By Manos Michaelides
Gabriella, we thank you from heart for accepting our proposal for an interview on Hephaestus, Austria’s first Greek-language radio. First of all, how are you and what is the current situation in Cyprus, especially regarding the global pandemic?
Likewise, thank you for reaching out and making this interview happen.
I am doing well, as good as someone can be during days like these. The situation in Cyprus is similar to the rest of the world. We are officially in a complete lockdown/quarantine since March 24th until the 13th of April (as far as we know). Shops, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and most workplaces are closed – some long before the new measures took place, and the only things open are supermarkets, pharmacies, kiosks, banks, and government services. We can only leave the house to visit the previously mentioned locations and if there is a funeral we need to attend (with no more than 10 attendees), and for personal exercise or walking a pet outdoors. Of course, we need to carry official documentation (ID or Passport) and an official paper stating the reason we left our house, including ID number, zip code, full name, and date. Thankfully, we can send a SMS to a number given out by government officials instead of wasting paper… The situation around the world is, in my opinion, out of hand and it’s unbelievable to see things like this happen in 2020. The only thing we can do is stay at home, follow the rules, in order to prevent more unnecessary deaths, and stay safe.
Let’s get to the music part of the interview. What were the first stimuli that made you realize the capabilities of your voice and pushed you to work with it?
I was born in a musical family, and from the age of four I started attending music lessons (guitar and piano). Singing was in a way always part of my life; my mother has one of the most beautiful voices out there, in my opinion and I would always sing along. At the age of 10, I started going to vocal lessons. My teacher was always encouraging, helped me structure and improve my voice. There wasn’t a moment that suddenly made me realize my capabilities. I always knew I wanted to be a musician, and I was just lucky enough to have the means to do so.
Listening to your work, it becomes more than obvious that you have strong music studies. Would you please let us know some more things about your music education and your teachers?
As I mentioned above, I took piano, guitar, and vocal lessons from a young age. In more detail, growing up I actually visualized myself being a classical pianist therefore my main focus was that. Guitar was always a passion but to be very and completely honest with you, it was something that I was never really good at; I could only accompany myself. In what concerns vocal lessons, I attended popular vocals and opera classes, earning my Vocal Performance Diploma from the London College of Music at the age of 16. During those years, I also attended music theory classes (classical & jazz). In 2015, I was accepted at Berklee College of Music where I studied Professional Music which included classes like Music Business, Classical & Jazz Composition, Arranging, Film Scoring, Songwriting, Music Therapy, Music Education, Performance and so many more. All my professors and teachers at Berklee and outside the college, were excellent and talented musicians that were more than capable of caring about their students’ success and improvement. I was blessed to have been taught by each and every one of them and for being able to attend all classes to begin with. Apart from my teachers being “my teachers”, I feel so lucky to have formed a friendship with them and it is so important to me to have them in my life until today.
You have the ability to sing opera, jazz, pop, rock and blues. Which music style do you think suits you best and why?
This is a question that I receive a lot and I always tend to say the same thing. Whoever listens to me sing or perform has a different opinion of what suits me best; it’s human nature. Most people though say that they prefer me singing opera or musicals and it has sort of influenced my view of my voice. I believe what they are trying to say is that melodic vocals suit me best and I do agree. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rock, metal, pop, or classical instrumental background when the voice is melodic, powerful and hits those high notes.
What chances are there in Cyprus for a talented young person to freely grow and unfold his/her talent? Can you please let us know of other noteworthy Cypriot singers/artists?
It is true that in Cyprus we have a lot of brilliant music teachers that can properly instruct and help a music student improve. As a country though, I personally believe that we don’t help musicians and artists of all kind unfold their talent to the fullest. As a culture we are far behind in terms of acknowledging and respecting the arts. There aren’t many venues to perform in, and it is hard for a musician to be successful in Cyprus if they don’t perform traditional or Greek music. Things are evolving for sure but we do have a long way ahead of us to get to the point where we should be.
