Interview in Best magazine, September 1977
So unjust is the silence that surrounds the fantastic personality of Vangelis Papathanassiou, surely one of the great composers of this age. Bit by bit, he has abandoned being in a band in favor of creating on his very own. These days, he invents master-dish upon master-dish, and if you already know about the striking glories of "Heaven and Hell", "Albedo 0.39" and "Ignacio", how many wonders still lie dormant: all those sound-tapes realized for Frederic Rossif or Francois Reichenbach, sublime companions to sublime images. Vangelis isn't really a descendant of electronics. He has resorted to using a synthesizer, i.e. to be an instrumentalist, a pleasure-seeker on keyboards. But he is also a fantastic percussionist, as demonstrated by the second movement of "Ignacio", and a composer/arranger with a power rare in its coherence. A teacher, a truth, in the race of great musicians of planet Earth. He will explain to you why he has chosen this path of solitary creation.
Q: Since the days of Aphrodite's Child, you have always consistently kept your distance from bands. Yet it was announced in '74 that you would join Yes, which hasn't become fact. Why was this so? Was it a refusal to become part of a band?
A: I'd accepted to perform a trial with Yes when Wakeman had quit them, because of an old friendship between me and Jon Anderson. I've never believed this was the way to go because of my conceptions regarding bands. Our musical directions were not the same. And it wouldn't have progressed. I feel too claustrophobic in a band, because the band is an obstacle with less flexibility within the industry: it's a product that you are afraid to change every hour. A band's direction is fixed, like the Rolling Stones, it's always the same thing. As for myself, I cannot always make the same thing. I've let everything go, the hit parade and all that, to justify not being obliged to always make the same things. Having said this, I'm always very friendly with Yes and we sometimes work together.
Q: There is an evident kinship between what you do and "Olias Of Sunhillow" by Jon Anderson: the same isolated course, the same in general? What exactly?
A: When the record came out, the people of RCA with whom I am under contract invited me and told me it wasn't very nice to have played on the record, without warning. But that's ever more curious since I haven't played on it and they were convinced of having recognized my sound. I myself was very surprised it had my name on the thank you-list. Maybe I have influenced Jon, I don't know. And it's clear that it's closer to this than you get with Yes. But maybe it's a coincidence. In any case, it's a formidable feat there is such a record when it features like Jon a debutante on keyboards. I believe the record represents more the way he is than what he does with Yes, no offense intended.
Q: Why have you chosen to work alone? To please those who have to work with you? Because you believe that bands were not adapting to current thought?
A: It wasn't due to the spirit of dictatorship that I work alone. I really like creating on my own, but I admit I've also often craved for discussions. Alright, I'm against bands because it's not a good direction for me, I don't have reason to believe they should be a dying breed. Bands all originate within light music, next to variety entertainment. When starting out, it's a bunch of friends together, youngsters full of energy, and the record-companies capture and commercialize this innocence. It was the way of the sixties and beyond, the band is the straitjacket, because the industry has this need for finished products. But if one wants to leave entertainment, make more profound music, a band cannot move on. One can't have a similar way of composing among the various members. And that's why all bands that are taken seriously and are willing to make intellectual music get their faces smashed. Take classical music: one has never seen 4-composer ensembles. A band may have a limited existence, making true music, a meeting of composer and performers. The boss is rarely a collective. The further you go, the more you find yourself. The band is a solution for amateurs, one helping another to exist as a duo. It's to your advantage to circulate ideas, but it must be said that this advantage is rare when put together with profit-making and the fact that a band contents itself with a single idea. Of course there are amateurs which are a success, because, even if they're nobodies musically, they are commercially convenient as the record-companies can easily manipulate these youngsters who after all can't feel very sure about their capacities and who are quite content to see themselves on TV and get the girls rather than work in the corner. A band even has a second disadvantage, which is the problem of egos. There's the inevitable jealousy when there's success. Furthermore, you cannot have all persons always be eager to work on the same thing at the same time, it's impossible. It's also a marriage falling apart, even more so when the band gets more people in.
Q: Are you conscious of belonging to a new wave of creators in a different style who all want to work alone, like Schulze, Anderson, Oldfield...?
A: This is correct at first sight, I believe. Plenty of musicians are taking into account like me the infinite possibilities of music on the synthesizer, and we're only starting to discover: it's a very difficult instrument, like a little toy. But the synthesizer is more flexible than the piano, though. There, when you entrust another pianist with a composition, it's not completely the same as when he recreates the original. It's even worse for a synthesizer-player, you must do everything the same else what you make is twisted. That's why those that are truly discovering the synthesizer maneuver themselves to work alone. For what I want to do, I find that for me it's the only way to be really able to do the job well. I don't always like to play by myself. Tomorrow, I can just as well write something for an orchestra and not play. But what I currently create, I don't see anyone except me that cares sufficiently about doing things like I do. A performer is less concerned about the music than the composer is. Hail the synthesizer, the composer can bypass the performer, therefore it is normal that there are more and more composers that create their music on their own.
Q: Don't they result then in a new idea about virtuosity?
