Interview transcribed from the Heaven and Hell Radio Special, promo LP release, 1976.
In 1976 a promo LP was produced and sent out to DJs to promote the newly released "Heaven and Hell" album. The disc contained sections of the album, intercut and mixed together with snippets of an audio interview with Vangelis himself. Ivar de Vries transcribed the text of this interview for inclusion on this web-site.
RCA Records brings you the "Vangelis Radio Special".
Everything about Vangelis is BIG - he has an aura which only Greeks and Anthony Quinn (1) seem to possess.
He thinks nothing of playing maybe 18 keyboard-instruments in a session, including a work-out on a battery of percussion-instruments, the mere sight of which would make most drummers go weak at the wrists!
Vangelis was born in Greece, found himself in France during the Greek upheaval in 1968, and formed a band called Aphrodite's Child. Well, there were a couple of single hits, they split up, he recorded some film-tracks, performed an amazing concert, moved to London and now makes his recording debut with RCA with one of the year's most exciting albums: "Heaven and Hell".
This is the "Vangelis Radio Special", the sounds of this extra-ordinarily imaginative and forceful young composer-musician as well as Vangelis himself, rapping about his life, his music and this remarkable album "Heaven and Hell".
This is Vangelis. It is difficult to tell you how, how I find [the things], because I'm very spontaneous. It happens, when it happens. I don't like to prepare for long, long, long time an album. It's more exciting for me to sit down and to play whatever comes. So this is the way that "Heaven and Hell" happens. I spent 6 weeks to make this album but I spent maybe 2 weeks to put down the first tracks. I just..., it takes me the time to sit down and play it. And as I play all the instruments on this album except the choir, on the first side you have a symphonic piece, that takes about maybe 12 minutes, so it takes me to put down that track: 12 minutes! And after of course I add some, all the orchestration, but it's such a waste of work - all you, you work in long-term, I don't usually like it that way. I like to work very fast and very direct, you know. So, in the end, you have an idea of your kind of atmosphere and vibrations you are in the same time that you do it. So, as I believe that every month and every day and every moment will change, it is very difficult to understand how it can go, and go, go forever, thinking of one idea and you know, ... do you understand what I mean ? Different ideas every day, otherwise it gets boring to repeat yourself every time, you know. If I compose "Heaven and Hell" again, it must be very different, a completely different thing. I was like "that" 6 months ago. But now, every day and every moment I have music in my mind and I had [an enormous amount] and I take only the music that's.... It's like a picture: the moment that you take in the picture you take the moment that you take it, that's all. You can never prepare the picture. I mean, yes, of course you can prepare the ideas and the decorations around and things, but it's not spontaneous anymore. I prefer to be spontaneous, I feel it like that, I enjoy it like that, but it just happens like that, I mean, I can prove it to you anytime you like, we can go there and I play to you another symphonic piece in 5 minutes!
The part that you've just heard (2) is made by keyboards, and percussions, and choir. I play all the keyboards, and all the percussions. And the choir: in some parts you have a very heavy percussions coming in, but the choir also, they play timpanis and big bass drums. I'm very close to this very earthy and big and primitive sound, it moves me, you see ? So I like to use those very heavy drums because they are.... I mean, the sound is, it's there, there's no doubt about it.
This first piece.... maybe it's the connection with my origin. Yes, because today people, when they talk about Greek music and Greece, always we have the exploitation music, like the Bouzoukia. I don't believe that that is the real Greek music there. When you see all the ruins, all the columns: they're very simple and you have the marriage between the sky, the sea, the light and the stones. You have an incredible harmony, so music is I think exactly the same and for me the most simple thing it's the sound of the drum or sound of the flute or of the voice. Maybe that primitive and simple way to treat the first piece is because of that.
I explain you why the title: when you compose something, when you have a piece, so the problem comes: what title are you going to give, because a title is a very useful thing to sell something today. I hate to put titles to music, but when I put a title, I try to put the most vague possible, that gives the opportunity to everybody, to the listener, you see, to get in and to see anything he likes. That's why it's the music form, because one of the rare things that music gives us is the opportunity to find yourselves whatever, I mean what you want to find. It's the opposite when you read a book or when you see a picture sometimes, you have a definite idea about that, but music gives you the freedom. So when you put the title, you cut through them, so always I try to find the title that gives you a very open theme. And "Heaven and Hell" is one of the most open situations and ideas, because it keeps going now for ages. Also, what is "heaven" for you is "hell" for me, or, you know. But usually, I don't want to put titles really, it's better to put numbers: 1, 2, 3 or 4 just to find out. And I don't like people to call big symphonies like "this is heroic" or something, you know, because I think, it's a little bit disturbing - you see, people, they used to have something so definite by the system, you know. "This is blue", "this is red", "this is bad", "this is good" - this is in our society how it works... and I think, for music that is wrong. It's easier and I must say, more commercial to put the name but I feel music uncomfortable with a name. We try to find a name that fits and that gives you less limitations.
