The Agony / From tough times to rocking Prague’s O2 Arena with Scorpions

In Part Two of our interview with Niky Kandoussi from The Agony, she tells Paul Monkhouse how she found the good in the Covid lockdown and its aftermath, leading to their biggest gig at O2 Arena in Prague with Scorpions. She also shares her excitement about touring with Girlschool and more. You can read Part One here.

As for most, the enforced Covid break was not great. The Agony had an EP out. “We had a pledge campaign, and we thought it was the best EP with the best music we’d ever released,” says Niky. “We were just getting ready to book the gigs and tour it and promote it properly, but we couldn’t. There were many periods of time when I was sitting at home throwing my guitar and walking my dog and thinking, what do I do? At the same time, I could reflect on things and calm down a little bit.

“Eventually, it resulted in half of the band leaving because when Covid time gives you the perspective and time to think, you actually end up thinking, in some cases, is this what I want to do in my life? Two girls in my band thought they wouldn’t want to do this anymore. So, they left in September 2021. That was another tough period of time, even though everything else was starting to open up. I think the damage it’s caused to the music industry will continue for a couple of more years before everything settles. It’s never gonna be the way it was before. But then again, it brought us new opportunities. So I like to find the good in all things.”

Of course, playing with Girlschool and then the show with Scoprions would follow at the O2 Arena in Prague. Holding 18,000, it’s the city’s largest indoor venue.

“I saw KISS for the very first time at O2 Arena, back in 2008,” says Niky. “Who would have thought that one day I was going to stand on that exact stage? The whole thing started with a radio competition because Scorpions, as far as I know, were supposed to have Mammoth WVH supporting them for the whole European tour. But for some reason, they couldn’t make the Prague gig. Live Nation, the promoter, decided there would be a radio competition for the support band.”

108 bands enrolled in the competition, with voting by text messages. Niky says she is not a fan of asking people for votes. “But then we said this really should be an exception,” she says. “We started to ask people, and we got into the top five.”

The top five bands were sent the Scorpions. “You can’t possibly imagine the euphoria when they chose us. It was six months after two girls left the band. So in January, we found the new girls, the lead guitarist and a bassist, and we just started to rehearse for a gig. Then I said, ladies, you know, I’ve got a piece of news for you. Your second show is going to happen at O2 Arena.

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“I mean, yeah, it was massive. We rehearsed every day. We had a great team of people around us, got ready for the worst possible scenarios. But it was a great experience because Scorpions themselves, we actually got to meet them. They were absolutely down to earth. The team they had was also brilliant. They let us use their lighting rig. I could use the ramp, we could use the massive logo behind us on the screen, and everything was just easy. I don’t have much experience supporting major bands like this, but I’ve heard some stories. In this case, it was just brilliant, even the sound and everything. We played in front of 18,000 people in our hometown, and it was a night to remember for sure.”

The footage from Prague, which made it into the She Said video, was filmed by her father. “It made it even more special because I was playing the lead, and I could see him filming. I was like, there you go, daddy. Look at your girl.”

Djamy Kandoussi was Niky’s first driving force and inspiration. “He used to be a really great guitar player, a lead guitar player,” she says. “Satriani… Petrucci… loved Van Halen. He loved Kiss and all those bands. When I was a baby, I grew up with all those guitars around me and him constantly playing and also constantly gigging. Ever since I was young, he used to take me to see his bandmates and the gigs, so it came naturally to me. I grew up in it. But then my mom as well, is a huge rock fan. My brother also happens to be a lead guitar player now. He switched from being a football player. Apparently, I’m a bad influence. So the whole family are really musical and, I guess, it was meant to be. Maybe it’s in my genes.”

Naturally, her father was very proud. “He said that he couldn’t have been prouder, really,” Niky says. “I was really happy that he could be there and all my family and friends. I was really, really nervous before taking the stage because I knew we only had 30 minutes. We had been rehearsing like mad, but anything could go wrong. Thankfully it was perfect. It was a very good performance. The girls at their second gig were really precise, and I think we went down a storm based on reactions.”

