Not many living people have their name appear regularly as the answer to crossword puzzle clues. But if you’re looking for a five letter answer to “One-named New Age musician” or “Greek New Age keyboardist”, it doesn’t take long to come up with “Yanni”.
Of course, Yanni’s mark extends far beyond crossword puzzles. He has released fourteen studio albums, the latest of which is 2011’s Truth or Touch and two of which have been nominated for Grammy Awards, plus seven live albums including Live at the Acropolis which along with its companion video has sold over seven million copies.
His music, which he prefers to call “Contemporary Instrumental” rather than “New Age”, has also been used in television shows, televised sporting events, and commercials. Yanni was even the first Westerner to perform at the Taj Mahal and Beijing’s Forbidden City.
The following interview was done by email for a preview article for Yanni’s 7/21/12 performance at the Santa Barbara Bowl. His answers were received on 7/16/12.
Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at your upcoming show in Santa Barbara?
Yanni: The magic of an outdoor show is always spectacular. Each concert is unique and our orchestra is very excited to be coming to Santa Barbara. The audience will hear music from the beginning of my career to music from the most recent studio album Truth Of Touch. We also will be performing some newly arranged songs that have never been performed before, such as “Nightingale”.
JM: Can you tell us about the band that will be joining you?
Y: These people are some of the best musicians in the world. We have been called the “United Nations” of musicians. I think we have about 10 nationalities represented on the stage including Russia, England, Cuba, Paraguay, Venezuela, Armenia, Canada, USA, Germany and oh yes, Greece.
Many of the orchestra musicians have been with me for decades, including drummer Charlie Adams, who has been with me for 30 years. Some of our newer stars have already been with us on tour in South America, Europe and Asia, and now, the US.
JM: How would you compare the experiences of performing live and recording in the studio?
Y: While I enjoy both performing and recording, performing live is the most incredible experience that an artist can have. I love the excitement and the relationship with a live audience. Every night is different and no two audiences are the same. Performing live and traveling around the world is the greatest benefit of a career in music. The recording process is very different in that it is often very solitary and I can spend months composing and recording just a few songs.
JM: How do you typically compose a new piece, or is there a typical?
Y: You got it; there is not a typical method. My compositions are inspired by my experiences in life and are almost never planned. On the most recent album Truth Of Touch, I was in the studio experimenting with new sound designs and the process ended up lasting for many months after which I found that I had composed an entire album.
JM: Given the musical direction that you are best known for, I expect that many people would be surprised to know that you were once in a rock band based in Minnesota. Any reflections on that time of your life?
Y: Those were great times. I had just graduated from the University of Minnesota and wanted to give myself the opportunity to work on music for a year and see where it took me.
Our band was “Chameleon” and we toured extensively performing hundreds of shows each year. It was a lot of driving and a lot of performing throughout the USA. I made many great friends during that time and had the opportunity to work in a profession that was my passion and have never stopped. The musical influences from those days are still present in many of my songs and especially in our live show, even today.
JM: Your album and video Live at the Acropolis really struck a chord worldwide. To what do you attribute its massive success?
Y: A lot of factors came together at the same time for the Acropolis project. The venue was magnificent in every manner. The visual beauty made it a spectacular video and TV show. The amazing acoustics made the audio recording like nothing in the world at that time. We also had a lot of support from television around the world. PBS in the USA was playing that concert for several years and to this day when we travel the globe, we find audiences that remember the Acropolis TV show.
Y: PBS has been a very important part of my career. They have always allowed me to present my music without any censorship or influence and have encouraged me to be the artist that I am. Without PBS, I can say that I am not sure how successful my music would have been, they have been a great part of my career for over 20 years.
JM: You gave the first performances by a Westerner at the Taj Mahal and the Forbidden City in China. Could you reflect on those concerts?
Y: It was an incredible to honor to be allowed to perform at the most cherished monuments of each country. They were events that are difficult to describe in word. They were very different from each other and each had its own set of unique circumstances among many similar concepts.
Both the Chinese and Indian governments were very involved in making each of these shows happen. When you do an event like this, you become part of the fabric of the country and the monument that you are honoring. I was fortunate enough to have been able to spend a lot of time in each country getting to know the people and understanding their cultures. In India I will never forget the sea of people that were able to watch the concert as the fields behind the seating area were filled. In China, the majesty and history of the Forbidden City gave a majesty to the show that could only come from being in the monument. Both concerts were outdoor concerts and we were definitely fortunate with the weather in China as it had been raining for days before the concert and even right up to an hour before the show, then the rain stopped for about 3 hours while we had the concert and started up just as we were finishing.
JM: Have you had any interaction with your countryman and fellow musician Vangelis?
Y: I am very familiar with his music and am a fan of what he does. We have not yet had the opportunity to work together.
JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?
Y: For me, I was able to always follow my passion for music by listening to what I felt was right for me. There are many times when you cannot see the path ahead clearly but you have to keep moving in the direction that inspires you. I could have never imagined when I first started my career some 30 plus years ago that I would be where I am today. Throughout both the good and bad times, I never gave up on following my dreams and that is perhaps the best lesson could share.
JM: What are your plans, musical or otherwise, for the near future?
Y: For the rest of this summer we are continuing with our North American tour, after that we spend about 2 months touring in South America, then head to Australia and New Zealand. I know we will be performing throughout China, Asia and Europe later next year.
In the midst of all this touring I am hoping to finish a very exciting collaboration that I am working on with many well-known artists that will be released in early 2013.
JM: Would you like to set the record straight on anything about your music, career, or life?
Y: Not really. This is the best time of my life right now. We are very busy touring and I have new music that I am working on. To be able to continuously pursue my passion after four decades is a blessing and I intend to keep on working.
JM: What is your take on the current state of politics and the economy in Greece?
Y: I have a lot of family and friends in Greece and I know that they are going through a very challenging time right now. Greece has seen itself through many difficult times throughout history and I am confident that the country will eventually be successful in overcoming its current challenges.