This is Vangelis again. Actually, that's my first name, but my full name is Vangelis Papathanassiou. But
it's a very, very big name and very complicated, so I prefer to use only the first one, that makes it easier,
the situation. I started music very early, when I was 4 years old. I don't know if I started with the music
or if the music started with me, you know, it was so early, I can't remember anymore, and it was so natural.
And maybe because it was natural, I stayed with the music until now. And nobody forced me to make music, and
I never learned with a teacher to play piano, because I started with a piano. Because, just happens to have a
piano in my house, it was a beautiful black big piano. So I was so excited by the sounds, particularly the
insides, where the strings is. And I continued to make music and also, I was very, very close to the
percussions and when I was a child, I didn't have any drums, or any things like that in instruments, so I
used all the kitchen stuff. But actually, they make a fantastic sound, I use it until now.
I never was interested to be a pianist, or a conductor - I always play music and compose. Not to be a composer because you know, when you are a child you don't have values: you can't say I want to be a conductor or a composer because they say to you "you are fantastic" and things like that. You don't have time to be destroyed completely by the values of the society. So it was so natural and easy to compose, so I continue until now to do it. I didn't have a musical profession inside me, but everybody in my family was involved with music: my mother, my brother, my aunt, you know. My aunt, for example, is a fantastic pianist but she doesn't do that, you know, professionally. I have a brother, but he's not a pianist - he is into music, but he's a producer and...
I was born in a not very big and not very small town, so I had the image of the country and of the town by the sea, so I grew up in the big garden. I think I had a very comfortable child-life but I was not like that as a child, because I don't use to go out because I was always with my music and music always takes the most of my time. Painting also, because I do paintings, but music, I mean it was very important, you know.
This is Vangelis. I think all the electronic keyboards, all the synthesizers - there's no limitation, I mean you can't say they have to be used like "that", or like "that". I think they give you the opportunity to use them as you like. And every year you have maybe one keyboard that is better, I mean, when I say better, gives you more possibilities. It doesn't mean that if you are a pianist you can play a synthesizer: the technique is different. Maybe that's why you don't have today the number of keyboard-players, you compare the number of pianists that you have. The only danger is: who's going to win in the end, because you have or the synthesizer or you, I think it's like a battle a little bit. And if you leave the machine to possess you, then it's a little bit trouble. That happens very often, it happens with contemporary composers sometimes that they maybe admire the machines and the computers, but they're just machines, you see ? So it's not so important, it's like: you have to drive, it's like a car, you see, if you make a mistake you can kill yourselves, musically. It gives you a great possibility, I think everybody can have a synthesizer at home. It was a very good idea years ago, to have a piano - I don't say the acoustic instrument is finished, and now is the way of synthesizers, not at all. It's just: we add some instruments more, that's what it is, and we have some more possibilities. A violin is a.violin and a guitar is a guitar, it's nothing to do with the synthesizer. Because sometimes a synthesizer can imitate a violin, doesn't mean that the violin doesn't exist anymore, we can never imitate a violin like that. The synthesizer is like another instrument that gives you maybe some other possibilities that a violin can't give you, that's all.
That (3) was one of the very special moments in this album and very spontaneous also, because one of my best friends is involved in that song: Jon Anderson. Second, because it happened so spontaneous again, just one afternoon. And it's not the usual way to try to find a song and to try to find who's going to sing this song and who's going to put the lyrics, as usual. We sat down one day and I start to play the melody and he felt so comfortable that immediately he started to write the words. And it happens like that, so when we finished, we didn't know what happened. I love Jon's voice very, very much and I like him as a person. So I'm very happy that happens in my album.
I don't work with percentages, how much percentage I'm going to put of each music: classical,
or rock, or pop or whatever you call it. But I have some influence of my Greek or Mediterranean
existence, you see ? I'm not a German composer, very accidental, that's obvious. But of course
today, by all the possibilities of the communication that we have: radio, television and
everything, I think we are influenced, everyone, by the general earthy sound that contains all
the countries and all the human music.
