Floating somewhere between Greek poets and the rock greats

P avlos Pavlidis is a leading figure on the local rock circuit not just because of his past achievements with his first band, Mora Sti Fotia (Babes in Flames), which made impact here in the ’80s, but also, more recently, as the frontman of the immensely popular group Xylina Spathia (Wooden Swords). The Thessaloniki-based Pavlidis has just released a solo album, «Afou Loipon Xechastika» (Since My Mind Went Astray) a horizon-expanding effort for local rock standards, which further endorses his standing. Pavlidis emerged with Mora Sti Fotia in 1987 with a self-titled debut album that impressed on the local independent rock scene. Formed soon after this band’s breakup, Xylina Spathia released their debut album, «Xessaloniki,» in 1993 and played to a humble crowd of 100 or so in Athens to launch the album. The act’s following, however, began to expand over the course of ensuing releases, and peaked with a turn-out of some 8,000 fans for a show at the Vrachon Theater in Athens in 1997. Not long afterward, the group also opened for the Rolling Stones at a capacity filled Olympic Stadium in Athens. Your new album, «Afou Loipon Xechastika,» is quite melancholy. Should you, perhaps, have waited for an autumn release? They’re not cloudy songs. In one of the songs, «Kypouros» (The Gardener), the color of flowers is absent and it’s dominated by black and white. The lyrics certainly don’t refer to your usual garden, but, instead, an internal one that exists in the protagonist’s mind. I’ll persist with the album’s melancholy mood. Two of the songs are dedicated to individuals who are no longer with us; your grandfather and [the poet] Katerina Gogou. Did you ever get to meet her? I met her in ’91 or ’92 in Paris. At the time, Gogou was preparing a stage production that was never staged. The song I dedicated to her was written during that period, for the specific performance. I’d held on to it for release at some point. I’d recorded the phrase «Last Call to Paris» from the airport’s PA system, when the flight’s last call was made. It was lost in my computer all these years until I accidentally discovered it along with the song’s melody. At the same time, I discovered Gogou’s manuscripts in a friend’s home library in Thessaloniki. She had told me that she wanted to name the collection «Odyssey.» I was touched when I saw the manuscripts because it felt like she was directing herself at me from where she was… Why did Xylina Spathia break up? We played as a band for 10 or 11 years, traveled a lot, expressed all we had to express, and, at some point, completed our cycle. At the same time, the existing material that surfaced on the new album pushed me toward proceeding with a solo project. I’m unable to do two things at once. The new songs have a different sound so I eventually decided to assemble a new group of musicians and embark on a different journey. The other Xylina Spathia members, too, are working on other projects. Electronica elements that were part of Xylina Spathia’s sound are absent from the new album. Speaking of that, do you feel in any way that you pioneered [locally] a more electronica-minded approach to full-blooded rock music? I don’t think that Xylina Spathia was a full-blooded rock band, at least in terms of sound. Trypes [also from Thessaloniki] played full-blooded rock. We experimented on a different musical front which I don’t think I’ve abandoned on the new album. I simply felt the need to return to pristine sound, to recall the sound of untreated instruments – guitars, double bass, trumpets – in which technology intervened only in the recording process. I also have another album of songs ready. I can’t commit myself to saying that it will be electronica-inflected, but it will definitely continue along the road taken by Xylina Spathia, in a different kind of way, naturally. The material’s ready for the studio. The bullfight depicted in the song «Spasmeni Polythrona» (Broken Armchair) reminds one, slightly, of a similar exotic scene in an old rebetiko song, and «Mocha» brings to mind Nikos Kavvadias’s character «Willy.» On a more general level, do you feel that you’re a part of Greek music’s history? Exotic, imaginary scenes are regularly mentioned in old Greek songs. [Vassilis] Tsitsanis, from what I recall, sang of «Uruguayan shores» in one of his songs, which prompted some small-minded individuals to criticize him because the particular country does not have any coastline. Returning to your question, I was seriously thinking of not including «Mocha» on the album because it reminded of Kavvadias. But my friends persuaded me to include it. After all, we learned to write by listening to our predecessors. Rebetiko music is a treasure chest, as are the poets who wrote with the intention of being put to music – Elytis, Seferis, Gatsos. They nurtured us. I certainly feel, then, that «Mocha» and I are part of a lyric-writing tradition and, in saying this, I hope that I’m not being blasphemous. Then there are also the lyrical themes inspired by the rock’n’roll front. We grew up with it in the ’70s and ’80s whether we liked it or not. I adore Lou Reed, Neil Young, Dylan, The Clash. Their lyrics differ enormously from the respective scene in Greece. But, subconsciously, the two sides can blend inside the mind and produce a variety of results. Do you think Xylina Spathia reached Greek rock’s brim of popularity? The band was even covered by a singer from the glitzy [Greek music] nightclub scene, Notis Sfakianakis… I don’t consider the specific cover to be an indicator of popularity. «Liomeno Pagoto» (Melted Ice Cream), which became a hit, is more about personal protest than entertainment, which is where it ended up. But that’s irrelevant now. Returning to your question, I think the limits of Greek rock music’s popularity lie ahead of us. They’re a long way off. Despite this, you moved from a multinational record label to an independent label. What led to that? There’s actually isn’t a label behind the new record. It wasn’t financed by the independent label it’s on, which, in essence, is a friend, one office, a telephone and lots of work – things I could never do myself. I’m not good at that. He helps me arrange interviews. There’s no organized promotional campaign behind the release. The promotional campaign is the material itself. If there’s any interest in it for the people, it will be heard and cherished.