“Opposites attract” in music as well. And indeed, when different musical worlds meet, the result is original, fresh and extremely interesting. That’s how «Hydra» was born, the musical duo of Greek singer-songwriter Irene Skylakaki and British producer Danton Supple.
Creatively and imaginatively combining their lyrical and melodic contrasts but also their mutual love for dreamy atmospheres and subdued intensities, the two artists released their first album “Hydra”. We had a nice chat, and they shared their thoughts on this collaboration but also on other musical issues. Read below.
Your new album “Hydra” is atmospheric and even though it is dark, it lets light pass through its musical “grills”. It definitely follows minimal forms. Is simplicity a way of life for you? How do you defend it in a world constantly moving fast where everything is at its maximum?
Danton Supple: For me the freedom to go with our own creative flow was such an enjoyable part of the process. We only had to please ourselves.
The sound grew from the first song we did. It found its sonic place quickly. I had built beats around Irene’s acoustic guitar, playing real drums and programming as I was not sure which way I was going . We ended up going with a hybrid as it felt good and kept the parts mainly quite minimal to give Irene’s gorgeous vocals so much space. The real drums have a sixties darkness and ambience which fused well with the punchy electronic programming.
Instrumentation was also kept to a few key parts that created the mood we wanted and gave us the chance to give them real depth as well as space. I think some of the darkness comes with the slightly ‘wonky’ tuning we messed with on parts that were naturally quite poppy. We also created these big ambient spaces around the vocals with multiple reverbs and fx.
Irene Skylakaki: I agree with Danton that we both felt a refreshing freedom to do whatever we like with this album. We have songs in the album in odd time signatures (a 7/8 for example) and some unconventional guitar tuning. While the mood of the album is not exactly upbeat there is a lot of optimism coming through the lyrics and a vibrant atmosphere created by Danton’s magical understanding of rhythm and groove.
In the description of the album as well as in the content, the connection with Leonard Cohen is obvious. When and in what way do you remember that Cohen marked you musically?
D.S.: It was the soundtrack to my parents parties as a kid but Irene reintroduced me to his work and educated me to his life in Hydra island.
I.S.: I’m a big fan of Leonard Cohen’s music and an even bigger fan of Leonard Cohen himself. I find few things more interesting than watching him talking in interviews or reading his poems. While the album is not about Leonard Cohen or Hydra island you can definitely see him in some songs.
In “Folk” you have used a musical theme by J.P. Martini – an 18th century composer. What are your musical roots and where do you feel you are “returning” as musicians? (apart from Cohen).
D.S.: I am not a trained musician but have been sat with players of many instruments every working day of my life so I know what I want but have always achieved that vicariously through players. Playing parts myself just takes a lot longer but is satisfying when done. I think we both listen to a broad stretch of genres and you learn from everything both musically and sonically.
I.S.: I feel like a few artists / bands such as David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, the Beatles are too good to be fully comprehended within a lifetime and I always find myself returning to their music both because I enjoy it and because it always sounds fresh.
As far as the “chemistry” between the two of you, what do you love and what do you love-to-hate about each other?
D.S.: I have not found anything where we rub against each other in a way that doesn’t help with creating ideas and pushing each other. Normally lots of laughing. It’s only album one so plenty of time yet to get into a punch up. Actually album two as I produced one of Irene’s solo albums. She’ll now probably list a load of things that I annoy her with but I can relax knowing I’ve been blissfully unaware.
I.S.: Danton is one of the funniest people I know. Seriously a lot of laughing! I hate the fact that sometimes I miss a few of his jokes as he speaks very fast in an english accent and I’m greek. I hope that by album number 3 the language barrier will finally not be an issue.
The name of your musical duo obviously immediately brings to the mind the beautiful island of Saronikos gulf in Greece, but I also associate it with water (ydor in ancient greek). There is a quote I really like: “the cure for anything is salt water — sweat, tears, or the sea.” I wonder… is (your) music a kind of healing?
