The Yanni concert begins like dew on an Athenian chrysanthemum opening its face to the morning sun. Sit back in your velvet Benaroya womb-chair and let one of the greatest composers of our time birth you like a baby. The song is "Truth of Touch." Yanni tickles out a melody on the piano so motherfuckin' sweet it's like honey cascading down a waterfall of moonbeams onto butterfly wings. Yanni makes passionate love to every note. Magic, power, beauty, and more power radiate out from the stage like a zephyr of Armani Eau Pour Homme. Leonardo DiCaprio embraces you from behind on the front of the Titanic as you sail, arms out, into the fuchsia blush of a Mediterranean sunset. This is love. This is what it's like to fly. Violins and cellos float in, then drums. You never knew love before. Yanni (yah-nee), you cry out! Soaring, emotional and triumphant. God, his hair looks so fucking good.
Yiannis Chryssomallis by birth, from Kalamata, Greece, the adult-contemporary marauder has sold 17 kadgillion albums worldwide. In March 2014, Yanni released his 17th studio album, Inspirato, featuring operatic vocalists performing remakes of Yanni songs, mostly in Italian. Some sound like Meatloaf's Bat out of Hell. Yanni spoke from the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee, about to start the second leg of his North American tour. He'd just finished working out in the hotel gym, and it was raining there.
In the last five months, you have played in more than 24 countries. What's the Yanni Secret™ to dealing with jet lag?
Jet lag can be a challenge. On the road, I try to maintain a concert schedule, which means I try to stay up as late as possible, having dinner between 2 and 4 a.m. Then I try to sleep as late as possible, working out in the gym every afternoon, going to the venue in the late afternoon. This allows me to be in the middle of my day during the concert. Constantly traveling between time zones and my schedule takes a lot out of me, so eating very clean and healthy, regular exercise, and sleep are a must. Sleep is the tough part.
You travel so much, have you ever forgotten where you are?
I forget where I am quite often [laughs]. Sometimes we are in three cities in one day. For example, this Saturday we will wake up and work out in Milwaukee, fly to Chicago and do a concert, then fly to Calgary, Canada, to have dinner and sleep. All in one day. You have to keep reminding yourself as to where you are. We write the name of the city we are performing in on a big piece of green fluorescent tape on the floor, right where I walk onstage, so that it's the last thing I see before starting the concert.
You play concerts in big outdoor venues. How do you deal with strong winds? Have any birds ever landed on your piano or keyboard? Have you ever been struck by lightning?
Never struck by lightning [laughs]. No birds on keyboards, but lots of bugs. Outdoor shows are magical but also bring a huge element of risk with Mother Nature. We were shooting a TV special in El Morro, Puerto Rico, a few years ago and there was a sudden rain shower and windstorm that came in from the ocean. The rain was massive and the winds became dangerous. We had to stop the concert after two delays, lower our lighting rig, cover all of the instruments, and get everyone to safety. It was not fun. The beauty and magic of the outdoor shows is also what brings the risk and danger. In looking at the video we did at El Morro, it is probably one of the most energetic shows I've ever done.
What do you do before a concert? What's the Yanni Pregame Ritual™? Or we could make one up, like, you eat half of one kale leaf, and light the other half on fire.
No need to make one up, I have one. After sound check, I go to my dressing room, think about the show, and spend the last hour before the show alone in my dressing room playing through many of the songs. About five minutes before the show starts, I put in my in ear monitors, and then go to stand backstage with some of the crew in a circle—we give each other hand slaps and each person says the city that we are in. Just in case we forgot.
When you were in Salzburg, did the voice of Mozart speak to you from the shower?
I don't hear voices yet, thankfully.
Let's get back to Yanni Secrets™. What is something about you that people might not know? Like you can vogue better than Madonna. Your voguing is out of control.
I don't dance very often. I love the water, and when I was 14, I set a national record for freestyle swimming. I still swim as much as possible. I don't really have too many things that would be interesting in a funny way.
