊVE
In 2014, you changed the name of your band, Playground Etiquette to RÊVE. Why the name change and what does it signify for the band? There were a number of reasons why the name got changed to be honest. Playground Etiquette started off as a pop-rock band that 3 guy friends and I were in in college. It was fun, but it really wasn’t what I wanted to be doing musically. Things changed and I came together with people I’ve known for a while and we were doing the music we wanted. Now the music and the name weren’t complimenting each other. Then of course, not only was there a lack of connection between the name and the music, but from a branding/marketing perspective, the former name was extremely limiting and, again, totally off the mark with what we were doing now. Lastly, there were a lot of personal changes made in 2014 and it felt completely appropriate and just the right timing. It’s only been a short time since the name change and we can tell it was the right decision because things have clicked into place. Everything from the design to the shows to the music to how the members and audience both feel – it all is connected.
You have plans to re-release your January, 2014 release La Marionnette under the new name. For those of us who fell in love with it a year ago, what will be different this time? We had the opportunity to reassess the songs, to look at what we could do better so there are instruments changed or added; parts are redone – it’s definitely more where it needs to be. We worked with Tony Correlli of The Deep End Studios and brought in Ian Kaine MacGregor to co-produce. It sounds huge. I think anyone who loved the first release is going to be thrilled with this release. Also, the former album artwork will now be available as a poster so that’s great!
You also had an interesting experience in recording the EP “The Joanne Sessions.” Tell us about that. Ahh yes. Basically, we contacted Joanne Trattoria in NYC and asked to record there. And so we went there almost a year ago took over for a day and recorded a 3-track EP. It was incredible. We also worked on this release with Tony and it’s amazing to listen to the songs and to remember being crammed in a tiny room in a beautiful Italian restaurant in the Upper West side. It was also an amazing opportunity for us as a band to come together and play in a combo setting which, funny enough, is where we all, individually, started in our musical careers. I’m really proud of that EP.
Your video “Agency and Accountability” has gained some traction very quickly. What was the vision behind the video? Well, the video is up for interpretation. I’m not going to spoil it for you. Terrible answer, I know. A lot of people interpreted more literally, like not using your cell phone as much; others saw it more metaphorically. We had a few people that weren’t happy with the lack of closure for the ending. All of that was great. I can, however, tell you a few things, that Edgar Nazario, the director, wanted to create something that was claustrophobic and unsettling, yet relative and it was beautifully done. He took a strong concept in “La Marionnette” – the idea that we must choose to make change – and he created something that was extremely visually effective.
Are there any plans to tour in 2015? RÊVE is certainly going to be playing but we aren’t going to do any major tours. We are going to be working on a massive music video in the summer so that’s going to be one of our main focuses.
Can you tell us anything about this video? Yes! The music video is for our song “Maid of Heaven” which on the La Marionnette album. The idea and story line have been in the works for the past 2 years so it’s awesome to finally see it take off. I’m producing and co-directing this and that’s extremely intimidating but we’ve got an incredible team that’s amped for this. It takes places in a world where art in all forms is outlawed and centers around the importance of being the messenger. We’re going to be working with one of my favorite actors, Steve Agee (The Sarah Silverman Program) and I can’t articulate to you how excited I am. Steve is usually known for doing comedy but there is something so sincere and raw that I see in him and I know he’s going to take this video to another level.
For those of us not familiar with PopRiot Music Group, what is it and what is your role? PopRiot Music Group is a boutique music label that Ian Kaine MacGregor and I started. We represent musicians and bands and we create and maintain a positive and professional package for them. We also work with a lot of local artists to provide them with professional services a la carte: songwriting, producing, design. It’s been 3 incredible (and intense) years but Ian and I have a good team with us! As for my role, I am primarily a songwriter and producer, but I’m learning a lot about PR as that is inevitably a massive part of, well, everything.
The musicians you work with through PopRiot are clearly different than the voice you have created with RÊVE. Does one side ever influence the other when songwriting? Well we are constantly learning and developing our craft – whether in the business or creative side. While they are two different genres, the intention is the same: to create songs that will move people’s affections and best represent this artist.
You had an exciting 2014 with PopRiot. What does the new year have in store for the group and musicians in their stable? We are following the rabbit hole. It’s scary but necessary. We’ve learned to really trust ourselves and to do as much research as possible. So in the new year, we’re going to continue that path. We’ve got some big shows lined up this year and some great videos being released!
