Intervista a Larry Gus

Larry Gus (pseudonimo di Panagiotis Melidis) è un musicista greco che vive (o viveva) a Milano, dalla formazione tecnica, che ha deciso di dedicarsi a tempo pieno alla musica. Le sue performance sono molto particolari e intense e la nostra chiacchierata (del 2014) è stata molto piacevole e anche una fonte di ispirazione. Abbiamo anche scoperto di condividere alcune fissazioni letterarie, per esempio per Georges Perec. C’è anche un documentario su di lui, My Friend Larry Gus.

Why don’t you tell me something about your story, you being Greek and living in Italy, travelling to the US…

In fact I travel a lot to the US, I haven’t lived there so far, I’m planning to, though. I’m thinking about it. It would be nice. I was living in Greece forever, I did everything there. I’m not a formally trained musician, I’m a computer engineer. I studied programming, engineering, telecommunications, that kind of stuff, and I worked for a couple of years. Then I went to Barcelona and I did a master but it was still programming, it wasn’t musical or arty, but I hated it and I decided I had to change my life and just do what I had to do, so three and a half years ago I decided to just focus on music. I moved back to my hometown in Greece, close to Saloniki. Imathia is the region and Veroia is my hometown. It’s the worst town in the universe, ugly and small.

I got some signs that told me that now was the time for me to be full on on music. It was really weird because I was waking up every day feeling like I was suffocating, I was working at the university and all of a sudden I was like, I hate it. I don’t want to do this anymore. I went back to my hometown and spent ten months there writing music. My girlfriend, who is now my wife, was living in Milan. I was travelling a little bit and then I moved to Milan two years ago, after I finished my album I moved there instantly. I do what my wife tells me, whatever she tells me to do, I do it. If she decides to move away from Milan, I’ll move away with her. Because the good thing about being a musician is that you don’t have a place, you don’t care.

My label is in New York, my manager lives in Portland, my booking agent lives in Los Angeles, my publishing company is in London, I don’t care, you know? It’s a nice feeling. As long as I’m away from Greece… in Greece things are really bad now, so it was a good chance for me to get away. It’s not about the financial stuff, the biggest issue for me now are the Nazis. It’s really crazy now, I have many friends who live in Athens and they try to fight them, they’re really active, but they’re scared, because at any given point they might attack you, people get killed. It’s crazy.

What do you think about the rapper that was killed, Pavlos Fyssas?

It was devastating. It was a political murder, like in Latin America in the 70s, like with Pinochet in Chile, you name it, it was exactly the same thing.

Are people taking the law into their own hands?

I have a feeling that with the way things are with politics, with all the people who don’t care, don’t read books and are ignorant, it’s very easy for a third force to come up that is above politics. You have Grillo over here. But it’s much milder. It was just… fuck politics, we don’t belong to anyone, we don’t care about ideology and stuff… and people are easily lured by that, they say, “it’s perfect, let’s go vote this guy”… and in Greece it’s the same, more or less, because the Nazis say “we don’t belong to the system, we don’t care about the rest of the people”, but it’s not true because they’re getting money in ways that… it’s the biggest coverup in Greece so far. Even the guy that runs Golden Dawn has a hotel and he’s involved in human trafficking with immigrant girls, it’s fucking crazy, it doesn’t make any sense. And people don’t care about that as long as, you know, “those people come here and take our jobs”…

In Greece we always had this thing with Turkey, it has been the constant opponent and enemy of Greece over the years, and people are already nationalistic and patriotic because of that. Even I had to go and serve in the army for a year, like every male. I know in Italy it doesn’t happen anymore. I was cleaning toilets for a year. But I read In search of lost time by Proust then. On the other hand, I’m not an actual musician and I’m not an artist, and I will never consider myself an artist, I don’t like the whole “artist” thing. I like finding out how people work, I like the process, I want to know when a musician writes music what the actual sign is behind that, how can you make something, out of curiosity, it’s very different. With my background in computers and engineering it’s much easier this way. I like researching, I like reading books, I still like to keep my thing in both areas.

Today I read an interview you gave about Madlib.

There are other people that I like to listen to, musicians, singers, groups… their influences are there, but… van Gogh was van Gogh, he had something like a gift from God, and that same way Madlib is a genius, he’s something else. It’s his own thing. For all other musicians there is a behind the scenes process that gets them to this point. So I never like the actual feeling that “oh, you know, the idea just came to me”. It can be like that, you have some references, everyone has some references, and that’s why I like people who are really open about how they came to do what they want to do and their body of work, and their influences, this is the stuff that I love.

So, how does it work for you?

For instance, I can’t write lyrics. I realize sometimes that I might convey some kind of emotion with my music, but it’s really rare for me to start working because of an emotion. It’s always very scientific the way I start working. There was this group of friends-writers, called Oulipo, active in the early 60s and 70s, Raymond Queneau was their guide, and they were trying to make a different literature out of setting constraints, creating games, and this is my biggest influence, this whole group and Georges Perec, I just love the guy. I’m obsessed. I’m more influenced by literature than music, in general.

…and there’s a lot of mathematics in their writing, too.

Yeah, I like the feeling that you build an environment where inspiration can hit you in other ways, so you think “I will create a song and it will just have drums” and you adhere to this, and you try to be creative within these borders. It’s like creating your own labyrinth and trying to find a way out of it. I rarely go out, I’m quite antisocial, I’m not good with people in general, I have never taken drugs in my life, I’ve never gone out clubbing. I know that I’m missing lots of stuff, but my thing is generally much more introverted and from the inside. I know it sounds boring and I know that if I was making music in the 70s the best thing I could do is cleaning the toilets in a big studio. I know I’m not talented, but with the technology available right now I’m in a good place. I could never be like this huge figures that you had, the artists of the 70s, these amazing, God-like figures that you watched and admired, you just wanted to go and kiss their feet. I’m not like that, you know.

You don’t think you have a real musical talent? Are you just being humble?

No, seriously. I’m not very good at singing, I can’t play an instrument very well, technology helps me a lot, and if it wasn’t for the Internet I would literally clean toilets, right now.

But you have a good musical ear…

Oh yeah, but I think it’s all about work. If you keep working, like everything else in life, it’s all about being persistent, patient, keeping yourself motivated, just trying to compare yourself to other people and ask yourself, “what are they doing? Why are they living the life that I want to live?” Because they just have the balls to do it. It’s nothing else. If you decide to do it, you will just do it. It’s nothing else. Seriously. You have to work, it’s all about work. One of my biggest influences is Woody Allen. I love the new movies and everything, but his whole philosophy about working is the most inspiring thing by far.

There are no peaks and valleys, it’s all about work. Other artists enjoy partying, tasting their success or whatever they’re doing, but I just want to feel that it’s a creative process. I want the creative process to be the whole thing. It’s just working and working and working and not caring about anything else. In a way, I’m not different from the guy working in the bar upstairs or the cleaning lady, it’s just work. Even if you’re singing, it’s just work at the end of the day. If you try to be good at it and you keep improving, it’s better.

You said you were fascinated by how Madlib spends 24 hours a day in the studio.

Yeah, he allegedly sleeps four hours a day. I don’t know if it’s true, but it might. He sleeps four hours a day, he smokes weed all day, and the craziest thing about the guy is that he says that all over these years he just released 30% of what he has recorded, and it’s crazy because at some point he was releasing something like seven albums a year. And he still says he has one million times more music. It’s all about confidence. I feel that the problem with people like me, we don’t have something really extraordinary about our craft, but people who are really good at it, their confidence level is huge and they can just give out everything without caring too much about what’s going about. That’s the thing about Madlib I really admire.

If you’re an artist, you generally go like “ok, this is not good, maybe I should not release this. Maybe I should consult this guy about this”, and then, “let’s talk with the label”. But this guy is like “give everything out and let people decide what’s good or not”. If you have seen videos by Brian Eno playing keyboard with Roxy Music in the early 70’s, he was literally playing like a five year old. He actually couldn’t use three fingers, let alone use two hands, it was crazy. But it’s all about the ideas and it’s all about trying to find a way, where you belong. Even if you’re a musician you always try to find a little corner that you can identify as your own, and try to nurture your things in there.

As people, we don’t want to be compared to other people, we always want to do something unique, and it’s always hard, which is why the best way is always narrow down, narrow down, narrow down and realize that “ok, this small place here is where I can stand and try to do things” and this is what I try to do, because if I step there – he moves away a little – there are people with more talent than me, better performers, better singers, better composers… I feel that I can do a little bit of everything, and I have my own thing because I’m weird, or whatever, and I can stay here forever, somehow.

Are you on tour with your new record now?

Yes, it’s still going on. I was in the US for three weeks, I was touring with Cut Copy… we started in Salt Lake City, with the Mormons… the US are really beautiful. We were in Reno, Nevada, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tampa, Arizona, Houston, Phoenix, Austin, El Paso, then we went to Oklahoma, lots of places. We were in Canada, we played Toronto, then we went back.

How did the people react to your music?

It was weird because Cut Copy are really pop, their crowd is really different from the people who actually like my music, so every night it was like a Venn diagram… the section that actually liked Cut Copy’s music and my music were like ten people, or twenty, thirty, and we’re talking about crowds, 1500-2000 people, but it still was a really nice experience. I’m really grateful they got me there, it was like a dream. To travel to the US and be able to see those places. They had their bus and we were driving before them, I had my tour manager who drove me in a really small car and it was a ten hour drive every day. The US are really huge. It was really nice, but I must be the only musician who got back fatter, because for everyone it’s so tiring, it’s like a diet, but I was eating all the shitty food they have there. Really bad and amazing at the same time.

You seem to have a really strong relationship with your wife.

If it wasn’t for my wife I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now, I would probably be working in a bank in Greece. It’s been really hard in the beginning when I decided to stop everything else and just work on music, and now since about a year it’s starting to get better, and she never judged me. She’s an architect, a designer, so she’s also on the cross between work and art, and she encouraged me. It’s better to quit your job, to starve and not have enough to eat rather than wake up every morning and go like “Oh my God”. If you’re used to not having money, it’s really easy to start scaling down. So, if Milan gets too expensive for me, I will move to a smaller city, or maybe go back to Greece.

The important thing is doing what you want to do, waking up in the morning and not feeling like you want to fucking kill yourself. It’s difficult to decide to jump off the building without a safety net, but it’s the best feeling in the world at the same time. OK, most of the times you will think you’re flying while in fact you’re crashing down from a very tall building, this is the bad thing about reality… in order to function in this kind of jobs you have to be delusional. You have to realize that money is a thing and doing what you want to do is another thing, and if you confuse them, you’re fucked. In everything that has to do with art, it’s irrational the amount of work you put in and the money that you earn, so if you think about it, it’s just crazy. There are people who’ve been producing so much art and they were never known until after they died, and there must be even more who are just doing it on their own, and we will never find out about them.

In the late 90s I was watching this documentary about the scratch culture in the US, and there was this musician, DJ Shadow, a huge influence on me when I was young, one of the biggest ones. He was in this huge record shop with lots of vinyls. He was looking at this pile of records, a mountain this high, and he said, “everyone of us who’s making music will end up in that pile, some day”, and it’s devastating, but if you realize this, you will see that you’re nothing, you’re just nothing, so you have to do it just to be happy the moment that you’re doing it.