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Panos Birbas is a Greek performer and songwriter and is currently preparing to present his brand new album, entitled “Dandelion”. It is a project that, while in some parts it seems dark, as he told us, we are talking about a “happy album” after all.

We could say that Panos Birbas is self-made and his main weapon is the inspiration he draws from love. He may be a solo artist himself, but he believes a lot in the concept of “group”, so things work out better that way. As an artist of the new generation, he is not influenced by trends, while he remains faithful to the romanticism he was taught by the decade of the ’60s, which he loves so much.

So, a few days before the presentation of his new album at Gazarte, Panos Birbas spoke to about his upcoming and interesting future plans, about the inspiration behind his record, while he did not hesitate to share with us his views on the mindset that exists around music nowadays.

Good evening Pano and welcome to! What have you been up to these days?

Great to see you! Lately it’s a crazy mess of rehearsals for the album launch for me. These days, I am generally involved in this and mainly in order to manage to capture the album correctly for live sessions. In preparation for the release of the album which is a celebration for us, for me personally and for my company UnitedWeFly. Also I’m also busy with my everyday job.

You recently released your new song “November” in collaboration with Lola Yiannopoulou. How was this collaboration?

Exceptional! Lola and I are dear friends. I consider her one of the greatest voices in Greece – both in Greek and in English – she is truly great. She is also an excellent vocal teacher and anyone who is working with her knows what a great partner and great singer she is. She is one of those people that you can count on to do everything you imagine should be done in a song very easily. Maybe what I can’t do, to be honest.

Your songs are dreamy and characterized by lyricism. Where do you get inspiration from?

Look, this record is very inspired by love of course and the people I’ve loved a lot in my life. But it is also inspired by society and politics as well. For example “Scars”, which has not been released yet as it will be included in the full-album, is one of these songs. It also has a death theme. I have written a song about my father’s death which had flattened me. Somewhere there moves the inspiration of the album.

Are you an artist who writes songs because you “have to” get a job done, or are these products of pure inspiration on your part?

I certainly don’t write music because I have to get some work done. Fortunately or unfortunately, nowadays you don’t need to get a job done, probably no one expects you to do any. I write an album because I am of this kind of artist, that is, that each album has a specific concept, has a music and a lyrical form. I write mainly when I complete a material that needs to be released and when it is complete as a concept, as an image and music.

Apart from your solo career, you have also been a member of a band, Dustbowl. Are you preparing something new together?

At the moment we are preparing our material for our new album, which is also in progress. In general it is a period full of inspiration.

What positive elements do you find in being a solo artist and what as a member of a group?

Being alone is completely ambivalent, because it has infinite difficulties, but also many positive things. The good thing is that you can be yourself. It is just you and what you choose to do. You are the production, the orchestration, the inspiration, the lyrics, but it also has a lot of difficulties, which are practical – because we know how expensive a record can be mentally and materially – as you are responsible for all your material with all its good and bad things together. Since you are not working in a band, you have to make very good choices of musicians to play with you. When you need session musicians to fill in for what you need to do be done musically, is a huge gamble nowadays.
For example, for the record I’ve written, I was lucky enough to have many good musicians to record with instruments I can’t play, strings, brass. So this thing comes along and either deifies you or makes it very difficult for you. On the other hand the members of a band are very close. A band has five pairs of ears, five heads, five minds to think.

You are about to release your new studio album “Dandelion”. What stories will you share with us through it?

There are too many stories that might basically make you think this is a love record. Through this, however, it has many stories of a social nature for sure, even in the love part it has a quite psychotherapeutic tone, it looks like a continuous conversation between two people and for this reason I have chosen to include many female voices. The female presence is very strong in the record either as vocals or as duets. I don’t think it’s a dark record even if it contains some dark, kind of melancholic, melodies.

I think it’s a pretty bright record. It has a dance feeling that lurks through it and that’s where “Dandelion” came from. There is everywhere a swing and a catharsis in the end that comes out through the music and because it was something that for me was really in my soul, the music of this particular project, the one I had since it started, I changed nothing. Those were my first ideas. I think it has a sense of liberation and that comes out in the album.

If you could single out any song from this, which might hide an important story, what would it be?

