Jargon: “When my thoughts and feelings become songs, it is liberating, but sometimes it’s a really painful process”

Jargon (real name: Giannis Kosmidis) is known as the composer, lyricist, singer and keyboardist of Verbal Delirium, who have released three exceptional albums since 2010. This year’s The Fading Thought is his first solo album which is impossible to go unnoticed by any prog listener (our reviews here). This release was the ideal occasion for an in-depth discussion about the creation of the album, the peculiarities of a solo album, the difficulties for Greek progressive rock artists in Greece and abroad, and of course his future plans. The disarming honesty and sincere kindness of the interviewee turned the whole process into a delightful experience.

Questions: Kostas Barbas, Dimitris Kaltsas

Hearty congratulations for The Fading Thought Giannis! This is your first solo album. What made you decide to release a solo album, considering that you are the only composer and lyricist of Verbal Delirium?

Thank you very much, I’m very glad we meet again! This decision had more to do with the material of the album, which I felt was more personal and I also wanted it to be based on a string quartet, thus I considered it ideal for a solo release. Besides, I think that when you work as a solo artist you have the opportunity to experiment with more sounds and collaborate with many different musicians, not necessarily for a whole album, but even for the needs of a single track.

Can you describe to us the process of recording and producing the album? What are the differences with the three Verbal Delirium records? Did everything go as planned?

Yes, everything went perfectly! The rehearsals, the recording and mixing process, everything worked perfectly! It’s the first time the result has been exactly what I had in mind. Of course, all this is due to Nikitas (Kissonas – guitar, string quartet arrangement), Leonidas (Petropoulos – bass, production) and Vassilis (aka Will Bow – drums). We have been working together for many years and we know, appreciate and trust each other completely. We just went into the studio and everything was done right away, not much had to be said! That was magical!

There are two main differences between this album and the three Verbal Delirium records. The first has to do mainly with the production. Leonidas and I were absolutely certain and clear about the sound we wanted and we didn’t think about it much. We wanted a pretty natural sound that would highlight the string quartet and a balance between them and the rest of the band, which I think we did perfectly. The second difference has to do with the flow and consistency of the tracks on this album, which is also evident in the Verbal records, but I think that here it’s a complete success.

The use of the string quartet gives a special character to the album. What was the rationale behind this decision? How did the whole process go?

When I wrote these songs I clearly heard in my mind the arrangement based on the string instruments. I can even tell you that there was no band in the original conception. Of course, Nikitas was the ideal person to write and arrange the parts of the quartet. Apart from knowing what I want, he has the knowledge, he has studied it and he’s great at it, unlike me; I could do it, but the result would not be as good. So, after he prepared everything, we recorded the bass and the drum parts, and then we brought in the quartet (consisting of Costas Karitzis, Stelios Papanastasis, Theodore Mouzakitis and Aris Zervas) to record in one weekend. All of them are exceptional people and professional musicians; they all did their best and gave us this wonderful result and I thank them!

You collaborate with Nikitas Kissonas once again. Would you say that he is the artist who understands your musical vision more than anyone else?

Absolutely! He is my music brother. We have so many differences as people and musicians, and so many similarities at the same time that this creates a very special musical relationship! I think that my music would be very different without the participation of Nikitas!

The compositions of the album have all in common your personal style, but we also find many differences in comparison to Verbal Delirium. When were the songs composed? Were all the tracks destined for this album or did this occur later?

These songs were all written around the same time a long time ago, they were in my drawer for quite some time and I just waited for the right time. I never release anything as soon as I write it. This gives me the opportunity to find the ideal arrangement and direction from a distance and more objectively. Thus, you avoid the trap of releasing something based on the excitement of the moment and in the process realize that you would want it different or even not want it at all! For example, The Fading Thought initially was the song you now hear without the keyboard solo. I always felt that something was missing, that it was incomplete. So at some point, years later, I came up with the idea of this solo, and of course, as soon as I wrote it, I felt that the song was really complete. Another example is Window to the World. I had written the lyrics and the whole first part of the song (verse – narration – chorus), but not the end. That came years later. The songs are old, but some points and parts were added recently when we started working on them.

Especially on the first side of the album, but also as a feeling throughout its duration, there is a strong cinematic element. Was this in your original plan or did it happen along the way? Would you ever be interested in composing film soundtracks?

No, the tracks were not deliberately written to sound cinematic. It just happened, mainly due to the fact that listened to a lot of Phillip Glass back then. Of course, writing a soundtrack used to be something I was very interested in and had in mind, but it never happened! I haven’t tried to do it either, to be honest, but if I was given the opportunity, I would definitely do it!

