From Aural Innovations #21 (October 2002)
[I would like to extend my warmest thanks to Purple Overdose manager Stefanos Panagiotakis for his enthusiastic help in supplying material for completing this article and facilitating the interview with the band... JK]
The beauty of psychedelic music lies in its potential for genuine magic to occur. And if you focus your mantra in the direction of Athens, Greece you will find something very magical indeed. Purple Overdose is a band who unabashedly wear their passion for 1960's/70's era psychedelia on their shirtsleeves, creating some of the most beautiful and passionate progressive influenced psychedelia of the last several years. Formed in 1987 by guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Costas Constantinou, Purple Overdose have released five studio albums and one live album of cosmic sounds that recall the glory of days gone by, while retaining a freshness and excitement that shrugs off any accusations of being "retro". What follows is a review of the Purple Overdose catalog followed by an interview with the band.
Exit #4 (Pegasus Records 1988, PEG 005, LP)
Purple Overdose's debut album - Exit #4 - was released in 1988 on Pegasus Records. At this time a quartet, the band consisted of Costas Constantinou on guitars and lead vocals, Christophoros Triantaphilopoulos on drums & percussion (George Nikas is the drummer on 5 tracks), "Sugar" George Papageorgiades on bass and backing vocals, and Michalis Vasiliou on organ, piano and backing vocals.
On this release we hear a rawer version of Purple Overdose though the seeds of exciting things to come are firmly planted. The songs reveal the bands passion for 60's era psychedelia combining elements of Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, and go-go flower power psych. The San Francisco sound really comes out on songs like "Are You There". "Yellow Mole" and "Roobie Go Round" feature classic 60's psych styled organ and keys. Listening to "Yellow Mole" conjures up visions of go-go- girls grooving high above the dance floor. "Orange Journey" is the most Doors flavored song of the set and we're treated to the band taking off into jam territory (dig those Ray Manzarek keyboards!). "Holes" combines a Jefferson Airplane sound with Costas Constantinou's unmistakable vocals. "When You Talk About Me" is one of the heavier and intense songs on the album though the verses are classic 60's psychedelia. And "Blue Torture" is a cool trippy Blues tune. An impressive debut.
Indigo (Pegasus Records 1990, PEG 007, LP)
The bands sophmore album - Indigo - was released in 1990, again on Pegasus Records and sporting a Salvadore Dali painting on the cover. Still a quartet, joining Constantinou and Triantaphilopoulos were two new members: Andreas Andriopoulos on bass and Aris Kontoangelos on keyboards. Better production, a fuller sound, and rife with progressive rock influences, Indigo showcases a band that had clearly developed and matured in both composition and musicianship in the two years since Exit #4.
A much welcome element of Indigo is the inclusion of more instrumental passages and even an entire instrumental track in the form of "Suite For A Sunshine Day". One of the more prog rock oriented songs on the album, the music moves through multiple themes, touching on bits of trippy jazz and includes some organ sounds that will make fans of late 60's/early 70's prog-psych drool. "Moonlight Sunshine" is a floating psychedelic song with dancey, almost tribal rhythms and includes a beautiful singing guitar solo. "Cosmic Ladder" is a sweeping mildly acidic song with yet another seductive guitar solo from Costas and mind-bending organ from Aris. "Golden Eyes" is a standout song being an easy-paced journey with shimmering guitar blasts and slow cosmic solos. The music reaches subtle levels of intensity but gently cradles the listener at all times. "Rain Without Storm" is another flowing prog-psych song with a Renaissance sound and flute embellishment from guest Tolis Labouris. "White Colours" is an excellent song that sets a psychedelic Beat jazzy groove lead by the organ and another flute contribution from Labouris. Finally, "(shady reflections at the) Magic Forest" features more Renaissance influences including violin and harpsichord. The band then take off into one of the heaviest rockin jams on the album that closes the set on ultra high note.
Purple Overdose (Pegasus Records 1994, PEG 015, LP)
Except for a 7" released in 1993, it wasn't until four years after Indigo that the bands next full length album, the self-titled Purple Overdose was released. Constantinou, Triantaphilopoulos and Andriopoulos were still in the lineup but the band also included Vassilis Kapanikis, their third keyboard player in as many albums, and a fifth member, Apostolos Labouris on flute and sax.
"Fell From The Stars" opens the set and shows that the band intend to make full use of their flute player on this psychedelic fusion song with it's cool trippy jazz jams and blistering psych-rock. They deliver even more wonderful jazz-psych grooves on the cosmically whimsical "The Unreal Life Of Emery Wax". "Blank Empty Space" is one of the albums stronger tracks, being an easy-paced, but powerful rocker with pounding wah guitar chords and solos that wind themselves around your brain.
