Saturday 26 March 2016

Interview with Kostas Panagiotou from LANDSKAP

Landskap is the outfit with quite a notable lineup. Frédéric Caure played in a dozen of bands including Bellator, Bunkur, Pantheist, Serpentcult and few more pretty extreme outfits; he’s responsible for bass and rhythm guitars here. Paul Westwood is the member of active atmospheric black metal / post-rock band Fen, he’s the drummer in Landskap. Guitarist George Pan came from unknown for me Dead Man’s Band and Father Sun. Kostas Panagiotou plays keyboards and organ, he does the same and also sing in Pantheist since 2000, now he’s also part of international project Clouds – I believe that you heard of them. And Landskap vocalist Jake Harding spent some time with Centurion Ghost and Dead Existence.

So you see that sort of company we have here. But I bet that you couldn’t predict that these five people are here to play good and old retro doom rock with lots of psychedelic and prog rock pieces. The band have released two full-length records named just “I” and “II” and already finished the third album as the second one is to be re-released by Black Widow Records. Kostas Panagiotu is the one who reveals past and future secrets of Landskap.

Hi Kostas! How are you? I usually start with the question about band's current status, but this time I just wonder how did you get in Landskap?!

Hailz Aleksey! Well this is an interesting story …I got in Landskap when Frederic asked me to join. He was the original bassist of this band, but has now moved to Devon to start his own brewery (Stargazer brewery…check it out if you like good beer, you can’t go wrong with a Belgian in an English brewery!) Anyhow, we digress; you might know Frederic better as the bassist of Pantheist in the ‘O Solitude’ era…he was also the main organizer of the first funeral doom tour ever, the ‘Funeral Procession’ tour back in 2003 (Skepticism, Pantheist, Until Death Overtakes Me). He moved to England from Belgium a few years after I did, it really is a small world.

Landskap is five musicians with experience of playing in different metal bands, how did the fate gather you under Landskap banner?

Most of us knew each other anyway, London might be big but the scene is rather small. I knew drummer Paul from Fen, Frederic was obviously also known to me. George moved from Athens to London –like so many young Greeks nowadays to flee the economic crisis. Jake only joined later. We now have another bassist called Chris, and sadly Paul decided to move to Scotland and quit drumming in April, so we are just playing one more show with him before welcoming a new drummer.

Band's name was invented by Frédéric, and it is translated as “landscape” from West Flemish. What did you put in this word? What would you like to bring forth your listeners through it?

First of course it reflects Fred’s background and place he grew up, West Flanders; however, for me it signifies much more. Our music has long-stretched out sections, often instrumental, with plenty of repetition that brings the listener in a certain mood. I like to see these sections as musical ‘landscapes’: vast, long but also breathtaking and beautiful!

The band paves the road of vintage progressive doom rock if you don't mind against such definition. Do you have a main ideologist of this direction in the band? I'm asking because I remember that last works of Pantheist have a huge prog influences, so what is your part into it?

The band’s sound was developed after a year’s worth of jamming between George, Frederic and Paul so I don’t have much to do with setting the general philosophy, as it was already there when I joined. The main idea is to play music reflecting our favourite progressive/psychedelic era (late 60ties/early 70ties), but without trying too hard to sound ‘retro’.

Landskap – Tomorrow’s Ghost

What do you think about doom metal elements people hear in Landskap? Do you agree that you have some components of it?

Yes, I’m quite comfortable with people hearing doom elements in our music. I guess if this wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t be playing at the Doom Over London festival soon! At the same time however, it’s clear that our music has much more to offer; a bit of classic rock, a bit of psychedelia, a tiny bit of prog, blues, jazz and some metal…despite people’s attempts of lumping us together with other bands in categories such as ‘occult rock’ or ‘retro rock’, I don’t think we are that easy to pigeonhole after all.

Kostas you did start play music (correct if I’m wrong) in more brutal genre, there weren’t any hints of old school rock in earlier albums of your first band Pantheist. How did you become acquainted with prog and psych rock? And how did you know that it’s time to say your own word in this genre?

