PERSONA NON GRATA – Take The Quantum Leap
As much as Greece has been known for its love of epic, traditional and power metal- there has been a burgeoning development for the progressive metal movement as well in this country. Probably spurred on by artists like Dream Theater and Fates Warning (the latter recording a live DVD in Greece), this is one of the sub-genres that attracts musicians willing to pick up instruments and use their creative skills to form their own takes on progressive metal.
Such is the case with this Greek metal band I’m interviewing Persona Non Grata. Now on album number two in their career, "Quantum Leap" is another one of those albums where the musicians are able to create songs amidst all the stellar individual, awe inspiring play. Your jaw may not drop at every solo or instrumental pass, but I think overall the better bands know how to write memorable songs- and I consider this group in this elite class.
To get to know more about the group I fired off a round of questions to founding keyboardist John Ioannidis. Do not be afraid to expand your definition of progressive metal, as these gentlemen are ready to make their mark on the scene.
What was your early development like in music? Can you tell us your early listening inspirations that moved you to want to pick up an instrument and play- as well as some of your first bands before Persona Non Grata?
"First of all I want to thank you for your hospitality in Eternal Terror and greet your readers. Personally speaking I’d say that I was surrounded by music all the time growing up as a child, there was always music playing in the house, either on the radio or on my mother’s record player. On the other hand, my father who had the talent in music but never the chance to study it, practically forced me to study music. (Full studies in accordion and piano).Later because of my preference in rock music, I learned to play the synthesizer and after playing in bands but studying at the same time I managed to reach a level of the progressive metal needs. One of my previous bands was Fatal Error which slowly developed to Persona Non Grata."
Can you inform us about the member shifts that took place between your debut album "Shade In The Light" and your latest album "Quantum Leap" with new vocalist Aris Pirris and bassist Apostolis Kalsas? How long do you think these changes set back the writing and recording of the new album?
"As you very well know, we changed the vocals of the band. Aris who has a very good rock voice with lyric elements took Vasilis’ place. We also changed the bass player as Apostolis took Christos’ place. Apostolis is considered to be one of the best players in Greece. I really don’t think that these changes slowed us down at all, as Aris came in a few days after the release of our first album and "Quantum Leap" was written based on his voice. On the other hand, Apostolis joined us recently so he recorded his way of playing our songs with his personal touch as any good musician would do."
Your new record label is Massacre Records- were you satisfied with the efforts Sensory Records did in the promotion and distribution of "Shade In The Light"? What impressed you most about Massacre Records to sign with them- as they have a more diverse roster of metal acts than the more progressive specialization from Sensory?
"It is true that our new label is Massacre and we are very proud of this accomplishment. Of course working with Sensory was a great achievement as at the time we were completely unknown. Sensory’s promoting and distributing wasn’t the reason we discontinued our partnership nor did we notice any lack of our CD’s in stores or online. For clearly practical reasons we wanted to work with a European label and that’s why we didn’t send our promo to any company outside Europe.
Massacre is a label that specializes in traditional metal but let’s not forget that they released some of the best albums of Fates Warning one of the greatest progressive metal bands ever."
In a previous interview I read you mention the emphasis on melody within everything Persona Non Grata does, either in the arrangements musically or through the vocals. Is it a tough process to maintain the balance between progressive parts and synthesize your ideas into a condensed, palatable songwriting format?
"As I often say, we are really not concerned about showing off our music skills. Melody is what comes first for us and especially the vocal melody, so that everybody can sing along to our songs. We like writing songs and not just music. This is something very hard to achieve in the progressive metal world. On many occasions the audience is expecting to listen to an endless solo and difficult rhythm parts in a song and considers it a weakness when they don’t. We have been criticized for not being as "progressive" as we should be. We don’t agree with the above and we keep on with our work, trying to balance between our technical issues and the melody, depending on which song we work on."
How important do you believe friendship and personal chemistry is in relation to the development of Persona Non Grata?
"This is very important, we are not a cover band to do some gigs just for the money. We spend a lot of time together and we want to have fun. Christos and I met when we started the band and are friends for years now. The rest of the band joined us later, after we made sure that there was a chemistry between us so that our friendship would grow. Today (and I think that I can speak for the rest of the band) except from the music partnership we have which honors me, I have won four very good friends."
What is Persona Non Grata like in a live setting? Can you tell us about your favorite memories through the years on stage? Will you often expand upon songs in a live setting- or do you try to stick to the studio versions of recorded material when on stage?
"This is a very hard question to answer while on stage. We are very thorough with our sound checks and equipment, while the sound has to be very good in order for the orchestrations and alternations in topics to be heard. When live, we try to sound as close to our CD’s as possible which is very hard. We do improvise sometimes while live but most of the time we try to be consistent with the original sound’s orchestrations and composing which brings our fans to a concert.