The crowd reactions in the She Said film says it all. “People like stories, and this was a great story when you look at it. We were on the verge of breaking up or calling it quits, and all of a sudden, here we are. That’s why the new album is called Rising because everyone from the media to the fans was saying, you rose like a Phoenix. We thought it was a very fitting title, and that’s why the new album is called Rising.”

House of Mirrors is such a big opening number. She Said shows off The Agony’s ’80s glam rock influences, but one of my favourite tracks is Nothing In The World, with such a sense of dynamics and some real light and shade. “It’s one of my personal favourites as well,” Niky says. “I didn’t know how it would fly with the rest of the girls because we are not really a ballad type of band. But I have to tell you, I do love a good ballad.”

“We had always been criticized, especially in the early days, for not having enough dynamics, always falling like a steamroller, never slowing down.
But I think I’ve matured a little bit as a songwriter, and obviously, I’ve gotten a little bit older, so now I can even write these kinds of songs, and I really love this one. It was one of the highlights of the O2 show as well. People with the lights and everything was very emotional.”

Niky says she writes on the acoustic guitar. “I find it easier to come up with catchy melodies because a song played on the acoustic guitar strips the song and everything down to the real thing. Some of the songs are very riff-based, or groove-based. House Of Mirrors is a very riffy kind of song, the way I like it. But these three songs, actually, I just wrote them on the acoustic, and it works. We love Prague because during Covid, the city was completely empty, and it’s just so magical with all its flaws. It’s a very mysterious, very magical kind of city. So I felt I wanted to write a song about it.”

The plan for the shows with Girlschool came together very quickly. “We’ve been friends for years with the girls and with Jacks especially. We’ve known each other for 15 years. They know how I play, and obviously, I grew up on Girlschool’s music. I can play every single song. I spent so many hours on the bed in my old room as a teenager, you know, playing Future Flash and Come On Let’s Go, having been inspired by Kelly and Kim and everyone.

“Girlschool is the reason why I formed my own all-female band because when I saw them play, something happened to me. The world changed. We became friends, and we’ve seen each other many times over the years. We supported Girlschool in Prague a couple of times.

“I was just about to walk the dog. It was the end of January, and the tour kicked off on the second of February. I had their manager on the phone and he goes, do you have a minute to talk?”

Kim had not been feeling well, and Girlschool wanted the tour to happen because some of the dates had been postponed for two years. London being one of those. “They just wanted to make sure that even if Kim didn’t feel well, they had someone to support her and help her out. I said, listen, all right. I’ll be there. Whatever you decide I will do. If you need an extra guitar, I will play extra guitar. If you need someone to sing lead vocals, I’ll sing lead vocals. Just to help Kim out, that was the goal. What happened was that on some of the dates, Kim didn’t feel well enough to play. So it was decided that I would step in completely. So it was Bradford, Stoke and Bilston.”

Niky came up for a guest slot at The Underworld. Myself and all at MetalTalk hope that one of the side effects was to properly Niky to a lot of people over here and, because of that, for them to search for The Agony.

I” think it’s a great thing,” Niky says. “Honestly, I’m very grateful for that. But it wasn’t the first thing I had on my mind when I said yes. I didn’t even know how it would work out. I believed it would because I knew the songs, but we hadn’t rehearsed. Just played it by ear, and it was brilliant. It was absolutely brilliant.

“I loved every single gig, and I think it’s also good that the audience that’s all Girlschool and me guesting… The Agony could be appealing to that audience. I read some comments saying that we could be the ones to carry on the torch, so to speak. That would be a huge honour for me because I wanted to do this ever since I first saw Girlschool live.”

With pinch-me moments like these, it is interesting to see what the future holds for The Agony. Watch this space.

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