A scorching August midday. I stand on my balcony, looking out at the sea, well, trying to discern it in the muggy haze on the horizon. Apostolos is on his way to sit down in conversation with me. I’m pondering my decision to start this podcast. Feelings of worry, excitement, anxiety are all intertwined and I try to give each of the emotions space. To recognise them and let them be. You see, I’ve been ‘in conversation’ with people all my life and greatly enjoyed discussions on all sorts of topics, but this has always been either within my profession (I’m an English teacher) or personal encounters with friends and family members. I’ve even been talking with artists, musicians, painters, composers, poets all my adult life. So, this is nothing new for me. Why was I then so nervous about this podcast, which by the way, was my idea to begin with? I glance down from the first floor and see a yellow Athenian taxi halting right in front of the gate. This instantly brings me back to reality.
Apostolos emerges from within and waves up in my direction, a cotton tote bag on his shoulder, a smile on his face.
He immediately apologizes for being late (only 10 minutes) and tells me laughingly that he had a hilarious time with friends the night before and that he was coming straight from his friend’s place with next to no sleep at all.
I laugh along. I’m not worried in the least. Musicians, the world over, have always been night owls.
He does accept some coffee, though.
The first thing I notice is Apostolos’s childlike gaze as he, coffee in hand, looked around and started asking questions about the artwork on the walls with genuine inquisitiveness. I was right, I thought. Playfulness is one of the key qualities of most musicians I’ve encountered so far and Apostolos was no exception. What followed was a serious of spontaneous questions on my part through a couple of games, which Apostolos accepted with due innocence. After all, his recent album release ‘Hane’ was largely based on improvisation, that is, playing around with whatever ideas and means he had at hand during the period of physical enclosure we’ve all been through. The mind, though, was free to roam and create, as Apostolos puts it himself.
Do you like playing games?
Yes, since I was a kid I’ve liked playing games. Hide and Seek was among the favourite classics which we played in my grandfather’s town, on the town square, running around, hiding from each other…
How about nowadays?
Now I really enjoy word games. This can go on for hours with lots of laughter with my friends. We create new words, free-association games of sorts. Dimitris Klonis, a fellow musician and a good friend is a master at this.
Dimitris and you go back a long time?
We’ve been friends for a decade or so. I found really nice rapport and artistic connection with him. Again, it’s through that playfulness that we connected. In music, we are playful in the same kind of way.
Let’s play a simple ‘I say-You say’ game then! I say a word and you respond with the first word that springs to mind. OK? I say – summer.
I say – swim.
I say – autumn.
I say – tea.
I say – winter.
I say – home.
I say – spring.
I say – joy.
Now, let’s go a bit more geographical. I say – Athens.
I say – home.
I say – Istanbul.
I say – home again
I say New York.
I say – mix.
I say – Barcelona.
I say – modern.
Let’s do some colours now. I say blue.
Blue is the colour of the sea.
I say – green.
I say – tree.
I say – red.
I say – heart.
I say – yellow.
I say – average.
To the word ‘School’, Apostolos laughingly said ‘Boredom’ admitting that he still has recurrent nightmarish dreams of having to be in a confined classroom again. The word school gives him a sense of oppression, he says.
The word ‘Time’ is something that passes while the word ‘Life’ is ‘All we know’ to his mind. ‘Journey’ is ‘Learning’, Peace’ is ‘Happiness’ while ‘Freedom’ is ‘Necessary.’
To the word ‘Dance’ he said ‘Feeling.’
We discussed the ‘danceability’ of the whole album ‘Hane’ at this point as this is one of the things that makes it quite unique.
What makes these tracks so danceable to?
Maybe it has to do with being a bass player where you always have to keep the beat. I’ve always been interested in creating something that has a strong pulse. A lot of the time I name my pieces ‘this dance’ or ‘that dance’ because I like to create a rhythm that doesn’t necessarily exist as a traditional dance. It’s me creating my own kind of dance, an imaginary dance, you could say.
Have you ever danced to your own tracks?
I’m not so much of a dancer myself which is not uncommon with musicians. We make other people dance, but we often don’t know how to dance ourselves. I met a lot of people from Africa, north Africa, the Middle East and so on while I was in New York and I learnt lots of different rhythms, how to play and approach rhythm. Also, both of my parents were born in Egypt so I have this need to travel there, not necessarily physically but through my music, to revisit the kind of sounds I grew up listening to. Music plays such a big part in these cultures. Just like in the Balkans. Dance and music are what brings people together.
