There is a slight crackle on the line. That of course is bound to occur any time a telephone call flies across a wire strung between New York and Copenhagen. Fuzzy as it is, my conversation with Jannis Noya Makrigiannis the creative force behind the Danish, orchestral pop outfit Choir of Young Believers - is still a fairly casual one...at least for me. Makrigiannis, on the other hand, sounds a bit more calculated in his responses, affording himself long, drawn out moments to consider his words carefully. During such standstills, the transatlantic signal snaps and pops, leaving me hanging ever so patiently on whatever piece of magnificent insight is to follow. And oh did it follow...
That Makrigiannis is reserved and calculating when discussing Choir of Young Believers is not entirely surprising. The band's debut This is For the White in Your Eyes
like the result of an intensive writing/composing period. It sounds
like it was firmly committed to tape via what could only have been a rather rigid recording process. It sounds
like a vision...a deliberate work of music where time, texture, tempo, composition, instrumental make up, and lyrical might are all thoroughly considered. It sounds
like perfectly pruned pop music, lead by an extraordinary musician who knew exactly what would blossom, well before it actually did so. That is what This is For the White in Your Eyes sounds
like. That's not what it is.
"We had a month to record the album, and for the first three weeks I thought that it was going to be the most schizophrenic album ever," admits Makrigiannis. "I mean, we had only played three or four of the songs with the band before we decided to record." Most likely, that's because Choir of Young Believers began as nothing more than a somewhat timid guitarist, attempting to write and sing songs for himself for the very first time. Prior to recording the songs that inhabit the album - the only ten songs he had, mind you - Makrigiannis spent years strumming a guitar for his previous band, Lake Placid. That group would eventually split though, leaving Makrigiannis in search of something else entirely. "I'm sure you can imagine what happens when you're used to being in this big collective of nine people, and suddenly you're alone with your writing...I was very insecure about the whole thing", explains Makrigiannis.
Of course This is For the White in Your Eyes
is anything but an insecure album. It's a big and bold endeavor: one that stirs wonder and emotion in its' cathedral grade orchestrations, bittersweet melodies, and caramelized vocals. To that end, credit Makrigiannis' honest and genuine approach to the writing process. "The music that I really enjoy listening to is very much from the heart. I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but I sort of gave up the idea of wanting to do something that was really revolutionary, which is avant-garde, or which will provoke people. I just sat down and wrote some songs. They turned out to be sad, melodic pop songs. And I know that's not the coolest thing in the world, but that's what came out, and that's what it is."
Call it a naturalist's means to an end; one that eventually quelled Makrigiannis' fear of ending up with an erratic kind of record. "In the last week of recording, everything started coming together...I'm very proud of the record. When I listen to it now, I actually think it's tied together quite well."
Not surprisingly, praise for This is For the White in Your Eyes
has extended well beyond Makrigiannis' own personal satisfaction. Having been out for more than a year in his native Denmark, the record has gobbled up its' fair share of accolade, including "Best New Act" at the Danish Music Awards (think the Grammys). Earlier this month the album also made its' way stateside, and an American tour is scheduled to follow this fall. It's something that's got Makrigiannis rather excited. "[Music] is a way of communicating with people that's just in a more abstract way than words...I think it's interesting to go out and communicate these songs with a lot of different people. I'm sure people will react differently depending on where we go."
Speaking of communicating, it's about this time that the telephone static returns, speeding like a ripple across the telephone wire. Something important must be coming my way. I wait, a bit longer than usual this time. Then..."When I started this band I've been thinking a lot about music...you know what it means, what it's good for, and why I spend all this time on it. It's such an abstract thing to spend all your time on. And I found that because I spend all my time on music I think it's very important that it not be something that you create out of an idea. What's important is that it just comes. At least that's what works best for me."
It's a conclusion that ultimately expresses exactly what the music of Choir of Young Believers is all about. It's something that just comes. It's something natural. Fittingly, it's something to believe in. - David Pitz
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Choir of Young Believers on Myspace