"My Little Elf" includes gorgeous acoustic guitar, flute and percussion along with brief moments of heavy prog majesty. "Lord It's Me" is a similar acoustic song interspersed with progressive rock sections, exquisite melodies, flute, and orchestral keyboard backdrops. "Rainbows" is similar still, though sedate full band sections replace the acoustic parts and the heavier proggy segments are among the most powerful moments on the album. "Coming Near To My Brain" is a driving psych rocker that's slightly jazzy in parts with hints of Blues. And at nearly 8 minutes, "Chase The Color" is a psychedelic trip that alternates between rock and cosmic drift. But it has a bit of a Celtic rock sound too that brings to mind an old Horslips song. I know... strange analogy. But the journey culminates in an excellent powerful psych-rock finale of swirling organ and wailing guitar that I wish had started earlier in the song.
Though coming out some years after the previous release, Purple Overdose in many ways picks up where Indigo left off, being similar in sound and style to that album and with equally powerful musical statements.
Solemn Visions (Pegasus Records 1996, PEG 023, LP)
The bands fourth album - Solemn Visions - was released two years later in 1996 and for the first time the full lineup from the previous album remained intact. A step forward from the previous two releases, Solemn Visions delivers Purple Overdose's fullest sound yet, as well as a greater use of cosmic effects.
It's clear from the opening track that Purple Overdose have matured significantly. "Pulsating The Door Of My Dreams" is a mind expanding psych rocker with killer Bluesy liquid guitar and keyboards and intense spacey wind tunnel efx. "Funny Decoration" is a potent rocker that sounds a bit like Jefferson Airplane and includes an extra heady dose of brain candy served up by guest Vassilis Pieraneas on sitar. "The Room Of Angels" is a very good orchestral prog-psych tune. "Out Of Your Mind" is an excellent heavy prog-psych tune that rocks hard with powerful guitar and organ, the guitar sound and rhythms sometimes having a Santana feel. Sitar and sax embellishment color the atmosphere nicely on this driving rocker.
One of my favorite Purple Overdose songs to date, "Solemn Visions" is another power prog psych tune and one of the bands most potent rockers. Though the track has vocals the bulk of the nearly 10 minute tune consists of continually shifting instumental passages. The band also get down with some jazzy Salsa rhythms colored by mucho cosmic space efx as Labouris takes the lead on flute. "Released" is a Bluesy prog-psych rocker that gets nicely acidic at times. And "Crystal Wind" is similar with a kick ass acid-Blues guitar solo and healthy doses of organ. Solemn Visions proved to be an outstanding effort and the stability of the bands lineup over the past couple years most surely contributed to the quality of the songs and performance.
Reborn (Action Records 1999, ACT 002, CD)
Released in 1999 on Action Records, Reborn was the first Purple Overdose album not on Pegasus Records and their first to be released on CD. Apostolos Labouris had left the band but the rhythm section was now augmented by Stavros Eleftheriou on congos and assorted percussion. The production, musicianship and composition had advanced to such a degree that I can say without reservation that Purple Overdose have created one of the greatest psychedelic albums of the past decade. A powerhouse tour de force that will take over your mind and simultaneously rock and caress you into a state of aural ecstasy. Every song, however beautiful, is also imbued with a magical power and grandeur unrivaled by anything the band had recorded before. The excellent production deserves much of the credit for the musics commanding presence, and longer songs allow the band to stretch out and develop the music like never before.
Opening with a trippy raga sitar melody, dark organ, acidic guitar lines and extra Eastern flavor from Eleftheriou's percussion, "(It's a) Fortune Teller" is a 12 minute celestial voyage that takes the listener on a paisely colored magic carpet ride of pure mind expanding bliss. The song itself is one of Purple Overdose's most powerful and includes long instrumental passages with slow haunting organ melodies, commanding percussion and well placed effects. "Her Arms Embraced The Sun" is my personal favorite Purple Overdose song to date, consisting of some of the simpliest yet most powerful guitar and organ lines ever recorded, and includes some of the most passionate playing we've heard from Costas' guitar and Vasilis' organ. I'm simply awestruck every time I hear this song.
