Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
On the occasion of Choir of Young Believers' third full-length album 'Grasque,' it is appropriate to mention Jannis Noya Makrigiannis' backstory as a way of defining and contextualising the record. In late 2013, Makrigiannis decided to travel rather than return to the studio for a follow-up of the the poignant and haunting 'Rhine Gold.' In 2014, Makrigiannis revived the project to support Depeche Mode across Europe, briefly returning to writing on guitar to test new material in a fresh environment.
This redirection is the overall sound of 'Grasque' and reflects the uncertainty and doubts Makrigiannis had about the group between in his year of soul searching. In a track-by-track guide for Dummy, Makrigiannis details his collagist approach to songwriting, and how sampling played a part in specifying which direction to take.
Stream the album below and read on to discover which song is his first written in Danish, which is his tribute to Terence Trent D'arby's Sign Your Name and the track that depicts George Michael "getting a blowjob from a waiter at a cheap Greek restaurant."
Jannis Noya Makrigiannis: "Olimpiyskiy is a live recording from a huge hockey arena in Moscow called Olimpiyskiy, which we played at when we supported Depeche Mode back in 2014. That tour was such a weird, fantastic experience. During the rehearsals, I realised the electronic improvisation sessions Aske Zidore (producer), and I had done could morph into the new tunes we were playing in the band. So it is an important moment in the making of 'Grasque' – a sweet little memory to have on the record.
I wanted 'Grasque' to have this collage feel, so starting with a live recording fit right in. Most sets on the tour started with Olimpiyskiy as an intro to Serious Lover; you can hear people chanting "De-peche-Mode" with their beautiful Russian accents. Having this epic intro—an audience cheering for another band—just felt, what can I say, interesting."
02. Serious Lover
Jannis Noya Makrigiannis: "The oldest song on 'Grasque'. I think I wrote it in 2009. I always liked it, but I was young and conservative back then and didn’t think a poppy keyboard tune fitted with what we were doing with Choir of Young Believers. But when I started rethinking the band and convincing myself I could do whatever I wanted, it was quickly thrown into the 'Grasque' mix. It's one of the few songs we played live in the band before recording. The tune was also tracked live in the studio, and then Aske and I edited the shit out of it."
Jannis Noya Makrigiannis: "Vaserne is a very beautiful area north of Copenhagen, close to where I grew up. The lyrics are in Danish and Greek. It's an outro to Serious Lover, but also a thing in itself. I wrote the melody and lyrics over a loop of the Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, but the sample didn't get cleared, so we rearranged and recorded it ourselves at the last minute. It worked out way better."
04. Face Melting
Jannis Noya Makrigiannis: "After the Depeche Mode support tour, Aske and I went to this old farmhouse in the woods outside a tiny Swedish village called Kornhult and barricaded ourselves indoors with a lot of weed, wine, and instruments. A week later, we had created something called The Kornhult Bank with the song Græske, which we had already recorded. The Kornhult Bank consisted of hours of improvisation sessions—the esthetic fundament of 'Grasque'. The idea freed us to take the sonic landscape, production, and instrumentation to extremes if we didn't have an already written song to "respect." It also ended up being an endless point of (some better than others) ideas, sounds and beats that we could sample and use on some of the songs I had already written. Face Melting is a bastard of The Kornhult Bank, put together with bits and pieces from these improvisation sessions. Later we dubbed bass and drums on it to tie it all together."
Jannis Noya Makrigiannis: "Græske was the first song Aske, and I made for the album. We wrote, recorded, and mixed the whole thing during the first 'Grasque' session. Together with The Kornhult Bank, it was a fantastic motivator for how we approached a lot of the other songs."
06. Jeg Ser Dig
Jannis Noya Makrigiannis: "This song became Danish during my rambling demo phase. I have no idea why—I'd never written a song in Danish before—but I liked the melody, so I tried to write English lyrics and quickly realized that wasn’t going to work. After warding off waves of confusion and fear over suddenly writing pop songs in Danish, I realized it was a perfect new piece for the 'Grasque' collage."
07. Cloud Nine
Jannis Noya Makrigiannis: "This song (along with Serious Lover and Does It Look As If I Care) was recorded in a hi-fi studio north of Copenhagen with the legendary Danish producer Flemming Rasmussen as the engineer. He did Metallica's early records and this Danish '80s artist called Anne Linnet, which we like. Some of the lyrics were stolen from a punk band called Young Wasteners, which was very popular in the local squats music scene. They had a song where the lyrics in the hook went "it's just another World War," and since then that line was stuck in my head. I found it very pathetic, beautiful, and sad to sing that in a song and knew I would steal it some day."
08. The Whirlpool Enigma
Jannis Noya Makrigiannis: "A theme I had written on a Spanish guitar a long time ago. It kept coming back to me, but I could never find a place for it. It fit into the collage of 'Grasque' perfectly. Here it is performed on saxophone and MIDI bass."
"George Michael is getting a blowjob from a waiter at a cheap Greek restaurant while trying to stream a bullfight on his phone with a really bad Internet connection." – Jannis Noya Makrigiannis
09. Perfect Estocada
Jannis Noya Makrigiannis: "George Michael is getting a blowjob from a waiter at a cheap Greek restaurant while trying to stream a bullfight on his phone with a really bad Internet connection."
Jannis Noya Makrigiannis: "I like Terence Trent D'Arby. Salvatore is my small tribute to him and his song Sign Your Name.
11. Gamma Moth
Jannis Noya Makrigiannis: "The song we worked on the longest. Like Face Melting and Græske, it is based on the improvisation sessions Aske, and I had, cut, looped, and pitched into pieces. Then we structured it into some sort of pop song. For some reason, I doubted it for a long time; we kept writing new parts until Aske came up with the bass line, which magically tied everything together perfectly. Even though it is very much a computer-generated creation, it works great with the band and is one of my favorites to play at concerts."
12. Does It Look As If I Care
Jannis Noya Makrigiannis: "The last song I wrote for 'Grasque'. At that point, we were long into the recording process, and it had more or less taken shape and found its sound. What I like about this track is that it's the band playing live in the studio with no overdubs (except for the vocals). We did this 19-minute version, which Aske and I edited down to nine the same evening. To me, it's this great mix of the band and how we play together, combined with the sound Aske and I created in Kornhult. I think those two versions of Choir of Young Believers balance each other nicely here."
Choir of Young Believers' latest album 'Grasque' is out now through Ghostly International (buy).