I can’t say that I can think back to a favorite moment while on stage as we haven’t played live so much. I think my favorite moment will come from our next tour."
Much of the new material on "Quantum Leap" appears to be a natural extension of your first album "Shade In The Light". What can you tell me about some of the stories behind the lyrics, especially within songs like "9 AM News" and "Diversity"?
"Yes, "Quantum Leap" is an extension of "Shade In The Light" but not so much lyric-wise but music-wise. There are some music elements that come from our first CD and get used on the second. The lyrics of the first CD were self-centered and all about a person’s self-concerns and relations with other people. The second album is more outgoing and about matters that concern us all and sometimes bother us.
The "9 AM News" lyrics talk about the reality we live through the news every day. Lies, non-important information, human pain. All they care about is ratings and not a human’s personality. The lyrics in "Diversity" talk about a nightmare. There are both nice and ugly pictures on the same dream at the same time. It’s a bit self-centered theme."
How much personal practice do you put into your instrument in a given day or week? Are you always expanding your learning curve as far as the theory and technique behind music to apply to Persona Non Grata?
"We work endless hours both individually and as a band, in order to achieve this bond. Luckily because of the advanced technology we stay informed about any new equipment development and music evolution. Personally speaking I try to get better every day on the technical part of our music not only to be able to play difficult passages if it needed, but also to deepen the understanding in our already written music. We also work a lot on composing, orchestration and producing."
How has your home country with its economic upheaval effected the band in terms of productivity and output? I would imagine you still have to work day jobs to fund a lot of your musical endeavors?
"The current situation in Greece is very bad. As on the economic level anyone can understand how big the problem is. For people living outside Greece it’s hard to comprehend the psychological state of a Greek person right now. We are no more cheerful, calm, and gentle. We are not on the point to make our living off our music but being professional musicians we at least succeed to get paid from music in general. This way we are more free with our musical choices that concern PNG’s future."
What do you personally consider three of the essential progressive metal releases that every consumer needs to own through the years- and what would be your own favorite concert memory/ experience as a fan in your lifetime?
"My personal opinion is "Images and Words" by Dream Theater, "Entropia" by Pain of Salvation and "Perfect Symmetry" by Fates Warning. I have been to many concerts but I consider the joint tour of Dream Theater and Pain of Salvation live in Rome was the best."
What does the business model look like for Persona Non Grata in 2011 and beyond? With downloading and social media tools providing that double edge sword of instant accessibility but cutting into physical sales, where do you see things headed for the benefit of the bands?
"I believe that people stopped buying CD’s and started downloading music because of the price. It’s too expensive and there is no going back to it. I think music will become available to download everywhere on the net in a few years and that musicians and producers will profit only from live performances. The structure of the music industry will change. Labels already turn to producing bands, promotion, touring.’
What concerns you most about the world and the environment we live in today? What needs to be taken care of to ensure a safer, healthier place for future generations to treasure?
"My concerns focus on the big changes this planet is going through because of the economic crisis. I think that the wars as we know will end and different ones with people trying to make money on the expense of others will take over. The environment is my second big concern but I think it has everything to do with economic crisis too. We all know that using the endless power sources of the sun, the wind and the earth is a cheap and eco-friendly solution for our planet and our societies. Why is the turning to those power sources happening so slowly? The reason is simple. The people who want to profit from this crisis won’t do so by using those sources.
Unfortunately, I think that protesting on our own is not enough. We all have to come together in order to gain our goals. Many nonprofit organizations are doing an excellent job."
Are there any special interests/ hobbies that the members of Persona Non Grata share outside of the music realm? Do you think its important to also have some down time away from the music to recharge your energy for the band?
"Of course each one of us has his personal hobbies such as sports, reading, painting etc. We all still have the music as our main hobby as we don’t consider this to be just our "job" yet. It is nice to take some days off from music especially after spending many hours in the studio.
It’s hard to explain it but since I started playing music professionally I listen to any music in a different way. I try to listen to every single detail, whether it’s the production, the way a band is playing a song, the mixing, things that most of the people don’t care about, but it helps me in setting some standards for our next work."
What are some of the short term and long term goals within Persona Non Grata? If you could achieve say your ultimate dream, could you describe what it would look like?
"My short term goal is for our next CD to succeed. I don’t mean in sales, as no one is paying for a CD anymore, but I want people to listen to it and enjoy it. My long term goal is to stay close together as a band and write good music. Everything from there on will come all by itself. Of course we would like to play more live, something every band desires. To play!
So, my ultimate dream is to establish ourselves in the music industry as a band with a personal character that define us and to last in time. Should we retire from playing I would like to be able to say that we contributed in the configuration and evolution of music.
Thank you again for your hospitality and hope to see you all at our gigs."