The halting fascination one might have for an unfamiliar sound as one attempts to place it in a category when it’s new, unique and of its own genre. That’s what it’s like when this rarity of a composer fills the space between one’s ears. It’s not pop, it’s not classical and yet both parts are satisfied in the listening. It might appear as high brow, with a sense of humour, or easy with an intense streak of pathos through it. It cannot be categorised but one can be assured of one thing. Each note, each triad, sustains interest from somewhere so deep within the psyche that one might be forgiven of thinking that a trance state had been induced. And then, forget about his music (if it’s possible), his exceptional talent and dare to look into his eyes. If the lyrics or music haven’t already captured you, what lies behind and escapes through his eyes will. The enigmatic, incredibly talented and refreshingly unique Othon Mataragas.
PP. Your biography is filled with extraordinary achievements, performances and collaborations… How do we even start with the interview? Is it true that once in your youth, your recital in an Athens’ theatre was cancelled due to the way you looked?
OM. Yes, sadly, it is. I was thrilled to have been offered a recital at the prestigious Pallas theatre but the whole thing got cancelled soon after I met the organizer of the event at his office. He seemed cool with me during our meeting but he cancelled the whole thing immediately. According to a third party that called me to let me know of the change of plans (he was obviously too much of a coward to call me himself) I looked more of a freak rather than an “exemplary youth” as was expected!
PP. How important is the way you look? Do you think that one’s style is a reflection of one’s creativity and uniqueness?
OM. From a young age I was in search of my identity and the way I looked was a statement for who I was. I have never been a man of “regularity” and never followed common patterns, so this was reflected in my appearance too. Unless one’s look has been created & doctored by others (as is the case with many big pop artists of today) it certainly reflects one’s unique perception and attitude in life.
PP. Let’s focus now on your second album Impermanence that was released recently. It features many incredible guests including Ernesto Tomasini, Marc Almond, Camille O’Sullivan and Justin Jones. What does it take to make such a breathtaking body of work?
OM. It takes drive, extreme focus and, most of all, letting go! The album’s seeds were implanted originally in my mind about 4 years ago, when I was meditating (in the tradition of Tantric Buddhism) on the nature of impermanence. Since then, the lyrics and the music of all 11 tracks grew effortlessly. I never pushed for ideas or tried to write when I didn’t feel inspired to do so. I avoided doing this as much as possible, as it was very likely that the result would have been uninspiring & sterile. Instead, I allowed myself to be swallowed by the ecstatic creative current and to go with the flow – wherever the flow took me. I was in total focus in regards with finding the money and working with the amazing people you mentioned but I was completely flexible in the creative process. The album grew organically this way and people got attracted by the strong magnetic force that surrounded it.
PP. Last Night I Paid To Close My Eyes is such a marvellous song that I personally got addicted to the very first moment I’ve heard it… and I still can’t stop playing it. The lyrics are extremely moving, poignant and poetic. “Last night I paid to cut my wings”… just breathtaking!
OM. Oh wow, thank you! The lyrics of this song were inspired by two things; first the poetry of the Greek poet Konstantinos Kariotakis, which I was devouring the period I wrote that song and second the loneliness that comes with older age and the often desperate need for affection; even if this has to be paid and “arranged” with rent boys or girls…
PP. In your case, how does it work with composing: Will the words come first followed by a composition? Or the notes get played first? Perhaps both, lyrics and the music come simultaneously?
OM. In the case of Last Night I Paid to Close My Eyes and Impermanence, lyrics came first. Contrastingly, with When I Leave You (from my debut album Digital Angel) music came first. It can work both ways and sometimes there is a mix of the too as well.
PP. What inspires you?
OM. Anything that is amazing or anything which is strong. In mediocre things, be it art, music, food or sex, I am simply not interested! That doesn’t mean though that something has to be complex or difficult in order to inspire me. I love simplicity also, especially when it is translucent and comes from the heart. Much of my inspiration comes from personal life experiences and, I can assure you, I have plenty! Music and art are there to transform these experiences and give them life; their creator can exaggerate them, prolong them, exalt them or banish them, like a magician who constructs his own personal magical rituals each time…
PP. Throughout your career you have been collaborating with not only musicians but many performance artists as well, such as Ron Athey and Dominic Johnson. You also have performed in galleries and art institutions, not only concert halls. How important is this kind of work to you?
OM. I never really planned to work with live art, I just so happened to write Mystery Star Dance for Dominic Johnson’s performance and that led me to connect with a number of artists including Ron Athey. The world of live art intrigues me and on several occasions I had the pleasure of being part of the actual performance, giving me thus, a whole new experience as an artist. In some cases I did things I would never do in my shows. In Ron Athey’s “Gifts of the Spirits” for example, I performed “automatically” and in an altered state of consciousness for the whole duration of the performance while wearing boxing gloves and after having been deeply hypnotized by a hypnotist! I love pushing the envelope and I certainly pushed it quite far that time. It went great though – It was an intense experience for the audience and a particularly empowering and liberating one for me. Almost an eye opener…
PP. Are there any artists (and musicians) you would love to work with in the future?
OM. There are many great artists I would like to work with but too little time to get around to do it! Also, I often have to turn down projects nowadays, even from people whose work I like, simply because I don’t physically have the time to do them. One of the projects I accepted to do, however, is with Franko B, whose work I have been following for years. In terms of musical collaboration, I would be curious to try different things, like working with producers or musicians from different sonic worlds, like Apparat or Ellen Allien. One of the rising new talents I would definitely love to work with is Bird Radio. I just adore his music and I believe the boy will go very far!
PP. Can you see yourself in 10 years from now?
OM. I would be striving to stay slim as I have a seriously sweet tooth and would, perhaps, have some new facial characteristics… who knows? Musically, I don’t have the clue what I will be doing but I know that it will be within the all-embracing and no-limits, highly adventurous domain of PAN!
PP. If there is one thing you could change about the world we live in, what would that be?
OM. Humanity. I would just do it a touch more “humane” and a lot less reproductive!
PP. What is you biggest dream?
OM. Whatever my bigger dream is I feel like I am living it right now and I will be living it for the next zillion lifetimes!