Interview with Chris Tsagakis of RX Bandits

Over the course of 16 years and 6 studio albums, RX Bandits have crafted an instantly recognizable sound. Their blend of ska, punk, and progressive rock has won over an incredibly loyal fanbase, and their dynamic live show is one of the few places you can catch audiences moshing one second and dancing the next. The band’s last album, 2009’s ‘Mandala,’ saw them at the height of their instrumental prowess, showcasing Matt Embree and Steve Choi’s speedy, skittering guitar lines and drummer Chris Tsagakis’ fluid grooves.

Now, RX Bandits are nearing the end of their farewell tour and the beginning of an indefinite hiatus. Before one of the band’s shows in Boston, Chris was kind enough to speak with Rock Edition over the phone about the tour, the hiatus, and his future plans.

How’s it going?

It’s going well.

Considering that this tour is going to be RX Bandits’ last, have there been any particularly memorable moments?

Yeah. We just went through Philly and New York. Those were pretty memorable because they were really, really good crowds. There were a lot of people, a lot of people dancing and having a really good time.

How have you guys been structuring the setlists for these shows?

We’ve been trying to get good songs off of all the last four albums, including ‘Progress.’ The nights like in New York and tonight in Boston, where we’re doing two nights in a row, we’re trying to do one setlist that way and then another setlist that’s a lot of different songs for anyone who’s coming out to both shows. We want to give them a lot of different stuff.

Yeah. That’s pretty cool, considering that there are a lot of bands out there who use the same, static setlist every night. Do you guys try to keep it changing pretty much every night you play?

Yeah. We try to put some thought into what we did the last time we were in the area and things like that.

What’s it like touring with Maps & Atlases and Zechs Marquise?

They’re both old friends of ours. We’ve done a few tours with each of them. They’re all really good guys and awesome bands, so it’s cool to hang out with them and it’s fun to watch them play music, too.

Cool. At your live shows, you guys extend many of your songs with these really cool jam sessions. Are those sections usually planned out, or do you improvise them a fair amount of the time?

For the most part, they’re improvised. We don’t ever sit around and write stuff. Sometimes there will be something that we end of doing multiple nights just because it’s something that we hit on and liked, so it ends up becoming a staple jam. Like in “Only for the Night,” there’s a little jam that we do; we’ve been doing it for a while just because it kind of happened one day, and as we played it at different shows it took a little more structure. It ended up being something that we jam fairly the same every night, but a lot of it is improvised, except for some little key parts. But most of the jams are improvised. If we like something, we usually end up hitting around it on other nights too.

Awesome. I was reading the Modern Drummer interview with you from back in April, and you said that you like to leave certain parts of the songs open for improvisation based on what artists are influencing you at the time. What other drummers have been shaping the way you play this summer?

Actually, Chris Hainey, the drummer of Maps & Atlases, is a very creative drummer. I actually watch a lot of the stuff he does, a lot of different stuff that I normally wouldn’t do. He’s a cool drummer to watch. Deantoni Parks is another good drummer right now who’s doing a lot of creative stuff.

Yeah, definitely. Are you constantly looking for new people to help you evolve your style of playing?

Yeah. I’m always keeping my eyes wide open for anything new to check out. Sometimes, I’ll even just listen to some electronic music or something and get beats out of that, stuff that maybe wasn’t meant to be played on drums. I’m trying to interpret it into something new.

That’s pretty cool. How would you say your drumming has grown over your time in RX Bandits?

It’s always evolved because the rest of the band has always been very open to me doing drum stuff. They’ve never tried to limit the stuff that I do or tell me what to play. We all give each other all this creative freedom to do our thing, so we all grow throughout the years. They’re good musicians to make rhythmic music. It’s a good band to be with, to grow with.

Yeah, definitely. You guys are all crazy musicians. Let’s talk a little bit more about the tour. When did you guys decide that this tour was going to be your last one?

It’s just something that’s been thrown around here and there for some months now. We all have a lot of stuff we work on and a lot of things going on in our lives, and we just want to take some time to concentrate on other stuff. Originally, it was never meant to be breaking up or anything. It’s just kind of like we’ve toured so consistently every year for over a decade now, and we’re just not looking to be as consistent anymore. We’re just not sure over the next year or two, with everyone working on different projects and different things, when or if the next RX thing is going to happen. We just wanted to let people know that if you don’t come out to all the shows or if you were planning on skipping this one or something, this might be the last, so come out and hang out with us.

So are you saying that there might be a chance of you guys coming out with another album some time in the future?

Yeah, anything’s possible. We don’t hate each other or anything. We still like playing music with each other, so we’re just going to see what happens if we end up writing music together as RX or as something else. We’re keeping our options open for possible future shows, too. But it’s hard because people usually want a more definite answer about these things. We just don’t really know what’s going to happen.

Do you think you guys will still get together every now and then and just jam for fun?

Yeah. We’re like brothers, so we’re always going to be making music together probably for the rest of our lives. We’re just not sure if it will be under the name RX.

Awesome. Well, it’s good to hear that you guys are still going to be working on stuff together.

Me and Matt are working on a project right now, and then I’m going to work on some stuff with Steve Choi also in the future. There will be lots of stuff coming up.

Cool. Do you have anything planned for The Sound of Animals Fighting or Technology?

For The Sound of Animals Fighting, I’m not sure because the other members have their own lives, so I’m not sure if that’s going to do anything. Technology I’m going to do more of, and like I said, me and Matt have a project called Biceratops that is kind of our own version of The Sound of Animals Fighting-type stuff where we’re just making rock music together. I’m going to do my own thing, and like I said, work on some stuff with Steve Choi, too.

Nice. What RX Bandits album was your favorite to write and record?

It’s hard to say because they were all good for different reasons. We tried to do things a little bit different with every album — different studios and maybe write the songs in a different area or work with different people. They’re all awesome for great reasons. ‘Mandala’ was really fun to record because we were back with our old friend Chris Fudurich. We recorded in a house up in Pasadena that was turned into a studio, so it was pretty cool.

What else are you looking forward to doing with all the time you won’t be spending on touring?

I’m looking forward to spending time with my family and just writing music. I think the creative process of writing and recording music is one of my favorite things, so I look forward to doing a lot of that.

Pick up RX Bandits’ last album, Mandala.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their official website.