Demetris "All Around" Katsikis
Apostolis "Retromaniac" Psarros
What about one of the most underrated groups in Greek music history [see press], but one of the most essential ones? What about some Neo Prog music that goes beyond that genre and permeates lots of musical traditions and genres? What about some music that initially captures but then rejuvenates the wholeness of human emotions with its unpredictable variability? Yiannis-Hyde of LA TULIPE NOIRE doen't HIDE himself at all and unfolds the nuts and bolts of this unique Greek group plus some advanced info that you cannot imagine at all! Still waiting? Sink yourself into that interview and you will immediately understand why music is so comprehensive and crossover in the contemporary era.
Well, Hyde, thanks a lot for your participation in that interview! It’s our honor to host your point-of-view in our radio!
Hello Hyde! Where this interview finds you exactly?
In front of my computer trying to complete the booklet of our upcoming album “Matricide”!
Tell us some essential things about the history of LA TULIPE NOIRE! How did you decide to form such a band?
As a person I always believed the “follow your heart” motto. Prog was my favourite music and I did not see any reason to abandon my favourite music just because I lived in Greece, a place where this kind of music is not appreciated. I had some material, I wanted to release, and I began looking for others. Initially, I found Alix who was feeling the same about music and had some material of her own, and Lena and the core of LTN had been established.
What about the other members? Give us an overview for each member during the history of LA TULIPE NOIRE.
... then we found Babis Leontiades a very good drummer, who was already a fully professional musician, at that time. Spiros Kondakis, a fantastic guitar player and George Aksiotakis a magnificent acoustic guitar player. This was the line up of Mavri Toulipa.
In the next years a lot a talented and highly skilled musicians participated in LTN’s recordings. For “In The Gates Of Dream”: George F replaced Leontiades in Drums, Aksiotakis left the band and Yannis Barkoulas made a pair with Kondakis in guitars. “Shattered Image”: Lena left the band and Ima took over the vocals, Barkoulas left the band as well as George F who was replaced by Nick Kassavetis in Drums.
“Faded Leaves”: K. Savvides appears as guitars guest star. “Nostimon Hemar”: Kondakis leaves the band and Chris Pertsinides appears as Guitars Guest Star. And we come to “Matricide”: Massive changes in the band, Ima leaves the band to be replaced in vocals by J. Massie, better known in Greece as Julie Massino, Savvides leaves the band to be replaced by Marios Mourmouras in guitars. I move to the keyboards to create a pair with Alix while Gavin Scott takes my place in the bass guitar and finally N. Kassavetis leaves the band to be replaced by Michael Osborn. All the above were excellent musicians and helped a lot the band, all these years their contribution being great! I feel though I have to add a few things about Gavin Scott, graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston MA, who became the first recipient of the Quincy Jones Award for Musicianship. He has worked with artists like Earth Wind & Fire, Liza Minnelli, Rod Stewart Elton John etc. etc.!! .. and Michael Osborn, drummer and percussionist, who studied percussion at the ..Royal Academy of Music. He has recorded and toured with many varied artists including Bette Midler, Kiri Te Kanawa, Vanessa Mae, Freddie Mercury etc! These two guys are top level and above all they are good friends! They live permanently in London and they come when there is need in Greece. I learned a lot of things working with them!
What’s your influences as a musician? Musicians that you have as role-models in your life.
The first group I loved was “Pink Floyd”. Then came in my life “Jethro Tull”, “Emerson Lake and Palmer”, “Yes”, “Gong”, “Amon Duul”, “Pulsar”, after them Radiohead, Coldplay etc. etc. I cannot tell whether they were influences in my career as a composer or not. I leave this to the audience.
You are the bass player of the band but you also add some keyboards in some records. Are you the main composer or is that a collaboration process? What are the roles (the tasks) in a band such as LA TULIPE NOIRE?
The kind of music we play requires a central plan around which the band will play. The complexity of the parts does not leave space for improvisation. So I bring a rough sketch of the material to the band and then every musician fills in the gaps.
We adore each one of your albums! Yet, me (Demetris “All round” Katsikis) I especially love “Nostimon Hemar”! I think this is your apogee as a band till today! What’s so unique about this album?
I don’t know Demetris. For me all the LTN albums are the same. Like a father who loves equally all his children, beautiful or not so beautiful, clever, or not so clever. Each album has a part of me so I cannot make distinctions between them.
Strange thing is that Greece has a limited still good past background in Psychedelic/Hard/Progressive Rock during the 70's and 80's. However your sound has strong links with the Neo Prog and Symphonic Rock sound of the time, albeit more modern. How did you decided to follow this style, which is very unpopular in Greece and what were your expectations back at the beginning of your music journey?
Our fellow countrymen hate all kinds of Prog music. There was not a decision “Let’s follow this or that style.” We simply wrote the kind of music we liked… and waited for the consequences!
