Tony Xenos
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Tony Xenos

Band Folk Pop


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The best kept secret in music


"Local songwriter gives birthday gift to music fans"

Sweet, reedy and astringent, the voice of the Athens-based tunewright somehow manages to sound heartfelt and smart-assed at the same time. It's also a wonderful pop music instrument, that knifes keenly through the richest song mix, and sounds even better when he's harmonizing with himself.

Xenos, late of the Cactus Pears and Rubberband Racecar Go, does a lot of that on his new album "Birthday." In a true solo performance, Xenos played and sang every track, even learning to handle drums for the occasion.

"I learned drums in like three months," he recalled Tuesday.

As anyone familiar with the Cactus Pears might expect, "Birthday" is a shiny package of tight, hook-laden tunes that don't waste any time grabbing the listener.

Xenos adorns the record with ribbons of rap, country and mild psychedelia, but the flexible spine of the thing is glorious, harmony-layered pop.

"It's mostly poppy stuff," Xenos acknowledged. "You can probably hear the REM in there."

Xenos said he "planned the album to be kind of a retrospective," in which he looks back over his life's musical sojourn from the ripening age of 30. "It is a theme that I wanted to go for," he said. (As luck would have it, he will enter his fourth decade onstage at the Union, during a CD release show Friday night.)

The CD's content includes a few Cactus Pears standards, and ranges from a tune he wrote when he was 16 ("Good Night") to the unsettling instrumental "Birthday," written to order as an opener for the album. (Asked about this eerie, meditative piano piece, Xenos recalled that when he wrote it, "I think I was watching a lot of the 'Lord of the Rings' movies.")

Xenos' lyrics are always well-crafted, but you might have to listen to them a few times before they sink in; the tunes are so damned tuneful, and the chiming harmonies so buoyant, that you may forget just what he's singing about. He's also got a knack for criss-crossing and weaving vocal lines together that can make your hair stand on end. In a good way.

Xenos said his tunes usually have their genesis in pretty basic life experiences, people he's known, and lessons he's learned from them. One exception on "Birthday" is "Toula's Sakoula," which he described as the theme song for a never-realized animated cartoon about a Greek grandmother superhero with a magic handbag.

Though he handled all the musical chores for "Birthday" himself, Xenos plans to bring a small army of musical allies to the stage with him Friday night. Players will include Bryan Gibson, Geoff Osterland, Kim Smith, Matt Box, Nick Xenos (Tony's dad), Rob Powell, Josh Antonuccio, Craig Butz and Dan Dreifort.

"Birthday" was recorded at 3 Elliott St. Studios by Christopher Pyle.
- The Athens News

"Xenos' 'Birthday' offers fresh, captivating songwriting"

It's rare to come across an album that leaves an impression of bona fide importance. Even more rare is an one that does so with as striking, almost genre-inventing, flare as Tony Xenos' "Birthday."

Track after track, Xenos' writing offers a freshness and bittersweet, life-affirming insight for which countless artists strive but very few achieve. Add to that an outstanding ability to mix alternative rock ambiance with rhythmic punchiness and singable, folk-like sensitivity, and you've got a talent for which modern music listeners are (or ought to be) starving.

This music is the antithesis of crappy pop, yet devoid of the cliched pretentiousness of which too much indie rock reeks.

Perhaps the biggest "Birthday" surprise is that the title track is an abbreviated piano instrumental. The piece makes for a nice prelude to tracks two through six, which are downright brilliant.

Thoughtful, literary, catchy, and musically gorgeous, "Killing Time for a Better Now," "W," "Super Hero," and "Bee Shoes" rival the best songs of any album I've ever reviewed. Most of the material in the second half of "Birthday" is substantially more experimental. There's no scarcity of Xenos' infatuation with electronic effects, a penchant that occasionally sacrifices some of the artistic cohesion of "Birthday."

The quirky, hip-hop tinged "11 O'Clock News" and "Dodgin' Cars," while entertaining, come across as novelty additions to "Birthday," lacking the sense of sincerity that defines most of the album.

