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Panos Vassilopolous

Interview by Sean Mitchell // March 03 2012
Panos Vassilopolous

I was always looking to learn something new, something that I have never heard before, and see if I could replicate it on my drum kit. I believe that everyone can learn from every drummer, simply because we are all different and we all have something to add to the playing of the drum kit.

I have wanted to interview Panos for a couple of years now. The first time I saw his YouTube stuff I was blown away. Panos has an incredible talent in his amazing ability to play complex patterns, as well as an understanding of the melodic principles that drummers so often forget. He does all of this equally well on both an acoustic and electronic kit. An incredibly humble human being, Panos Vassilopolous can rest assured he represents his homeland of Greece as a truly incredible drummer. 


Panos, you are a very dynamic player. I wonder how you had to adapt your style to sound so organic on electronic percussion. Do you approach each (acoustic and electric) differently?

I have been involved with electronic percussion for many years now. Take a look at some ancient attempts here:

 

 

And some more recent videos with the Roland TD20:

 

I always wanted to be able to use percussion and melodic loops during a live performance and I have been experimenting with different applications—computers, triggers, pads, etc. I find that the electronic percussion are two different worlds, both offering different advantages to the player. I find that when using electronic percussion one has to be more aware of the “polishing” of the final sound. Most of the time I give a stereo output signal to the sound engineer, where as with acoustic drums one has to take control of the “infinite” dynamic range of the instrument in relation to the rest of the band members.

How do you see the electronic side of percussion? Where do you think our industry will be with it in a few years?

I believe that the ability to be able to incorporate some sort of electronic setup will be much easier for every drummer, and I am really looking forward to the day that I will be able to trigger my samples in a live gig, using only my iPhone/iPad as a sound module!

It's incredible that you had no formal training. Who were your influences as you grew on the instrument?

I started at age 14 listening to bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Ian Paice and John Bonham were such powerhouses and have really defined my early beginning. Then I moved to Rush, trying to copy Neil Peart. And then onwards, with the help of the guys from DCI (now Hudson music), I discovered video tapes by Steve Gadd and Dave Weckl. I have to also say that Joe Morello and Buddy Rich were simply breathtaking, and those were the guys that I really took notice when it came down to practicing snare drum rudiments.

What was it that drew you to each of these drummers?

I was always looking to learn something new, something that I have never heard before, and see if I could replicate it on my drum kit. I believe that everyone can learn from every drummer, simply because we are all different and we all have something to add to the playing of the drum kit.

Growing up in Greece, how were you exposed to Western drum methods?

My main sources of inspiration were (and are) the magazine Modern Drummer, which I really was reading from start to end, absorbing every little piece of information that was included in the magazine pages and the videotapes (now DVDs) from the DCI company that I was playing every day on my VCR.

Tell me about your upbringing. Do you remember where and when you were exposed to drumming?

I grew up in Athens and neither of my parents were very musical (my mum played a bit of piano). My next door neighbour played the guitar and he was looking for a drummer, so I thought of giving it a chance. We both went out and got a few pieces—a snare a hi-hat and a tom, if I remember correctly—and I started banging away!

You are a drummer that truly pushes the boundaries of drumming. I am curious what an accomplished player like you might practice.

I practice a lot stuff like polymetric ostinatos (see end of interview for video), but I always try to find the right musical context to apply these rhythms. I don’t practice more than about an hour every day, and I really feel that correct practicing is much, much more important than long practicing hours.

Where do you think you developed your love of odd meters and the clave?

I always loved South American music. People like Tito Puente and Michel Camilo were always fascinating to watch, so I have tried to be inspired by their talent and apply these concepts to my everyday performances.

When you are being a music fan, who do you listen to for ideas?

I love the music of the Yellow Jackets, Chick Corea, Alan Holdsworth, Michel Camilo, Steps Ahead, and Esperanza Spalding.

Being that Greece is steeped in a truly musical culture, how have the more traditional Greek styles of music influenced you?

I was never a fan of traditional Greek music. Although the rhythmic culture is vast, it has never been converted into a structured language the way, say, the Indian tradition developed their own rhythmic vocabulary. I have used a few Greek rhythms mainly as ostinatos, but I can’t say that I have been able to incorporate many elements of the Greek folklore in my performances.

When you step away from music, what do you enjoy doing?

Music is my hobby and I really love spending time with my family and also working on video and photo projects. As strange as it really sounds, I am not a professional musician; drumming is my hobby. My day job is being involved in the management of hotel properties in Athens and Andros.

You are an amazing photographer! Where did you learn this skill?

I always loved doing videos, but recently with the introduction of DSLR cameras I started to read a lot about photography and tried to create a marketing concept on both my drumming side and my hospitality side—by creating DVDs and brochures.

How did you get into web design?

I just wanted to be able to have a hands-on approach on my websites, and I found that it was easier to develop my own websites than to try to communicate to a hired web designer. I think that nowadays using tools such as Joomla and Wordpress, where you really don't have to learn any code, everyone is able to create a online presence which looks professional and is also very dynamic.

Tell me about the music scene in Greece. Where might a tourist go to listen to some great music?

Even though Greece is a small country there are places like Athina Live, a music performance live stage where all the best musicians perform. It is run by Mr Yiorgos Fakanas and recently we have seen performances by the Dave Weckl band, John Pattitucci, Dennis Chambers, Anthony Jackson and many more.

Who are the Greek drummers to look for online (besides yourself)?

George Kollias. George Trandallidis, Alex Ktistakis, Stefanos Dimitriou, Kostas Anastasiadis 

Tell me about your current projects.

I have recently produced a DVD (the whole thing is actually edited, video and audio, at my home studio) from my performance at the Athens Drum Festival. I had the great opportunity to perform alongside the amazing drummers George Kollias, Benny Grebb and Alex Ktistakis. The DVD includes my entire performance from the festival plus tracks recorded in a studio environment featuring original music by Matt Rohde and some covers. I have recently had the opportunity to play live with the Yiorgos Fakanas band, alongside legendary musicians such as Eric Marienthal, Michal Urbaniak and Guthrie Govan.

 




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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.



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