Composer and drummer Vassilis Podaras (aka Billy Pod) made the decision to move from his home country of Greece to London a couple of months ago… just in time for the lockdown. We catch up with him at home to find out a bit more about his music projects, what he’s been listening to in isolation and what he’s most looking forward to about life in London on the other side of this.
First album you purchased as a “jazz musician”?
The first album I got as a jazz musician was actually a gift from my father. After I started my jazz studies at the Ionian University in Corfu he brought me the Stan Getz & Bill Evans album. It was something completely new to me and the version of Night and Day from this record is still one of my favourites. Also the fact that Elvin Jones is on the drums is a really special occasion and gives a different dimension compared to the rhythm sections Bill Evans usually played with.
What are you listening to right now?
I am mostly listening to classical music during the lockdown. Since I only recently moved to London and basically went straight into lockdown, I don’t actually have my drums with me – or even a keyboard! So, I’m looking at it as a chance for me to experience something new, more consistently. One of my favourite discoveries is Valse Triste by the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. I’ll be listening to this one for a while now. Wayne Shorter did his own (completely different) version of this on his album The Soothsayer.
Have you done or watched any livestream gigs since lockdown?
Livestreams have become quite famous among musicians since the lockdown started. It’s really amazing that artists never stop feeling the urge to create something new and communicate with others; this is the nature of what we do. I haven’t had a chance to do any myself as I don’t have my drums but I have watched some. I think it’s a good idea in general but also that it’s important to do it in the highest quality possible. It’s a new thing and I understand that we are all just beginning to discover the possibilities but at the same time it’s important to give a product of high level and aesthetics to the audience I think. I came across a livestream of Chick Corea recently. I wasn’t really watching the screen and was just listening to the sound but knew straight away that it had to be one of the greats. Even from a phone livestream you could tell that the quality of the music was incomparable.
A memorable moment in your career or education?
I remember having a lesson with master drummer Ralph Peterson. Before going to the lesson I’d made a list of things I wanted to ask about to improve several aspects of my playing. When I arrived he asked me to play one standard for him and just 10 seconds in he stopped me. Then he started commenting on what to improve and within a few seconds I realised they were exactly the answers I was looking for. Ten seconds was enough for him to understand what I was struggling with and what I was trying to achieve. To me, this was an immensely inspiring experience. It taught me how important it is both to be conscious about what you want to achieve and to find the right teacher who will resonate with your needs and goals.
Instrument you wish you played?
I used to play the violin in my high-school years and I remember enjoying it very much. I also think it kind of shaped my sensitivity to pitch and sound. I still miss it sometimes, but it’s something I will definitely go back to at some point.
Has this time in isolation inspired any new creative ideas?
Yeah, it’s been a real period of reflection for me. I don’t have any new release plans for now because I released my debut album, Drums to Heal Society, last year and I’ve been quite busy promoting it and also playing as a sideman in various settings. This album actually feels more relevant than ever to me. The inspiration behind it is an exploration of how music connects us all and how amid our differences and diversity, it is emotions and experiences that we all pass through on life’s journey that continue to unify us. This seems to particularly apply at this moment.
However, the isolation has also brought up some new ideas about my next release that I’m planning to start working on over the next few months. This will hopefully happen when I get access to a piano and/or my drums. For the time being I am focused on more conceptual ideas related to this. Also, I try to keep in touch with musicians from different parts of the world and some new collaboration opportunities are starting to appear. More importantly I believe it’s a period we have to embrace with all its challenges and difficulties, and try to see the new opportunities that arise. As artists, I think we are more united than ever.
What are you most looking forward to once this is over?
I am looking forward to exploring and getting more involved in the London jazz scene. I moved here about two months ago and half of this time has been in isolation. I did a few gigs with some great musicians and went to a few Ronnie’s late night sessions but I can’t wait to get out there again and meet/play with more people. It’s a really high-level scene in terms of skills, artistry and diversity, and I’m very excited about that. There is a lot to learn, listen to and be inspired by.
A chance to plug a friend’s music right now…
Ιf you’d like to discover some new music during the quarantine period, I’d highly recommend checking out this video from the upcoming debut album of my long time friend and excellent musician Yiannis Papadopoulos. We formed this trio while studying at Ionian University in 2009. The format of this recording is really special combining the original piano trio set up with a string quartet. Yiannis is a versatile piano player and a gifted composer and we’ve been playing together for more than 10 years, so I think there is a special chemistry going on with this trio.