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Ioannis Markoulakis Plays It Out Loud in LA

It’s not easy to become acknowledged in the music industry today. So many voices and different music styles along with piracy issues may discourage some people’s music business dreams. Ioannis Markoulakis is a young Greek guitar player and followed his dream.  Markoulakis has been working successfully the past few years in LA next to other professional musicians and has succeeded in developing his own style. Ioannis talked to us about his work, the problems he faced, and his upcoming first original album.

Tell us about your current activities. Are you working with a specific band or mostly by yourself?

Μy musical activities range from playing guitar in different bands, doing studio work, recording music for theatre, film and TV to developing my own projects. I was fortunate enough to be involved in some exciting projects and to play and record with great musicians, such as Steve Porcaro (Toto, Michael Jackson), Roxanne Seeman (Barbara Streisand, Betty Midler, Earth, Wind and Fire), Calvin Banks (Big Mountain), Fernando Raio (Hilary Duff, Jessie McCartney), Valarie Pettiford, Paul Goldberg (Tom Petty) to name a few. I am currently touring with the legendary Persian singer Ebrahim Hamedi (aka EBI). It has been great; we are performing for big audiences at many prestigious concert halls around the world, such as the LA Forum in Los Angeles, CA, the Aviation club in Dubai, UAE, The Venetian in Las Vegas, NV, etc. The band has also recently performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London, UK.  Lately, I am playing with Patje, an upcoming Swiss-French artist, in various venues in Europe and the US. I also recorded guitar on his latest album which is a mix of pop, latin and jazz and has songs with Spanish, English and French lyrics. We recorded in Geneva, Switzerland, with producer Benoit Kauffman (Johnny Haliday, Nana Mouskouri, Demis Roussos, Michel Sardou). We had a great time making the album, which is currently doing well: it was recently on #34 of the Latin Billboard chart.  I am also playing with the saxophonist Larry Williams (Little Richard’s  band leader, Ike & Tina Turner, Gap band, B.B King, Quincy Jones, just to name a few of his credits), as well as other LA based artists in various live clubs in Los Angeles. Also, I am recording with various composers in LA and Europe, writing music for commercials and TV shows. I also compose and perform music for ithakArts, an interdisciplinary performance group based here in Los Angeles.

When did you start composing music?

I was always interested in composition. I started playing guitar at the age of 13 and I was influenced by all the great rock and jazz guitarists such as Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Steve Lukather, Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery (and the list goes on…). I was fascinated by the improvisatory element of the music. I soon realized that improvisation is nothing more than a composition in a specific moment in time, which you can’t go back and fix; you just create as you go. But to answer your question, (ha, ha) I pretty much started writing music around the age of 16 when I had a better understanding of music theory and harmony. I like writing in various styles (jazz, rock, pop – both songs and instrumental). I am actually currently recording my debut album (will be done by the end of the year and will be released in early spring of 2011). I am also composing music for a music theatre performance written on the convention of ancient Greek theatre, scheduled to open here in LA in the spring. I am as well the primary composer for ithakArts, an interdisciplinary performance ensemble based here in LA.

When did you first arrive in the States and what was the reason for deciding to stay and work in LA?

At the age of 15, I auditioned in Greece for the Berklee World Scholarship Tour. I was fortunate enough to get a dual scholarship, so after finishing high-school, I went to study music at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. What an awesome experience! I met some amazing musicians from around the world while studying there and started performing and recording. When I graduated from Berklee I decided to do my practical training in Los Angeles because I heard so many good things about the LA music scene and also because a lot of the music I loved was “made in Los Angeles”! My experience was and still is very rewarding and positive. I met great people and worked with some amazing musicians. I also completed my Master’s degree in music at the Studio/Jazz guitar department of the University of Southern California and later I had the opportunity to stay and work here, which was something that was very appealing to me. I love living in Los Angeles. I feel this city has a special energy and a very creative vibe that can be a driving force for any artist.

What were some of the difficulties you had to face as a starter in the area of the music industry?

Wow! Tricky question. I guess the main challenges as a starter in the music industry is that you have to improvise as you go (like when playing music) and that there is no specific way of developing a career. Also, I think that you have to be committed, believe in what you do and stay focused. There are times that things are tough but there are also times that you really get rewarded for all the energy that you put into it.

What part of Greece are you from? Do you have any relation with the famous Greek actor Markoulakis?

I was born and raised in Athens but my father comes from the beautiful village of Kandanos, located in the region of Chania, Crete. It also happens to be my favorite place on the planet! When people ask me where I come from, I answer that “I come from Crete”.  It is a really special place and I was fortunate enough to live with my grandparents every summer for 3 months, since I was three years old! There, I learned to be closer to my inner self and hear my instinct which led me to be a musician today.  My mother comes from Atalanti, a beautiful town in Fthiotida, located 80km southeast of Lamia. As far as my relationship with the famous Greek actor Konstantinos Markoulakis, the answer is “I have no idea” (ha, ha!). Although, I once asked my grandmother if we have any relationship and she said that he is a distant cousin from a village which I don’t remember the name today (who knows really!?).

What kind of music do you like?

I like listening to many kinds of music. I grew up listening to a lot of rock music (Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Paige are the reason why I started playing the guitar), but as I was evolving as a guitarist, I got exposed to different styles of music and was drawn to several artist. My biggest influences are Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Lukather, John Scofield, Mike Stern, Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin, Radiohead, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Coldplay and the list goes on. From the classical area: J.S. Bach (of course), Beethoven (especially his piano sonatas), Claude Debussy, Charles Ives, Anton Webern, Olivier Messiaen, Dmtri Shostakovich etc. I also love listening to some great artists from the east like the great Turkish multi-instrumentalist Erkan Oğur and the oud player Anouar Brahem from Tunisia, just to name a few. From our beautiful Greece my favorite artists are Vassilis Rakopoulos (great guitarist and composer), Psarantonis, Nikos Xilouris, Petro-Loukas Chalkias and a new band called Mat se 2 ifesis (Checkmates in Two Flats).

Describe to us a little bit about your personal experience; how are things in the area of the music industry today and what do you think about the new trends?

Things in the music industry are different than they were before and are constantly changing, but what isn’t? You just have to be flexible and adapt to whatever comes your way. The evolution of technology has definitely influenced the music industry in many aspects. Computers and instrument sampling are replacing live instruments and real musicians at the studio; as a result, there is less demand for musicians in the recording studio. On the other hand, technology offers more tools than you would ever have access to in the past and this is definitely a powerful thing. For instance, any musician can build a high quality recording studio for a fraction of the price that it would cost 10-20 years ago and they can record their projects without having to depend on a record company. The same way, there are plenty of tools available to promote their music. That’s why I think today you see more new bands/acts than ever before.

How difficult do you believe it is for a new musician to maintain his personal style in comparison with the mainstream music trends?

I believe that this is different for each musician. Finding your own artistic style is a personal quest. We are constantly exposed to new trends and everyone is influenced by what’s happening around. I feel it is important to look inside ourselves, listen to our inner voice and redirect our focus to what we really want to do.

What are your future plans?

As I mentioned earlier, I am currently writing and recording my original album. Expected release date is in the spring of 2011. I am also excited for some upcoming concerts in Vancouver, Canada at the Center in Vancouver for the Performing Arts and in Geneva, Switzerland at the Alchimic Theater, as well as some concerts in various venues in LA. I am also composing music for some music theatre shows opening in the Spring.

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