I always liked progressive and psych rock, way before Pantheist was even formed. In fact, I never was a ‘metalhead’, I went straight from the likes of Pink Floyd, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath to Moonspell, Tiamat and Anathema, without the obligatory thrash and heavy metal period in between. As for early Pantheist, I can’t really say it was that brutal, as there were a lot of ambient and classical elements in my music. I am a keyboard player after all, so I perceive music and composition very differently than most metal and rock writers/composers, who are usually guitarists, or think like guitarists ;)

How do you share your inputs and efforts in Landskap? Will you add elements of rembetico in it as it was with your "Journey Through Lands Unknown"?

No I won’t, as said above the band already had a clear identity when I joined and I am just adding my own contribution in the way that I see fit. This means a lot of Hammond organs and keyboard instrumentation that has been used by many of my favourite bands of that era. Most ideas come from our guitarist George, but I think what makes Landskap special is the way in which our playing comes together to create that ‘live’, jammy feel without descending into endless solos and acid freakouts, as the tracks are well-structured and rather memorable.

Kostas, do you miss Greece? What do you miss in London?

I was 11 when I left Greece and even though I still go there every year on holidays, I can’t say I am missing it as I was too young when I left. I like the weather, the nature and the social nature of human interaction, but there are also many things about Greece I just wouldn’t be able to get used to. As for London, luckily I only lived there for 1 year. I hated that lifestyle, always centered around money as everything is so expensive and life is hectic, bah! I am much happier living outside of London but unfortunately still in the South East of England which is busy and overcrowded. I will be looking forward to move to the South West of England over the next three years, where things are a bit quieter.

The first Landskap album "I" was released only on vinyl - speaking about physical format; didn't you find some label to do a CD-edition as well?

We never looked out for it. We consider ourselves as a ‘vinyl’ band mostly and consider CD releases as ‘bonus’. Black Widow really wanted to have a CD release of II so in the end we consented, as long as they released the album on vinyl as well. But all our albums so far have been created with a ‘vinyl mentality’; the length, the order of the tracks and even the choice of tracks to open Side A and Side B are all adjusted to the vinyl format. For me personally, a combination of digital mp3 and vinyl is the way. The first is the easiest format to use and offers instant access, the second the nicest in terms of packaging and creates that wonderful feel of anticipation and wonder, just like back in the times when each individual album was important, rather than people shuffling through their iTunes library.

Besides that your sophomore work "II" exists only as digital release since it was recorded in 2014. I heard that Italian Black Widow Records put their eyes on it. Is it correct information?

As stated above, Black Widow have already released the album on CD and vinyl since the end of last year.

Landskap – To Harvest The Storm

You recorded both albums in Greg Chandler Priory Studio. I was thinking that in general he works with heavier and more brutal bands - just like Chris Fielding of Whitby Studios / Foel Studio who works with more traditional doom stuff. So how did you work with Greg over the sound you needed to gain?

Most of us had worked with Greg before anyway so we knew what to expect. Greg actually works with a wide range of bands and not just brutal metal, he is a proper professional studio engineer. I have previously mixed the second album of my darkwave project Ereipia with him, as well as my ambient project Sermones Ad Mortuos, so I knew that he does an equally good job with non metal releases. He likes the music of Landskap and has helped us to achieve exactly the sound we wanted for our albums.

II” and “I” have not many differences as it seems from the first glance, did you record both albums the same way and with same intentions?

I would argue that there are significant differences; the first album is ‘simpler’ in its structure, and has more of a ‘doom’ feel to it. We recorded it in one day in the studio and had to add a lot of extras afterwards, such as the vocals, the bass and some guitar solos. The second is more varied, with all musicians having stepped up. Also for me personally, there was a significant difference as the Roland Fantom I was using for the keyboard sounds on I was not satisfactory, so it was mixed rather low in the mix. However, I then went out and bought a V-Combo VR 700 which has an amazing Hammond sound, which helped me find my place within the band.

Kostas, you’re speaking like zealous keyboard fan! Can you tell about your requirements to the equipment you use?

