Time for a break from the stage

He had overworked himself for the past decade, performing shows both in the winter and summer seasons. But, amid the frequent shows, local pop-rocker Nikos Portokaloglou, a top-selling act on the domestic circuit, began feeling foolish for depriving himself of a regular life. He has decided to take a break from performing this winter. Even so, the void is being filled with a new release, «Ektos Schediou,» a compilation of songs he has written for friends, and vice versa. Portokaloglou is also piecing together an entire album for another artist, an unprecedented act during his 25-year recording career. The songs, for a forthcoming release by a regular musical associate, Vassiliki Karakosta, will feature reworked older material, as well as previously unreleased material which Portokaloglou had kept aside as more appropriate for a female vocalist. These songs were written at various points in his career, the earliest dating back to when Portokaloglou, now nearly 50, was a 20-year-old. The singer-songwriter says that back then, he was fed up with not having the time to sit down and write. «I now have the time that I need. I’m also taking computer lessons. I felt the need to go back into training,» commented Portoka-loglou in a Q&A with Kathimerini. Your association with technology was probably never ideal. I was always interested in recording devices and recording. I used computers, but just superficially. I’m learning about music software programs. I’ve also created a page on MySpace [online networking medium] to exchange views. I found a musician through this whom I’m now working with… The compilation you’ve just put out contains songs that have already been tested. Can a release of this sort offer stimulation for an artist? There is no new work, with the exception of the instrumental songs from the Sotiris Goritsas film «Parees» (Friends). But it was an enlightening experience getting all the different material together, such as songs from «laika» (popular Greek) albums, as was the case with Takis Soukas, rock material by Manolis Famellos, or even traditional material. Putting it all in line, I realized that there was an overall meaning. Which collaborations were particularly important for you? The one with Takis Soukas [prolific composer of popular Greek folk], who got me to sing with Eleni Vitali at a time when I was playing with Fatme, a rock band. He was the first to request a contribution from me as a singer. Also, meeting up with [the seasoned songwriter] Aphrodite Manou was important. She brought along lyrics for a song, «To Milo» (The Apple), and asked me to write music for it. Maybe she was feeling lazy or wanted a songwriting partner for the track. The collaboration really thrilled me. I realized that one of the reasons it takes me three years to release an album is the lyrics. Has your group of friends grown or shrunk over the years? … I have friends who date back to the days of playing soccer and other games as a kid. But there hasn’t been a steady bunch over the years. New faces are added and I have friends who don’t know each other. I enjoy getting them all together and observing the differences and similarities. The ones you think don’t match tend to get along best. On your previous album you elaborated about a new beginning. Have you found your way? It was a wish, a need and an anxiety of mine. That album carried a difficult three-year period – a testing period. I ended up realizing that it had to do with going through change in your life. The first time it happened was when I was 21, then 35, and the latest chapter is now, at nearly 50. What have you felt each time? The same things. A depression begins to set in. Everything’s dark and gloomy and I slowly get out of it and into the light – like the ascending sun behind the mountain. It’s like the process experienced when consulting a psychologist. When I overcome the stage of fixation, time goes by and I see things from a more detached perspective… You look more optimistic to me now than you did back then. People expect me to be optimistic. They want gloomier things from others, not me. When I do a more melancholy album, they can’t stand it. Fans hand out roles… They don’t want to know about my doubts. Doesn’t being designated your role irritate you? Yes. That’s why I’m glad I wrote those [darker] songs. There was no censorship or effort made so that I would come across as happy. You don’t lose your way if you do something without compromise. Are there albums of yours which you respect more over time? In the past I would torture myself and fall apart wondering, «Why didn’t that album do well?» Now I know. Songs always eventually find their way.