This is very difficult for me to answer. Let’s say “Bloom” that is already released is about the children, about our children, those who may be suffering so much today, like the children in Gaza. You write the songs at some point with a rationale, based on something beautiful or whatever you have in mind, and then they come back mentally and can “consume” you in their own way, when you see all these things happening.
I also like “November” very much as a story even though I didn’t write it. It is a truly fantastic dialogue between two people of an amorous nature. Anna Mertzani has written the lyrics and we managed to combine the music with the lyrics very nicely. “Waltz” is a song I wrote for my wife… I don’t know if I can distinguish any song in particular to tell you the truth!

By all accounts, times have hardened. How much has this affected you in terms of your creativity?

The truth is, I’ve hardened too much in terms of trying to balance this thing out inside of me. With the situation we see around in the music buisiness all the time, I think there is a huge discount in how the world itself perceives it, without talking about genres or characterizing everything that happens around. There is a moral expression in relation to music. I consider the values of music itself as a being, its subject matter and ideology to be something that does not concern modern society. That automatically makes it terribly difficult for people trying to make good music.
There’s pretty much no support from anyone around, except for some passionate labels like United We Fly. Nevertheless, I think that you are basically alone in what you are going to do at this moment. You’re in an uncertain world, where you go to a concert and it’s completely uncertain what’s going to happen, at the moment we see reigning things and genres which to me are really rubbish.

If you could choose another era in which you could live and create, what would it be? Which decade would you choose and how would you differ from now?

I would definitely choose the ’60s. And this album for me has a lot of ’60s references with some small exceptions. While it was a very difficult time, it was by far the most beautiful, emotional and true to the music and its creation. Of course incredible things have been released in the 70s, 80s, 90s. I like all eras up to 2000. I can find awesome stuff in all these decades. But I think that the essence, the truth of the melodies, the simplicity of the lyrics, the essential connection with the feeling of the ’60s is insurmountable and I think it will never come back.

Can you imagine Panos in Matala or Woodstock with a guitar for example?

I don’t know if I imagine myself as a hippie or something, but I definitely imagine myself as I described before. I imagine myself like Leonard Cohen in the ’60s, singing songs that maybe people would pay more attention to the lyrics, the melody, the substance. I have a hard time imagining myself as a hippie, but it doesn’t matter which side you stand on or how you look at it. However, I think that in this day and age if I went out and played “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen, it could be mine. I believe that no one would have understood it today. If I were to release “Suzanne” today, it would be no different than “November” or “Bloom”. That is, no one would have understood this poem written by this guy.

That’s why I’m nostalgic for this era. Then anyone could connect to the essence of the music, the verse, but also the person who sings it. Without being a fan of what is said to be “pop icon” and “pop idol”, as I don’t believe in the excessive authority of the rock stars of the 60s. It was also slightly overrated and that the world had the need to be hooked on models, on images. I do not consider this canonization of these people as something that is necessary, but the connection with people, with personalities, with the word is something very important. This has to do with the audience and how it is perceived by people, journalists, music critics and record companies.

At this moment I feel that they do not understand at all what is happening and how some people can still express themselves today.

On December 12th you will present “Dandelion” at the Gazarte roofstage. What should we expect from this show?

At Gazarte we will present all of “Dandelion” with a fantastic band that I love very much. They are Vangelis Tsimplakis on drums, George Konstantinou on bass, Sotiris Pepelas and Petros Kasimatis on trumpets, Argyris Vassiliou and Tryphonas Lazos on guitars, Dafni Svarnia on percussion, Alexis Stenakis on synths/keyboards, Stavros Parginos on the cello. Most of the guys helped me record the album and we’ll try to render the original material as best as possible. In addition we will be playing favorite arrangements by people I love very much, such as Cohen, an arrangement of a 1920’s Spanish poem “Angelitos Negros”, etc.

What the live will have is a lot of emotion. The night will be emotionally charged for me, but also playing with all this company I think a lot of (emotions) will come out. All the people involved in it have pitched in their own stuff in the record. I’ve also done some covers based on the band’s style, so I think it’s going to be a really cool set.

Besides that, what are your future professional plans?

Then I want to arrange some more lives. There are already some proposals for the coming summer, not only in Athens, such as in Thessaloniki and other cities. A live show in London is also in the works for the next year. A new album with Dustbowl, new material that I’ve already started writing, a score for a film that will be announced later, because it will probably be something good.

What’s your motto in life?

Συνέντευξη: Θοδωρής Κολλιόπουλος

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