A: Completely. The notion of the instrumentalist is on course to change significantly. Jon Anderson is not an instrumentalist in the old sense of the term and yet he has made, with lots of effort, a marvelous record. Now the virtuoso is not the one who's quick on a piano anymore. The synth-player is a mirror of the soul and the virtuoso is he who knows how to portray his work to reflect his true self. That's why the children and youngsters are fascinated by the synthesizer, because it is more direct, more natural, more organic. If you have something to say, like if you're not a musician in the real sense, you degrade your expressions more on the synthesizer than no matter what other instrument. And that is true for other cases like percussion. The sensual feeling can totally replace technique. And that's why someone like Jon has succeeded in making his record all on his own with instruments for which he didn't have the technique: he had something real to say.
Vangelis himself also has something real to say, and when one listens to him talking, lively, still very much a Greek, one recognizes the fresh breath that emanates from his marvelous albums. Vangelis is maybe, among all solitary creators, the one that brings to mind most the symphonic composers: he has a touch of the "sacred monster", the power of work still unheard (the two albums released per year are a small part of his overall production, which the industry evidently cannot distribute), a formidable enthusiasm that carries his music and wants to stir up the heart. And one really wonders how a talent of this size could have passed by unnoticed, until now. Without doubt his desire never to do the same thing twice has outwitted the public? Maybe his music itself, free of all considerations to do with manner, seemingly stands too much apart? Perhaps also it's too pure for this narrow-minded age which feeds itself on ersatz? But he, indifferent, continues like a meteor on his splendid course, unperturbed by all that, and it isn't too late to follow on his course. Like Frédéric Rossif says: "How can we not be convinced that Vangelis is one of the very best musicians of these times?". We count on you to not have to pose this question anymore.
Interview by Hervé Picard
Transcribed and translated from French by Ivar de Vries
Anderson wasn't really a soloist, but the politics of solo-albums adopted by Yes gave him the opportunity to reach the top of his musical aspirations and alone among Yesmen he dared to realise an album that was truly solo, no doubt because he's the only true composer of the band. "Olias of Sunhillow" remains a kind of pinnacle of the genre, and especially a demonstration that virtuosity is a notion that will change in meaning and in application. A modest singer and rhythm guitarist, Anderson set out to use everything he could play and to do it simply, like his friend Vangelis would say, because he had something truthful to say. At the time of his recent visit to Paris, we asked him to give a progress report on this experiment.
It was a very interesting experiment and to me very enriching as it forced me to learn, not to be satisfied with what I had been, to try to go beyond myself. When I did it the fact of being entirely in charge of what I made, being in control was more alluring than being under this control myself. Nothing or nobody claimed ownership of ideas, not even myself, they all occurred inside me. It is a fantastic experiment, one which enhances the personality enormously. At the beginning, I had only scant knowledge of keyboards or percussions, but I did not seek to play something so definite that it would have required a great technique, I let myself go and my ideas were bounded by the limits of my possibilities while always pushing these limits a little further back. "Olias of Sunhillow" is by far what gave me the most, speaking on the individual and personal level. Not that it should be a starting point for my future. I think that this experiment will be continued, in a few years undoubtedly. I had the feeling by doing this album to be on the right path. That doesn't mean to say that I don't believe in bands anymore, no. There is music which is done collectively and music which is done individually. When I make music for Yes, it is normal that it is Yes who play it, that's what it's made for. But when music is really personal, the ideal is to be able to carry it all by yourself. I could make "Olias" with musicians and the new record would undoubtedly be better, technically more successful, and I could still remake it and again still with others and it would always be different, but the idea of "Olias" which comes from me and which I like most would remain connected to the first album, this one that I've made, because it is closest to my idea and my feeling. I do not claim to be a master of the keyboards or percussions but I find that what I've pulled off attracts me and sounds right. What counts is not the technical ability, but the accuracy of what one does at the moment when it is done, however modest that might be. There is indeed at this moment a movement of solo-musicians but I believe that it only exists by virtue of the existence of the synthesizer. Without that, nothing would be possible. In this one should not see a worrying increase in the importance of the ego, or a new rise of the idea of a composer. There's only a new way to manage to express the music which people have in their heads, nothing more. Whether it calls upon musicians or a synthesizer to carry it out, doesn't really make a difference when the result fits well with what was required.
The modesty of Anderson is great, but "Olias" puts things in the right perspective. The result really is out there, but it must be judged in words other than those which one normally uses for a band. Whereas Yes are plodding along somewhat, Anderson found a way new to him which, as if by chance, does not by-pass the band but only the ego; and based on all the evidence the comparison favours the solo-work. The album by Yes, average sounding, smells of a compromise between different egos, whereas the one by Anderson knows no bounds, the liberated ego continues audaciously on its way. Sooner or later, we can believe that Anderson will leave Yes, because he has found himself an individual dimension that any collective vocation would only make weaker. Times are changing and pushing all of us to move with them. "Olias of Sunhillow", that small miracle of music, has fatally started the demise of the band.
Interview by Hervé Picard
Transcribed and translated from French by Ivar de Vries