“Suddenly it was just me,” said Jannis Makrigiannis, his feet pointed inward, as both hands clutched the microphone like it was a safety vest. In an interview with SFCritic during SXSW, Jannis, better known as Choir Of Young Believers, spoke about his experience as a solo musician after leaving his old group, Lake Placid, in 2006. For the quiet and shy musician it wasn’t an easy transition, and on that particular day felt like a work still in progress.
I have never interviewed anyone like Jannis. As I spoke to him I was worried that at any moment I might tip him over the edge with a question too introspective, prodding a place inside him he’s kept hidden. A language barrier made this even more difficult. “You can have a conversation with a person which really makes you feel alive, or makes that moment stand out and be important for you, but these conversations at least for me don’t happen
every month, or every week, or every day,” he said, but that’s not true with music.
“It doesn’t really matter who it is, but if the person is being very open, and honest it will always leave an impression,” he explained. He’s correct. Choir of Young Believer’s has become known for the emotional honesty within lyrics like, “Next summer/ I will return/ I’ll be back/ I’ll break your heart” from the song “Next Summer” (from the album This Is for the White in Your Eyes). Most of his music is structured pop songs that give listeners painfully honest glances into what feels like private therapy sessions.
I asked Jannis if someone had broken his heart. He tells me yes, and that the lyrics are quite obvious. “When you ask me about the lyrics, it’s a funny lyric to talk about because it’s very simple and it comes from the heart and that’s the best thing I can do.”
“I think that we all need to feel touched, or need emotional activity and I get that far more often by listening or playing music than I do from actually talking to people,” Jannis explained. For any music fan there are songs that become something more than just sounds. We’re reminded of a feeling, a place, or a memory. It’s hard to describe this abstract connection, but it happens.
And how this abstract emotionalism is manifested may be best summed up by Jannis, “A friend of mine who studies at the classical conservatory once told me this music philosophy [that] you divide song writers into gardeners and architects. The gardeners are like something [that] comes up and they’re not controlling it, but maybe cutting it a little bit here and there, but the gardener takes care of it the plants and the plants come up themselves. Then there is the architect where everything, every single brick in your music you thought about and you know why it is put there. So I would be the gardener.”
And then it occurred to me that as we listen to the Choir of Young Believers we all are hearing him tend to his garden, enjoying his flowers, and it’s no longer just him. The shy introvert blooms through his music.