PopRiot Artist Erica Ashley
In your opinion, what is harder – the “musician” or “business” side of the music industry? Both are difficult and both are rewarding. The hardest is the musician understanding the importance of the business side. Both sides are absolutely imperative to the music industry.
What is the one piece of advice that you think all musicians need to hear in regards to the “non-music” part of this life? It is really important for musicians to know the importance of the business aspect of the industry. It’s really easy for bands, especially, to make it an “us vs them” thing but it should really be an “us WITH them” mentality. So my advice is to look at what the label and promotional companies are doing. You’ll notice a lot of the successful bands have a professional presence and a very able and talented team behind them working together. Take what those companies are doing and apply it to how you’re handling your own affairs.
The Role of Gender
As somebody who works in both the Rock and Pop worlds, how are you accepted in both as a female artist? It’s a challenge either way. In pop or hip hop, the challenge for me is being seen as a formidable producer and it’s really all about perfecting your craft. I’m lucky to work with some incredible people that I learn from on a constant basis. Ian is one of them and he is just really knowledgeable. As a female in a rock band, I’ve heard it all. Pre-show comments range from: “Are you one of the guys’ girlfriends?” to “I didn’t know we had an acoustic opener on the bill.” But I have to say my favorite one is a post-show comment. I, honestly, think there were only 2 or 3 shows in my career where I didn’t hear this: “Wow, you don’t play like a girl.” So let me back up, I get that that was a compliment, but it’s a backhanded compliment and a confusing one at that. I really let go on stage when I’m taken to that place. But for a while, it caused me to have a bit of a complex because every time I played with another girl fronted band, I thought to myself, “Well, why can’t I be like that? They are so dainty and so feminine. I’ve gotta be doing something wrong.” What I wore on stage was also making be feel segregated me a bit, I think. I wanted to wear pants and tank tops or a button up and a tie and all the other girls were just looking awesome in short dresses. I think it’s great if a woman is able to confidently rock out in a short dress or whatever, but it’s just not me – it never has been. So where does that leave me and every other girl that just doesn’t WANT to wear that stuff or doesn’t want to perform daintily? The truth of the matter is that it’s always going to be more difficult for females in the rock industry. I hope by me being apart of it, I can inspire more women to get into it – the way people like Joan Jett inspired me – so that it isn’t abnormal.
PopRiot Artist Jor-G
How do you approach performing with your band and that style compared to backing some of your other artists like Erica Ashley? Chops-wise it’s the same. I warm up, make sure everything is in working order as far as my rig and gear. Playing for Erica was a new experience for me because although the band plays to a click, I’ve never played with backing tracks before. So it requires more technical execution to match with those tracks. My first rehearsal with Erica’s band along with the backing tracks was amazing. Being in a mindset to know exactly when certain parts come in allowed me to focus on other things. Being RÊVE’s performance is more emotional and feeling based, the swell and journey of the performance is a cohesive thing. We’re all listening to each other and shifting constantly. The band plays as one unit where for Erica we just all need to know our parts. It’s great.
How much has changed, and what still needs work in regards to the role of gender for non-musician positions in the industry? There is an obvious lacking of prominent females in the industry though. I ask myself why? It’s not that female engineers don’t mix better. There are women in non-musician positions in the industry that are doing some incredible things. Trina Shoemaker is an outstanding engineer that worked with a lot bands, including Queens of the Stoneage. Kelly Bush-Novak is another industry female I really follow. She’s one of the most successful PR agents and started her company ID-PR after only 2 years of being in the industry. Now she’s working with some of the best out there. I mean talk about someone who gets stuff done. I look at women like these two and it makes me want to do exactly that. I believe that what we can do is to do exactly like this – make others aware of the successes of women in the industry. Inspiration is an amazing thing and the smallest spark will fuel something strong in a person. We can also start looking at the results on the same scale and not say things like “Well this sounds great… for a girl engineer.” The concept of cutting yourself off from a world of contacts and products just because of the gender of the person providing services is ridiculous to me.
If you had to choose one role (musician, songwriter, label owner, manager, etc) and stick to it, could you, and if so, which one would you choose? Geez…too hard. I’m assuming by musician you mean I would be performing and by songwriter I wouldn’t be. Gosh, I don’t know. If I had to choose, I’d say songwriting. If I could do both, I’d obviously how more of a situation like what I have now..just on a larger scale. I could have my own personal project, and be able to write for others.
What are you most proud of in your career to this point? Being able to work with one of my favorite actors is definitely at the top right now. I’m really looking forward to filming that.