What's the most challenging piece of music you've ever played?
"Nostalgia," because of the complexity. Sometimes I find it challenging to play "Felitsa." It's a song that I wrote about my mother, and on certain days it can be a challenge for me to stay composed, as I get emotional performing it.
You recently played in Tunisia, and just before your arrival there, some people had been killed by terrorists. And your performance was the first event back for the country. The papers read, "Music defies terrorism" and "Yanni helped heal the country." What was that show like?
It was one of the most powerful experiences of my career. The venue was an ancient Roman amphitheater built out of stone and was outdoors. We don't know how many people the venue holds, but we were told that there were about 30,000 people present each night. I have never experienced such love and connection with an audience, they were loud, knew all of the music I played, and the show was truly a celebration of the strength and determination of the Tunisian people to live freely and peacefully. Several shows were canceled before our concerts—we were one of the first shows after the attack, and I feel that we all celebrated and healed during these shows.
Did you feel safe? Were there moments where you felt that maybe you should not have been playing?
I felt very safe in Tunisia. We had wonderful security and it was never tested, the people were very warm and kind. I cannot express enough how the people of Tunisia welcomed us with love. We discussed the concerts extensively with the authorities and government, and we all agreed that the concerts would be safe for everyone. It was a spectacular success with no incidents at all. It was amazing to see every stairway full of people sitting to watch the concert. People were helping each other to get to a place to sit and really being thoughtful about one another. It was a magical two nights that will stay with me forever.
You have perfect pitch. Describe what that's like.
For me, perfect pitch is the ability to hear every note exactly as it's supposed to sound. This is very helpful in composing and very challenging in performing. Our orchestra is very diligent about maintaining our sound quality, and after each concert, we share notes that will continue to help us. Often, I may be the only person who hears how a particular piece of music is slipping, and we correct it. We've been doing this for years, and everyone has gotten used to it and appreciates how we are able to maintain our sound.
There are 31 Yanni fan clubs. Some people don't even have 31 fans. How often do you make women pass out?
Our fan clubs are fantastic and they are from all over the world. It is amazing to me that our most active fan clubs are often in countries that may not be expected, such as Iran, Tunisia, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, China, Egypt, Turkey, and many others. I really love these fans and the interaction we have. One funny story is a time when I met a fan who was inspired by my music to travel to my hometown of Kalamata, Greece. He actually visited my parents' house. He told me that he was able to meet my mother, and she had invited him in and made lunch for him. That was a surprise for me.
What's it like having such a strong effect on people? Do you ever wish you were not Yanni, and you could walk down the street to buy milk without people passing out when they see you?
I love my life and what I do for a career. I would never give up the incredible experiences of going around the world, meeting new people, and learning about different cultures. There is certainly a price of privacy that has to be paid, but mostly the media and people have been very respectful of my privacy. I have no desire to change anything about where my journey has taken me.
Who are you a fan of?
I am a fan of many people, most of them from a long time ago. My greatest influences in life have been the ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato. The one person that I would love to sit and speak with is Socrates.
If you were an animal, what would you be? I picture you soaring through the air like a giant eagle. Or maybe you're something odd, like a gopher.
I like the idea of the golden eagle. I had the opportunity years ago to share some time with a magnificent golden eagle, and he really had a strong effect on me. He was a very strong-willed bird who always knew and believed that he was a magnificent eagle, even though he was missing a wing that was shot off.
Why did you shave your mustache off? You had the best mustache.
[Laughs] I took some time off from music about 10 years ago and was doing a lot of ocean diving and swimming. Eventually my long hair was a nuisance with using the mask, so I decided to cut it and shave. My hair has been long again recently, and I still keep a light beard.
Let's do Yanni Mustache Grooming Tips™. What's the trick to a good 'stache?
Nothing special, just attention and constant trimming and combing.