One of the most pleasant musical surprises for me last year was the introduction to Dioni Vertzayas or just Dioni to her many fans. Her self-titled EP found its way onto my stereo and refused to leave for months (in actual fact, it's still taking up residency there). Her expressive voice just breathes life into each and every song, all of which were obviously created with great care. With my curiosity piqued about this wonderful singer, I had to find out more about her. Here's our conversation:

antiMusic: Even though your vocal lines are not radically different from the songs in Astyplaz, the material on your debut solo EP shows another side of your musical personality. Tell us what the mindset was when you were in preproduction for this record.

Dioni: It's funny because I always thought of Astyplaz as another side! Prior to the formation of Astyplaz, I had never worked with an electronic band before. My background was completely different...classical and jazz training with a leaning towards musical theatre and cabaret. I had only known playing and recording with 3-7 piece bands and orchestras! So this is almost like returning to my musical roots - but not quite! I wanted that vintage element.

antiMusic: Your partner in Astyplaz is George Priniontakis. Your professional relationship has endured for several years now. How did you two develop the material? Did you write off his melodies or he from the lyrical material or was it a combination of both?

Dioni: George was not in Astyplaz but was our producer and the owner /engineer of the studio we recorded at so I have known him since day one of Astyplaz - back when we still had another name! He is also a musician who has worked on hundreds of projects and had his own band with commercial releases. He exquisitely remixed a track ("Future Science") on our first album (Name Your Slippers) and our professional relationship gradually extended to its present state. For most of the songs, I wrote the lyrics to his music.

antiMusic: "Don't Let Me Down" hijacked my ears on the first play and has not released them since. If there is such a thing as a defining song for an artist, even though this is early in your career, this might be it, from my standpoint. I absolutely LOVE this song. What can you tell us about it, both lyrically and musically?

Dioni: Ha ha! Hijacked my ears...love it! Thank you. Well musically it went through a lot of changes until it reached its final direction. Originally, the chorus was completely different - it started off reminiscent of a spaghetti western which I also loved by the way, but decisions need to be made! Lyrically it is autobiographical, basically trying to salvage a doomed/sinking relationship despite the love that still exists. Unfortunately it ended but he is immortalised in the low budget videoclip!

antiMusic: My favourite out of the gate was "Don't Let Me Down" but my second favourite "That Summer" may have overtaken it now. What a mesmerizing song and an amazing vocal! On the surface it seems like pure nostalgia but I think I've read about a darker plotline. Can you share the origins of this song?

Dioni: Thank you again. Yes, it was a difficult song to write and record. Essentially it is a song about the past, and the nostalgia we cling to provide us with positive/good memories when we are down but it is also about death as it was written especially for my friend who was terminally ill and subsequently passed away. I managed to fly over and play it to her in demo format but I took the liberty of writing in the first person as if I were her, reminiscing and pondering her existence.

antiMusic: "It's a Blue World" provides a cool change of pace to the record going in a bluesy (obviously) direction. Is this a natural pathway for you as it sounds?

Dioni: Yes, I fell in love with Ella Fitzgerald as a teenager and grew up listening to jazz.

antiMusic: Despite the light-hearted aura of "Flirting With Reality", I've read that it actually is talking about the financial crisis in Greece. Is that accurate?

Dioni: I see you have done your homework! Yes it is. "Flirting with Reality" deals with classic existential issues, a little political commentary and poses rhetorical questions. It was written and composed in 2013 at the height of the crisis in Europe when I was living in Athens, Greece. It was intended to be an 'ode' to the crisis. (you can hear "long live the crisis" along with laughing and clapping at the end!). Initially it comes across as a light-hearted tune and invokes an overall 'fun' vibe. I deliberately chose this juxtaposition of music and subject matter. I refer to the cynicism in people created by the loss of faith in politicians. Also, the inclusion of the dog barking was used to represent a homeless street dog, in particular, Loukaniko, who had become synonymous with the Athens riots. He was present at every rally/demonstration that took place. He became a legend and I have used him as a symbol for hope and solidarity. So on the one hand, we have the people oblivious to what is going on, and those who are deeply affected by it, including those just trying to make the best out of a terrible situation. On a personal level it also reflects my ride the wave life attitude and avoidance of a mundane existence!

antiMusic: "Time for a Change" would indicate a dissatisfaction with personal direction. Is it that straight-forward?

