Q&A with Vassilis Athanassiadis of Terrapin - explore the fields of folk rock, acid folk, psychedelia and beyond

"There was a time when we almost believed that music, or art in general, would be able to change the world – or, more correctly, to change humankind. Well, it definitely has played its part in many of the issues you mentioned, there have been positive steps, but this is not enough."

Vassilis Athanassiadis: ... Further

“Sanctuary” (2017) is the debut album by Terrapin, a relatively new trio from Athens, Greece, consisting of seasoned musicians who have left their mark on the local scene (two of the three are founding members of acclaimed psych-prog rockers No Man’s Land). But this is much more than just a side project. Centered around the songwriting of guitarist/vocalist Vassilis Bas Athanassiadis, Terrapin explore the fields of folk rock, acid folk, psychedelia and beyond, in a mostly guitar-driven, acoustic setting, with frequent bursts of electricity. The songs of “Sanctuary” (G.O.D. RECORDS) were recorded from 2013 to 2016 and besides the core trio of guitar/vocals, bass and drums, the album features a bunch of trusty friends: renowned mandolinist George Goumenakis, young multi-instrumentalist (and brilliant songwriter in his own right), Robert Sin on keyboards, all-round cellist Stavros Parginos, Paul Karapiperis of Small Blues Trap fame on harmonica, and last but not least, the mighty Bill Hunchback on sitar.

Album credits: Vassilis Bas Athanassiadis: vocals, guitars, Korg Monotron; George Papageorgiadis: bass; George Tzivas: drums, percussion; with George Goumenakis: mandolin on Summer Elegy; Bill Hunchback: sitar on City Ltd.; Paul Karapiperis: harmonica on Sunflower Street; Stavros Parginos: cello on Spiritual Bankruptcy & Sanctuary; Robert Sin: keyboards on Fog Rolling Out, Summer Elegy, Sunflower Street & The Undead; Artwork by George Tzivas.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Rock, Folk and Psychedelic culture? What does "Space Folk" mean to you?

I would say that in all those years of writing, performing and listening to music, regardless of genre, the main thing I have learnt is that there is always a lot more to learn. As for “Space Folk”, I guess it is a term similar to “Acid Folk”: music that is influenced more or less equally by folk, psychedelic and progressive rock.

How do you describe and what characterize 'Terrapin' sound and songbook? What is the story behind band's name?

Tying in with the previous question, we half-jokingly use the term “spaced-out folk songs” to sort of give an idea as to what Terrapin is about – some folk, prog and psych elements, dreamy (but not too dreamy) lyrics, some (but not too much) introvertedness. Anyway, throughout our debut album “Sanctuary”, our sound is mainly acoustically-based, meaning that six - and twelve-string acoustic guitars take center stage (together with bass and drums of course, with some electric guitar and keyboards coming and going, plus a few choice instruments such as sitar, mandolin and cello appearing here and there. In live situations we are quite flexible, performing either as a duet, a trio, or with guest musicians, in electric or acoustic settings, depending on the venue and the mood. Along with our own songs we perform some “treated” cover versions as well, some of them quite extended and with improvised parts thrown in – jamming, if you like.  

The band’s name comes from a Syd Barrett song, as does my other band’s name, No Man’s Land. You might say that I have a slight Syd Barrett fixation.

"I would say that in all those years of writing, performing and listening to music, regardless of genre, the main thing I have learnt is that there is always a lot more to learn. As for “Space Folk”, I guess it is a term similar to “Acid Folk”: music that is influenced more or less equally by folk, psychedelic and progressive rock." (Photo by Christos Sousounis / Terrapin on stage)

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

Too many to count, so let me just mention a recent one: last spring we did a live presentation of the album, sharing the stage with all our musician friends who participated in the record. It was a great, exciting night, with everyone, on and offstage, perfectly attuned to what was going on. Sometimes it happens, and it’s like magic.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I don’t think I miss anything; I’m not really into nostalgia. Great music is always happening, you just have to look for it. I also believe that it will keep on happening, as long as mankind is still around. As for future fears regarding music, I guess my biggest one is that the sad trend of people losing interest in music and treating it like a throwaway commodity will continue, with the result that the ones who are still passionate about it will become marginalised and eventually irrelevant.

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

It would be nice if people – not only audiences, but musicians as well – once again started to define themselves by the music they love – if, in other words, music once again started playing a major part in more people’s lives.   

What touched (emotionally) you from G.O.D Records productions and mission?

It is my belief that most, if not all, independent labels in Greece do what they do primarily out of love for the music. They bring out lots of interesting things, new stuff as well as re-releases. G.O.D. Records is no exception to that, as witnessed by their catalogue.

"I don’t think I miss anything; I’m not really into nostalgia. Great music is always happening, you just have to look for it. I also believe that it will keep on happening, as long as mankind is still around." (Photo by Christos Sousounis / Vassilis Bas Athanassiadis & Paul Karapiperis)

How has the Rock and Psychedelic counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

“Rock and Psychedelic counterculture” only existed at a particular point in time, and then it became a myth. For all of us who, being too young at the time, have virtually no firsthand experience of the late 1960s, this “counterculture” is a fantasy, a utopia, even though it exerts an influence on our lives and work. But it is similar to the influence of dreams: everyone has different interpretations, everyone attaches different meanings to them as far as their own reality is concerned. Dreams are necessary, but one should be careful not to become too lost in them.

What is the impact of music and Rock culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

That’s a good question. There was a time when we almost believed that music, or art in general, would be able to change the world – or, more correctly, to change humankind. Well, it definitely has played its part in many of the issues you mentioned, there have been positive steps, but this is not enough. Unfortunately, music, rock culture, art, all those things are not a revolution, and neither are they able to affect significant changes in humans - changes that must come from within. But, having said that, I am convinced that they can make us better people, that they can give us hope.

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

So many possibilities…let’s see…maybe 1966-67, Swinging London, hang out for the day and then go and see Pink Floyd perform at the UFO club… or perhaps Century Sound Studios, New York, one of those three days in September and October 1968, when Van Morrison was recording “Astral Weeks”… so, how about making it three days?

Photos by Christos Sousounis

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