A few minutes ago you mentioned your keyboard solo in the title track, which is quite extensive, and this is something you don’t do often. What makes you decide a song needs a solo?

I believe that you should let the songs lead you where you need to go and not the opposite. The more spontaneous the process is, the more honest the result will be. As a listener, I don’t like pretentiousness, so I try to avoid it in the way I write. I felt that this particular solo fit perfectly there and that’s why it happened, but I have to feel that there really is a need for something like that in a song and that’s why it’s something I don’t do often. I don’t like improvisations and extensive solos when I record (playing live is a different thing, I like to extend songs as much as possible, we’re talking about different conditions). I find it a little easy to find a main theme, improvise for hours on end, record the process and release it. I want to hear a composition! I think that’s where a lot of bands suffer. If you want to include a solo, do it by writing something, not just by improvising. Of course, improvisation is necessary, because that’s where it all begins, but you shouldn’t just record the whole process. Do it and then use the substantial part! That’s how I see it as a listener and that’s how I like it in my music. I know that others prefer the exact opposite and I respect that, it just doesn’t express me.

How Can I? is one of your most peculiar and dark songs. Can you describe the composing and recording process?

Yes, it is one of my darkest songs. To be honest, I don’t remember the composing process. I definitely remember listening to Nevermore a lot at the time. I know it’s not very obvious, but their sound and especially tracks like Cenotaph, Sentient 6 and Noumenon were crucial. In the verse, I wanted this very deep voice narrating the lyrics over the main melody and in the atmospheric – paranoid part I needed a very bass voice to create all this effect of stress and tension and the ideal person to do that was my friend Lupe (Michalis Latousakis), member of Mosquito. He did everything one take and we just made a second take just in case! This recording was very interesting because I had to put myself in a very strange paranoid mood to make all these voices, laughs and screams. We recorded it in Leonidas’ underground studio, under his house at 1:00 p.m.! The next day his father asked him what exactly we were doing the previous night, because they were hearing strange voices!

We think that as a whole, your vocal performance in The Fading Thought is more mature compared to your previous recordings with Verbal Delirium. Did this happen because the songs here are even more personal, is it a natural evolution due to experience or is it just us? How easy was the vocal recording process for you?

That is absolutely true! A lot has contributed to that. Certainly over the years you gain more experience and learn from your mistakes. The big change in the way I recorded the vocals this time was that I sang completely freely, trying to express what I wanted to say as best I could. I did not limit myself and I did not care at all whether I would sing correctly. Thus, the result came effortlessly and very easily! I’m very happy with that, because the truth is that during my previous recordings I wasn’t as liberated as I would like to be and everyone always told me that I sang the songs better on stage. I think I did it now!

Your lyrics are always very personal. Here, this feeling is even more intense. What are your main inspirations?

Most are autobiographical, not all of course. Sometimes I mix reality with fiction. I’m basically talking about myself, things I’ve experienced and situations that have troubled me and I know I’m giving the impression that I’m excluded in my world and my thoughts without caring much about what’s going on around me, which is partly true. I do not write because I want to send messages or say something important or political, as you have understood, with few exceptions. I mostly write formyself and satisfy my own need. This is the truth. That is except Verbal Delirium’s next album, where the lyrics are not so personal for the first time, but more fictional.

In the lyrics of The Decayed Reflection (A Verbal Delirium) from Verbal Delirium’s The Imprisoned Words of Fear (2016) you mention the phrase “fading thought” (the first line is “So here we are again fading thought”). Did the title your solo album come from this lyric line? Is this the sequel to the story after Fear?

In a way, yes. I continued from where I had left Decayed… because I felt I had more to say. The initial thought was that the whole album would be based there, but then the lyrics took me elsewhere, so we can’t say that it’s a concept album per se, but it definitely has a connection. I would say that The Fading Thought is divided into two parts. The first side continues the subject of The Decayed Reflection, and the second includes different topics.

In your songs, words like “light”, “time”, “room”, “void”, “memory”, “window” often have a leading role and great significance, as is the case with symbolisms in Peter Hammill’s albums. Does composing music and writing lyrics work as the ideal expressive refuge for you? How painful or(/and) liberating is this for you?

Certainly, writing music and lyrics from a very young age was my refuge and while I always wanted to form a band and release my music, exposing all my personal thoughts and feelings to everyone was and still is a little bit embarrassing and uncomfortable for me, but over time I got used to it. It also helps that when all these things become songs, they “leave” you and it is liberating, as you said. But sometimes it’s a really painful process, not so much the music, but mainly the lyrics, that’s why I don’t do it often. Sometimes I even avoid it, to be honest. I have to be in the right mood to write lyrics. Besides, when the tracks are played live you have to go back there to relive them, something not always pleasant. A response could be “then why don’t you write about something pleasant?” We all know very well that problems and difficulties inspire us most. When I’m happy I don’t write music!

