Rising: The Story of Niky Kandoussi and The Agony, Prague’s Hard Rock Sensation

When the recent Girlschool tour featured a new face on vocals and guitars, many were introduced to the human dynamo better known as Niky Kandoussi, from The Agony, the Czech musician helping out her old friends when Kim McAuliffe wasn’t well enough to do all the shows. Obviously having the time of her life, the singer/guitarist relished every moment on stage, and both her performances and warmth won her a new legion of fans.

Whilst many had been unaware of her before, she’d been leading her own band, The Agony, in her native Prague for a decade. The band has released several EPs and albums and toured Europe with the likes of Blaze Bayley, Loudness and Girlschool, along with a huge date opening for Scorpions.

With The Agony’s third full-length release Rising, it looks like the band are on the verge of a huge breakthrough, its mix of traditional hard rock, huge hooks and propulsive performances absolutely demanding to be heard, shouting it out loud. MetalTalk’s Paul Monkhouse caught up with Niky for her very first English language interview and discovered the truth about their struggles to make it as a band, conquering the lows and celebrating the highs so far.

Niky formed The Agony on 27 April 2013. “I was 19, studying at a university in Prague and had been kicked out of my first professional band,” she says. “It was sort of a Czech version of Alice Cooper. I thought, well, it’s now or never. I’m going to start my own all-female band. I started to look for the other girls, and thankfully I was successful.”

Prague is a thriving city for music. “Not only rock music but music in general,” she says. “We are exactly in the middle of Europe. We are even further west than Vienna. So now a major band planning a tour in Europe usually stops in Prague. We’ve had many major names coming to the city. I would say on any given night in Prague, about four or five shows you could go to.”

Niky says it was not always like that. “We used to be Czechoslovakia, and we used to be a part of the Eastern Bloc. So 40 years of communism we had here, which meant no music from the West whatsoever, and you know, the censorship and everything.”

MetalTalk previously covered censorship under the Communist regime in our two-part series Ripping Off Black Sabbath In Communist Czechoslovakia, which you can read here.

“So imagine the ecstasy and explosion to develop a revolution,” Niky says. “Everything that happened and all of a sudden, the bands started, started to float into the country. I was only born in 1993, so I didn’t experience this first explosion, but apparently, it was massive. Rolling Stones, Kiss, Iron Maiden, Metallica and the people seeing them for the very first time after years and years of sneaking the records into the country.”

There must have been that huge relief, I suggest, and the inspiration that people had seeing these bands live and having the freedom to go out, buy a guitar and form a band.

“Absolutely. There was an underground scene in the country before the Velvet Revolution because you can’t really stop music,” she says. “People kept sneaking the records in and recording on cassette and passing it around. They knew about the Western bands. From what I know, when it came to NWOBHM, people knew about this. Many bands were actually starting to copy Iron Maiden and Motörhead. My father was actually in one of those bands. It was just bubbling underneath and then it exploded right away after the revolution and it’s been mental ever since.

“But saying that, being here also comes with a price in a way because people here like the Czech language in music. I’m afraid actually that, current music and the bands are paying the price a little bit because they need to decide if they want to be more commercial and appeal to a big audience here and sing in Czech. If they want to sing in English, well, you just don’t get massive success in this country unless you’re singing Czech. That’s what happens, unfortunately.”

Scorpions, which we talk about later, had their breakthrough in singing English. “It’s not an issue for a German band,” Niky says. “It’s not an issue for a Swedish band. It’s not an issue for anyone in the West, but here it happens to be an issue somehow. It kind of limits you. When we started the band, me being influenced by many bands from England and America, I just said upfront, listen, I want to write lyrics in English because I can express myself much more in that language. I’m a good writer. I love the Czech language. I studied journalism and I love writing. But when it comes to music, I just feel it’s much more natural for me to sing in English.

“I just always thought about us being able to break out of here, and to be able to play elsewhere, not just here. So I said, we’re going to be an English singing band.”

If it was limiting, it has not been impossible. “We’ve played huge festivals here,” she says. “We played Masters Of Rock, which is a major festival and we did it only two years after forming the band, which was amazing. It was really good, but you kind of reach a certain limit, a certain step on the ladder and then you kind of need to decide what to do next or where to go next.

“Here, we’re just kind of making our way through. But I know that we will never ever be 100% successful here. We will never fill arenas on our own. We will never sell thousands of seats in clubs or whatever. It’s just never gonna happen because our music is not commercial. It’s very important to have some kind of perspective and know exactly where to go and what you can actually achieve because otherwise you’ll end up frustrated and demotivated and that’s not good.”

There is huge potential in the incredible new album, I say. If that beaks through, then The Agony will have to book the O2 Arena in Prague or somewhere like that. Who knows what the future holds?

“That’s true,” says Niky. “I don’t want to be negative or anything. I just like to be realistic and I know the audience here, I know the scene. I don’t know the industry here. Like I said, more of a challenge actually for us. It’s better for us to try and go to England, go to the Netherlands, go play somewhere where people are not going to keep asking why don’t you guys just sing in Czech… because honestly, sometimes I get sick of it.”

The Agony released their first EP Loud and Furious within a few months of forming. The band had obviously gelled, so I wondered how the songwriting process was. “Usually I’m the principal songwriter,” says Niky, “and it’s just because I love writing songs so much. I started writing songs even before the Agony.

“My father decided that he was going to build a home studio and he taught me how to lay down some tracks and then he would just leave me. It was a garden shed and I was there on my own. He would just leave me there and would say ‘I’m going to the pub, you just stay here, play some, record some, sing some.’ And that’s how I actually started to write songs.

“Many of those songs made it to the first EP and even the first album. So I already had something in store and then we started to write together with the girls. But I have to admit it was always me leading and to this day, I’m the one who writes the songs because I just love it.”

Niky has a solid work rate. First EP in that first year in 2013, the first album in 2015, and the second album in 2017. Then another EP in 2020. She has not wasted years in between writing.

“We couldn’t afford it anyway,” says Niky, “because when you’re a new band, you constantly have to put something out. And to me, every single release has been sort of a summary of an era if you know what I mean?

“After you write it, you record it, you release it and then you kind of get into the period of I call it ‘now what’, which is the period I’m in now. Having just recorded the new album, I’m just kind of waiting to see what’s gonna happen. After a certain time, playing some gigs, touring it, promoting it, having some time to chill out and sink everything in and get some inspiration, you start thinking about the next thing.

“There used to be times when bands used to release an album every half a year or every year. It’s not happening now. Now people release singles instead. The whole music industry has changed a lot, but I, thankfully, still get the motivation and inspiration to write and, yeah, I think it’s really good. I hope it lasts.”

In Part Two, we talk about the new album Rising, playing to 18,000 people in the largest indoor venue in Prague and much more. Listen to more from The Agony here.

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