We had no expectations as a band. We released our material as an internal need to express ourselves. We never expected that this thing would go so far.
As far as I know your first record that features you Greek name “Mavri Tulipa”, released in a vinyl format only. How many copies were cut? And, why not in a cd format yet? That would be absolutely collectible!
You are referring to “The words of the wind”, I suppose. The album was released through Wipe Out in one thousand copies. They were sold, not right away, I think in the first year it sold around five hundred copies, but gradually it was “sold out.”
We ll see about a CD release. It’s an interesting idea!
Between early-90's and late-90's many things went on. An unknown Greek band with an LP on a Greek label was now supported by a monster prog label like Musea. Also the lyrics changes from Greek to English in this period...propably to reach a wider audience? Please unfold for us the story behind it. How did you come in touch with the guys in France?
After we released “The words of the wind”, we split. Spiros Kontakis went to London. Alix went to Paris.. and I began working, in Athens. I lost contact with Leontiades and Aksiotakis.
Around 1996 we decided we wanted to release another album and we gathered in Athens. Soon we realised that the band could not survive if it was limited in Greek territory. We wrote the lyrics in English (this is a rule for the international scene) and sent, through mail, copies of “In The Gates of Dream” to five companies of abroad. To our surprise all five labels were interested for the band. We chose MUSEA because it was the biggest and better known. A decision we never regretted!
Tell us some things about the differences and the similarities of the rest of your albums, “In the gates of dream”, “Shattered image” and Faded leaves”. Also, your favorite songs from these albums!
Each LTN album is a visit to a different area of human emotions. “In The Gates Of Dream” deals with the half dreamy sensation we experience just before sleeping. “Shattered Image” deals with hope. Despite the difficulties there is always hope in life. “Faded Leaves” talk about alienation and solitude in big cities.
Each emotion, at least this is the way it works with me, leads you to certain sounds. “In The Gates of Dream” was more on the symphonic side. “Shattered Image” was focused more on feeling so a very rich orchestration might obscure the message and “Faded Leaves” was more on the dark side and it also required a very specific orchestration.
I have no favorite songs in the albums. In all the songs me and the band tried hard for a good result.
I (Apostolis ''Retromaniac'' Psarros) think that there is an evident development on your production values over the years. Your very first albums have a bit of an average sound to end up in '' Nostimon Hemar'' with a crystal clear production. What did you do to make this impressive change happen?
I always tried for the best. Perhaps, Apostolis, as I grow I am getting wiser. I don’t know!
How did you approach bass playing on LA TULIPE NOIRE records?
For me the bass guitar was just a part of a whole. I never wrote songs with the bass part enhanced. I tried to serve the composition. I also avoided complicated motions since I believe that rhythm section must provide solid support to the melodic instruments.
We equally like vocals of Lena (in the first two records) Ima in the rest three! How did (do) they approach their vocal parts? And, what are the differences between the two?
Lena was from classic music. She helped the band, but in some time the techniques involved in rock were the opposite of what her classic studies required, so she had to stop singing rock. Ima was nearer to rock. They both were very talented and extremely enjoyable persons to work with! I must add, though, that working with J. Massie was a totally different experience since she is not only talented and highly experienced but she also happens to be a vocal teacher. She took the vocals and boosted them to new heights by adding 2nd voices, 3rd voices and talking parts etc etc.
It’s more than obvious that the fonts of your titles are like MARILLION’s (otherwise, we are biased for sure, haha!!). Is this some kind of MARILLION reference that you wanted to instil in your albums?
The release of an LTN album is a complicated, exhausting and very demanding process. It cannot be done without discipline and focus of each participant to his job. The fonts and things like that were the job of the graphics designer, and the final OK was by the company.
I (Demetris “All Around” Katsikis) learnt from Ed Unitsky (!!!) that you are going to release a sixth studio album during 2013 titled “Matricide”!! This is great news!! Any revelations about your upcoming album and your collaboration with Ed are most than welcomed!
I admired Ed’s work for years! In his kindness, he admired our work too. So it was inevitable for our courses to meet.
Since I was a kid, our world seemed to me, unjust, cruel, and crazy and ultimately self catastrophic. I was asking myself, what an intelligent alien, visiting Earth, would think of us and the way we treat each other, as well as the environment of this planet?
“Matricide” is a dystopia, (the opposite of Utopia), a thing we don’t want to happen. In the future, Earth is destroyed due to global warming from massive floods and gigantic fires. An alien expedition arrives and lands on the desert. (The whole planet is a desert). They are from a race that values life, like all sentient beings should do. They want to know what happened to this, once alive, but now dead, planet. The archaeologists begin excavations near ruined cities. In such a digging they find an old object (a CD), which they quickly understand contains sound. They decipher it and they discover a collection of songs about the situations that led humanity to destroy the planet and itself. After leaving this destroyed planet who is filling his heart with sorrow, Mnemon, the captain of the expedition, shocked by what he saw and heard, inserts all the data he gathered, into his computer and asks, referring to the human race, “What had this race done?” The answer, that comes, haunts him for the rest of his life. “Matricide”! They had killed their own planet... their mother!