Cyprus is filled with talented people and there are a lot of noteworthy Cypriot singers and artists. It would take very long for me to mention every single one of them and I don’t want to offend anyone by not mentioning them. So, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll only mention the people that I grew closer with musically:
Joakem, Kill Thanatos, Black Anis, and Giannis Margaris.
How important is it for a singer to be a part of a choir prior to going solo? What is your experience in this field?
Being part of a choir and being a solo artist are two very different things. I don’t believe it is important to be a part of a choir prior to going solo. It is just an experience that will broaden one’s knowledge. It was indeed very helpful to have been in a choir in the past, in the matter of learning how to work within a team, learning how to improve a song all together instead of alone, and being able to work out harmonies to support one another.
Your debut EP is “Breaking Infinity”. Why did you choose this title?
Breaking Infinity’s main inspiration was expressing and letting out “depressive” feelings that stuck with me for many years. I compared them to a never-ending cycle of sad emotions; I thought I’d feel like that forever, for an infinity. Writing each and every song, recording them, and releasing them, felt like I was breaking that cycle. That’s why I named my EP “Breaking Infinity”.
Except from a singer you are also a composer and a lyricist. Were you the sole composer and lyricist for “Breaking Infinity”? How do you compose a song and what are the main themes of your lyrics?
No, I wasn’t the sole composer and lyricist of Breaking Infinity. Apart from the song “Awake” where Chris Cara wrote the music and Andreas Economides wrote the lyrics, as far as I recall I would song write on my own and then go through the song lyrically and musically with Chris and Eco, to improve and embellish it, which means we co-wrote the album.
Each song was born in a different way. I was always on my piano while writing the music; that never changed but the order things were created varied. For example, for the song “Why Don’t You Love Me”, lyrics and music were written at the same time, whereas “Walls” had lyrics first and then came the music. I don’t think there is a correct or just one way of songwriting. It always depends on how and when the inspiration hits.
Where did you record the EP and who was the producer?
The EP was recorded at Soundscape Studios in Cyprus and the producer is Chris Cara.
How satisfied are you with the EP? Would you change anything if you could?
It is very hard to answer this question as a perfectionist. If I had to do everything again, Breaking Infinity would not be as we came to know it; not because I’m not satisfied with it as an EP but because musically and emotionally, I’m not in the same place anymore. The truth is that I wouldn’t change one bit of Breaking Infinity because that is how it was meant to be. The feelings are true, the music and lyrics expressed what they had to express.
What has been the response so far for the EP from both the audience and the press?
The feedback I received from the audience and the press was truly overwhelming. I never received a negative comment on the EP. What I always read or heard was that Breaking Infinity is soul touching. Many said my voice was angelic, or commented on how powerful my voice was which is something I really didn’t expect; not because I don’t believe in myself but for the sole reason that I tend to expect more “constructive” criticism instead. I still receive messages from fans all over the world saying how they connected to my songs, and that they were able to relate with the lyrics and the music I wrote. It makes me emotional to read comments like these. Releasing Breaking Infinity made me realize that the greatest gift of creating music is not awards or “fame” but seeing how your audience responds to your songs.
In your song “Awake” you reach very high notes. What is the actual range of your vocals?
E3 – G6, in other words, a bit over 3 octaves! I was always able to reach very high notes from a young age. Opera lessons helped me broaden my knowledge of how to have more vocal power and support when singing high notes. My struggle was to sing in the lower register i.e. lower notes. That took a lot of practice and thankfully my pop vocal teacher guided me correctly and patiently for me to do so.
“Breaking Infinity” includes 8 songs. Nevertheless, 5 of them seem to be the actual EP, and then there is an alternate version of “Why Don’t You Love Me” plus 2 acoustic versions of “Broken” and “Grey”. Why was this choice made?
Honestly, it was my producer’s idea and it was something I found very interesting. Why Don’t You Love Me’s first pre-production was very different to the end result but both Chris Cara and I loved that first version. Therefore, we thought of creating an alternate version somewhere in between the first pre-prod of the song and the end result to remind us of how it all began. The acoustic versions of “Grey” and “Broken” were made to give a different feel of each song. They both are live recordings which instantly make them unique and show the audience a more intimate approach. Also, since there were only 5 songs, we believed that releasing 3 extra bonus tracks in varied versions would make the EP feel more complete.
