The Athenian Phanerothyme Conspiracy is a Greek psychedelic band which uσεσ the sitar in its rock n’ roll (rokenrol as they call it!) manifestation. They formed in 2015 and on November 16th they perform live at ILION Plus along with Bog Art.
The band uses the sitar as a main instrument. You have been active since 2015. Has it been difficult to create a rock n’ roll psychedelic band which uses the sitar, or with talent and imagination everything is possible in music?
It has been a dream of mine and the mutual interest between the members of the band (which are : George Kavourakis-gutars , Nikos Bardis-trumpet, Manolis Lianis-drums, Panagiotis Eleftheriou-bass and me on sitar, voices, keyboards and synths) to combine the mystery of the East along with the logic of the West into a rokenrol combo (I use this kind of spelling for the word rokenrol because rock’n’roll is dying but as a phoenix is getting reborn in a new form). I am playing this fiddly instrument for a long time now and I can understand it’s stubbornness. I can tell you that the talent is 40% and the other 60% is the work, the continuous rehearsals and the super very good partners into the band.
This kind of encounter, Western and Eastern sounds, is always fascinating. In your case would you say that the Eastern element – the sitar – accompanies the western one, regarding the musical scales and patterns?
Have in mind the philosophy of the tango as a dance. That’s what we do. I mean we are not playing literally the tango, but when the song needs it the one takes one step back and the other one step forward and in another song the other takes one step back and the one one step forward and we don’t care who’s the one and who is the other .It all depends on the music. The music you know, the inspiration in general, is a lake above people. You move underneath it and all that you need is, like a trolley bus, to keep your antennas in a vertical position, touching the lake. Then, once in a while, some ideas or some music will leave the lake and come into you, through the antennas.
Bill Hunchback who plays the sitar is also teaching how to play it. Besides the technical part of learning an instrument, there is also the instrument’s history. How important is it to know its history and does this influence the way you play it?
I think that it is important to know everything you can about an instrument to play it. There is energy into Knowledge. You need energy to feel comfortable and you need to feel comfortable, so that you can play.
I will give you an example:
The playing strings of the sitar are seven (there are also 13 strings which we call them sympathetic because they resonate with the playable strings giving the hypnotic sound which characterizes the sitar). The playing strings are difficult to set, difficult to tune and difficult to play. Their wooden keys have the symbol of a lotus flower on them. This symbolizes the patience one has to have in order to learn little by little to treat them the right way. This is because the lotus flower blossoms once a week during the night and if the circumstances are in order. If you know this your approach to the instrument will be more gentle.
Can you explain to us, in brief, the word “phanerothyme” in your band’s name?
Phanerothyme was the first word used before the word Psychedelic. Aldous Huxley was its inventor and he made it to describe to the psychiatrist Humphry Osmond the feeling he got using LSD. Osmond in respond preferred the word Psychedelic and the rest is history.
We use it with its literal meaning, the reveal of the soul without the strict laws of the technique.
You clarify in your profile’s description that your musical expression has nothing to do with new age bullshit. Let me jokingly ask you, how is this possible? In which ways do you feel the psychedelia?
With the phrase “new age bullshit” we mean the whole post American preaching that entered Greece some 20 years after it entered America. The Himalayan Salts, the crystals that do this or that and the peculiar semi-religious stuff which help only the preacher. People hearing about the sitar may think that we are some kind of peculiar followers but we are not. The psychedelia for us is the communication with the various phenomena beyond the surface and the expression of this experience through art and especially music.
If I’m not wrong you haven’t released anything yet. Do you usually improvise? When can we expect an official release from you?
We have no releases yet we are planning to have one pretty soon after Xmas.
We don’t play improvisations the songs have lots of work into the studio before their live appearance BUT they give us themselves the small space a musician needs to put some improvisation just to be always on the edge of his art.
On November 16th you will perform live at ILION Plus. Is every live show something different? Can you give as a teaser for this upcoming show?
Oh yes every show is an extra. We rearrange the songs and we put some small twist to make the show different. We cannot reveal more but what I can tell you is that on Thursday we are going to play a new song for the first time in front of the public, called ‘Pripyat Chernobyl‘.
Thank you for your time! Close this interview as you will
Thank you very much for your interest the thing that The Athenian Phanerothyme Conspiracy is suggesting is to give a lil chance to the the part of the body that lies above the stomach and below the hair.
Photo credits: Nicholas Carellos