I didn't listen a lot of records, I never... I was not very interesting [sic] in that. I was not a freak of ... record-freak or, you know, just to have an enormous collection of records. I don't think that I spent a great time of my life listening to other records. I don't mind, I mean, don't ask about names, I don't mind who composed what, I know all those groups, I know the Beatles and everything, but I was never a big fan creatively or something, no. I listen to the music and I listen to what's going on around, that's all, but I don't spend a great amount of time because I do music all the time so I don't have..., you see ?
Everything that comes natural is obvious and I think that many people, they are able to do more things than they think that they can do. They stop by other visions that they don't know, psychological, I don't know. I would take the example of the kids: when they paint things, it's maybe the best paintings that I find in my life and I discover every day when I see a kid painting the very basic principles of the good, bad, ugly and beautiful. So when you say to a child: this is beautiful, or this is ugly.... I mean, this is one the most criminal suggestions that you can..., criminal acts that you can do. But that's why maybe the kids stop painting after 8 or 10 years old - this is the answer why I was very happy and very lucky to start very early to compose and to do music, to make music. Because when I was 4 years old, nobody said to me: "do that", "do music", so I never follow the music because of a value. I follow the music and I do something now because it's a part of myself.
This is Vangelis. The thing that influenced me, it's every natural way of music, any kind of
music, not only music, anything, everything! Sometimes you walk in the streets and you have
music, I mean, any little small detail can change your mind or can give you enough goal to do
It's very difficult to be influenced by bands and by groups, because we have thousands but all are the same. We don't have different things, that is one of the sad things that happened the last 15 years. If you compare the number of bands, groups and singers that exist today, and how many of those are original....I don't want to mention anyone, but it's a little bit sad, because it's just like another product. The problem is today, maybe it's a commercial future but it's very sad thing and I don't think it's any spiritual or...in the future at all. I think the Beatles, it was maybe unique combination of very popular and very honest music, when I say honest: the Beatles, they followed the sixties but like changed the mode of revolution that happens and..... it's a very historical period. Now I think the pop-music goes to the record-companies or to the market as well. Everything that happens today is [replicated] automatically by the system, what you want to do, I mean: music or political situation or revolution or anything you do.
When I compose for a movie, every time it's an experience and if I like the movie, it's a pleasure to do it. Sometimes, when we do something, we don't like it but, as you know, today we have to do things even if we don't like them because I don't know who's going to pay the amount of money that I need to have all my keyboards and all my studio and my laboratory. You see, the government can spend thousands of pounds to make guns or things like that, but music is not considered like something important today. So a musician, when he wants to do something, he has to find money himself so... here we are.
Music... it's two things that could happen with music, music is [divided] in two: in human music and in cosmic music. As far as human is continuing to go as he goes now, the only thing that he do is to go away of the cosmic conception of music and to do human music, which is a little bit sad today, the situation. But as far as the human goes to the cosmic existence, that anyway is part of the system, and as far as he finds himself in this original existence/position, then he might make and produce more obvious cosmic music. "Cosmic music", I mean, it's nothing, "cosmic" is a word that is very used today. You see, we have the civilised music and the cosmic: cosmic is not civilised. Our music until now, all the classical music that we have, [we're irritated if they are human]. But the classical music today, it's mainly accidental music - this music is civilised music, came off principles of civilisation and things like that.
This album was [making] a concert in the Royal Albert Hall and it was a very, very difficult
thing, difficult concert because you have to consider that you have a kind of music that is
purely electronic but doesn't sound like electronic. And you have the mixture of keyboards
and the choir and percussions - it's so many different things involved. But it takes two days
to set up all the gear, you've so difficult to make the balance, because you see, if you play
a purely electronic thing, you have to balance that....
When you talk about electronic things today, we imagine always space sounds. But as you see, this particular piece sounds like a symphony orchestra so sometimes, I mean, I thought it was much easier to use a symphony orchestra than to play myself all the parts of the symphony orchestra. But it was a very good experience for me to do it. I play the symphony orchestra with my keyboards and I use 2 percussion-players, 7 African percussion-players, about 150 people on stage. It was very good, the result.
Intro text, and produced by: Fred Robbins, released in 1976
Transcribed by Ivar de Vries