It's nice to hear a portion of Xenos' versatility, but his vintage, ultra-melodic singing is more convincing than his emcee skills. "My Attention From Me" and "Defeating the Drama," though less pretty than the best of "Birthday," are effective in their ability to convey a mood and artistic sensibility that is distinctly Tony Xenos.

While such influences as R.E.M. remain pleasantly apparent throughout much of "Birthday," it's a major credit to Xenos that most prevalent in his work is his uncanny knack for innovation.

Xenos' latest creation makes a legitimate addition to my all-time favorite album list. If I'm forced to choose 10 CDs with which to be stranded on the proverbial deserted island, "Birthday" gets serious consideration.
- The Athens Insider

"Artist of the Month: Tony Xenos (Xenos to Xenos)"

Some people resort to hair plugs, sports cars or blacked-out nights at The Union when they turn the big 3-0; my brother, on the other hand, will release his first solo album at the stroke of midnight on his 30th birthday.

I have been listening to Tony Xenos longer than any other solo musician or band. He started my musical evolution from Chipmunk Punk to real bands, real riffs, real guitar playing and song writing. Although at the start of it all, I was puzzled at his first attempts at combining musical elements to form songs, as they came crashing through my bedroom wall. Over the years of him first singing into the end of a jump rope then graduating to a real microphone, through constant practice and perseverance, Tony has become an innovator in his talent.

Tony has been playing the Athens music scene in one form or another since he arrived as an impressionable Freshman at Ohio University's front door. From there he began dazzling one South Green chick after another with his guitar playing skills and thoughtful lyrics. After playing open stages, Billy and Brucie shows and forming numerous bands throughout the last decade, most notably the Cactus Pears, he has finally decided to go it alone, and "Birthday" is his first stab as a solo album.

In this 13-track album Tony not only sings and plays the guitar, but he plays all the instruments featured in the album as well, and through the genius of Chris Pyle who recorded the CD, he also harmonizes with himself. Tony also combines his new songs with some as old as 15 years. "I tried to pick songs for the album on sort of a retrospective theme," Tony said. "I picked the songs that I liked the most and that had special meaning for me, so I guess the ideas came from the different stages of my life."

This album truly personifies Tony's eclectic musical talent. Cactus Pears fans may recognize the song Super Hero, but on "Birthday" Tony adds a haunting background of piano, organ and bells to enhance the already poignant lyrics. This might be just the makeover the song needed from it's appearance on the first Cactus Pear tape in the early 1990's.

Tony also joined the ranks of Cat Stevens with this album by including a quirky song entirely sung in Greek, Toula's Sakoula. Though this song is not a folk epic like the one Stevens included on his album. Instead, Toula's Sakoula was supposed to be a theme song for a flash cartoon that he and two other friends were supposed to create. "Two of my other friends were actually supposed to do the writing and animating. I was the only one that kept up my end of the deal," he said. Lyrical translations are available on

Ted's World is one of my favorite songs that Tony has been playing on stage over the last few years, he finally included it in this album. I really had no insight into this song, other than it was a really great song to dance to. However, Tony thanks Ted Williams, his 12th-grade biology teacher (mine too), in the acknowledgements on this album. "Ted believed intelligence was solely genetic," Tony said. "I thought he was crazy. I wrote a song about how he was wrong, and now I more or less believe him."

Although, I have deviated from my home in Athens, Ohio to conquer corporate America as a fine art book editor, I found the time to chat with my brother about a few biting topics that surround his birthday and the release of his new CD.

Tony on Tony--present day

Q: This is your first solo project, what made you want to go it alone?

A: I just wanted to see if I could do it.

Q: Besides Birthday, what is your favorite album of yours to date?

A: I would have to say "Try Autopilot"

Q: Can you list all the bands you been in circa 1992?

A: I think you want to know the bands I've been in since '92: Prevailing Westerlies, Cactus Pears, Boss Automatic, Brinker's Edge, steep, Rubberband Racecar Go.

Q: What was your favorite band that you've been in?

A: I actually think Brinker's Edge or Boss Automatic were the most enjoyable and prolific bands I've been in. The songwriting did not rest fully on my shoulders so ownership of songs among band members was stronger.

