Adonis: Not “An Extremely Handsome Young Man”

Interview by Saif Haddad

9 min read

Rather a Lebanese band of handsome men that has been making waves in the Middle Eastern music industry for quite some time. Their music, which manages to marry traditional Arabic sounds with international influences, captured the hearts and ears of fans across the region. Not only that, but their lyrics somehow makes every song relatable - a trait that not many bands and musicians possess. With new song releases, an album, a concert and a tour underway, it is safe to assume that Adonis will be quite busy.

Lead singer Anthony Khoury spoke to MOJEH MEN and discussed music videos, collaborations, how inspiration can come when you least expect it, and how one romantic date turned out to be a freak fan encounter.

I’ve been listening to Adonis for a few years now, and I’ve always been curious about the name. Could it be Adonis as in “an extremely handsome young man,” according to the Oxford Dictionary? Could it have a different meaning? So, I began my conversation by asking Anthony: explain the name.

“Adonis is the name of my hometown, which we sing about in one of our early songs “Stouh Adonis”, a romanticized depiction of a rooftop gathering in the town,” explained Khoury. 

Now that makes sense, I thought. 

“After we finished recording ‘Stouh Adonis’ and a couple of other tracks, we had to pick a name for the band, so we could start releasing our music. ‘Adonis’ felt intuitive- and, looking back seven years later, the choice couldn’t have been better, as the spirit of this song still embodies perfectly what the band is about.” Anthony explained. 

Having gotten that out of the way, we discussed the early days of the band and the inspiration to form it. Anthony traced back the beginning of the band to when two “oddballs” who could recite Melhem Barakat songs backwards first met in college. The two oddballs are him and Joey Abou Jawdeh, the band’s guitarist.

At first we enjoyed re-creating Arabic songs we both liked, dragging my younger brother and a couple of Joey’s childhood friends with us to the jam room. Eventually, I asked the group if we could try playing a song that I wrote in Arabic; and that’s when it all started.”

MM: What musicians inspire your musical style now?

AK: Jacques Brel, Aretha Franklin, Serge Gainsbourg, Rufus Wainwright. Then there’s the Arabic flavour, which comes from Ziad Rahbani and Melhem Barakat, but also from the 90s and 2000s pop we grew up listening to. Early Amr Diab and Nawal Zoghby jams are a solid reference in our work as well.

MM: Over the years, your videos have had a distinct style. Recently, you’ve worked with directors such as Banan Alawneh and Nadim Hobeika. Does the song play a part in what director you work with?

AK: Of course in the natural order of things the song should inform the choice of director. However, with us, it’s never been the case so far. With each music video, random circumstances lead us to work with a certain director. I must say we’ve been very lucky with the directors we’ve worked with during the past year, as no one has ever made us look as good as Banan has, in the video of ‘Kawkab Tany’ – a cover of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ by Wheatus. Nadim has been incredible at translating the emotion of our music in ‘La Bel Haki’,  ‘Yeb’a Enna’, and, most recently ‘Shayef’.

Anthony explains that to them a director can deliver a more accessible layer of emotion.

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DON'T sing along @dana.hourani

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MM: Speaking of your latest projects, you’ve featured Dana Hourani in your cover of Teenage Dirtbag. How did that come together?

AK: A common friend introduced us to Dana, who needed some recommendations for a personal musical project. We instantly clicked and thought it would be fun to do a cover song together. We initially wanted to cover Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’ but felt like doing something happier, and changed our minds last minute to “Teenage Dirtbag.”

MM: How was it working with Dana?

AK: Effortless. It was almost as if she’s one of the band. Dana is a visual artist with a remarkably beautiful eye, so it was an enriching experience for us as well.

MM: Being a fan of the band, I know I relate to a lot of your lyrics and I am sure others do. How much of your music is inspired by personal experiences?

AK: Big time. Our songs are also inspired by the stories of friends and people we meet in our day-to-day life. I listen a lot to people’s stories and register their motivations, reactions, and emotions. I was feeling very uninspired this summer, overworked to some extent, and completely blocked on a writing level. So I shut my phone, sold my car, jumped on a plane to the United States and toured the country for a month from East to West. On the plane back to Beirut, I asked the flight attendant for a couple of white A4 papers, and through the 12-hours flight, wrote the bulk of our upcoming album. I am now back home without a car, but with a bunch of kickass songs!

MM: Take us behind the scenes for a little bit and describe your creative process that ends in a song.

AK: Endless debating and arguing between the four of us, but we always get there.