Certainly; hardware wise, I'm mostly used to the sound of Roland synthesizers, even though I used to own a Korg at some point in the past as well. Generally speaking, I try to adapt my sound to the band/project I am in, and because I like to try very diverse things musically, I also end up using keyboards very differently from band to band. E.g. in Pantheist keyboards are integral to the sound and I am using a lot of grand pianos, church organs and majestic orchestral sounds to create that ‘funereal vibe’. At the same time, more proggy sounds were introduced gradually, even though with the latest album I have adopted again a more ‘purist’ approach.

Landskap on the other side is very different. I use mostly vintage sounding Hammond with 70ties built-in amps, and electric piano sounds. As said above, the V-Combo is ideal for that, but I also use the same synthesizer in Pantheist very differently (no Hammond sounds, but I use its dark wave sounds which are pretty amazing). The Fantom is mostly used in Pantheist to give an extra spatial dimension to the music, it’s a keyboard that can sound very dark and atmospheric, and it also has a user friendly sampler. I have also used a lot of soft synths in Pantheist (and session/project work), even though once again this is avoided on the album we are currently working.

Landskap music holds a lot of progressive rock elements, and prog is the genre where keyboard play one of main roles. What is your part during composing and recording stages?

I see my role very similarly to what I was doing when I used to play in Crippled Black Phoenix. Even though I am not the main composer, I add a lot to the arrangements of the tracks. My favourite approach is to add little ‘riffs’ and ‘melodies’ in the tracks that compete and duel with the guitars. I am also not afraid to hold low, sustained doomy notes that can give more heaviness and depth to the compositions.

You already have work over new songs for the album “III”, can you share some details of new material? What would you like to put into it?

Yes, the album has already been recorded at the end of February, once again with Greg, and is currently in the process of being mastered at Audiosiege mastering studio. It will be –predictably- called III and is marking the end of some sort of trilogy if you like, as there is a feeling with the line-up changes we are having since Fred and now Paul left, that we are entering a new era. It has by far the best sound yet and the tracks are very varied, and perhaps slightly more uptempo even though there are still plenty of ‘downtempo’ moments. I believe it is our best album yet, but then again I would say that, wouldn’t I?

There is a lot of bands play in retro manner today, and a lot of listeners follow them as the world around us seem to be impossible to give a place for these feelings and vibrations this music brings. For example prog rock is something idealistic in some way, and it barely could be a product of our surrounding. How do you see this return of music scene on old ways?

I know there are many bands nowadays jumping on the ‘retro’ bandwagon, but I think there is something innocent about the music of the era we are exploring. It was a time when bands didn’t think too much, they just went ahead and recorded whatever they felt reflected their musical tastes. Nowadays everything needs to fit in a category, a sub-subgenre and people are much more concerned with classifying music, but for me personally the appeal of this ‘old’ music is that it sounds spontaneous, unpredictable and honest, without trying too hard to be something in particular.

Kostas, the last record of Pantheist was released about five years ago, what’s the band’s status today?

We just played a gig in Edinburgh last weekend, and we play at the Doom Over London festival at the end of this month (where I also play with Landskap, that will be interesting!) Last year we played our first gig in 2 years when we performed at Doom Over Kiev in November. After the self-titled album, the line-up of the band totally changed and currently I’m the only surviving member of that era. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that we had to restart with the new line-up, initiating the composition of the fifth album from scratch. The idea is to have it released by autumn of this year.

I guess that Pantheist’s message changed through the years from album to album; what is Pantheist today for you?

I guess it has become more of a collective and less ‘my band’. The new material is very brutal and heavy, bathing in a suffocating funereal atmosphere, as was witnessed at our performance at Doom Over Kiev. There is also a concept story behind the new album, which will be published soon with its own soundtrack, so at least the ‘conceptual’ side of the band is still what it was: multi-layered and unpredictable.

And besides that you also took part in Clouds album “Doliu”, will this project have a continuation?

I’m sure it will, but I guess this is a question to ask Dan as I’m just a contributor to this project. As far as I know, Dan and Jarno are currently working on the second album.

Thanks for your time Kostas! I wish you all the best in your creative undertakings and I hope that will have a chance to discuss your new works pretty soon. Do you have few more words for our readers?

Thanks for another interesting and well conceived interview Aleksey. Hailz to your readers, open your minds and close your doors!

Words by Aleks Evdokimov and Kostas Panagiotou