Q: Are you going to have a different back up band every time you play?

A: I don't plan to play with a band after the CD release for a while. This method seems to cause less stress and does not hold me back in terms of attaining personal goals.

Q: What is the coolest effect you have when you play?

A: It's not really an effect, but the RC-20 Boss Loopstation takes the cake in the toy category.

Tony Xenos, pictured here playing drums at OHooleys, played all of the instruments on his new CD.

Tony on Tony--past years

Q: When did you start playing the guitar?

A: I took guitar lessons when I was 10 but didn't stay with it for long. I picked up the guitar at camp one year when I was 12 and started over again this time sticking with it.

Q: When was the first time you transitioned from singing into the jump rope to singing into a microphone?

A: I always have sung while playing guitar, but I'd have to say around 14 or 15 is when I got my first gig in front of an audience.

Q: Do you still think about the time when Dad took you to the Jackson 5 concert?

A: Yes, and actually it was the Michael Jackson Victory Tour. The Jackson 5 played before I was born.

Q: What other concerts did you attend earlier in life?

A: I can't really remember any others.

Q: How much did Michael Jackson influence your music today?

A: In the performing aspect, a huge amount. I wanted to be this guy. I'd practice his moves and sings his songs. The real deal started when I discovered I could make music myself.

Q: Who have been your other major musical influences?

A: REM, U2, Depeche Mode, Tori Amos, Radiohead, Indigo Girls, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Beastie Boys, to name a few.

Q: Truth, did you ever like Skid Row?

A: never

Q: Do you think Mom was an important early factor in teaching you to sing?

A: Certainly the sooner you are exposed to music the better. I think both her and dad had musical influences on me.

Tony on the Philosophy of Life

Q: Do you think there is a correlation between you interest/education in Math and your talent in music?

A: Maybe, but I approach songwriting and teaching math in different ways. Teaching math can be simplified by adhering to a system. Writing songs really can't be done that way. Songs would sound methodical and predictable. When you're learning math you need repetition. When I'm writing songs I like a little diversity. Although the way I go about recording, practicing, and managing my music is very methodical; although I lack certain discipline when trying to stay on task.

Q: Tony, you've just shaved your head. Are you trying to look like Michael Stipe?

A: no

Q: Moby?

A: no

Q: What is in your CD player right now?

A: XTC - Rag and Bone Buffet

Q: Who is your favorite up-and-coming band locally and nationally?

A: Locally, I'm a Story Of fan. They are the perfect mix of bands I like and stuff I've never heard. Nationally, I'd say Brendan Benson. The guy can write kick-ass hooks.

Q: Who are your top 5 local musicians?

A: Bruce Dalzell, Josh Antonuccio, Rob Powell, Adam Remnant, and Bryan Gibson. If you mean singer songwriters: Bruce Dalzell, Adam Remnant, Pat White, Chris Biester, and Dan Dreifort

Q: If you are Spiderman, who is the Green Lantern?

A: Jim Harris, and Courtney Klayko would be Wonder Woman

Q: What is the wind speed velocity of an African swallow?

A: River or Desert swallow?

Q: You've been playing the local scene for over 10 years, where do you think you'll be musically in another 10 years?

A: Hopefully, making still making music I enjoy playing and recording.

Q: Can I sing on stage with you at your Party Friday?

A: We've discussed this already.

Please join Tony Xenos at The Union Friday February 6, with special guests Cosigner for his CD release party. Tony will hit the stage at midnight February 7th. For more information about Tony's endeavors and information about "Birthday," visit his website,

- The Athens Musician Network


Birthday - 2004
Try Auto Pilot - 2000
Reflector - 2001


Feeling a bit camera shy


A longtime staple in the Athens music scene, primarily in the form of frontman for Cactus Pears Tony Xenos has gone strictly solo with the completion of his new CD, "Birthday."

Known for his brand of melodic, alternative rock-ish songwriting and distinctly clear, high-pitch vocals, Xenos' work ranges from gentle ballads to high-energy, guitar-accompanied hip-hop rants.

Tony's music is the antithesis of crappy pop, yet devoid of the cliched pretentiousness of which too much indie rock reeks.