CONSTANTINE a humble minstrel of light (interview)
I think that few psychedelic albums from 80s up to now, can reach the corresponding 60s masterpieces. Some of them are Claustromania and Soul Flower by St.Mikael, Further Ahead of The Word Of Life, We Are Dish of The Laughing Soup Dish, From Acid Dream of More Experience, Triptych of The Bevis Frond, Stewdio by The Steppes, Indigo of Purple Overdose, All Mimsy Were The Borogoves of Smell Of Incense, In The Magic Square Of The Sun by Mooseheart Faith, the 25 O'Clock by The Dukes of Stratosphear, Life Is Question by Brown’ Nose (is this a psychedelic album? Oh yes!!), Electronically Enhanced Dream by Voyage Limpid Sound, Takes From Oblivion by Trip Hill, Focus In On…”The Looking Glass” by The Paperhead, α Ω α by Saturnia, The Politics Of Ecstasy by Vibravoid, The Cosmic Union by Lamp Of The Universe, Chambers by The Living Room, Only Children by Mmoss, Quad 1 by Quad, Better Luck Next Life by Royal Baths, Vampyros Roussos by Cosmic Trip Machine, Tree by Tree, It Is In The Wrong Envelope by Schober’s Cabinet, and some more that I can't remember now (sorry!!). In this list I added easily and the Day Of Light of Constantine. A magical psychedelic acid folk masterpiece with fantastic songs, wrapped with some of the most wonderful lyrics in recent years (read the review here; day-of-light)!!!
I suppose that your origin is Greek. You want to tell us about your roots?
My paternal great grandparents were from Rhodes and maternal great grandparents from the village of Kastri, south of Tripolis, in the Peloponnisos. I know they arrived in America in 1914.
With which kind of music you grew up?
On occasion, my dad would take out his records and blast White Rabbit and Somebody To Love! He’d also play In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, For What It’s Worth and the Mamas & The Papas. My cousin Spyro began turning me onto the blues and my uncle Steve got me into jazz artists like Horace Silver and Milt Jackson. I remember bringing Hot Tuna CD’s to my guitar lessons when I was in high school, and during college I started discovering stuff like Donovan ‘Gift From A Flower To A Garden’, Ultimate Spinach, WCPAEB, UK and US Kaleidoscope. My mind was altered when I first heard ‘Cosmic Sounds’ by the Zodiac.
Do you have played in some bands before releasing the lp and 7 ''?
I’ve played in many different bands over the years but mostly short-lived projects. I assembled my own band called Constantine & The Emperors (which included some musicians who played on Day Of Light) but that project broke up in 2009. Tim Ferguson of Red Plastic Buddha was at our first show and we shared a bill together at Double Door here in Chicago a few months later. When that band broke up I never actively sought out another and focused on recording instead.
Do you know some bands from the Greek psychedelic scene?
I love Andreas Thomopoulos and Aphrodite’s Child (of course). Regarding newer bands I like a lot of songs by Purple Overdose. What new bands from the Greek psych scene would you recommend? (few groups that i can think now is the following: the legendary Yiorgos Romanos from 60s, and from 80s to now Purple Overdose, No Man's Land, Jack Of All Trades, Voyage Limpid Sound-only the first amazing album!!!, you can check also the Crystal Thoughts, Social End Products, Drug Free Youth, Acid Baby Jesus (latest releases) Ancestral House Of The Sun-cool acid folk, Will-O-The Wisp.... also you can find some cool psych groups without more releases at gew-gaw's, peace frog's cds compilation as it is Me Of Curse, Translucent, Lenin's Modem...)
Something special, beyond your music is your lyrics. What inspires you to write them?
Things I read and observe, nostalgic feelings and introspective thoughts, images, nature, romanticizing and dreaming, the small gems of beauty that can sometimes be found in life if you pay attention.
How do you receive the responding of the people about your album?
I’m completely blown away. Guerssen bought half the copies almost immediately and sold out in only a couple of days! My copies are sold out as well; every day I’ve been getting orders from all over the world. I recorded the album for fun without any expectations and I’m humbled that so many people have liked it.
When Tim sent me your songs I didn't expect to hear something like that! Especially the track The Trip (part I & II) blew my mind and sent me straight to hear the Ultimate Spinach. What is your way to compose a song?
Tim’s incredible, isn’t he? He’s written so many great songs and I’ve been a huge fan of his band The Red Plastic Buddha since the first time I saw them live. Comparing my music to Ultimate Spinach is a compliment of high order! I mostly write on guitar and map out the structure and arrangement as I’m writing, trying to envision the finished song in my head. I try to immerse myself in the song so I can see where it wants to lead me. The fun part is bringing the vision to life in the studio.