The other major highlight of the album is the multi-part "Fading Sound Of Lost Thought". The song begins slowly but then launches into a killer prog-psych assault that rocks for a minute or so before settling into a steady driving groove. Vasilis is front and center on the organ and tears it up beautfully while Stavros' congos keep a dancey ethnic rhythm. Then as we get to the "The Flight" segment the band goes off into a deep space freakout of efx, loops and other cosmic sounds before a smooth landing winds the song down. Excellent!! Listening to this album can be draining and I'm thankful for the closing title track which eases me toward the albums conclusion with mostly acoustic meditative music. In summary, Reborn is a true psychedelic treasure and a hallmark of the Purple Overdose catalog.
The Salmon's Trip Live (Onion Music 2001, OCD#1001 / OLP#10S1.1-2)
Purple Overdose's latest release - The Salmon's Trip Live - documents the current band's live show and features the same quintet that recorded the Reborn CD. Released in LP and CD versions, the two consist of almost completely different setlists (attention collectors!) that draw from the entire Purple Overdose catalog. What The Salmon's Trip certifies is that Purple Overdose are a band that can deliver the goods live. What impressed me the most is how well they handle full band electric and unplugged versions of their songs with equal passion and grace. Just compare the electric version of (Its a) Fortune Teller on the CD edition with the unplugged version of the same song on the LP and you'll see what I mean. It's also a treat hearing how the bands earliest songs like "Orange Journey" and "Rooby Go Round" from their debut album have evolved in power and majesty over the years while still being recognizable as the songs they originally were. And for a primo example of how Purple Overdose excel at lengthy mind expanding instrumental excursions you can do no better than "Chase The Colour", a totally cosmic cut from the LP edition. Along with the Reborn CD, The Salmon's Trip gets my HIGHEST recommendation to fans of psychedelia in its purest and most passionately executed form.
Wanting to know more about this gem of a band we conducted the following interview via cyberspace:
AI: I see that Purple Overdose was formed by Costas Constantinou. Are you the main songwriter and the author of these beautiful lyrics? Were you in any bands worth mentioning prior to Purple Overdose?
Purple Overdose (PO): Me. Costas Constantinou. I'm the responsible person for the music and lyrics of the band. Though I must admitt that all band members apply their ideas on every musical part of each song during the rehearsals. By the way, I wanna thank you for your good words and thoughts about the band. In the pre-PURPLE OVERDOSE years I played in three bands but they are not worth mentioning as they were never recorded or remained active more than short periods of time.
AI: It looks like between Reborn and The Salmon's Trip Live the band lineup remained stable. Are all the same members still in Purple Overdose?
PO: Not exactly. After our latest album "The Salmon's Trip...Live", organ/flute player Vasilis Kapanikis left the band after 8 years and was replaced by Costas Stergiou who also sings and composes, on April 15th, 2001. He's also the youngest in age among us, only 21 years old!
AI: Reborn is one of the most powerful psychedelic albums I've ever heard. Of the earlier albums I've only heard your first, Exit #4 (though since this interview have heard them all), itself an excellent set of psychedelic songs. Do you feel that the albums between Exit #4 and Reborn show a progression toward the amazing sound heard on Reborn, or should lovers of Reborn expect to hear the same power on Indigo, Purple Overdose, and Solemn Visions?
PO: Once again thank you for your kind opinions regarding our albums. We think that from the third album, "PURPLE OVERDOSE", started a trilogy which completed on "REBORN". You may notice an intention for a concept album, slightly first on the third album, a little more on "SOLEMN VISIONS", and fully on "REBORN". There is also a logical evolution in our sound and you can recognise the result in "REBORN". We believe that our second album, "INDIGO", was more lyrical and sensitive than the rest and since that album we began to use a more "progressive" feeling which affected all our next works.
AI: I love the mixture of full band and "unplugged" tracks on The Salmon's Trip Live. Is this common in your live performances to alternate between full band and acoustic?
PO: Purple Overdose didn't use to play electric and unplugged at the same show. We've tried this in the past for a couple of times but we believe that the right thing is to do it in different sets, in order to be more perfect musically and artistically on the stage. During a concert season if we have to do 5 performances then the unplugged ones will be the 1-2.
AI: Reading your web site I see where you had the opportunity to play some festivals with very large audiences. How was the reception to Purple Overdose from people who had not previously heard your music?
PO: We think that most people reacted positively. Of course it's plain to see that among the audience of an open festival there are many people who prefer today's music with samplers or the hard stoner sound and they aren't familiar or open to our music. Mainly we are getting a positive response from the crowd. The main difference between PURPLE OVERDOSE and the other bands in a festival is that we are more faithfully close to the music of the great bands of the 60's and 70's. For us the top problem in Greece is not the people but the promoters. PURPLE OVERDOSE has a completely different way of thinking than these guys which is very easy to understand by the way they organise a show like this or the money they spend or intend to spend.