MM: I’ve heard from many artists, and as you just explained that you were once inspired on a plane back from the U.S., that an inspiration for a song can come at any minute and in any situation. What was the oddest situation you were in when an idea or a lyric came to mind?

AK: A close friend once threw a dinner party at his house and invited the band and all our group of common friends. I wasn’t on the guest list though, as there was some tension between him and me at the time over an argument we’ve had a few days earlier. So I spent my Saturday night alone at home, going over Instagram Stories of what seemed like a very fun dinner party; the phrase ‘Shukran Al Azimi,’ which translates to ‘thanks for the invite” came to my mind, and a (very bitter) song – which we’re releasing soon – was born on the spot.

MM: What messages do you aim to send with your music?

AK: The songs speak for themselves. If there is ever a message we want to send out, it’s through our persistence to constantly create and release new music, and do it as well as we can, even when the context and circumstances are not always very nurturing.

MM: How do you think you can marry artistic integrity with commercial needs?

AK: We’ve come to realize that ‘artistic’ and ‘commercial’ are two sides of the same coin. The more your voice, lyrics, melody, and sound are real and refined, the more their appeal is universal, and the more they are, by definition, commercial. It’s about telling the truth in your work, your own truth, and doing it well- that seems natural, almost instinctive, but it’s, in fact, the most difficult challenge in the process of making music.

MM: Obviously, many bands and musicians have to secure as many gigs as possible, especially at the beginning of their careers. What was the worst gig you ever booked? Why?

AK: In our early days we were booked for a beach concert with a couple of other bands. After we signed, we quickly realized the incompetence of the promoter, which culminated on the day of the show, where we discovered our gear, which was delivered to the venue before we had arrived, directly stationed on the sand. The organizers had supposedly “forgotten” the small detail of constructing a stage. Luckily it rained that day and we blamed the cancellation of the concert on the weather.

MM: What was the best?

AK: I keep a very fond memory of Al-Geneina Theatre in Cairo. It’s a small open-air 500-people venue nested in a private park on the outskirts of the city. The setting is just perfect, and the crowd was so warm and loving that night.

MM: What one stage you never tire of performing on?

AK: The Assembly Hall at the American University of Beirut, which is a historic cathedral, renovated into a performance venue. We’ve performed there on many occasions. The architecture and acoustics of that space are dream-like.

MM: You have a concert coming up on the 7th of December in Lebanon. Are you planning on coming again to the GCC anytime soon?

AK: We make it a point to perform in Dubai at least once a year. Next year we’re also trying to include Abu Dhabi and Kuwait in our tour.

MM: As the year approaches its end, what are your plans for 2019?

AK: Next year’s highlights will definitely be our upcoming album, and the tour to follow. We’re also launching a cool Adonis merch line, which we’re very excited about.

MM: How was your experience with the GCC audiences?

AK: The GCC audience is a very warm, and extremely eclectic one, even in a small crowd you’ll have people of all ages, social groups, and nationalities. Also, unlike Beirut or Cairo, where 90% of the audience is familiar with our music, at least 50% of a Dubai crowd is dropping by our show out of curiosity, to discover something new; it is naturally more challenging to hold a crowd who is hearing your songs for the first time.

MM: What was the craziest fan encounter?

AK: One of us once went on a first date with a girl he had presumably met on social media. Halfway through the date, he gets a WhatsApp hint from a friend, who happens to see them at the bar where they were sitting. The friend informs him that this girl is, in fact, a hardcore fan who had been incessantly messaging our friends and manager and harassing them to get his home address and phone number.

MM: How did he get out of it?

AK: An “I have to go because a friend got in a car accident” emergency had to be faked, and that was that.

MM: Can you tell us something about Adonis that no one knows?

AK: I’m a hardcore Harry Potter fan. Gio plays 9 instruments and has 9 allergies. Joey had long Viking hair as a teenager. Nicola, originally Adonis’ percussionist, threatened to quit the band back in 2013 unless he gets promoted to the drummer.

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good boys bad habits

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Adonis has so far released three studio albums: ‘Daw El Baladiyyi’ (2011), ‘Men Shou Bteshki Beirut’(2013), and ‘Nour’ (2017). The band has also covered songs for Wadi El Safi, Fairuz and Melhem Barakat, and translated ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ (Wheatus), ‘La Javanaise’ (Serge Gainsbourg), and ‘L’accordeoniste’ (Edith Piaf) to Arabic.

Adonis’s upcoming concert will take place on Friday the 7th of December. If you happen to be or live in Lebanon, you can get a taste of Adonis.

Tickets can be purchased through this website or at all Librairie Antoine branches.

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