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A Never-Empty Picture: An Interview with Playground Theory

Playground Theory | Credit: Lilika M.

Playground Theory | Credit: Lilika M.

.:.A NEVER-EMPTY PICTURE.:.

An Interview with Playground Theory

by Christos Doukakis

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Playground Theory is one of the best electronic indie-pop bands in Greece for the time being. Having released their second album, Connect the Dots, this year on the always reliable Puzzlemusik imprint, there’s no better time for a brief chat with them. The question now is: Would you like to … connect the dots?

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Heathen Harvest: Hello, and thank you for accepting this interview. Let’s begin by solving the mystery behind your band name. What is the ‘theory’ behind Playground Theory? In addition, your second album is titled Connect the Dots. If we connect those ‘dots’, what will be revealed?

PT: One fact is that childhood memories have affected our music. Another is that we believe that creating music and being a child on a playground generates identical feelings. That‘s why we adopted the name.

The concept of this album is about the relationship between individual and sometimes seemingly contradictory elements which, when put together, make an entirely new meaning as a whole. Our focus is on creating hidden and previously unknown images and soundscapes which, depending on the listener’s own experiences and thoughts, are sculpted into a completely different form for each one.

Playground Theory | Credit: Lilika M.

Playground Theory | Credit: Lilika M.

HH: Connect the Dots is your second release with Puzzlemusik after your 2013 debut, Speaking of Secrets. Are you satisfied with the label so far, regarding freedom of creativity and promotion?

PT: We couldn’t possibly have asked for more ‘freedom of creativity’, and this was pretty evident while recording and producing the album. We paced this process on the tempo we felt was right for us, without anybody breathing down our necks. It was also very comforting to know that when we hit a creative block in terms of arrangement or production, there would be someone whose experience and aesthetics we trust there to pull us out of the mud.

As far as promotion is concerned, our label people do their best under very difficult conditions, also helping and encouraging us to be an active band that makes connections to the local scene independently.

HH: How would you describe the process of creating a Playground Theory song?

PT: Long hours of trying out chord progressions, melodies, and rough recordings, topped with the task of finding the appropriate lyrics and vocals for each part of the song. We then practice it in the studio and focus on the orchestration. It’s a long and thought-provoking process, but in the end it’s totally worth it.

HH: Would you say, then, that experimental attributes like improvisation aren’t something that you delve into?

PT: Improvisation is always part of the process of writing a new song. It’s the extent of the parts that are improvised that differs.  There is usually a backbone of chord progressions and an idea of structure, and we move on from that to creating a song by trying out and playing various ideas, riffs, melodies, and rhythms that could sometimes even alter the original concept and take the song towards a completely different path.  It’s like a live process of interaction and change until we are all satisfied.

Actually, the first part of ‘Rain’ was inspired by studio improvisation on the lyrics and melody of a previous version of the song.

Playground Theory | Credit: Lilika M.

Playground Theory | Credit: Lilika M.

HH: ‘Little Things’ is a perfect example of musicianship, combining elements of indie pop, ethereal, darkwave, and neoclassical into a cohesive whole. I could compare it to Dead Can Dance meshing against School of Seven Bells. ‘Little Things’ is also the album’s most uptempo track. What was your inspiration behind this track, and do you find it as special as I do?

PT: We are extremely happy that two of our favorite bands are mentioned here! We’d also include Death in Vegas in what we might think has affected this song musically. At that time, we were practicing with Eastern modes, so the opening piano riff came up. We used it on the backbone of an idea that was already based on ‘psychedelic’ atmospheres and added vocal layers trying to speak about the simple things in life that make us content but also create an ambient atmosphere. What you might also find interesting is that all the guitar parts were conceived by Costas Slam in his sleep while an early version of the song kept playing on repeat. As far as how special we find it, we’d prefer to call it ‘different in many ways than most of our songs’.

HH: Could you please elaborate on the fact that all of the guitar parts were conceived by Costas while asleep? This is too interesting to simply overlook.

PT: It happened on a Saturday afternoon. Dimitris Negkas and Marcy had sent one of the first home recordings of the song to Costas, who put it on repeat but was too tired to think of any guitar parts at the time. Soon, he fell asleep, perhaps due to the hypnotizing melodies. That’s when the riffs started playing in his head. He woke up worried that he was going to forget them by the time he could grab his guitar, so he sang and recorded them on his cell phone. The guitar parts he dreamt were the ones recorded.

Playground Theory | Credit: Lilika M.

Playground Theory | Credit: Lilika M.

HH: ‘Prison Song’ is a cover of a traditional song from the Greek island region of Zakynthos. Why did you choose to include this song in your latest album? Do you have any special links to Zakynthos?