You have beautifully covered pop/rock artists like Mary J. Blige, Lady Gaga and Hozier. Which were the reasons for doing these covers and why did you choose these particular artists?
Recording covers is something I find very enjoyable. Apart from the fun side of things, it is a way to start creating something of your own. It might not be an original song but it is your version of it. Also, it is how most artists nowadays start their career and broaden their fanbase. At least that’s how things were in my case.
When doing covers, I didn’t choose the artists. Instead I chose the songs. For example, “Therapy” by Mary J. Blige, “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, and “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga were songs I listened to, connected to lyrically and musically, and absolutely loved. There was no strategy or careful selection. I sang the songs that expressed my thoughts, beliefs, and emotions.
You did a 5-song demo in 5 languages including significant artists like Manos Hadjidakis, Andrew Lloyd Weber, Rick Allison, Carlos Eleta Almaran and Tomado Albinoni. What was your motive for this? Do you also speak all these languages?
You are the first person to ever ask me! The 5-song demo was made when I was on vacation in Cyprus and it was the reason I met my producer Chris Cara. Why did I do a demo? Well, I sent it out to record labels, other singers etc. The demo consisted of songs I loved to sing, and in the 5 languages I adore. I used to be fluent in all five (Greek, English, French, Spanish, and Italian), it is true, but I really need to recap on my Italian and Spanish vocabulary.
You did a great and colorful Eurovision Medley with DOTS. What is your opinion for the Eurovision contest? Would you participate and under which conditions?
I grew up watching Eurovision and couldn’t wait to see all those musicians perform on stage. It is a contest where artists have the opportunity to show their musical abilities on an enormous stage not only in a well-respected venue filled with thousands of people, but on live television with millions of viewers. There is a carefully constructed performance, song-wise, choreography-wise and so on. I would love to participate in Eurovision but not for the next 2-3 years. It takes a lot of work to get to the point where you are actually ready for an experience like this, artistically, emotionally, and personally speaking. It definitely is stressful and there are a lot of people counting on you. My conditions are that I want to represent either Greece or Cyprus because they are the two countries that I am from. The only issue with a contest like Eurovision is that, in my opinion, it is strongly politically drawn. People stopped focusing on the talent they see on stage, instead, they focus on which country “should” win.
Do you often perform live? What venues are you interested in?
I perform live as often as I can. I love being on stage, it’s where I feel at home. I did perform in various venues, bars, theatres. There isn’t a specific type of venue I’m interested in. As long as there is a stage and an audience, I’m happy.
What is your opinion on reality TV-show song contests? Would you participate or not and why?
I believe that TV-show song contests are a good opportunity for publicity and experience of how to perform on live television. Even though there a lot of great moments of different performances, they don’t always compliment artists’ voices. While I do respect TV-show song contests, I don’t see myself competing any time soon.
When someone enters your official website he/she can read the motto “In a World Full of Chaos… Music is the Only Escape”. Please explain.
It is a quote that I personally identify with. Music is everything to me, it’s my passion, my reality, who I am. Whenever anything “chaotic” was happening around me or in the world, I would always turn to music.
What is your message for the Greek Abroad? What is your message for the Covid-19 pandemic? Thank you for the beautiful interview. Please close as you wish.
In these horrible and frightening times, we should all stay at home and follow the rules we are given by our government. It is not something to fight against. We may feel trapped in a cage sometimes but please remember that we are going through this lockdown in order to prevent more unnecessary deaths, and to have a safer tomorrow. It is a matter of protecting not only ourselves from a virus but the people we love. The world has come to a point where it is making us realize that we should care more about the environment and our health. That is our priority. Stay strong, and stay safe. My hopes and prayers are with you.
Thank you for a beautiful interview, it was a great pleasure!