Virus spreads his talents

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First Posted: 9/30/2013

Andre Michel Karkos, better known as Virus, may have made his mark playing guitar in hard rock bands like Dope and Device, but he insists he’s not “a metal guy.”

“Anybody that knows me well knows that I don’t listen to heavy metal. When I’m in my car, I’m not playing heavy metal albums. I did when I was a kid and I do love it, but it’s not really what I’m about. After I played years with Dope and made a name for myself in the metal community, when Dope took a really long hiatus there, I was like, ‘I really need to branch out and show people really what I do,’” Virus explained.

And what he can do is pretty impressive. He stormed Broadway with “Rock of Ages,” toured with industrial band Lords of Acid, singer Lisa Bouchelle of “Rock Star Kitchen,” and country band Big & Rich, and has even rocked with “America Idol” contestants and auditioned to play with Lady Gaga and Enrique Iglesias. He must adapt his style to each demand, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

“You kind of have to (adapt), especially if somebody is giving you money for it. You’re kind of playing for them, so if they say, ‘Hey, can you rock this a little harder or can you pull back a little bit? Can you give me like a different tone?’ the goal is to please them. It’s no different than hiring a painter to come to your house and paint your family room. You’re going to do their color, you’re going to do how many coats they want, you’re going to do the trim how they want it,” he acknowledged.

“I do enjoy that part of it, actually, because you get a gig and learn the material and it’s kind of disrespectful to change and come into the rehearsal, but there are areas where you go in and kind of be yourself and make it yours, and if they dig it, they dig it.

“I do have a good memory, and I think that’s why I’m able to juggle, and I’m kind of a stickler for organization, so that makes me more efficient.”

Device frontman David Draiman unexpectedly canceled the band’s tour dates due to the birth of his son, however, so Virus, currently based in New Hope, has been looking for his next big challenge since.

“Now that I’m home I’ve been doing ‘Rock of Ages’ again and playing by myself solo and playing with Tony Harnell, who is this wonderful singer. So I’ve just been playing with whoever,” he said.

“I pride myself on being able to do many things in different genres, so that was a goal of mine… If you’re going to play with a bunch of other artists, you really want to be able to have a rainbow of talent that’s visible to everyone because you want to get hired.”

Before heading over to Russia and London at the end of month with Dope, Virus will be performing some intimate acoustic shows in New York and Pennsylvania, including an upcoming gig at The Rattler (137 N. Main St., Pittston) thanks to his friend PJ Farley of Trixter. Farley introduced him to Jane Train of M80, who organized the show and plans to join him on some of the eclectic covers he will play.

“Cover tunes get a bad rap. I think people think, ‘Oh, it’s just going to be Top 40,’ or, ‘They’re going to do ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis.’ They do the covers that everybody does, and you kind of have to do some of those because people like to sing along with familiar songs, but I like to do really obscure staff as well that people will know because they’ve heard it before, but maybe it wasn’t like a Top 10 hit, you know? So I do ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, I do modern pop tunes. Because I love music so much, sometimes I’ll just pick a tune that I think is really musically interesting, and since I’m playing acoustic as well, it puts an entirely different spin on it,” he noted.

“For example, I’ll do a Katy Perry song, but I’ll do it acoustic, and I’ll play the tracks that I record myself, so it is full band, but it’s just a cool way to hear a Katy Perry song in a way you’ve never heard it before. Not even she does it the way I do it. I do it in a way where you can hear everything because it’s acoustic guitar and I’ll do it in a different key and maybe I’ll slow it down or I’ll pick it up a little bit.

“I’ll show you the beauty inside the song that maybe electronically, the way it was presented to you, it’s just, ‘Oh, this is just another stupid pop tune.’ There’s a lot of great music out there that if you just break it down with a guitar and vocal, the song really shines through, so I really enjoy that.”

This will be the first time he will perform this type of set in the area, taking listeners on a musical journey full of peaks and valleys with songs by Prince, Rihanna, Stone Temple Pilots, New Radicals, and Fleetwood Mac, among others.

A fan of singer/songwriters, Virus enjoys the idea of “embracing the local scene” and developing his solo show to fill the gaps in his usually busy schedule.

“When I was putting the show together, I wanted to make sure that it’s not just a guy with a guitar and it’s boring. I think that once I get like three sets of material, then I can throw some of my own stuff in there,” he said.

“With all shows, the set has to build and grow and then kind of climax at the end and leave people going, ‘Oh that was awesome,’ so that’s all the same, but I think that’s all I really care about, is that aspect of it… Just kind of leave them going, ‘Wow, I never really heard that before. That’s kind of my goal.’”

He’s already accomplished his other ambition of being viewed as more than just “a metal guy,” which may shock metalheads but few who have followed his burgeoning career over the last several years.

“I’m trying to give people a good time. I want to be entertaining, but I also want to do something cool to show people how great songs are and present them in a different way,” he said.

“I think that some people are surprised. I like to surprise people.”