We didn’t find about any upcoming live shows! What are your plans? Do La Tulipe Noire play live performances in Greece or is that to much for the Greek audience, which is in general not aware of what is progressive rock? And, what are the reactions of people when they see you playing live?
We plan a series of gigs for Greece and the rest of the world. I can’t be more specific for now. Regarding Greece the rarity of our gigs is due to the places and the equipment available. We respect our audience and we do not want to play in places with lousy acoustic properties and with the lousy equipment the sound companies rent for gigs.
The audience response is very good both in numbers and enthusiasm. In my opinion prog gigs in Greece have a great future once the above problems are fixed.
What’s your personal philosophy in life? How do you cope with barriers? And, simultaneously, how do you build your strengths?
Be honest to yourself. Do what you love and accept the consequences of your choices.
When you are honest to yourself you will discover that inside us we hide limitless sources of power.
What would you suggest to an aspiring bass player? Also, to someone who desires to play some prog music out there?
Study, be prepared and have patience! Express yourself and remember in a Band we work as a team serving a common cause.
Do you write lyrics? If yes, with what issues do you deal with?
With whatever affects our lives. Love, work, family, loneliness etc. etc.
Could you give us a review of your musical collaborations besides LA TULIPE NOIRE?
Before LTN only some student tries not worth mentioning. I had the luck from the beginning of my music career to write and serve my own stuff!
What is prog rock for you? And prog music in general, anyway? What do you think about the future of prog rock and music in general? [We see prog music as a concept that goes beyond more traditional forms of music and not as a specific genre]
I agree with you. Prog is a way of seeing things and not a specific way of playing music. Whoever is not satisfied with barriers is a potential proger. For prog and music in general I predict a bright future. History tells us that in hard times music flourishes. And I’m afraid that hard times await us for the years to come!
What music do you listen to this period?
Unfortunately I am so busy writing LTN stuff that I have no time to listen to music. There might me diamonds out there but I have no time to listen to, unfortunately!
We know about your collaboration MUSEA RECORDS (in the last three albums). You also released one album with Europa and the first one with Wipe-Out. How was (and is) your collaborations/relationships with the label(s)? And what about the promotion of you records in general through all these years?
We cannot compare MUSEA with the rest of the companies you mention first of all because of its size. Wipe Out and Europa were small Greek companies based on some people’s good will and their friendship toward us. MUSEA, on the other hand, is professional and they know exactly what the band represents. Over the years we became good friends and learned to appreciate each other’s views. I have said it to Bernard Gueffier, president, and the rest of the MUSEA stuff “Without you guys we would have done nothing!” This label and its huge distributing network gave the band the chance to be heard from UK to Russia, from USA to Argentina and from Japan to Indonesia! What more can I say about a company that gave us the opportunity to be heard in all the countries of the world?
Many press people label LA TULIPE NOIRE under the Neo Prog category.
We believe that you play prog music with a tapestry of sounds, definitely. Yet, we will leave it up to you to describe LA TULIPE NOIRE’s music to someone who's never heard of your music!
All this genre and subgenre stuff is for the convenience of the reviewers. I don’t think that any band, especially in our field, uses these definitions. At least no one from the bands I know, and believe me all these years I’ve met all the important people around! LTN at first was seen as Gothic Band then as a symphonic Rock Band. Then they used the neoprog characterisation and then some said that the band was heavy prog, while others talked about post-neo music. I would describe LTN’s music as an effort of some people to express themselves, without using the typical main stream rules.
Which are some of the LA TULIPE NOIRE plans for the future?
Some gigs will follow but there is nothing to be announced at this time. You will be among the first to know!
Is there any possibility to see you playing in the near future?
Make that a certainty!
A message from your part for the listeners of JustIn Case Prog Radio and all the prog’n’rollers out there is…
Keep listening to your favourite music, support all the good efforts (like your radio) in the field and ignore Prog haters. Prog is alive and kicking!
Anything that you might add?
Thanks for the opportunity you gave me to speak on behalf of the band.
Dear Hyde, thanks a lot about answering those few (lol!!!!) questions!
Demetris “All Around” Katsikis
Founder and PROGducer of JustIn Case Radio (www.justincaseradio.com)
Apostolis “Retromaniac” Psarros
PROGducer of JustIn Case Radio and Neo-Prog collaborator in www.progarchives.com
PROGducer of JustIn Case Radio