(Raffaella Mezzanzanica – August,6 2020)
Irene Skylakaki is a London-based singer/songwriter, originally from Athens, Greece.
Her lyrics, autobiographical and oftentimes disarmingly personal, combine catchy folk-rock melodies, forming songs that allow her to connect with her audience and give back some of the joy and healing that music has brought into her life over the years.
To date, Irene has released three critically acclaimed studio albums: Wrong Direction (2012), Before Dawn (2014) and Matterless (2018), which was produced by Danton Supple (Coldplay, U2, Morrissey, Patti Smith, Ed Harcourt) and features musicians such as Richard Jupp (Elbow).
Irene’s debut single In the Light reached the top of the Greek iTunes charts and her songs have been featured in TV commercials, as well as film soundtracks. She has performed as a supporting act for artists such as Macy Gray, Jessie Ware, Beirut, Daughter, Cass McCombs, Toploader and Archive. Previous festival performances include the Rockwave, En Lefko Festival, Swanbourne and Release Festival, and in 2012 she was one of the youngest artists ever to perform at the Athens Concert Hall Garden.
I asked Irene to tell about her life in music and her upcoming new album.
Q.: You are born in Greece. Why did you decide to move to London? Just to follow your passion for music or for other reasons?
I.S.: Initially I moved to London when I was 18 to study law. After completing my studies I went back to Athens for a gap year and started recording my first album ‘Wrong Direction’. My music was well-received in Greece but I wanted to go back to London to explore this city through a different lens this time – as a singer/song-writer.
Q.: When did you first realize that you wanted to follow a career in music?
I.S.: I think it happened gradually…I’ve never told myself “now I’m going to become a musician and launch a career in music”, but I did take the steps towards this direction when I was 16 years-old and started playing live concerts with a band at school. Later on, when I was studying law I kept writing songs, which I performed in the university. By the time I was 21, I had an album’s worth of music.
Q.: You released your first album, “Wrong Direction”, in 2012 and you were only 22 years old. Then, you published Before Dawn in 2014 and “Matterless” in 2018. Now, you are about to release your fourth album. In all your previous albums, your songs are kind of introspective in terms of lyrics with a music which is more liberating. What do we have to expect from the new album?
I.S.: My fourth album bizarrely feels like my first one. I was much more involved in every single detail of it than in any other album I’ve released so far. The album is “darker” than the previous ones and a bit more carefree and experimental both songwriting – and production wise. I honestly can’t wait to put it out there and share it with the world.
Q.: For your album “Matterless”, you had the opportunity to collaborate with Danton Supple as a producer, known for his work with Coldplay, U2, Morrissey and Suede. How did you choose him?
I.S.: I’ve been familiar with Danton’s work long before I met him. I had listened to X&Y by Coldplay hundreds of times and deeply admired Danton’s work both as a producer and as mixer. I am honored to have worked with him and thrilled that Danton and I will be collaborating again in a new secret project which will be announced early next year.
Q.: For the new album, you chose Andres Mesa, a young producer with a great experience having worked with artists like Phil Manzanera, Andy McKay and David Gilmour. Do we have to expect a change of direction in terms of sound?
I.S.: Andres is annoyingly talented in producing music. He gets very deep into a song and extracts the essence of it which he then re-creates in his own sound-world that is led by a unique understanding of groove and rhythm. We met really serendipitously at a pub in London called “Paradise” and have become close friends and collaborators since then. Working with Andres has definitely led to a shift in sound – this album sounds more “raw” and some songs are much more experimental.
Q.: At the moment, there are two singles taken from the new album you’ve already released: “Souvenir” and the most recent “Mary Smiles”. Would you tell us more about these songs and why you chose them as first singles?
I.S.: “Souvenir” is the first song I’ve released as a co-write. Andres sent me some stunning piano chords and I came up with the melody and lyrics. The second we recorded this song, even in its early demo stage, we felt like there was something about it. Later on I shared it with Jay-Jay Johanson, an artist who I truly admire and we ended up singing it as a duet. This song has a life of its own! “Mary Smiles” felt like the right choice for a second single as it sets the scene for the rest of the album: ‘Right above the sun’,
Q.: In 2019, you took part to a TEDx event in Patras whose theme was “uncertainty”. How was that experience?
I.S.: At first I was really stressed out as I had never played solo with my guitar in front of such a massive audience. But the second I was on the stage I didn’t want it to end. The audience was very kind and warm, singing my songs along with me at times.
Q.: Talking about “uncertainty”, since last February we have been experiencing tremendous and unprecedented tough times, due to Covid-19. How have you been facing the lockdown and what do you think about the future of music?
I.S.: Life during lockdown did not really differ to the normal life of a songwriter. But strangely this time everyone was at home. And there were very limited options. It was definitely a stressful period and it still is. A few weeks ago I played my first post lockdown concert and the atmosphere was so different. It felt like everyone and everything was restarting and no one really knew how to act. I’m dreading the further consequences of Covid on musicians but trying to retain my optimism. As they say it’s always darkest before the dawn. Maybe post-Covid music will reach new unprecedented heights. Who knows?
Q.: Your album covers are always extremely “visual”. Is there a specific reason behind it?
I.S.: It’s always a challenge to create a cover that visually represents an album. I’ve been very lucky to collaborate with some amazing graphic designers over the years, including Stefania Vlastari and Marina Psimikaki. This time the album cover will be a photo taken by director David East.
Q.: How much of your native country music is there in your songs?
I.S.: Both melodically and rhythmically, Greek music has massively impacted my music. The first song I ever released called ‘In the Light’ is rhythmically reminiscent of the Greek folk ‘Zorbas’ dance, which is rooted in the traditional Greek ‘syrtaki’ dance. Us Greeks definitely have some really hardcore musical grandparents to look up to: Manos Hatzidakis, Vangelis Papathanassiou to name a few…
I have asked her producer, Andres Mesa, to tell how he met Irene and how it was working with her on her new album.
“I met Irene at a pub in London when I was attending a concert. We casually started chatting and I realised then that I had heard her music before. It was a very nice coincidence. After that, we started working together in several studios around London, including the studio from Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music) which he very kindly lent us, and my own home studio amongst others. And so it began, this nice relationship of music and friendship. The songs that we were working on started gradually to become an album. I also co-wrote a couple of songs on the album. It’s been a joint collaborative experience for the past three/four years that ended up with a great sounding album. I hope that I can work more with her. She is super talented.”
Do you want to know more about Irene Skylakaki? Here you are where and how you can find her: