Clepto's Crazy Journey From Saudi Arabia to OC

Chris Evans

Mediterranean metal band Clepto aren't exactly from a typical OC burb. They joined forces in the hot deserts of Saudi Arabia in 2000, and since then, you might say we've adopted them. Any band that can survive 15 years of marathon tours, five-hour commutes to rehearsal and a near-fatal bus crash is all right by us.

Clepto's upcoming shows at the Doll Hut (their primary stomping grounds in the county) are a long way from the Middle Eastern country where the four members met. Playing music is frowned upon by Saudi Arabia's fundamentalist Islamic population, and even finding modern music to listen to was difficult.

"We played at our house and talent shows, since we went to a private school, underground parties, stuff like that," bassist Freddie Al-Hajj says. "We used to get music from foreigners--the Americans would go home for the summer, for example, and come back with CDs." Freddie and his brother Philip, Clepto's drummer, lived in Saudi Arabia for about 10 years, and guitarists Alex Cabral and Niko Chantziantoniou spent most of a decade there as well. The parents of all four were in the capital city of Riyadh for work.

The band were finally free to expand their influences when their families relocated to Canada in 2002. It's the music they were exposed to as kids, however, that led to the System of a Down-meets-Gogol Bordello style that runs through their recordings.

"Niko's Greek, and [Philip and I are] from Cyprus, but we're Lebanese-Armenian, so we have a Mediterranean feel to our music," Al-Hajj says. "Metal and punk have been a big influence on all of us, and when we mix the Middle Eastern stuff together, our sound comes out."

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After several years of commuting between cities such as Toronto and Ottawa for practices and shows, Clepto relocated to the U.S., making Southern California their home base, with the bulk of their shows in OC. They rarely stay still, though--over the past several years, the band have toured nine countries in Europe, played in the U.K. and made return trips to Canada.

In 2012, the band members were nearly killed in a different desert. While on New Mexico's Highway 10, a blown tire sent their tour van skidding into the dirt shoulder, launching Clepto--along with their equipment and their dog, Elvis--into the blue sky.

"The van barreled three times and caught air," Al-Hajj says. "Niko and I were in the back, and when we were in the air, I was looking at him, and he was looking at me. . . . We thought it was over."

The band (and the dog) escaped with minor injuries and had to spend their tour earnings on a three-seat U-Haul to get home in time for a St. Patrick's Day gig at the Doll Hut in Anaheim. When their friends and fans found out the band's equipment had been destroyed in the crash, they collected and donated new gear so they could play the show. Spending St. Patrick's Day at the Doll Hut has since become a tradition for Clepto.

Today, the band are using their near-death experience and world travels as fodder for their next full-length release. The band are wrapping production on The Cold Unending March of Progress, which will be released with a companion comic book later this year.

"We've seen so much from our travels, where we come from and what we've gone through, and we've incorporated that into this album," Al-Hajj says. "The world is pretty small, and it's pretty strange, and we have a lot of stories about that."

Clepto perform with Gadget Car at the Doll Hut, 107 S. Adams St., Anaheim, (714) 533-1286; Tues., 8 p.m. Free. 21+. For more info on Clepto, visit

See also 10 Punk Albums to Listen to Before You Die 10 Goriest Album Covers 10 Most Satanic Metal Bands

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