After so many years, I think that your personal songwriting and vocal style has been completely crystallized. However, I feel that this album is an important moment in your development as a musician and especially as a creator. Do you feel that way?

It is very difficult and very important for me to have a personal style. When someone listens to your music and recognizes you. When you have a personal stamp and you‘re not just another clone that sounds like this band or that singer. So I’m very happy when they tell me that. It’s too early to estimate the artistic value of the album, but I feel the same way. I think it is very important, indeed. But I say it simply and vaguely. I have no argument, I speak instinctively. It will show in a few years. Everything is judged in the course of time.

Ten years after the debut of Verbal Delirium, with participation in several prog festivals outside Greece, what is the feedback from the audience and music press in Greece and abroad?

Regarding music press (reviews, live reports, interviews, etc.) in Greece and abroad, we have received only positive comments all these years, and it is really very encouraging. In all the festivals we played abroad, I think that we stood deservedly high next to many great bands. We learned, we gained experience, better stage presence and this helped us become better and raise the bar higher and higher. All the people who worked in the sound and organization department are excellent professionals and we have never had the slightest problem. Flawless cooperation, understanding and mutual respect. I also have the best to say about the audience. Even if we played at 2 in the afternoon, almost everyone was there to listen to us and support us. We’ve always had amazing feedback. Everyone always bought from our merch. It’s in their mentality! I remember that in the Netherlands we had sold out everything (the second time out of the three we’ve been there) and people were asking us if we still had something else to sell beyond what they had already got! These things are very important for a band: when people come, listen to you with reverent attention and shop to support you, showing that they really enjoyed your music! This is why we no longer miss any opportunity to play as much as possible when we are invited to festivals abroad. Now … in Greece we have never been invited, that’s the truth! Unfortunately, things are very different here. We have been in the music business for 10 years with Verbal Delirium and there are many prog listeners who haven’t even heard of us. I sincerely thank this small but dedicated audience that has been supporting us all these years and they’re not friends and relatives! Without them we might not be here today, but I can’t really hide my question and frustration with the majority of the Greek audience… If we were exactly the same band but had a different nationality, they would treat us differently. Of course, this also happens in other really remarkable bands, not only in us! That is why, as I have mentioned in another interview, I believe that the future of this scene, especially in Greece, is ominous.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic makes it very difficult for all artists as they cannot play live until further notice. Are you planning to present The Fading Thought live even if it becomes possible after several months? If so, can you imagine the material of this album live without the string quartet?

We will definitely present the album live at the first opportunity with a string quartet! But this will happen only once, because unfortunately there is no financial possibility for more. We will definitely give some concerts without the string quartet, which is not impossible at all. We did that for the first time at a festival several months ago and it went very well! The arrangements of the songs certainly change and become a little more electric, but the result is good no matter what.

The quarantine that ended about a month ago in Greece was a difficult time for most people. How was it for you and how much did it help you (or the opposite) as a musician?

The quarantine was a very creative period for me. I had absolute tranquility, relaxation and concentration and it gave me the opportunity to do a lot of what I love. I listened to a lot of music and wrote a lot of music for my next solo album. However, of course it had its downsides, because we did not have the opportunity to rehearse with Verbal Delirium, but we took advantage of time creatively using music programs and skype, as almost all musicians in the world did.

Since you can’t present the album on stage at the moment, have you thought of alternative ways to promote it?

Due to the circumstances, it is necessary to do some live via the internet. We did that with Nikitas a few days ago with piano, guitar and vocals. It went pretty well, but it certainly doesn’t compare to the real live feel you experience on stage and the interaction with the audience.

Before we finish this interview, we can’t help but ask about your future plans, both as a solo artist and with Verbal Delirium. Is any new material ready? What can we expect and how soon?

We’ve worked on the material for the next Verbal Delirium album and we will start recording soon! At the same time, I am working on my next solo album, and, if all goes well, I will start recording after the next Verbal Delirium is released.

Jargon, thank you very much for your time and the very interesting things you shared with us. All of us at Progrocks.gr wholeheartedly wish The Fading Thought will have the impact it deserves, which undoubtedly exceeds the limits of progressive rock. The only thing for sure is that we will see each other again soon!

May all of you be well! Thank you very much for the interview, the review and your support to the Greek, and not only, prog scene all these years!

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