No Man’s Land Interview with Vassilis Bas Athanassiadis
No Man’s Land was formed around 1985. First I would like to talk about the beginning.. Were you and others in any other bands before forming this one? Any releases perhaps from then?
When we formed NML we were all aged between 18 and 20. We had all been in different bands before – cover bands mainly. I don’t think that anyone had played in a band which had released anything.
How did you guys come together to form No Man’s Land and why did you choose that name?
Well, you know how it goes: a friend gets together with another friend and they start banging those guitars and drums, then along comes another and he happens to know this vocalist… then someone’s long-lost schoolmate appears out of the blue, saying “have I told you about this really amazing keyboard player I know”… and so on. But we never put ads out in studios, schools, newspapers or magazines, you know, “singer wanted for neo-psychedelic band, must own their own equipment” – we weren’t really into that. As for the name, that was my idea, and everybody instantly agreed – we all liked Syd Barrett, and it seemed cool to have the title of one of his songs as a name. Furthermore, those words, No Man’s Land, seemed to have lots of different connotations… anyway, we chose the name before we had even deciced what kind of music exactly we were going to play.
What do you remember from some early sessions you had?
Mostly that they went on and on. Being so young, it was a period for us in which we lived to play music. In rehearsal studios, in apartments, at gigs – it didn’t matter where, as long as there was an opportunity to play. During those sessions we were still trying to get our bearings musically. I think that from early on we approached writing and structuring music in an intuitive manner, rather than anybody bringing fully formed songs to the rehearsal. In other words, we loved jamming. And we still do. It was also a time when besides the core personnel, members started coming and going (this is another sport at which we’re still quite good at). By early 1987 “No Man’s Land Mark I” (consisting of George Nikas on drums, Jorge Ppg on bass, Agis Gravaris on organ, Evi on vocals, and myself on guitar and vocals) had finally stabilized. We had started writing more focused songs and some sort of direction for the band, however indistinct, had begun to appear.
In 1988 you released your first album called Zalion. It’s very Jefferson Airplane influenced album with great vocalist, she later went to form Echo Tattoo. What do you remember from recording and releasing your first album on Pagasus? How many copies were made and who did a very interesting cover artwork?
The funny thing is that at the time we strongly opposed the Jefferson Airplane tag. You know, we wanted to be recognised for our own thing, our own distinct personality as a band, and so on. We were still too young to know that comparing you to a band like Jefferson Airplane can only be a good thing. We recorded the album Zalion in Blue Moon with Chris Manolitsis. It was a studio which at the time serviced almost all new indie bands in Athens. The atmosphere was easy and relaxed… we had a great time. We didn’t have much of a budget, but we had complete artistic freedom, we were well-rehearsed and in an excellent mood. Zalion was released in 1000 copies, I think. The master tapes are lost, so whether it is ever going to be re- released is anybody’s guess. The cover was done by Evi, who besides being a truly great vocalist is also a really skillful and inspired artist.
What happened next?
We played hundreds of gigs all over Greece as well as a couple of festivals in France, Evi left to form Echo Tatoo, we released an EP titled “The Reality Trip” on Brummel Records with some more blues – soul oriented material, Jorge was temporarily replaced by Mario (Chameleon Selligg) from the band Jack of All Trades, we played some gigs as a trio, and in 1994 or thereabouts we decided to take a break. Together with George Nikas, the drummer, and two other friends, we formed the band Ginx, then I got some other friends together and formed Proxima, a sort of folk-rock band which lasted until 2003. That’s when I got together again with George and Jorge and we decided to restart No Man’s Land. Once again, members started coming and going.
Your next release was from 2008 on ANAZITISI Records called Home in the Sky. Would you like to tell me more about producing and recording this LP? I have to say the cover artwork and sleeves are so beautiful. I was really amazed when I opened them!
After such a lengthy hiatus, we had gathered quite a lot of material. Plus we were really eager to play and record. That’s why, in my opinion, as an album Home in the Sky is a little uneven at times. Most of the recording was done at Chris Manolitsis’ new studio. All in all, recording and producing this album took us a couple of years. Before we got into the studio, George Nikas left and was replaced by Chris Silver T, former drummer of the band Purple Overdose. The artwork is by Chameleon Selligg and the sleeve design by Nick Karathanassis of ANAZITISI Records – and yes, it’s really impressive.
Same year you released another LP called just No Man’s Land which features two very long songs. The first one is called Writers Have No Real Life and the second one is Stormbird. What can you say about them? The LP was released in 150 Numbered Editions on ANAZITISI Records.
That LP is Nick K.’s brainchild: he came to a gig, got blown away by two new songs and had an epiphany: two extended tracks, one side each, limited edition vinyl only. The only problem was that at the time each song had a length of about 10 minutes. That meant we had to find a way to extend them to at least 18 minutes – mostly live in the studio, with some overdubs but no editing gimmicks. Now, as I said, we love jamming as much as anyone – but as a band we’re also very structured, in the studio at least. It’s all about balance. So we came up with an idea: invite some musician friends, let them loose in the studio, see what happens. The results were more than satisfactory, but we discovered that mixing one 18-minute track is actually a lot harder than mixing six seperate three-minute songs. Anyway, since then Writers Have No Real Life has become a live favourite.
The Drowning Desert is your latest LP. The songs are more complex than your previous releases. The whole album contains really an amazing atmosphere. What did influenced you to take more atmosphere approach? What does the cover artwork represents?
Before we started working on The Drowning Desert, “No Man’s Land Mark Four” (or is it Mark Five?) had solidified. George Pavlis (Don Fuestenberg), the horn player, had become fully integrated, Nick Petavrides, our new bass player, had brought a new, fresh approach to composing and performing. The atmosphere of the album wasn’t calculated, but rather the result of intuition and a sort of striving for balance – but not at the expense of anything vital to the music. If that makes any sense.
The cover art is by Peris Ieremiadis (1939-2007), a unique Greek artist whose estate did us the honour of allowing us to use one of his sketches. The artwork as a whole doesn’t actually “represent” anything, at least not on a conscious level. It’s rather, once again, something we thought suited the mood of the music.
How about touring? Are you currently playing any shows?
We have been playing gigs all around Greece for the past few years. Currently we’re on summer holidays. In September we start gigging again, locally at first, and later maybe a little further away.
What are some future plans for you? Tour, new album?
We’ve got some new material, which we have been trying out live, and there’s more to come. There’s an idea of going into the studio and recording a live session, just the four of us, no overdubs, see what comes out of it – but nothing is decided yet. We’ll see.
I would like to thank you for your time and effort. Would you like to add something else perhaps?
Thank you. And may the Psychedelic Baby continue to grow and prosper in a better, fairer world.
Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2011
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