AI: Do you get to play live often? Are you full-time musicians?
PO: It is very hard to be a full time rock musician in Greece, especially a psychedelic one. Our band members have their own steady jobs. The shows we play offer only a few extra money and we play a limited number every year.
AI: Is there a supportive "scene" for psychedelic music in Greece? (Two other excellent Greek bands I know are Tidal Flood and Into The Abyss.)
PO: At the late 80's when we started to play there were also some very good psychedelic bands such as "JACK OF ALL TRADES", "NO MAN'S LAND", "THE MUSHROOMS" to name a few. Today the situation is the worst ever but some very interesting bands still try to keep the fire alive, like "WILL-O-THE WISP", "THE EXPEDITION" and the space-blues combo "THE GREEN ONIONS" who is also our support band (as we share the same organ player Stergiou).
AI: Have you ever played live outside Greece?
PO: No, never happened to us an experience like this because we are not well known to the promoting agencies abroad. We wanted all those years knowing that our music has more fanatics out there than in Greece. This is a reality we've experienced by the number of albums we sold through our website to Europe, USA , even to Venezuela, they are more than the ones we sell in our home!!
AI: Tell me about how you hooked up with the Electric Prunes. Is the show you'll be playing with them in October a festival? It must be exiting to play with such a legendary band.
PO: First of all we must make it clear to you that we are two times fans of "THE ELECTRIC PRUNES" for all those 30 years and we consider them as our Masters of the Past among 5-6 great bands of that era. Costas Constantinou still remembers the shock felt the day he first listened to their debut LP. We believe their second LP, "Underground", is one of the best psychedelic albums ever made.
Our first contact with these guys was on early April 2002 when our manager Stefanos entered their website and read the news about their new album "Artifact". He ordered two copies (one for Constantinou) which delivered to us after a week and we enjoyed it very much. The best comeback of the last years. Stefanos send a "congratulations" e-mail to the "PRUNES" indicating also our existence. James Lowe and Mark Tulin reacted immediately and asked from Stefanos to send them Purple Overdose's material. They liked us very much (and their Moby Grape pal Peter Lewis) and showed serious interest for coming to Greece and playing both bands in a show in Athens. For us it is a lifetime dream and when it becomes true then we shall never believe it!
Up to this moment, two shows of "THE ELECTRIC PRUNES" have been announced officially, one for Athens on October 12th and one the next day for Salonica (northern Greece). The Greek promoters appointed us as support slot for the gig at Athens after the expressed wish of the "ELECTRIC PRUNES" personally and officially through their English Tour promotion agent.
We think that this is the top moment of our 15 years history, but what a pity, it came from outside Greece...
"..not any prophet ever been recognised in his own country.."
says somewhere in the Holy Bible...
AI: Who do you find to be some of the more exciting current psychedelic bands around the world? What are you listening to these days?
PO: We like current bands like THE STEPPES, ST.MIKAEL, WORD OF LIFE, BEVIS FROND, to name a few. We are listening to the old standards plus HUNGER, C.A QUINTET, MYSTIC SIVA, NEW TWEEDY BROTHERS, MUSIC EMPORIUM, the South African oriented band FREEDOM'S CHILDREN, from S.America TRAFFIC SOUND (Constantinou gets a great amount of influence from this band), LAGHONIA, KISSING SPELL and to mention also an American band from San Francisco, SPIKE DRIVER.
AI: How are things coming along with a new album? Any other future news you care to share with our readers?
PO: Now Purple Overdose works on new material. There will be a new album most probably by the spring of 2003. We are still talking with a record company who shows interest to release it. "Reborn" will be available on vinyl by Christmas, again through Action. Another album with unreleased material and different versions of "Indigo" tracks, recorded in early '89, will be released soon after the vinyl edition of "Reborn".
We want to express once again our warmest THANK YOU to Jerry Kranitz and all of you out there who care for the music of PURPLE OVERDOSE.
By the way we want also to say THANK YOU to the ELECTRIC PRUNES and especially to James Lowe and Mark Tulin for showing such an interest for us.You are still great guys. We love you.
Keep on trippin'
Costas, Christopher, Andrew, Costas, Stavros
For more information you can visit the Purple Overdose web site at: http://www.purpleoverdose.gr.
Email the band at: email@example.com.