One evening, more than a decade ago, the Greek musician Athena Andreadis heard Blue by Joni Mitchell for the first time. From that moment on, she knew what she had to do.
“It really inspired me to be a piano led female singer songwriter one day,” she recalls. “I was always a writer and poet. I used to make up melodies and sing them to my sister up in her apartment in Los Angeles.”
It’s late February and Athena is in New York, she is on tour having played a sold-out show at the Rockwood Music Hall to promote her record Ready For The Sun. After spending several years in rainy London, Athena made the move to LA, where she really found her voice. New album, Ready For The Sun, is a meditation on the interplay of dark and light. Being in California she has returned to a place where she is ready to let light into her life, both physically and metaphorically.
“I don’t deny that there’s pain and darkness in life,” says Athena. “But it’s through those very cracks – as Leonard Cohen puts it in Anthem – that the light gets in. The album is a celebration too, of female power, of people living in harmony with one another and living with our own self.”
If there is one gripe with Athena it’s that the album has been too long coming. Athena has been making music a long time, after completing her degree in Business Administration from Bath university, she began an internship in New York for the advertising agency Young & Rubicam. It was here she met her first singing teacher and mentor Joyce Suskind through the Juilliard School of Music, and with her encouragement went on to be accepted and graduate from London’s Trinity College of Music with two post-graduate master’s degrees in classical singing and jazz voice.
In 2006, she released an EP called Snapshot and performed at music festivals including Womad and appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Her music has appeared on compilations and radio playlists and in 2007, she released her debut album Breathe With Me before being the subject of an hour-long documentary aired on Channel 5 in April 2008.
For Ready For The Sun, she teamed up with acclaimed Producer Ethan Allen (Ben Harper, Sheryl Crow) for her thirteen track US debut recorded at The Village Studios in LA. “So many of my favourite records were made there,” Athena smiles. “Ethan had just recorded Ben Harper’s record in one of the rooms and loved it so we decided to go back. I fell in love with the place and that space, amazing energy, and the piano, legendary songs have been recorded on those keys. As most of the album was recorded live, we needed a space big enough to fit all of us too. Then we did a lot of work at Ethan’s studio too.”
The result is a series of heartfelt narrative moments that pull the listener along on her journey. From the upbeat You Bring Me Luck, to the tug-at-your-heartstrings ballad, I Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye, Athena’s US debut paints a beautiful, often sorrowful, but always full picture of her life.
“Together, the tracks on the album tell a story, they’re like chapters in a book. I’m a little old school that way, I still love to listen to albums in their entirety. How To Start Again and Where Wildflowers Grow are personal and about my move from Europe to the US. I was inspired by those wild flowers that grow in the desert out in Joshua tree where I saw them that spring, and seem to grow against all odds and blossom so beautiful,” she says. “Stronger too, because it’s about those things that anchor me during times of upheaval and challenge, my meditation, friends, the sea, poetry, music.”
Although Athena is best-known for her work with Starbucks (who picked Athena to be their exclusive artist in 2014-2016) she is also an ambassador of the Plastic Pollution Coalition and Concern Worldwide (humanitarian aid), Save The Children (UK and Germany), and has performed at the recent environmental conference Gala for Cradle to Cradle (New York).
With international acclaim, and sold out UK and Greek tours, Athena has performed internationally at world class concert halls and festivals, such as the Royal Festival Hall, Glastonbury, TEDx and SXSW.
Beyond her professional accomplishments however, Athena has managed to walk the fine line of success and artistic integrity. A teenage relationship with poetry allowed for her to pour out her heart, while having that distance from writing lyrics suited to different styles of music. It’s a passion she carries with her to this day.
“I‘ve been writing poetry all my life,” she says. “Poetry points to truth in a way that only poetry can. Though lyrics are a different craft, my favourite ones are the ones that both draw upon our everyday lives, how we speak and express things, and intersperse that with the poetic too; it’s that juxtaposition that makes my favourite lyrics. Some of the greats who do that brilliantly are of course Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Jane Siberry. Also Greek classics like Manos Hadjidakis, and jazz greats like Keith Jarrett and Nina Simone, as well as classical music.”
The best part of her career she cites as playing Glastonbury and meeting idol Leonard Cohen. When her first record charted in the UK and Greece, a Greek journalist asked Leonard Cohen who his favourite Greek singer was and he named Athena. When she heard that she was extremely humbled, but it wouldn’t be until she moved to LA a few years later that their story would continue. Upon becoming aware that Athena was living in Los Angeles, Adam and Leonard invited her to participate on the album, a further testament that her new home in LA was the right place to be.
“His son Adam Cohen who was producing his last record, heard I was living in Los Angeles and making a new record. He invited me to the studio and I sang the chorus to Traveling Light. It was a magical moment. Such an honour, and blessing. I feel incredibly grateful to have sang with him on his last record,” she explains.
Of Leonard’s renowned hospitality and manners, she adds: “He is a true gentleman. Humble and generous. He really makes you feel good, he’s inspiring. I’d say it’s almost a holy experience being in his presence. He’s also very funny. I loved Adam’s production. I thought it was absolutely brilliant. Moved me to tears. The record spoke really deeply to me, and I think how the record’s produced is a big part of that.”
There’s a mysticism to Leonard Cohen’s music and poetry that is mirrored in some of Athena’s own work. Perhaps living in California has become a ground for such meditations: but some of the more honest and raw songs certainly channel his spirit, particularly I Don’t Know How To Say Goodbye and All Of You.
Naturally the rest of 2017 is a busy year for Athena who will be starting a residency at Genghis Cohen theater, which will showcase the musical talent in LA. “I wanted to have a night where we can all also collaborate. The plan is to sing together but to also co-write songs which we’ll perform those evenings,” she explains. “I’m also writing songs for film and TV and hope to be doing more of that too.”
But beyond that Athena is looking to take things as they come and takes a surprisingly relaxed view of what comes next, given her work ethic.
“Beyond that who knows what else this year holds for me. Life is a beautiful adventure, I’m trying to stay present for the ride, the good and the bad. There’s a constant joy underneath it all, that is always there, indestructible (you can call it home, love, whatever you want). We just forget who we are. And music helps me remember.”