Interview in Rolling Stone magazine, May 13 1982.
An article by Kurt Loder appeared in the American "Rolling Stone" magazine, just after Vangelis had won the Academy Award (Oscar) for "Chariots of Fire". Vincent Evans transcribed it to electronic form and contributes it to Elsewhere.
VANGELIS PAPATHANASSIOU could have thrown himself an all-night birthday party on March 29th, or he could have waited up for word from the Academy Awards ceremony in California - but he did neither.
The mercurial composer was sound asleep at four a.m. when the first call came from the States informing him that he had won an Oscar for the stirring, synthesized soundtrack he created for "Chariots of Fire."
He is not an easily excitable guy.
Born in Greece to music-loving parents, Vangelis (the name, pronounced with a hard 'g,' means "angel that brings good news") grew up playing a grand piano and says he started composing at the age of four and performing in public by six. As a teenager, he became a pop star in his homeland with a band called Forminx, but he fled the country after a right-wing military coup in 1967.
Heading for England, he got bogged down in the student-labor revolts spreading across France in 1968, hooked up with fellow Greek expatriate Demis Roussos in Paris and put together a group called Aphrodite's Child, which had Continental hits with "Rain and Tears" and the classic Eurohippie LP "666."
Vangelis finally made it to England in the early Seventies and set about fulfilling his dream - the establishment of a state-of-the-art synthesizer "laboratory" in London's Marble Arch district. There the burly bearded bachelor whipped up soundtracks for films ranging from the French "L'Apocalypse des Animaux" to the current "Missing", solo albums spanning the abstract electropoesy of "Beaubourg" and the lush melodicism of "Heaven and Hell" (parts of which were used as the theme music for Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" TV series), and most recently two LPs with ex-Yes vocalist Jon Anderson, the second of which has spawned the Top Ten British hit "I'll Find My Way Home."
Currently, Vangelis is hard at work on the score for "Blade Runner." the upcoming sci-fi thriller by "Alien" director Ridley Scott.
Congratulations on the Oscar, and happy birthday. How old are you?
Oh, 3000 years old. A very young 3000.
In terms of the music business, you seem to have done it all...
In order to do what I'm doing today, you have to go through this music business - to make enough money to build your own studio and then do whatever you like. Which is much more healthy, more creative, than to go through singles and chart positions. I'm not against that, but it's not my target. It was very fortunate that I tasted success early with Forminx - playing in front of 10,000 people in stadiums, all the hysteria. It was great fun, but I wasn't interested in that.
When did you switch from piano to electronic keyboards?
My first electronic thing was a Hammond organ. But when the synthesizers came out, I jumped immediately, and created my synthesizer environment. I have a great collection. Everything. I don't read or write music at all, but I play all the instruments, or do it with a symphony orchestra, scoring on tape, dictating. It's the same thing, actually. Orchestration, composition - they teach these things in music schools, but there are some things you can never teach. You can't teach creation.
The synthesizer has opened up some amazingly creative realms.
Today there are synthesizers that require the same level of technique you would need to play violin, flute, whatever. I mean they are real instruments today. You can do whatever you wish with them; it is up to the human being. There are no excuses anymore.
Are you a close observer of the European pop synthesizer scene - Human
League, Kraftwerk, those people?
Very touchy question. I'll tell you something: I don't know whether it comes from the business or from the musicians, but to me this sort of music in general sounds like dead animals. You see a beautiful bird or a beautiful whatever - it's fantastic, but it's dead. And it's really sad. it's perfect, the style is absolutely great, but something's missing.
With the great popular appeal of "Chariots of Fire," will you still be able
to do more impressionistic things like "Beaubourg" in the future?
Oh yes. You can't believe what I have in the studio. I mean, I have an incredible amount of work that I can't release, because it's impossible to release ten albums a year. I always try to release something that makes a little bit of sense with the record companies, but my music doesn't seem to fit in the chart pattern. I don't follow the fashion. So I have other tapes that can't be released now. I have to wait five or ten years.
Weren't you approached about replacing Rick Wakeman in Yes?
Yeah. Actually, I met Jon Anderson in Paris, and we became friends. He asked me to join the band. but I didn't want that. I'm not very compatible with that music.
Do you have any desire to perform on-stage again?
Yes, but there is always this anti-spontaneous situation about concerts. You have to plan things in advance; the cost is unbelievable, enormous; and in the end, you're exhausted - which to me is not the purpose of a concert. Concerts are not a machine of money. A concert is a moment that you share with people, and whether they applaud or cheer in the end doesn't matter at all. It's like a love affair. Not: Oh yes, I'm going to give everything; I have to create my success, because my touring must be successful, because I have to sell albums. All that rubbish. Then you become part of the machinery of the business. And then you die. I don't like that.
Interview by KURT LODER, 1982
Transcribed by Vincent Evans