D.S.: I think all music is healing in a way if you enjoy it. Research now shows music has very specific neurophysiological effects. I hope Irene will give you a more poetic and emotional answer.
I.S.: Some people meditate, others enjoy winter swimming, for me music is a way to declutter my mind. It’s definitely soothing, especially when a good song comes out of it – which isn’t always the case.
A question I always ask the musicians I talk to: if you were a musical instrument, what would you be? What would fit your personality?
D.S.: I’d like to believe it’s a cello but in reality it’s more likely to be a drum kit being played with a hammer and a cowbell.
I.S.: I feel like at the moment I’d probably be a quirky synth or at least that’s my instrument of choice.
Ιrene, I have been following you since your first musical steps so I notice that you are constantly developing musically. Do you think that Danton widened the horizons of your compositions? What musical need led you to this collaboration?
I.S.: Just observing Danton working in his studio is an experience. The idea that we have formed a band and created an album together is a little bit surreal to me. I definitely think that interacting with Danton has opened new windows in my musical thinking and I feel deeply grateful for this collaboration both on a personal and a professional level. Danton is both a gentleman and a gentle producer who understands the content of the songs and maximises them through the lense of his unique fragility and multilayered aesthetic.
Have you ever considered writing greek lyrics? Would you like to express your thoughts and feelings in greek in the future?
I.S.: I have been experimenting with greek lyrics for the past couple of years. It’s becoming more and more urgent to me to find a way to express myself creatively in my mother language. I’m not fully there yet but I’m working on it.
“Hydra” album’s sound is modern and multi-dimensional. The electronic elements rhythmically and melodically boost the compositions. Danton, how do you function as a producer? Do you have a specific result in mind from the very beginning or do you follow the trial-and-error process and let it guide you?
D.S.: I appreciate the descriptive. Thank you. You need to have a sonic picture in your head at the start but be confident and comfortable to let it meander off course as ideas come along that improve it. It wouldn’t have kept me so interested for all these years if I knew where songs would end up all the time. It’s part of the beauty and fun of recording music. It’s also about understanding the people you are working with so you can create the best environment for them to relax and give their best performances.
Don’t let dogma get in the way of experimenting with recording techniques and always try the ideas of others even if you don’t necessarily agree at the time. You can be pleasantly surprised. I’d rather go down a road and then come back if it doesn’t work knowing we tried it. Also, keep an eye on the big picture. It’s easy to obsess on the minutiae at times which on their own can be beautiful but don’t help the overall image.
I can’t help but ask: I read in your bio that you’ve worked with the great producer Phil Spector. I’m a fan of “Wall of Sound”! Would you like to share some moments of your acquaintance?
D.S.: It was a memorable period for sure. He was quite a character, to say the least, and very funny. I was privileged to see him working and hear so many anecdotes from his incredible career. It was a step back in time for me even though I started in the era of tape. His working practice was straight from the sixties with none of thinking we now apply to the digital world of unlimited tracks and effects. Strong, and brutal, decision making such as bouncing to stereo at regular points and then erasing everything else! For me it was terrifying and so I actually had a Protools system running in another room to back everything up.
This turned out to be fortuitous as after Phil’s “incident” I ended up producing the record. The murder was a trajedy for all concerned and it will be an unforgettable moment in my studio career.
Irene Skylakaki is one of the most important representatives of the neo-psychedelic scene in Greece. Psychedelic in the essential, meaningful sense of the term, the sincere expression of the soul. Her songs are known for their deeply personal and emotionally revealing lyrics, «woven» with experimental and constantly evolving elements.
Grammy award-winning Danton Supple has over 30 years of experience in music production. Βased in London, he has worked with major producers (Phil Spector, Paul Oakenfold, Brian Eno, Ian Stanley etc.) and internationally renowned artists in production, mixing and recording (Coldplay, U2, Ian Brown, Morrissey, Elbow, Suede, Patti Smith, Amy MacDonald, Kylie Minogue, Dave Gahan etc.), while also scoring music for Sony ATV soundtracks.
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