EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Santa Semeli and the Monks

Formed in 2013, Santa Semeli and the Monks is a duo whose music catalog  consists of over 70 songs, covering a vast variety of musical genres. Semeli Economou was born and raised in Munich in an artistic background.  Her father was renowned Cypriot concert pianist and composer Nicolas Economou. Haraldur Agustsson is an actor and musician from Iceland.

Semeli and Haraldur first met when Semeli cast Haraldur in her short film ‘The Burning Bush’. Since their formation they’ve performed live in New York, Paris and London, Iceland and Cyprus. Semeli’s volcanic stage presence has been compared to the likes of Kate Bush, Liza Minnelli, Siouxie and the Banshees, Patti Smith, Rita Haywarth and Marlene Dietrich.

In June 2014 SSATM independently released the dance single ‘Arrivederci Bob’ through their label Cosima Music, while in November 2014 SSATM completed their self-titled debut album which John Hind from the Observer described as: “Lovely, stirring, sensitive, clever and funny tunes and show!” In an exclusive interview Santa Semeli and the Monks brought us a little closer to their world. (Photo at the top of the page (c) Roger Eaton )

  1. How long has Santa Semeli and the Monks been going and how did you meet and get started in the first place?

Semeli Economou: In September it will be exactly two years. We met when I cast Haraldur in my short film called “The Burning Bush”. A year later we started collaborating on songs together.

  1. Who were your first musical influences that you can remember?

Semeli Economou: Tchaikovsky was my favorite composer as a child. I grew up with classical music as my father was a concert pianist. My mind is filled with angelic notes.

Haraldur Agustsson: My parents were in choirs so I would say Operas and choir music.

Semeli Economou: Haraldur is great at doing harmonies. I am crap but good at orchestrations.

  1. Which artists are you currently listening to? And is there anyone of these that you’d like to collaborate with?

Semeli Economou: I’m not listening to anyone at the moment but I’d love to perform with The Rolling Stones and do a duet with Stevie Wonder.

Haraldur Agustsson: I’ve been studying Keith Richards’ guitar playing so I wouldn’t mind a jam session with him.

Haraldur Agustsson and Semeli Economou
Haraldur Agustsson and Semeli Economou – Photo (c) Mjellma Lloncari
  1. You have performed in the most diverse countries, such New York, Paris and London, Iceland and Cyprus. How was your music accepted and where do you think you had the best response?

Semeli Economou: People love us everywhere because we give good show.

  1. What are your thoughts on visual media, and YouTube in general? Do think of video as a creative tool or more of a marketing tool for your music?

Semeli Economou: As a director and artist I see it as a creative tool but of course it’s also a marketing tool the way it has always been.

  1. Which do you ultimately prefer? Entertaining a live audience or creating songs in a studio environment?

Semeli Economou: I love performing live but I also love being the studio. In fact I think I could live there, providing there was good coffee.

Haraldur Agustsson: I like both. It’s different ways of being creative.

  1. Tell us something about your lyrics and music on your releases. Which one of you does what usually?

Semeli Economou: I write all the lyrics and sometimes the melodies or come up with the concept of the song. Haraldur comes up with riffs and chord progressions. It’s a collaborative process.

  1. If you were forced to choose only one of your songs to represent Santa Semeli and the Monks, which one would that be and why?

Semeli Economou: It’s hard to say. It depends on the day.

  1. On which one of your songs do you feel you personally delivered your best performance so far, both technically and emotionally?

Semeli Economou: “Call it Whatever” is the most personal song on the album and was challenging to retain its vulnerability. It’s easier to do punk songs and shout but putting your heart on a plate is not always so easy. The most difficult songs are the simplest songs like “Garden”. It’s like in ballet: You can jump and be impressive but try to do a beautiful adagio.

  1. If you were forced to choose only one, which emotion, more than any other drives you to wake up every morning and keep you being a musician in a business, that almost always, does not economically compensate the most talented or most rewarding artists?

Semeli Economou: Anxiety.

Haraldur Agustsson: Anxiety.

  1. Which aspect of being an independent artist and the music making process excites you most and which aspect discourages you most?

Semeli Economou: I love making music. If I see something I don’t like I turn the other way and keep going. We are athletes of the mind.

Haraldur Agustsson: Performing and recording. Being broke can be annoying.

Haraldur Agustsson and Semeli Economou
Haraldur Agustsson and Semeli Economou – Photo (c) Hugh Hales-Tooke
  1. Apart from being a musical duo, are you also linked sentimentally? If so how do you manage to combine everything without arguing too much? 

Semeli Economou: We argue all the time. I come from Cyprus and love to shout.

Haraldur Agustsson: I’m from Iceland and don’t have sentiments.

  1. How do you achieve your sound? Do you work from a private recording environment or do you use a commercial sound studio?

Semeli Economou: We recorded all our songs in a recording studio in London.

  1. The best piece of advice in this business you actually followed so far, and one you didn’t follow, but now know for sure that you should have?

Semeli Economou: We follow our own advice: Keep calm and carry nothing.

Haraldur Agustsson: And, Love what you do, Love who you are.

  1. What are your personal thoughts on talent shows like American Idol, The Voice and the X-Factor etc.?

Semeli Economou: They can go fuck themselves.

  1. Do you consider Internet and all the social media websites, as fundamental to your career, and indie music in general, or do you think it has only produced a mass of mediocre “copy-and-paste” artists, who flood the web?

Semeli Economou: The world has always been full of mediocrity, it’s just now we know about it more. The other day I went to a classical concert and I was thinking: ‘Wow! How did composers listen to music back in the day, like three hundred years ago?’

Haraldur Agustsson: I agree.

  1. To someone who has never heard Santa Semeli and the Monks, which 3 keywords would you personally use to describe your overall sound and style?

Semeli Economou: I don’t know. What do you think Haraldur?

Haraldur Agustsson:  Diverse, excellent and honest.

  1. At a time when the mainstream music business is persistently occupied with sample-based, beat-induced electronic music, explicit rappers and dance remixes, where do you think Santa Semeli and the Monks fits into this bland puzzle called modern music?

Semeli Economou: I don’t know but I think we are here as a reminder of what good music is about. People consider us Avant Garde but we couldn’t be more classic in our approach to songwriting.

Haraldur Agustsson: We are a breath of fresh air.

  1. As you work your way through your career, which more than any other fires-up your imagination – A Grammy award, Platinum music sales or any other tangible milestone?

Semeli Economou: I once had a dream that Prince Charles knew the lyrics to “Schizophrenic Assholes” and the crowd in the stadium was singing along to “It’s not easy being us…” but Playing Carnegie hall and a few Grammys wouldn’t be so bad either. But in the meantime I want to record our next album and prepare for our show at the Bowery Electric.

Haraldur Agustsson: I want our songs to be known.

  1. What is the ONE thing you are NOT willing or prepared to do EVER, in your quest to achieve or consolidate a successful musical career?

Semeli Economou: We do what we want.

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Rick Jamm

Journalist, publicist and indie music producer with a fervent passion for electric guitars and mixing desks !

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