The work on the cover and on gatefold is wonderful. Can you tell us a few things about them?
The artwork is by Stephen Titra who was the genius behind the ’71 folk psych album O.W.L. (Of Wondrous Legends). Stephen would draft up ideas and show them to me and I’d comment on what I liked or what I thought could be different. When he showed me various rough sketches of a utopian landscape with a castle, willow trees and paisley swirls in the sky I immediately knew that was the one.
Did you spent a lot of time for the recording of the songs? What are your main musical influences?
I began recording the album almost 4 years ago but it was recorded a little bit at a time. I recorded a lot of material I decided not use for one reason or another, and it took a while to schedule sessions with all the musicians who played on the record. It was an unorthodox way to record an album but since there was no deadline I took my time and focused on making the songs as strong as they could be. I was painfully meticulous during the mixing process as well and would spend hours on simple details like getting the right kind of reverb on the backup vocals, etc. In terms of influences, I don’t know where to begin. I love a lot of 60’s and 70’s psych and acid folk – everything from C.O.B. and Subway to Nirvana (UK) and Billy Nicholls to Golden Dawn and The Paisleys etc. etc. etc. But it wouldn’t be unusual to catch me listening to some Lightning Hopkins, Yusef Lateef or Dillard & Clark.
What sixties groups you like the most?
I love all the classics like the Byrds, Kinks, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Country Joe & The Fish, Donovan and Incredible String Band. I also love and collect many of the records in the Hans Pokora Record Collector Dreams volumes, Acid Archives, etc.
I think your album will be reissued soon! You want to give us some more information?
It’s still embryonic but we’re moving on it fast! You can probably expect an official European issue around summertime. It will be put out on Sound Effect Records in Greece who I’m thrilled to be working with because I love Yiannis’ passion! The sleeve will be a similar gatefold to the US pressing but will have more of a European vibe to it rather than the paste-on US style sleeve; it’s not yet confirmed but the European issue may even be remastered to have superior sound. There may also be a special surprise but what fun would it be for me to give that away?
Okay, we love the vinyl, but there are many people who prefer cds (??)! Indeed they need original (!!)cd and not a cdr. What about these people? do you think a small release in cd (200-300 copies) will beok?
Well I’ll ponder the notion; you may have noticed I’m kind of a purist ;o) A friend here in Chicago is doing a small run of cassette tapes on her Eye Vybe label. Originally, I wanted the LP to be a small private run of 300 copies so it would have its photo in Hans Pokora Record Collector Dreams volume 6,000,001 someday, but I’m having a hard time saying no to the reissues because I know it will help spread the music.
Psychedelics were very "useful" in music back in the 60's. Do you feel that psychedelics have the same use as then?
I think some psychedelics could certainly elevate your consciousness and open up windows of your mind you wouldn’t have otherwise seen through. I spend a lot of time chasing after my imagination as it is so that’s really all I need. There’s no doubt LSD influenced music in the 60’s, but maybe it was just the idea of LSD for some? Back then you could go to places like Granny Takes a Trip or to a Love-In or watch a movie like Wonderwall or I Love You Alice B. Toklas or go to a record store and buy a truly psychedelic record with psychedelic album art. Maybe I like to romanticize about those times a bit much because I didn’t get to be there and a lot of what I hear and read paint a vivid image in my mind. These days, life doesn’t seem very psychedelic … it’s modern people using their modern technology (which isn’t all bad)
listening to modern music driving their modern generic cars and going home to their modern generic apartments. HA! But I’m a hypocrite just like everyone else. A lot of music I hear being called psych these days I don’t think is psychedelic in the original sense of the term. Although a lot of music back then being called psych was just rock, pop or jugband crap, so who knows?
Have you ever visited Greece?
I’ve been to the mainland and some of the islands. Visiting the Labyrinth on Crete and the Temple of Apollo in Delphi … what could be more psychedelic than that?! I may just give my next record a Greek-theme and use those as song titles! Having the opportunity to see these things with my own eyes has certainly inspired some of the ancient vibes in some of my songs. And where else can you dine on octopus salad outdoors while looking up at one of the greatest wonders of the world? It’s one of the most magnificent places on earth!
What are your next plans? New songs? Gigs?
Although the record is sold out, the official release show is going to be March 3rd in Chicago. I’ll be accompanied by some of the musicians who played on the record for an acid folk style set. O.W.L. will be performing that evening as well. I’m also looking forward to the European issue and having the album featured in Shindig! Magazine. All the nice feedback I’ve gotten from around the world has inspired me to want to make another record … let’s just hope it doesn’t take another 4 years! I’d love to tour Europe as well…