Dioni: Pretty much! It talks of the general frustration my then present life was causing and the optimism in trying to rectify and mend my ways. As we all know, change is hard!

antiMusic: "Shades of Melancholy" recalls your work with Astyplaz, with kind of a Sade feel. Great cool vibe. Tell us about this one.

Dioni: So this was an unreleased track we wrote over ten years ago with Astyplaz. I re-recorded the vocals last year and the musicians (with George's completely new arrangement) also laid down their tracks. The only thing that remained the same as the original is the vocal melody and general form/structure. So it is unusual that this was released as a remix and the original never!

Initially the song was written at a time when I was worried about my twin brother who was going through some personal issues and I myself was going through a dark-ish period and we were both on opposite sides of the world. The song then took on a wider meaning as I was disappointed with people and humanity in general and how there has been a malfunction in the moral compass. Corporate greed is a pandemic.
The average person thinks they can't change the world because superior forces like banks/financial institutions and governments control and regulate our lives and we are trapped in this cycle, however the refugee crisis has shown us that people who are in depression with no money can do their bit to help humanity, reassuring and reinforcing there is good in humanity. It somehow restores your belief in the human species that when it comes to the crunch we do the right thing.

antiMusic: You were born in Australia but now live in Greece. What drew you to that country and how does making music there differ from your homeland?

Dioni: Greece is apparently an Aquarian like myself- so we get on great! Chaos and mayhem! Apart from the beauty and the climate, I love the freedom which as a human I put above all and unfortunately Australia (as beautiful a country as it is) has become too over-regulated for me to live in.

I don't know if the "tortured artist" notion is just mythology but speaking from experience - I wrote my best lyrics during dark times so I think that it helps my creativity. I had a pretty easy life in Australia and was still relatively naive so I needed to toughen up (not that I really have!) and I think the crisis in Greece has increased inspiration and made the arts generally flourish. Having said that even before the crisis there were over 400 theatres and thousands of live venues that were still packed long before the crisis!

antiMusic: For those of us that are your new to you and your music, tell us about your musical timeline and how you got to where you are now.

Dioni: I suppose it was inevitable. My grandmother was a coloratura soprano and my mother a concert pianist. I grew up with music always in the house as well as our regular family productions! As soon as I developed a talking personality, I had announced I would become an actress. Upon the discovery of my singing voice it was talent schools as a kid and then onto further study. I won't bore you with all the details but you can refer to my bio for more info at www.dionimusic.com

antiMusic: How did you meet George and what led to the formation of Astyplaz?

Dioni: I had been in Greece about a year and had started working with a renowned composer and a funk band simultaneously scoring some good gigs. I was also singing at a restaurant and the owner's daughter was dating a guitarist who was at the time looking for a female vocalist. I thought that this was something different for me and was open to it, so I met Astyplaz through the guitarist who incidentally ended up playing only in the beginning of the band's life and then leaving!

antiMusic: What can you tell us about "Ode to a Crisis"?

Dioni: It is my little baby! The first time I wrote and produced a show. Inspired by the GFC and my experiences in Greece it extends to all kinds of crises. Starting with emigration and covering the environmental, personal moral and existential. The show incorporates performance and video art and many songs from different genres including covers and originals. I hope to have the opportunity to take it on the road.

antiMusic: I've read that you speak seven languages. Do you find it easier or more expressive to sing in one particular language than others?

Dioni: I don't speak them all fluently but merely sing! I would have to say that because I understand Greek, Spanish, French and Italian, it is easier as you are more familiar with it but once you have mastered the accent to a difficult language (for example Portuguese) it is ok. It is fascinating though to sing in a language you don't speak.

antiMusic: What does the near future hold for both your solo career and Astyplaz?

Dioni: I think that as far as Astyplaz is concerned, other than a one-off reunion show, it is kind of difficult as the main composer has moved onto another very successful band with a very hectic international tour schedule. I am a sucker for nostalgia though, so I would never say never! As for me - I would love to put a smile on Louis-Gilles Petelle's face (my long suffering label/publisher) who has believed in me from day one and continued to support and invest in me.

Basically I just wish to get my songs heard far and wide, hopefully reaching many ears and the dream for every artist - providing hope, inspiration, comfort and even dissent through their music and of course to tour everywhere on the planet presenting my songs and entertaining crowds as there is nothing else for me. This is my life. Did I mention an award or two?! That would also be great.

Morley and antiMusic thank Dioni for taking the time to speak with us.

Visit the official website: http://dionimusic.com

Get the EP here.

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