Ahead of their set at this years Slam Dunk festival we caught up with Pagan guitarist Xavier Santilli. With their debut album Black Wash really establishing Pagan as one of the most exciting new bands around it was great to hear from the band how the time since its release has been, how they came up with their sound and how the UK is already starting to feel like a second home to them.
So we’re here with Xavier from Pagan, how’s you Slam Dunk experience been so far?
Xavier: Pretty amazing, we got here early yesterday and were like setting up merch and figuring out where we had to be. Figuring where all the stages are and where bands were playing, just trying to map it all out and its so big compared to the festivals we’ve played back home. Like the Impericon Stage alone is probably what you’d get for some festivals back home in Melbourne. So the actual scale of everything is kinda mindblowing.
And you’re feeling excited for set and everything then?
Xavier: Absolutely, Slam Dunk North was heaps of fun. Just getting to play on a bigger stage and having more space to move around is pretty amazing. I definitely enjoyed that.
So you’re pretty unique compared to just about every band on this line up, like there is some metal and hardcore here but none of it sounds quite like you.
Xavier: Yeah, from the early days of Pagan it was kinda like we just played what came to mind and people like it’s very Kvelertak or very this band etc. It wasn’t until about 6 or 7 songs in that it became that mix of blastbeats and pop hooks, so yeah I do think it’s a different sound to what else is here which is cool.
So it’s been a couple of months since your debut album dropped, how’s it been for you since the records release?
Xavier: Yeah it’s been wild to ride the wave. Since it came out last summer and now what, 9 months later we’ve been to the UK and Europe twice. I’ve never been part of a band that has done that so I’m so happy with that.
Yeah I think within certain groups over here the album really blew up. Like before the album you were a bit of an unknown entity here and then as soon as the album came out loads of people started talking about you.
Xavier: Yeah honestly we never thought it would have this much impact overseas. It’s insane, there’s songs on that album we wrote very early on and some that we wrote up to the day of recording so it’s gonna be interesting what the next album will be like when we have more time to put more thought into it. Pop out 10-12 brand new songs. It’ll be more thought out I guess but yeah it’s exciting.
So has there been anything that’s really caught you by surprise since the album came out?
Xavier: I guess like certain cities in the UK. Bristol feels like a second home for us already. It just has a Melbourne vibe to it. We went over to Europe and played shows in Hamburg to packed rooms on a Friday. We wouldn’t even get that in Melbourne. We’re just feel like “how is this happening somewhere 24 hours away on an airplane”. Just those reactions really kinda blew our minds.
It must be pretty surreal to come from the other side of the world and have people really into what you do.
Xavier: Exactly! You never really know what’s going on in terms of ticket sales, you’re kinda left in the dark about it until the day and then someone tells you that you’ve sold 126 tickets to this 150 cap room and it’s just surreal.
You’ve been to the UK a fair bit since the album came out so do you feel like the UK has really embraced you guys?
Xavier: Definitely, we have our management and press Hayley to thank for that. She’s basically like our auntie who looks after us. We just feel safe with her and all the advice we get is top notch. We feel like we’re in really good hands so when the opportunity comes to return here we know its for the best.
You’ve already been going up in venue sizes each time you play so people are definitely picking up on it more each time you come over.
Xavier: Yeah I mean we’re playing The Borderline in a couple of days and it’s gonna be wild.
You said earlier it took a little while for your sound to really come together. So how did you first come up with what Pagan would sound like?
Xavier: Nikki loves black metal and everything from Norway I guess. Matt and Dan, our drummer and bassist have this interest in dance music and then I’m really into a lot of acoustic and indie stuff. So I always have this sort of indie jangle in the back of my mind when playing. I dunno it’s just like all these influences together creates something that is heavy, emotional and fun. So you wanna dance but then there’s parts that make you feel and other parts make you wanna punch the air or something. It just ticks a few different boxes that are quite important for rock music.
Yeah, some of your songs really capture those moods too. Like Imitate Me is really emotionally intense whereas The Greatest Love Songs is just a massive party tune.
Xavier: Yeah exactly it’s a real party tune, we only pulled that one out for this tour, we were almost a little sceptical about playing it but it’s really like holy shit this song is a load of fun to play.
So were there ever any bands you drew influence from or anything like that?
Xavier: Yeah I mean that’s something that really changed over time. Like early days it was stuff like Fugazi and Kvelertak. But nowadays we’re listening to bands like Turnstile and Knocked Loose and that kind of heaviness is cool too. But then for me there’s a lot of softer elements. I’ve been listening to so much Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers at the moment so it’s all over the place to be honest. We all individually draw from that, we don’t write anything individually, we all come together to write a song from scratch.
When you look at other alternative bands from Australia it definitely feels like there is a particular style they lean towards
Xavier: Yeah a lot of rock music is very indie, it’s very clean. Or with metal there’s just a real metalcore sound everyone expects.
Yeah, I think you guys really stick out in that way. Do you think the fact you don’t sound like the sort of typical Australian band has really helped you stand out?
Xavier: Oh absolutely. It helps with playing different shows and festivals too. It gives us loads of options of who and where we can play. Like it allows us to play with heavier bands like Parkway Drive or Polaris but also then fit with some more straight forward rock bands.
Do you think the landscape within heavy music is more welcoming to experimentation now than it was a few years ago?
Xavier: Yeah totally. Like a few years ago people just wanted to listen to one particular thing. But even with things like tuning patterns you can mess with those now. You can add little breaks in and do some jazzy stuff or mix in some little pop bits and people just really enjoy it now.
So just to wrap up now, what is next to come from Pagan?
Xavier: Well I guess for the near future we’ve got more shows lined up. We’ve got a festival in Tasmania coming up that I’ve always wanted to play personally. After that we’re gonna take a break and start writing for the new album and then we’re on a big tour with The Amity Affliction, Underoath and Crossfaith. That’s in arenas which will be cool. We’ve done arenas once before with Rise Against which was amazing. And to do it all again with Amity is gonna be so nice. After that we’ve got a few little bits and pieces and some ideas on the cards but yeah we wanna start focusing on the new album and get it out as soon as possible.
Thanks so much, was great chatting to you!
Xavier: Thanks that was awesome.
You can check out our review of Pagan’s performance at Slam Dunk Festival 2019 in Hatfield right here.