CULTURE

Back with new album, anger and live shows

He appears sociable, jovial and opinionated in an era when artists seem to make declarations. But, over conversation, popular Greek singer-songwriter Panos Katsimichas becomes increasingly introverted as the talk continues. Having just released a new album, «Mechri Na Pareis Pagoto, Se Vriskei O Cheimonas,» a collaborative effort with former Pyx Lax member Manos Xydou, Katsimichas is back in the spotlight. The release is being supported by shows at the Metro club in the capital’s Gyzi district. You’ve known Manos Xydou for a long time, ever since the days when the two of you crossed paths at Columbia while looking for a place in the Greek music circuit. You went on to dedicate a song [«Ballada tou Fani»] to him, collaborate in the studio, at shows and small clubs. How much can a new project base itself on an old friendship? We have common musical backgrounds, similar tastes, and appreciate the same things… Popular Greek music [«laika»] of the 60s and rock music are two things that shaped us both during our childhoods and teenage years, or at a time when we were listening to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and had begun listening to Mikis Theodorakis, Manos Hadjidakis and the other major Greek artists who followed. Shared musical taste and old friendship make for the sturdiest of bases for collaboration. The new songs, you mention in the liner notes, «were written without pressure, fuss and the process was natural.» You wrote them with Manos Xydou «like an amateur duet that was having fun.» Amid times of difficulty for the music industry, can a project that lacks pre-planning prosper? You can never be sure about anything in the music industry. I believe that – sometimes – unplanned and spontaneous work can accidentally lead to successful results. So, we’ll just see. The public has the initial and final say with these sorts of things. When singing the line «nothing belongs to us/ it’s all been borrowed from our children» – which is part of a song that unites segments of poems by Bertolt Brecht and Federico Garcia Lorca, and text by Tolis Fasois – are you trying to raise awareness about the future of our planet? That’s precisely what I’ve tried to do. «Nothing belongs to us» is a phrase I heard at some point. It may go back 25 years and went on to become firmly embedded in my mind. And you should consider that at the time there was no hole in the ozone layer, the icebergs weren’t melting and half of Greece hadn’t been scorched. Of course, the climate change issue has preoccupied me for a long time. I find old interviews of ours and am surprised to read that Haris [Katsimichas, his brother and old music partner] and I were addressing the issue from back then. This particular song doesn’t elaborate. It says it all in a line, because the topic is now well-known and much discussed. It’s not even a song, but a cry of anguish. Do Greeks become more sensitive to environmental issues through campaigns and initiatives, or do they simply toss cigarette butts from their cars onto the street after having taken part in a tree-planting venture? If one continues to toss cigarette butts out of the car window after all that occurred last summer, then, I’m sorry to say, this person is either a killer or a complete idiot. Do you always try to make songs into little stories about things around us? It’s not always easy, but I do feel very satisfied when I’m able to succeed with this formula – the small and complete little story. This is my style. I like songs in the format of a little story because even when you’re addressing complicated things, you can reach others easily and without pressure. I learnt this as a child from Aesop and, later on, from Bob Dylan. You sing about contemporary problems – poverty, the difficulties of daily life. You sing about «debt-ridden, crazed, bewildered» Greeks and wonder why poor folks vote for those who have fooled them. Do you feel rage, disappointment? On the one hand there is power which is supposedly always responsible for everything – things we’ve discussed a million times. On the other hand there is us, the people, who want to believe that we’re not responsible for anything. How can this be so, when every four years we go out and vote for these people who, with mathematical precision, begin to abuse us the day after they’ve received our approval. Why do we complain when we’re the ones who have given them their mandates and legalized their positions of power. And why is it that only power and the system – generally and without definition – are to blame when we approach the MP whom we’ve voted for and request favors; or when we go to the tax office and bribe; or offer cash to hospital staff members; or graduate from high school and seek employment in the public sector at all costs. Even though we live and think along these lines, we end up tuning into [political satirist] Lakis Lazopoulos’s TV show every Tuesday night, approve of his attacks on the political system, then burp out the pizzas and beers and go to bed with a clear conscience. Once the four years are up, we vote again for these same people who tore us apart the previous four years – and it goes on and on… In this day and age, what is a songwriter or artist obliged to be? He or she is obliged to tell the truth, be vigilant and say things as they are. He or she is obliged to dream, or as much as one can when living inside a hole. You may question whether this is possible. The real artist can dream. A fake will never do so. At the other end we have the music industry crisis and the trash music. Does Greek music have a future? Music was and always will be a mirror of the society which creates it. If you look into it – let’s say from the beginning of the previous century – you’ll see fear, the desperation of both world wars, the interwar madness, hope, optimism, the social movements of the 60s, disappointment, the era of the Internet and globalization and the decadence we live in toda, thread their way into music both in Greece and internationally. There is no clearer picture of things than music. It’s the most absolute picture of society in the previous century and the one we’ve just entered. The music of today expresses the social situation of today with clarity and punctuality. The rise of trash music and trash artists, as you say, fully reflects a society that is based on the market system, marketing techniques, the glorification of simplicity and cheapness, consumption over substance, illiteracy, the grotesqueness of kitsch, the audacity of the ignorant. The future of Greek music will follow the conditions that create it… Low-standard societies create music of similar caliber. The exceptions which struggle to resist and inspire different ways simply confirm the rule.