PT: Yes—Dimitris is from Zakynthos and we love going there on holidays! We heard that song on the island a while back and we were moved by its melody and the feelings it invoked. Some years later, we decided to try playing it live. We felt that the result was very special and it became one of our favourites on the setlist.

HH: Considering your willingness to cover traditional music and some of the more natural elements in your song titles (‘Waves’, ‘Sunshine’, etc.), has Greek folk music inspired or influenced you in any way?

PT: Since we are born and bred in Greece, inevitably we have inherited our country’s musical tradition, even though we may think we can consciously ‘forget’ it when describing our influences. Good music always inspires us no matter its origin.

HH: How have you grown as an artist since your first album, and what has changed specifically in that time for Playground Theory? In what way do you believe you have progressed as a band?

PT: Making Speaking of Secrets gave us the experience we needed in order to be aware of what we really want to do in our second album. Moreover, we wanted to include scales other than Western major and minor; we also listened a lot to bands that are beyond that. This led to the largest amount of ‘mood’ variation. We consider Connect the Dots still to be a dreampop album, but with darker and more psychedelic elements. Lastly, the arrival of a fourth member has given us a more enriched point of view.

HH: What bands, then, have inspired you in this direction, if any? Are there any great examples that you can think of that were successful in their approach in this regard?

PT: Dead Can Dance was definitely a big influence, along with other bands such as Orbital and Death in Vegas that also have various directions in their sound.  But it’s not really fair to say that we were influenced by two or three specific bands, as we have various stimuli from various sorts of music (jazz, shoegaze, dreampop, industrial, electronic, and even traditional Greek music, just to name a few).

HH: Who would you say has influenced you the most in terms of bands, musicians, and authors?

PT: Bands/musicians: Radiohead, Unkle, Death in Vegas, Massive Attack, Portishead, Dead Can Dance, and Queens of the Stone Age.

Authors: George Orwell, Edgar Allen Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Sylvia Plath, Margaret Atwood, Jean Baudrillard, Philip K. Dick, Aldous Huxley, Milan Kundera, Franz Kafka.

HH: The eerie female vocals of Marcia Israilides are one the most powerful elements to Playground Theory. What does she strive to achieve as a musician, and what inspired her approach in Playground Theory?

PT: Marcia has been studying music, classical singing, composition, and a little piano since an early age. She has participated in various musical projects, but what she always wanted was to perform her own compositions, write lyrics, and collaborate with musicians that share the same enthusiasm as her. Through Playground Theory—a band formed by a group of friends inspired by the same music addiction—she found just that. Each member completes the other and that’s what makes being in a band such a creative experience.

HH: Do you believe that creating music under severe economic circumstances due to the Greek economic crisis has invigorated your general creativity?

PT: That is true, particularly as we experience and observe the multiple layers of this crisis, which sometimes involves the downfall of values. However, at the same time, we experience a strong tendency towards solidarity and compassion here in Greece—especially the last months during the refugee crisis—which proves that when people face difficult situations themselves, they tend to be more open and considerate to others.

As far as music is concerned, during periods of crisis, arts tend to flourish even though the means of creating or distributing one’s work are not so easy.  In that sense, it is more difficult to record, rehearse, or buy new gear in such a circumstance, but at the same time the need to express our bottled up feelings and dreams increases. That is why we see so many new artists evolving in every kind of art, disregarding the economical recession and trying to get their ‘voices’ across.

Playground Theory | Credit: Lilika M.

Playground Theory | Credit: Lilika M.

HH: For our readers, please name a few Greek bands/ artists that we should keep an eye out for and why.

PT: Sleepin Pillow, Jane Doe, Lower Cut, Keep Shelly in Athens, VIC, Sancho 003, Konstantinos Beta, Lowtronik, the Mute, and Puta Volcano, just to name a few.

Each and every one of them takes musicianship to a whole new level, either through combining different genres and instrumentation to their sound or through keeping to their musical style in a new approach.

HH: How are you going to support your new album? Are you looking to play some shows in Greece or tour elsewhere in Europe?

PT: Our next show is on 21/04 at Six Dogs in Athens. There will be more gigs in Athens and other towns around Greece, and we would love to make touring plans around Europe sometime soon!

Moreover, we have made various collaborations (remixes and guest appearances) on some of the tracks of our new album and we really thank everyone involved!

HH: Thank you, again, for accepting this interview. What can you tell us about what is on the horizon for Playground Theory? Is there anything that you’d like to say that you feel has been left unsaid?

PT: Remixes and alternate versions of new and older songs are due to be released while we’re always looking forward and preparing for our next time on stage. Thank you for this interview; it has been our pleasure.

Playground Theory | Puzzlemusik