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“Love to my friends is superior to anything else, career or whatever”
Leon of Athens
Interview: George Bilios
We met Leon in Pangrati the day he would go back to London, a few days right after his concert at Niarchos Foundation. Despite his anxiety not to miss his flight, we spent some time together, chatting about almost everything. With a conversation revolving mainly around music, of course, we also talked about cinema (his other passion), football (yes, yes he’s a football fan), his decision to move abroad, the refugee crisis and his future plans. Calm, approachable, down to earth and restless at the same time.
Photographer: George Alexandrakis
Art director: Amarildo
Fashion stylist: Nayo p
Grooming: Joanna Stella Papathanasiou
From your little studio at “Mouseio” (area near Exarcheia) to U.S. and London where you currently live. Tell us about this trip; did you plan it or did it just occur?
I’ve been playing music since I was very little and I’ve been forming bands since I was 15, so I consider it to be a gradual process rather than a sudden turn of events. Perhaps my decision to move to England three years ago to work in the music industry was a focal point. I now live in England but I go back to Greece very often for concerts. Regarding America, it’s the place my first album was produced. We went there because a former producer’s friend was at this studio. My new album, produced by David Kosten, mainly known for Bat For Lashes, is almost finished.
How are things in London music-wise, compared to what you have experienced in Athens?
I’ll start by saying I miss Athens a lot, I miss my friends and the city of Athens itself, as strange as it may sound this during the years of crisis. There is a large flaw nowadays in Greece in the career field as it is hard for things to bloom due to the crisis. I tend to think that we have moved, however, from the point where “not only nothing blooms but it rots as well” to “things don’t rot, but do not bloom so quickly. I hope for us to reach the “seeding phase” soon.
The reason I went abroad, specifically in England, is because I write music with English lyrics, theoretically meaning, my music can apply to people outside Greece and to a larger audience. Certainly, the competition is huge, in the sense that there are dozens of bands over there, and only a few of them can stand out. I think I made the right choice, nonetheless.
To return to your the question, however cynical it may sound, the difference is that musicians in England are paid. There is indeed a music culture in pop and rock music -their traditional music in some way- however music is a profession, not a hobby as it is considered in Greece. For many people music is what they do for a living, and that has both advantages and disadvantages. A great advantage is that are awarded for what they do.
Aesthetically, I came across many beautiful stuff that have contributed to my sound, new things, new trends in music and I was blessed to work with some people, such as David Koste, who have all broadened my perspective on understanding music production and songwriting.
How would you define your music?
I started out with more ethnic-oriented music but now only a few ethnic elements are left. I would describe it as independent pop-rock music, in the sense that it is pop-rock music but not massive. In other words, it‘s indie pop-rock.
Which artist had a great influence on your music?
Generally, I appreciate and admire many musicians such as, the Beatles, Bowie, Neil Young, Nick Drake, Talking Heads and also the younger Sufjan Stevens, a very powerful songwriter, as well as Bon Iver.
What’s on your playlist lately?
I listen to Tame Impala, Flaming Lips, James Blake, Anohni (the new project by Antony and the Johnsons), Florence and the Machine and Stone Roses.
What’s the process in terms of producing?
Each band focuses on something. I, for example, as a songwriter, focus on the presence of a producer who can initially embrace my songs, without trying to show off in sounds, but rather to understand the essence of the song and to make it sound more interesting, along with the artist. I want every sound to be unique, to have its own personality.
I sense that an aesthetic uniformity characterizes many of your video clips. “Lifeline”, particularly, seems like a short film.
I am glad you say that. Some people have told me that there isn’t any, others said that they find consistency. I love cinema and you got it right! That is exactly what I discussed with my team before making the clips: we agreed on cinematic aesthetics and for all of them to have that same element.
So working with Yorgos Lanthimos, was it a catalyst?
For sure it was! Basically, I was a fan of Lanthimos’ films, I knew he had moved to England, I sent an e-mail to his manager, explaining who I was and what I did and that I moved to England, working on a new album and that it would be a great honor and pleasure if we could try to do something together. And he replied! We got together and I explained all that I had in mind to do; it was a great honor to work with him. That time he had a gap period before launching “The Lobster”. And that was very interesting because he is an artist in his very own, unique universe.
What are your interests apart from music?
I love cinema and I love football, of course. Although, traditionally I am an Arsenal fan, there is always a place for Liverpool in my heart. That happened when they turned over the score playing against AC Milan in Athens. I was captivated by the soul of this team. I used to play in a professional level when I was younger, I participated in a small championship in Sweden, after I played for Panerythraikos and finally Halandri. It is one of the most beautiful things in the world. Oh! I also play Fifa!
How is your everyday life in London?
I do many things at the same time. My brother, some friends here and I have founded a company where we book Greek bands in England. We have already worked with Pavlidis and Aggelakas and Imam Baildi are next. During recording, I spend day and night at the studio. In concert periods, I rehearse all day until the date of each concert. I have guitar or ukulele practice daily, I work on new sounds and have vocal exercises.
What helps you relax after a tough day?
I might go for a walk in the park, read, go to the movies, watch netflix at home. Last year I watched Narcos. Very interesting TV series.
On books: What have you read lately? Your favourite authors?
History and literature. My favourite author is Albert Camus. The latest book I read is «The age of extremes» by Eric Hobsbawm, an excellent book about the 20th century.
The last film you watched?
Woody Allen’s “Café society“, a very sweet film I might say, definitely not of one his best.
Do you have a life motto?
Love to my friends is superior to anything else, career or whatever. Being ethical is as important.
A quote I read lately and appeared in my life exactly during this particular phase is what Lenin once said, that ‘there are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen’.
Your music plans?
Two songs are left for the new album to finish, there will be 11 songs in total and a b-side. The first single will be released in November and the complete record, probably, in April 2017.
The first single is called Airplane and is a song about love in modern world which often turns into a commercial transaction.
I also wrote “Serpent’s Egg”, a song about fascism. What is happening in the world is tragic but it is the outcome of many things. Very roughly speaking, I think the main reason is the extensive increase in inequality. For example, there are poor groups of people who lose their rights and feel threatened. If you add to it their lack of education, those people start looking for enemies to express their hatred. The thing with ISIS, with those atrocities they’ve made, which, at a primary level, may be thought to come from religious motivation. Fear is the worst counselor, especially when you have no money and feel threatened. And there is no clear thinking to understand why this is happening.
And then it’s the wave of refugees; Western “civilization” destroys these places and then people wonder why they come here.
Another song is called “Corfu”, which is my favorite island. I go there every year and it’s my top destination. Finally, another song with which I am quite emotionally tied to is “Letters to my father”, a song I wrote for my father.[divider]Social Media of LEON[/divider]
The interview of Leon is in the Printed Issue of CITY CODE.