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I managed to track down Yiannis via SKYPE while he was on the last leg of “The Space Between the Shadows” Tour with Scott Stapp in Brazil to ask a few pertinent questions about the guitar, life on tour and staying motivated as a very prominent sideman.
After watching some of the live videos with Scott, you guys look like you have been together for 10 years, you really fit in well on stage!
Thank you very much! You know what we’ve been together with Scott I think this is the fourth or the fifth year, if I remember correctly. During these years we’ve toured a lot on and off the stage. The thing that makes the difference in this camp is the fact that we get along with each other so well. I think it takes every kind of job to another level if you like your co-workers, if you’re having fun, especially for our kind of work, where what we do has very much to do with feelings, and the energy on stage. Trust me, the smiles that you see when we are on stage; these are the same smiles that you see when we are below stage — when we are having fun with each other; we joke. It’s that cool vibe and it comes out on stage, people get this positive energy because they enjoy a great rock show because we are having fun and they have fun with us!▼ Article continues below ▼
It looks like you’ve used all the benefits of the YouTube, Facebook, and everything related to social media, now take me back to what it would have been like as Yiannis growing up in Athens, Greece in before all that existed? What do you think that would have been like?
Obviously one of the toughest things would be the lack of social media and all these opportunities that are created — especially if you have a strong presence and you constantly upload material. But the biggest problem I believe is the fact that rock music in general wasn’t so popular and still is isn’t the most popular music genre in Greece so to make ends meet I would possibly be playing for any kind of Greek singer and playing traditional Greek music.
Long story short, I believe I would follow a similar path that my father did, as a musician that would be the best way to do it, I would assume. I am grateful! I’ve always wanted to play music, you know. I remember listening to Metallica records and imagining myself being on stage and playing in front of huge crowds, playing those riffs! I know it sounds strange, it’s like I am living my childhood dream right now with Scott and I really appreciate that!
It looked like you used a little Mesa Boogie Mark IV amp head in one of the videos I saw. Do you still love the warmth of a vintage tube amp or are you completely sold on doing everything digital with devices such as Fractal Audio and Avid Eleven Racks?
I really do like the sound of the tube amps but what I do also like is the fact that I have something that sounds pretty, pretty, pretty good. I have been using the Fractals and I couldn’t be happier; it makes your life so much easier especially with international travelling! I mean I like the sound of the tube amp when I am recording, but I have been recording so much with the Fractal in sessions…it’s pretty reliable, I am so happy.
Do you get frustrated on stage and in the studio when the song material doesn’t allow you the full opportunity to shred?
One thing I have learned being a session musician is the fact that on a good song your job is to make the [track] sound good and your job is not to go start ripping solos — so having said that when I am asked to go in the studio I try to make up parts that make the song sound better as a whole, and obviously if I am asked to do a solo I try to play something that fits the song. I mean I do have my own playing style but I try but I try to blend it with the kind of music that I am asked to play at any given point.
It has to flow; it’s music, it’s a pleasure for any kind of listener and this is what I do and how I think when I am trying to compose or to play a part. What would I want to hear if I was listening to the song on the radio? So, this is how I work and I try to think that way when I am with other people in the studio.
What are the 5 favorite effects pedals that you cannot play without?
Strymon Timeline Delay Pedal
Strymon BigSky Multidimensional Reverb Pedal
Jam Pedals (Greece) Waterfall Chorus Pedal
Andy Timmons Signature Drive Pedal [JHS Pedals]
Jimmy Dunlop Cry Baby Wah Wah Pedal
How many hours a day on average do you have a guitar in your hand?
Oh man, at minimum, I try, and I am not counting the stage time, at least two hours. I have days where I play six hours a day, I mean, that’s my life…I try to do it as much as I can.
Do you use Pro Tools or Logic on a regular basis to record ideas that jump into your brain, or your iPhone voice memo app or something similar?
First of all, I use Cubase, I’ve been always using Cubase, this is number one. Then, usually I have some kind of idea if it’s going to be a riff or a melody and then I start building around it. I try to hear where the riff or the melody takes me, if it’s going to be a heavy song or a ballad — what’s the musical direction of the song?
