Interview with Greek drummer Akis Perdikis performed and recorded with various local and New York bands

"Eliminate all TV talent shows. They feed on young people’s desires and aspirations and use them to sell advertisements. They provide false idols for the next generation."

Akis Perdikis: The Polite Rocker

Athenian musician Akis Perdikis is a well-known drummer and music journalist in his native country, Greece. He has performed and recorded with various local bands (Pavlos Sidiropoulos, Spyridoula, Hercules & The Lernean Hydra, Jimmy Panousis & Mousikes Taxiarchies). Part of his life was spent in New York, drumming with The Impatients and Annabouboula. He likes to call his style "polite rock". Studied at Queens College, N.Y.C and wrote his first texts for music in the college newspaper. Soon appointed as a translator and had his own music column in the greek-speaking newspaper in N.Y., "Proini". At the same time evolving as a musician, playing drums with PAYN, Nicky Skopelitis, Missing Page, and The Impatients. In 1985 - 1992 he lives in New York, dividing his time between music journalism and drumming for post new-wave band The Impatients, with whom they roam the city clubs: The Bitter End, CBGB, Limelight. For two years, drummer with Annabouboula, perhaps the first ethnic Greek band based in New York.

Concerts and hanging out with Dave Van Ronk, Jorma Kaukonen, the Skatalites, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. In summer 2004, Akis recorded with Sky Saxon (The Seeds), and immediately afterwards began recording his first personal album, released in 2005, entitled "The Well-Behaved Kid". Seeds guitarist, Mark Bellgraph, partcipates on some of the songs. Creates his own band, Rebecca’s Skirt, in which he plays rhythm guitar and presents his songs. In 2009 Akis Perdikis and Akis Daoutis recorded the album "Soundtrack To A Burning City". Other releases are: "The Flower" (single 2012), and two english-language EPs, "Words 'n' Days" (2014) and "Softcore" (2015).

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Rock n’ Roll culture?

I’ve learned that it evolves, matures and, just like in families, it clashes with the previous generation! It’s a living, loving organism that seeks constant change and approval. As for myself, I rarely look in the mirror. I’m better at observing other people involved in the rock culture (fans, musicians, journalists) and arriving at various conclusions, than I am at analyzing what I do and why. I did learn however that to be a rock musician requires a lot more discipline than I originally thought. Especially if you’re a drummer who has to hold together a whole band for a two-hour concert. No mistakes allowed. If the guitarist plays a wrong note, some will notice it and forget about it in the next measure. If the drummer makes a serious mistake, he will upset the rhythmic balance and throw everyone off. So, you could say, drumming has made me more responsible.

What characterize your philosophy and songbook?

Less is more. Simplicity is my signature. Good pop music was built by putting together simple parts – the sum is stronger than the units. This is how I approach my drumming, trying to serve the song without confusing the other musicians, give them a platform to feel confident to do their own thing. The same applies in my songwriting. Simple rhymes, simple chords.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences?

Everyone you come in contact leaves a mark on you.

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Be yourself.

"Everywhere you go, there’s music playing – supermarkets, taxis, department stores, elevators... No more meetings in dark rooms, no more secret societies that held their albums as unique treasures to be shared amongst a small circle of friends. If such a society forms nowadays, it will go viral the next day, the whole planet will know."

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

My strongest memory as a drummer comes from a nightmare I had when I was about 15. I knew I wanted to learn to play the drums. I’d follow musicians around, just to be with them in their practice space and when they’d take a break, I’d ask the drummer if I could try his drums for 5’. Anyway, I was still in a primitive stage, music-wise. Then, one day I happened to read in the Melody Maker about a Who concert where Keith Moon had passed out. Someone had spiked his drink and he kept falling off the drums. So Pete Townshend went to the microphone and asked if there was anyone in the audience that could play the songs. This 16-year old kid got up and sat behind Keith’s drums. This became like a fantasy for me, whereby I would eventually become a good drummer and get invited to play with some amazing musicians that I admired! A few days after the incident, I woke up with cold sweat in the middle of the night. I had just seen a dream where Emerson, Lake & Palmer were giving a concert and the drummer fell off his drums! So, in the dream, Greg Lake asked for a drummer. Of course, I went up on stage, the song started, but a few minutes later the audience was screaming and booing, because I was a lousy drummer. Now, that’s a gig I’ll never forget.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past?

On a technical level, the dry, flat sound of the LP record. But I guess, new (digital) gadgets had to be invented, to accommodate the current sounds (extra loudness, boomy bass, etc). Or maybe those musicians unconsciously accommodated the companies that manufacture and sell electronics. They were their best advertisement.

On a sentimental level, I will always miss the emotions I felt as a teenager, upon hearing a new song that I liked. Nowadays, if I hear “A Whiter Shade of Pale” or “My Generation”, those emotions will still be there but my heart and ears are not as fresh and innocent. The first cut is the deepest, right?

What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

No country for old men? I don’t hope, I don’t fear. As Heraclitus said, “You cannot step twice into the same stream". Being the Aquarius that I am, I let the river flow and observe. The things I feared have happened anyway, so what could possibly go wrong again?  The gentrification of music and its “usefulness” as a commodity is what I feared. It happened. Everywhere you go, there’s music playing – supermarkets, taxis, department stores, elevators... No more meetings in dark rooms, no more secret societies that held their albums as unique treasures to be shared amongst a small circle of friends. If such a society forms nowadays, it will go viral the next day, the whole planet will know. The end of exploration, the end of mystery... But “the river flows”, yes?

