'New Age Becomes Old Age Very Quickly': Yanni Speaks
'New Age Becomes Old Age Very Quickly': Yanni Speaks
Just say the name — his one name — and you know we're talking about one of the most popular recording artists ever. Yanni's resume includes more than 40 platinum and gold albums since the 1980s and epic concerts from some of the world's most historic sites, including The Forbidden City, the Taj Mahal, the Kremlin, and the Pyramids. Along the way, he may well have raised more money for PBS than Oscar the Grouch.
Yanni's new album, true to form, is called Sensuous Chill. He spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about how he's maintained his own chill for so long, and why the term "new age" continues to baffle him. Hear the radio version at the audio link and read their conversation below.
Scott Simon: What is a sensuous chill?
Yanni: It was a concept; I've had it for quite some time. I wanted it to create an environment for the listener that was a sensuous environment, a melodious environment and a sexy environment at the same time.
Excuse me, I think I'm getting a sensuous chill! [Laughs]
[Laughs] They didn't tell me you're funny! I'm in trouble now.
No, nobody really thinks that. But I'm glad you and I can.
So, it has taken me five years to create something like that. It didn't come easy. And I took a long, long time figuring out which songs to pick and which order to present them in. So it is meant to be: You put it on your CD player or whatever else you have, put it on repeat and forget about it. It's not a demanding album. Someone is not going to jump out in the middle of the album and pull your shirt and say, "Listen to me, I'm doing a guitar solo," or, "Listen to me, I'm doing a violin solo." It's not the idea. The idea is to put you in a mood that's consistent, that is enjoyable, and keep you there.
Some of this music has been kind of inspired by your travels around the world.
Of course. Everything is inspired by my life experiences. Everything I have been through, every country I have been through, everything that I have felt, emotionally, is the inspiration for writing music.
I guess that's true of all art — but maybe we just hear it a little more in music sometimes?
You definitely hear it a lot more in music. Especially the type of music that I write, which is with no lyrics — I merely describe emotion. I go directly for the emotion. And emotion translates from culture to culture, unharmed, untouched. You know, a Chinese grandfather feels the same way about his grandson as an American grandfather feels towards his grandson. The emotions are very similar around the planet, in my experience. We are more alike than people realize.
Do I have this right: You taught yourself how to play the piano?
Yes, you do have this right. I was very stubborn when I was a kid — I refused to take lessons. At the beginning it made it extremely difficult, because I climbed up on the piano when I was 6 years old and started banging away at the notes, not realizing what I was doing. But in the process, I created something that's called "perfect pitch." Which — a lot of people know what it is, but what it really means is that any note, or chord, or anything I hear, is an open book to me. Notes are not merely pitches that go low, high, medium — they are words. Each note is like a word, like somebody is talking to me.
How do you feel about the term "new age"?
I don't! I don't even know what it is. What is new age?
Well, that's where Billboard puts your music.
I mean, I can see it now. Somebody in Los Angeles in some little office sat around going, "What are we going to do with a guy named Yanni? He's playing classical music, he's playing rock and roll, he's playing jazz, he's got this, he's got that, he's playing Chinese music, Middle Eastern music — he's doing whatever the hell he wants." I can see the guy standing up and going, "How about we call it 'new age'?" Well, new age becomes old age very quickly. [Laughs]
I got stuck with that, and then it became a grab-bag category. Anyone who didn't fit in the main categories of music became a new age artist.
There's a track on this album called "Whispers in the Dark." It sounds to me like a nice kind of darkness: You're with someone you care for and you're confiding in each other.
Absolutely. The reason that I connect with all these different cultures around the planet is, there is optimism inside me. And that has been put in me from my father and my mother, and the way I was raised. I was lucky that I was raised in a very beautiful environment with a lot of hope, and a lot of love. That has grown inside me, so when I write music it comes out. You can't help it! It's part of your psyche.
It's not that I don't feel pain or anger. I feel everything that everybody else feels, I promise you. But there is no reason for me to write music out of anger or frustration, or anything that is negative. I wait until I learn from my mistakes, from my difficult times, and I like to write music about the lessons that I learned while I was going through the tough times. So there is always a resolution in my songs. It is not out of ignorance, it is out of knowledge. And I think that's what the public gets, and that's why they like to listen.