But if I am writing for somebody else and I know it is going to be pretty straight forward and I know what kind of orchestration will be used, I am much faster and I write usually everything and I just go in the studio until it’s done.
Do you “hear” the rhythm first or do you “hear” the melodic lead solo first?
Both actually, it depends! I would say there’s a little bit more to it. I have moments where I have a melody in my head and I just sing it into my phone and I go home and I find everything else and I just build around it, everything originally related to it!
It can work both ways. It’s not a specific recipe!
What advice would you give to our readers on dedication of time, and the patience and talent that it would take to become even close to the caliber you are at?
First of all the talent doesn’t take you anywhere unless you have the time on top of the instrument! What I have always seen is that people that have the talent just move on fast up to a point but when the talent leaves and they are required to keep up they just don’t put the time in, they just give up.
Talent is obviously one of the most important factors but persistence and taking the time with the instrument, taking the time to understand how it works and how to make it sound good, it’s even more important than the talent factor itself, you know?
So, my advice has always been, never give up!
Are the bands you tour with more health conscious nowadays?
I think that is a big “depends,” I don’t know if it is a trend but I think many band members follow that lifestyle but I’ve also seen bands where they don’t do it, they stick to the old stuff. Certain people, I don’t know if it is about the time!
After watching a bunch of your videos, I saw that you had a little wrap that you put around the nut of your guitar. Is that like a muffler or something on the first fret?
Right — so there are many different ways that you can use this thing. This is the Fret Wrap by Gruv Gear. I am using it first of all when I am recording mainly just to keep the unwanted noise out of your playing, because we are people not machines, you know.
Well you are kind of like a machine!
You know you may miss a note here and there and it is a shame to do an entire take because you missed a note. Especially if you don’t have much time! This is something that makes things easy and fast and it is the main use I have for it. I’ve found that if you use it behind the nut it also helps the instrument resonate a bit better but the main usage is when I am in the studio.
Let’s say you and I are I the studio and you come up with a riff — do you commit everything to memory or do you rely on tablature or sheet music?
It depends on the situation. If I am in a quick recording situation and I have to improvise I can use my phone and I have a video of myself and then If I have to reproduce it again I just take the time to check the video and try to relearn what I did (if I can’t reproduce it immediately.)
But for anything that I compose or any kind of songs/solos that I did for competitions, everything is composed and not improvised — so the time that I was composing the solo, at the same time I had my Guitar PRO software open and I was transcribing myself. So, all of the songs that I have on my website, these are solos that are transcribed 100% by me and they are 100% accurate.
When you are doing sessions in Nashville, where most of the session players communicate through the Nashville number system do you have the ability to talk that language and adapt to pretty much any playing style, tempo and tone on the fly?
Yes of course I understand it, having a formal training at the Music Conservatory to be able to understand the language and be able to communicate with other people and not just in Nashville but also in many other situations, and you have to be able to do it on the fly! You have to know how to change things immediately.
Were there other bands and players internationally outside of Vinnie Moore, Slash and Yngwie that influenced your melodic tunings and lead solos?
That is a good question, to be honest I am not exactly the rock type of guy — I am more of a metal head, I like In Flames, I like Opeth, I like I like Dark Tranquility and I am really a big fan of the Swedish metal scene as well, but regarding the guitar playing I have always liked different guitar players and looked forward to new techniques coming to the table, regarding my playing at least.
So, for example I may have started with Slash and Richie Sambora but throughout the years as I was thinking more into technique I was more into players like John Petrucci or Steve Vai or Yngwie Malmsteen or Vinnie Moore. Later I got into players like Allan Holdsworth and Brett Garsed – let’s say more fusion players because I really love that!
So, your learning is evolving?
For me, that’s the key. I mean obviously you need to have some kind of identity, some kind of a base if you are a jazz player, or if you are a rock player or any kind of player. The key is always to learn how to outstart (v. to jump out) your playing, make it even more rich and having new ideas to take you to the next level so that you are becoming a better player and so that you are not bored when you touch things! It merely starts from your need to step away from what you are doing and find new ways of expressing yourself!
main photo by Matt Bender