L.A. guitarist Jason Achilles Mezilis talks about his Greek roots, musical influences, and his new release, ‘Comedown’.
I first became acquainted with Jason Achilles Mezilis a few years ago, when his former publicist contacted me for an interview. Not only did I discover that he had Chicago roots, but we also had a mutual friend (shout out to George Adrian) in common! We’ve kept in touch ever since. This summer when I was in California, my family and I met up with this extraordinarily talented musician. We chatted about his newly released album, ‘Comedown‘. He also revealed one of his extra-curricular activities, which some may find pretty surprising for a rock musician. Read on!
Guitarist Jason Achilles Mezilis. PHOTO BY CARL MAHONEY.
Meet Jason Achilles Mezilis
Born in Evanston, IL, Jason Achilles Mezilis and his family moved to Michigan for a few years before settling in Silicon Valley. During the early years of computer development, his father worked for several companies in the Bay Area. He traces his Greek roots to Elassona, in Thessaly. His grandfather was killed during the Greek Civil War, leaving a widow temporarily unable to care for her children. Consequently, Jason’s dad ended up in an orphanage for a short time before coming to the States in his early 20s. The rest of the family remains in Greece.
Jason’s mother is American, so they didn’t speak Greek at home. He attended Greek school but didn’t have any Greek friends. His Greek family calls him “Axilleas”, Greek for Achilles, but it would be years until he embraced it, and included it in his professional stage name.
“In my 20s that I began to realize the influence of my Greek heritage. Adding ‘Achilles’ to my stage name made it much more apparent to people that I was Greek, and brought my heritage into the forefront of what I do. It’s hard to ignore a guy with the name Achilles!”
Learning to play music
Piano was Jason’s first instrument, and it remains dear to his heart.
“My father was a classical guitarist. He was so good that I found it intimidating. It looked impossible to learn. So at 8, I started taking piano lessons.”
About that time, he was getting into rock music. He liked the guitar and began playing guitar parts on the piano. Then at 16, he heard Eddie Van Halen. It changed everything.
“It was really incredible what Eddie was doing. I fell in love with the guitar, and my grades plummeted as a result.”
He plays some baglama, a gift from his cousin Nikos in Greece. Incidentally, he plays it on the song “Rover”, from the album “The Right Thing”, by OWL.
“We needed a European, traditional, ethnic vibe. I thought it would be fun to bring a little Greek into an Irish-flavored song.”
Not surprisingly, Jason listens to a lot of rock music, because it “gets his blood moving”. Nevertheless, he loves listening to classical music, because it relaxes him and stimulates his brain. He finds influence in the sounds of many bands. In terms of guitar, he garners inspiration from players like Eddie Van Halen, Andy Summers, and the production style of Jimmy Page. Their work, he said, is a reinvention of the instrument, in which it’s thought about it in a new way.
His Greek heritage has an impact on his music.
“Especially in the rhythm. Traditional rock music is very straightforward, in 4 meter, 3, or 6. It’s simple, whereas traditional Greek music is in odd meters — 5s and 7s. At a young age, I took Greek dance lessons, and learned to dance to odd rhythms, moving in smaller increments than regular rhythm. Odd meter became my norm, and I try to bring that relaxed feel of complex rhythms to all my musical pursuits. Few guitar players are comfortable with that, but I think it gives the music added dimension.”
In addition to OWL, a project led by Chris Wyse, former bassist of the 80s rock band, The Cult, he’s played with many bands over his 15-year career.
Composer and producer
Jason not only composes music for his own projects, but also for other artists. Additionally, he composes music for film, TV, and video games.
“I don’t write lyrics. All I want to say I say through the music. I leave the words to someone else.”
He calls producing his “day job”. In addition to his solo instrumental work, he produces and mixes albums for many up-and-coming L.A. musicians, including recent tracks for Dizzy Reed, keyboardist of Guns n’ Roses.
Jason revealed something that he has done since he was a teenager — sing in the church choir.
“When I lived up north in the Bay Area, I used to sing in the St. Nicholas choir with my family. There we had the pleasure for so many years to perform under the direction of our good friend and fearless leader ,Tikey Zes, or as my father calls him, ‘the maestro’.”
When he moved to LA, he didn’t attend church much, because he didn’t have any friends in the community, and felt shy. When his cousin moved to L.A. 1-½ years ago, he expressed interest in singing in the choir at St. Sophia Cathedral and encouraged Jason to come along.
“Immediately we were welcomed by the wonderful director, Jim Kollias, who has been so fun to sing for…and our phenomenal organist Chris, who is somewhat like a χταπόδι (octopus) — the guy seemingly has more limbs than a normal human. The engaging and open atmosphere of the choir at St. Sophia is oddly very similar to St. Nicholas, so much that at times we forget where we are!”
Check out this video from St. Sophia. See a familiar face at 5:30.
Upon the dissolution of his former band, Black Belt KARATE, Jason began composing new music. Some musicians will tell you that when a band breaks up, there is an adjustment period, similar to mourning, to sort out what happened and decide which direction to head next. However, Jason felt a hiatus was the last thing he needed, quickly went back to work.
“I felt that, following that break-up, if I didn’t get busy soon with a new project that I would quickly go into a dark place…one I had been in before. The instrumental nature of the project was really born of necessity. It’s been somewhat strange in how well things have worked out in the last year or so…a nice surprise.”
His newest record, ‘Comedown’, was released on June 28, 2016. Jason described the music.
“It’s somewhat abstract in the approach, in the sense that it really is music for its own sake. So much music is being created these days as a soundtrack for something pre-existing, be it a film or a tv show, or a commercial product. I found as this recording progressed that I was, in essence, composing a soundtrack for something that didn’t exist yet. And if you listen all the way through, it kind of lends itself to that approach. There’s a pacing to the album that has an unexpectedly concise “arc” to it…mostly due to the ordering of the song placement, I think. And the gorgeous album art that my good friend Yoko Morimoto produced, really was the final element that brought it all together.”
‘Comedown’, the new album by Jason Achilles Mezilis. ARTWORK BY YOKO MORIMOTO.
REVIEW of ‘Comedown’
As a former singer, I tend to lean toward music with lyrics, however, I do have a penchant for guitar music — classical, flamenco, jazz, funk, or rock. This music obviously showcases Jason on guitar, but the other instruments don’t take a back seat.
Each song on this album has a unique personality. The dark and pondering “Panhandle” seems to contemplate the questions, “How did I get here and where am I going?” Dig the bluesy “Ascension”, with echoes of the music of another era; or the introspective sounds of the title track. The heart-pumping rhythm of “Sunrise” will get your day started; while “Tokyo Drift” takes you on a musical exploration. The thundering “Ghost Part 1” conjures images of ethereal beings. Perhaps my favorite song on the album is “Ghost Part 2”, with its driving rhythm — and a few unexpected, yet very welcome, surprises.
Some will think of rock-oriented guitar music as “80s-party-time” riffs, but these offerings are mature, thought-provoking, soulful, and honest. ‘Comedown’ by Jason Achilles Mezilis is a must for true music lovers. Pick up a copy on Amazon or iTunes.
Jason will be touring the U.S. in support of ‘Comedown’. Click for updated tour info, and be sure to check out a show when he comes to your town.