Speaking of dancing, there is a wonderful track entitled ‘Alev’s Dance’ which you wrote for a collaboration with filmmaker Khaled Tanji.
Yes, we had this vision of making an animated short film together. It’s still in the making, but it will happen! It is named after my beloved wife, imagining her starting to dance after an intro of uncertainty and suspense. In a way the piece is an allegory to the uncertainty of our times but once it settles into its groove it offers a sense of release and optimism.
Some of the tracks on Hane have got lyrics to them. Did you write them?
Yes. It’s not something I do often. I started it quite recently. I couldn’t imagine doing this some years ago, but over the past couple of years I found that writing lyrics and some poetry is a nice thing to do actually.
Like in ‘Frozen Like The Winter’ for example.
Well, frist there was a melody in my mind and after Dimitris Klonis sent me the drum beat, I felt that there was a sense of violence to it, in a beautiful artistic kind of way, and at the time there was a lot in the news about wars and I instinctively wrote the lyrics about this soldier with burning eyes who is unable to look the occupied in the eye, afraid of feeling compassion.
For the final game, I laid some picture cards in front of Apostolos which had questions written on the reverse side. His eyes widened at the prospect of a hidden surprise question, maybe he was a little nervous but he reverently started circling his finger above them until it landed on one which he then read out loud.
When did you last succumb to helpless laughter? Last night!
I was out with Dimitris…
Say no more!
Truly! We fooled around with our silly jokes, naturally…
He picks up another card and reads out “What do you feel is important in life?” Love, I say. Romantic love, love of friends, of any art form. To love and be loved is the most important thing, I think.
So, time to address the word ‘Hane’ and your choice of it for the album’s title.
Yes, ‘Hane’ (Home in Farsi) is a place like home. Somewhere one can find refuge. In both Turkish and Greek the word was used for an inn, a place where travelers would stop for the night and rest before they continued on their journey. So, for me ‘Hane’ is the sense of home because during the time I was writing this music I was at home, in my safe place and I started playing with what I have at home.
And, just out of curiosity, why the egg on the cover?
This is a funny thing. One morning, when I woke up I remembered a dream I was having, of an egg sitting in its egg holder. So, at first it signified home, eating breakfast at home but then when I thought about the symbolism of an egg, it’s a birth of something, the creation, if you will.
We’ve mentioned two names so far – Dimitris Klonis and Khaled Tanji. Who else is by your side in this project?
I had the pleasure to work with several musicians and I’m really happy with all these collaborations and they’re all from different musical areas. So we have, for example, a good friend Fotini Kokkala on the kanun, Attab Haddad, a very good friend from London on the oud, Andrea Romani on the ney, Giannis Poulios on the violin, a great percussionist and friend Sakir Ozan Uygan. I also had some musicians coming from the jazz area, like Tamer Temel on the sax. Of course Leo Genovese on the piano as well. Two great guitar players Costas Baltazanis and Sarp Maden are also there. I hope I haven’t forgotten anybody!
Also, the album was mixed by Giannis Baxevanis and mastered by Fotis Papatheodorou.
Last but not least, let’s mention the ‘Epilogue’ – the very last track on the album.
This, too, started off with improvisation. When I listened back to it later, I realised there was something cinematic about it and thought it would be a nice way to end this little journey. For me, it symbolized going back to the outside world, after being confined the way we were. That’s why I thought recording city sounds would fit in perfectly. We ended up using the sound recording Giannis Baxevanis made, because it turned out to be a much better quality than what I’d recorded. So my music becomes one with the outside world, once again. In this recording of the city sounds there is a man, a random man on the street uttering this question ‘Don’t you know what the secret is?’ He was actually on the phone when he said this to someone but we found it a very poetic way to end this little journey, you know. I don’t know what it means, but sometimes it’s nice to give people something they can interpret in their own way, as is the case with music anyway. People can find their own dance, their own feeling, their own interpretation. That’s the beauty of music after all.
Apostolos Sideris is a bassist, composer and vocalizer, born and bred in Athens to Alexandrian parents. He left Athens to study at Berklee, Boston, after which he moved to New York. He now lives in Istanbul with his wife Alev.
You can download HANE album from the official TMC Publishing shop https://tmcpublishing.eu/product/hane/
For the full episode of our podcast ‘In Conversation’ this text was based upon, check out our YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTan0U94oJA