Hellena first came to our attention back in 2018.
Having travelled up from London on an October Monday morning, the London-based Greek songstress played a showcase on Matthew Street at Ian Prowse‘s famous Monday Club.
Amid other artists, not limited to bedraggled poets and equally weathered troubadours, Hellena took to the small stage and performed four songs which left the roomful of well-oiled Scouse natives in awe of her songcraft. She stole the show and had tongues wagging.
Several months passed where Hellena released her debut EP, Kissed the Sun. Produced by Chris Common (Pelican, Emma Ruth Rundle), Kissed the Sun contained a shimmering collection of songs that were welded in grunge and desert-witch folk balladry.
Just under two years on and Hellena returns with her debut full-length, Demythed. An album quite far removed from her previous endeavours.
Whilst the tenderness within her songs very much remains, there are wider influences at play here, not limited to Lana Del Rey and Marissa Nadler. And the results are grand.
After the recording of Demythed, Hellena left the bright lights of London to return to Greece. We were fortunate to catch up with her last week shortly after the release of Demythed.
Sun 13: You recently moved back to Greece from London. Was that the intention after you finished the album?
Hellena: “100 per cent yes. Years ago, before I knew how long and slow the process of creating the first album would be, I said to myself ‘I’ll go back to Greece as soon as I finish my album’.
“It ended up being a five year, very long process, but that didn’t change my mind. I only became a little bit impatient with the whole process, especially when we were close to it being done, even though I was having fun in London. Wanting to move doesn’t mean you’re not having fun where you currently live.”
S13: That must have been a big decision after being in London for so long?
H: “Not really. It was fixed in my mind for years that I’ll return home. Plus, London is only three hours away by plane. Also, England is now my second home. I’ve got family and friends there and will be back and forth after the pandemic, for sure.”
S13: Can you tell us about the process on Demythed. It’s been in the works for a while now, hasn’t it?
H: “It was, for a really long time. But it was worth it. I cannot condense five years in a few words, but I will try…
“I worked with a handful of people until the right ones stayed. In these five years I must have moved places three or four times in London and changed a lot internally, too. I went through heartbreaks, being in love, being alone and happy, being miserable. Everything.
“The songs on this album have so many layers because it took us so many years to finish them. At times I was hopeful that we were getting there, nearly done. At other times I was miserable and thought this is never going to end and I’m just throwing my years away working for nothing. So many ups and downs…
“The main producers of this album are Denis Efimenko and myself. I have to say I wouldn’t be able to do this on my own, no way. I feel that the song writing part of it was so lonesome that I needed to produce the songs with someone else.
“I remember we were meeting at Denis‘s place once a week for years. We didn’t know what we were doing, honestly. We were just experimenting, trying to learn. I remember the projects looking chaotic. We were both amateurs and learnt so much from this process. I am extremely proud of this work. It was a big undertaking.”
S13: It’s quite far removed from the Kissed the Sun EP. I found that there was a big Lana Del Rey influence through parts of it. Would you agree?
H: “I agree completely. And that is because I was listening to a lot of Lana‘s music at the time. Plus, I was still trying to find who I am, and when you don’t know who you are, you tend to get influenced from others a bit more than you should.”
S13: Crazy is about bullying and domestic violence and I know you’ve been on a big anti-bullying campaign after the release of the song. It must be humbling that the response has been so widespread among your fan base?
H: “Crazy is about bullying and A Little Too Late is about domestic violence. I am first of all extremely happy to be able to help anti-bullying charities with music! And this is only because the fans support this project, otherwise I just wouldn’t be able to do it. I couldn’t be more grateful.
“Helping people who are going through what I went through, or preventing someone from going through bullying and domestic violence overall because they’re learning how to protect themselves and about the options they have, fills my heart with joy.”
S13: Tells us about Birds of a Feather and how it came about. It seems like a real slow burner and reminds me of Marissa Nadler. Is she a big influence of yours?
H: “Thanks! Marissa is awesome! She hadn’t been a big influence of mine but I see your point.
“Birds of a Feather is filled with nostalgia in its lyrics but you can also get that from the sound.
“It’s bittersweet, you can dream away with it, you can go back and reminisce. It’s about my childhood and happy memories I have with my friend. My home situation was bad, so I was escaping in music, travelling with my friends, going to Athens and other big cities, going to live shows.
“I’m coming from a small town. Nothing was happening there and I had nowhere to turn to apart from music and my friend which was everything I needed to escape and survive. I truly needed to escape, and this translates in Birds of a Feather as a sad… a little bit of a creepy vibe, I feel. The song brings together the good and the bad that took place back then, focusing on the good times.”
S13: Rhythm of Misery feels like one of the strongest tracks on the album. It has that undercurrent of drama. An operatic charm, almost. How did this one come about?
H: “Wow thank you! I absolutely love this song. I still listen to it often and lose myself in it. It is about people whose lives get uprooted and they’re having to flee their countries because of war.
“I wrote it when Syrian people had to do this a few years ago. The most saddening part is that these people not only didn’t choose to leave their lives behind but they had to, but also that they might face closed borders and racism in the countries they relocate to. It’s a shame for humanity. This song is absolutely bare from positivity because I was in a frame of mind that I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. There is always hope and love around us though, so it’s all good.”
S13: Then there’s Starry Night which has a real Portishead vibe about it. Would you agree?
S13: Yeah, I think so.
H: “I never thought of it! I love Portishead so, thanks! Starry Night has the most Eastern vibe out of every track on this album! Denis is to ‘blame’ with his amazing guitar playing!
S13: Speaking of Denis, he has been a longtime collaborator with you. How important was his role in shaping these songs?
H: “Super important! Working with Denis was an experience all on its own. I learnt how to work with someone else, how to agree to disagree, how to experiment with sounds with someone else, how to be patient and open. I would absolutely do this all over again if it was to be with Denis. He is a very good friend of mine and a huge part of this project is done thanks to him!”
S13: You’ve also done an instrumental album for the tracks off the album. What was the thinking behind this?
H: “I am singing a lot on the album. The melodies are extensive and I love them, but I wanted the fans to listen to the music alone, as well. It offers a different experience to that of the album. Appreciating just the music was one of my reasons when I decided to do this, but also, you know… people can enjoy themselves and sing karaoke.”
S13: Social media is massive for you and I know you’re a big advocate of it. Do you find that social media is an art form in itself?
H: “I don’t know if social media is an art form. It is definitely an art form to learn how to control the time I’m spending on social media, I tell you that!
“Also, the marketing side of things is an art form, and for that I need social media, especially in current times, but honestly, if I didn’t need social media for my job, I wouldn’t have it.
“It’s designed in a way to make you mentally dependent on it, and anyone can say anything they want, sometimes without thinking they’re not talking to a screen, but a person with feelings will see this on the other side.
“On the other hand, social media helped a lot to spread the word on my music and connect with beautiful people around the world, so it isn’t all bad.”
S13: What’s the music scene like in Greece?
H: “I don’t know! (laughs) I was away for so long, that I honestly have no idea. There is definitely good music, I have a lot of friends in the metal scene and they all have careers online at the moment.
“There is definitely more space for more quirky artists in the world right now, and that is thanks to the internet and the opportunities that come with it.”
S13: What’s next, then? Have you been writing for the next album?
H: “I haven’t stopped recording ideas on my phone! I have about 1,200 ideas to listen to and about 15 demos that might make it to album two. I also know what the concept will be, the visuals, everything. But honestly, it is time for a break. I will withdraw in my cave for a while to re-energise. I will probably create a poetry book before album two and when my muse tells me I’m ready to start with music again, I will.”
Demythed is out now.