"People go to the big cities to get away from small-town, narrow minded traditions. Not that I mind tradition, but it leaves no space for experimentation. Occasionally, in the big city, certain interesting musicians and composers gather at the same time. Maybe it’s written in the stars, maybe it’s just synchronicity." (Photo: Akis & The Impatients, New York City c.1986)

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Eliminate all TV talent shows. They feed on young people’s desires and aspirations and use them to sell advertisements. They provide false idols for the next generation.

Make an account of the case of Rock n’ Blues in Greece. Which is the most interesting period in local Rock scene?

Believe it or not, I find the rock music that came out during the military junta to be very interesting. Plus, there was a real bond, a camaraderie between musicians and fans, you could feel you were part of something underground, forbidden, semi-illegal. Ok, it wasn’t as risky or decadent as, say, The Stooges or Velvet Underground, but the spirit was there. "Εξαδάκτυλος" (Six-finger) was a great band, probably the only one that played Keef Harley, Frank Zappa, Geronimo Black and other eclectic material.

What has made you laugh from Annabouboula and the late great, Sky Saxon?

It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry, said a wise man. I can’t remember myself laughing with any of my musical associates, probably because when I’m behind the drums I get all serious and tense – it’s work for me, even though to an outsider it might look like fun and amusement. One thing I do remember from my days in Athens with Sky Saxon is the amount of cat food he always carried inside his shoulder bag. He was amazed at the number of stray dogs wandering around the city and he wanted to feed them all. One time I asked him, “So why do you carry cat food?” and he replied that dogs would often snub dog food but they would always go crazy with cat food! Makes you wonder about the animal food industry, doesn’t it? They could have learnt a thing or two from Sky Saxon.

"On a sentimental level, I will always miss the emotions I felt as a teenager, upon hearing a new song that I liked. Nowadays, if I hear “A Whiter Shade of Pale” or “My Generation”, those emotions will still be there but my heart and ears are not as fresh and innocent. The first cut is the deepest, right?" (Photo: Akis with Annabouboula at S.O.B.'s, Manhattan, N.Y.)

What touched (emotionally) you from the Greek rocker, Paulos Sidiropoulos?

His dedication. His intensity. His integrity. We never had an argument in all the time that I worked with him, there seemed to exist a mutual respect. We probably didn’t have the emotional contact that I had with some close friends of mine, opening up to each other about our worries and problems, yet we seemed to communicate on a higher, invisible level. Small daily things were not on his menu, he always had a clear view of the Big Picture. In a land that feeds on gossip, I always admired how he never gossiped, never spoke badly of other musicians.

What were the reasons where NYC was the center of avant-garde experiments?

People go to the big cities to get away from small-town, narrow minded traditions. Not that I mind tradition, but it leaves no space for experimentation. Occasionally, in the big city, certain interesting musicians and composers gather at the same time. Maybe it’s written in the stars, maybe it’s just synchronicity. New York always embraced the eccentric, so when you have people like La Monte Young meeting John Cale in the mid sixties, a flame is created. Then, Cale passes on the flame to his band, and so on… a chain of events will follow.

I arrived in New York in the late ‘70s and witnessed the explosion in new sounds and playing styles. It was not punk in the british sense, but the spirit was there. Television elevating you, Suicide kicking you in the guts, Patti Smith reciting Rimbaud… The scene also attracted many British musicians in search of diversity and their music was affected by what was going on. Fred Frith, from art universities, was suddenly playing at CBGB’S with Bill Laswell on bass and Lou Reed’s drummer (Fred Maher). My memory of his guitar sound is that it roared like a lion. The Psychedelic Furs had also moved to N.Y. and I used to see them a lot. I shared quite a few beers at CBGB with their bass player, Tim Butler, a very memorable character! His brother, Richard, was the singer in the Furs. Later on, in the ‘80s, you had clubs like The Knitting Factory, a place where you could be bizarre, atonal, anything you wished. I’ve played at the old Knitting Factory on Houston Street . It then relocated to Soho and I’d often go see Gary Lucas with his guitar loops or Thurston Moore jamming with free-form jazz musicians.

New York loves being different and weird and that shows in its sounds as well.

"Less is more. Simplicity is my signature. Good pop music was built by putting together simple parts – the sum is stronger than the units. This is how I approach my drumming, trying to serve the song without confusing the other musicians, give them a platform to feel confident to do their own thing. The same applies in my songwriting. Simple rhymes, simple chords." (Photo: Akis in New York) 

What's been your experience in US?

It’s an ongoing experience. I learned a lot and I’m still learning. I was glad and lucky to land in New York as the New Wave thing was in full bloom, so every band, every artist I saw in the late ‘70s left an imprint on me. Obviously, the bands I was involved with didn’t leave a big mark on that scene but we didn’t care. We were happy to be part of the scene, playing and hanging out at CBGB, Max’s Kansas City. You can imagine the thrill I felt, playing at Max’s. As a kid I would stare at the cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Live at Max’s Kansa City” – a horrible recording by all means, it was done on a portable cassette player – but there I was, drumming in the club where Lou Reed entertained his fans. Everything NYC has given me I hold as sacred in my treasure chest.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

You’ve touched upon a very delicate subject! I’ve been reading Science Fiction since I was a teenager. Isaac Asimov, J.G. Ballard, Alfred Bester, James E. Gunn, Michael Moorcock… With the help of those authors I’ve travelled to distant galaxies and back, I’ve been on Time Machines, back and forth… if you consider Time to be a linear progression. David Gerrold’s “The Man Who Folded Himself” is an excellent treatise on the subject. I guess, if I were given the option, I would like to go back in time and spend a day with my mother. I was only two years old when she died and I can’t even remember her.

Akis Perdikis - Home

(Photo by Federica Paoletti)

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