Choir of Young Believers
It’s easy to chart the artistic growth of Jannis Noya Makrigiannis. Like pencil marks on a door frame in a family home, the man behind Choir of Young Believers has given his fans new heights to appreciate with each new release. Four years after the release of Rhine Gold, Jannis has now delivered his most expansive album to date, Grasque.
Jannis says he’s learned to overcome any fear that comes along for the sake of such growth. For a while he considered taking a break or changing the name so he could experiment freely, without the worry that comes with disappointing others. But after some time, he returned to the music more confident and free than ever before. You can hear it in the results, as Jannis has beautifully stretched himself in unexpected ways.
Stereo Subversion: I’ve read mentions of the freedom that you felt on this recording, of moving past what other people thought. I’d love to start there, because it made me curious whether there was a specific moment or turning point?
Jannis Noya Makrigiannis: You always know that. No matter what you do, if it’s music or just your personality or whatever, you always have these discussions within yourself. I guess it’s just angst or whatever. I think if you take some decisions like this, there will always be some small negative version of yourself, this insecurity. There will always be the second thoughts, but the thing is not to let them control you.
Music means so much to me. In this process, music has been a very, very free and fun thing for me. It’s been an exploration for me as I’ve been curious. It’s been expanding in a very nice way. But of course when you go in a new direction or alter your patterns, it’s new and exciting to you but there will always be a bit of fear in it. Luckily for me, it’s not something that comes to the surface in the creative process. It’s always something that comes later on.
I've always enjoyed that in other artists — that you could hear them changing and opening up toward different and new sources of inspiration.
You just have to trust your gut feeling. We had so much fun and it felt so right when we did this, so when you sit there with the finished song or production and the fear pops up, you just have to trust that gut feeling.
This record has actually been done for quite some time. The mastering took a long time, but we finished it almost a year ago. I had a lot of time to also get used to this record, if you know what I mean — before everyone else got to hear it. I don’t know why releasing a record has to take so long, but in this case I’m happy about it because now I have absolutely no fear or doubt about these songs anymore. It was nice to have some time where you could just keep it to yourself and get to know the music.
For me, this whole process has also been very freeing. A lot of the things are based on improvised sessions that we had, so in a way I needed to get to know the music.
SSv: That’s interesting when you say the fear comes later, after you’re done creating.
Jannis: Yeah, maybe fear isn’t the right word. Maybe it’s insecurity. But for me, that’s a good sign. That’s the sign that you’re doing something that’s important to you but you’re also stepping over some boundaries. For me, as a musician it’s important to keep exploring and keep the curiosity going — stepping over your own boundaries.
SSv: That’s such a lovely way to put it. Have you always believed that?
Jannis: I’m 32 now. I was in my twenties when we did the first two records, and I was a bit more conservative culturally speaking. I had my things. Now I feel so much more open to all sorts of music and channels. As a music listener, I’m finding joy in so much different music these days and over these last couple years. I just wanted to incorporate that in the band. It’s one thing to listen at home, but it’s another thing to incorporate it in the music you’re presenting to everyone else.
So I guess that I’ve changed a lot since my first two records, and I think that comes across in the music as well. A lot of things happen in four years. So when I did this music, it felt very natural and fun and liberating. When you have Rhine Gold and then four years later, there’s this album, I know all of the links in between but when others hear these records side by side, they might not know it. But it doesn’t matter what people think.
SSv: I read that you wanted to take a break from the music. Is that accurate?
Jannis: Yeah, I felt very disillusioned in many ways. Looking back at it now, I was just going through some drastic changes, and I think the easiest way is to step away from what you’ve done. I was actually considering starting a new band. I wanted to break free of all of the old patterns and start from scratch, or at least have the feeling of starting from scratch. In my head, I put my quiet hat on the shelf and I started writing again. I started feeling totally free about what I wanted to do musically now.
But I didn’t go and change my name. Just because I’m changing as a person doesn’t mean I will change my name from Jannis to something else. I’ve been spending most of my adult life on this band, and I want that story to be told. I’m not the same person that I was when I was 23 when we did the first album, and I’ve always enjoyed that in other artists — that you could hear them changing and opening up toward different and new sources of inspiration.
SSv: You’ve mentioned previous albums or the path you’ve taken a few times. Are you pretty reflective by nature?
Jannis: No, I wouldn’t say so. I’m pretty good at being where I am right now. But making a record is like reading or writing a diary. You can’t really help… We still play the old songs and I’m still proud of those records. That’s a clear statement of where you were and your thoughts and interests and inspirations. Sometimes playing those old songs are like reading an old journal that you wrote when you were younger. In that way you can’t really escape thinking of the person that you were.