Timothy Rawles, February 2020 Issue.
Yanni Burton could be a pop mega-star if he wanted to be even if his niche market straddles the line between dance club disco and piano infused ballads. What makes him different though are his cool, gentle vocals that don’t hide behind an industrial beat, but rather bloom within the hook, gaining more feeling as the song plays out if only because the lyrics take up the emotional slack.
This Julliard trained Australian-born singer may have given us the best dance club song of last year with “Worth It,” but again not being mainstream, less people heard it than should have. I was however lucky enough to treat my air pods to it and immediately found myself hitting replay more than a few times.
Although creating music is important to Yanni, he doesn’t limit himself. By that I mean he does several creative things in his life, composing radio-ready music is only one of them. He seems content in knowing that his music takes up space on a streaming service rather than at the top of a list in Billboard Magazine.
He has the voice and the looks to be a pop pin-up, or a gay idol, but his creative landscape is filled with much more than being something like a one-hit maestro.
“I think maybe when I was a little younger I probably had that but I found things that I enjoy and I want to be able to do a lot of different things and they all kind of level out,” he says in a subtle accent.
I talked to Yanni just before he was getting on a plane back to the United States. He was in London for a little rest and relaxation. Of course, he says there was a little business sprinkled in throughout his trip, something you can’t avoid when you’re Yanni Burton.
He grew up on a farm in Adelaide Australia and before we got down to discussing his music and his recent wedding engagement, I wanted to ask how he was feeling about the country-wide fires that have been devastating his homeland. He’s been in the United States for many years now and feels a little disjoined from Australia, but that doesn’t mean the impact of destruction hasn’t affected him, especially since the flames are edging close to his family.
“It just doesn’t seem real, but my father has a farm in rural New South Wales and they’re 45 minutes away from the biggest fire so it’s scary and upsetting,” he says. “I do feel a little helpless not being there.”
He welcomes a bit of relief knowing that rain has recently fallen on the region to calm things down a bit, but, he says, ”it’s not even the hot, hot, hot season yet. Late January, late Feb’ is when it gets crazy.”
He likens the climate to of all places, Phoenix after a visit he made many years ago, “weather-wise and culture-wise yeah it’s very similar. It’s bizarre.”
Traversing the pall of the conversation, I turn my attention to something more upbeat, his music career and the song “Worth It”. It’s a very low-key dance song as I mentioned before, but it definitely has all the trappings of a Billboard Dance hit even if its only lifespan might be several rotations at a gay dance club.
The video for the song however takes a hard left turn in its narrative. Whereas the tune is a ballad for trusting someone and letting yourself fall in love, the video, while still about love, is about the toxic kind.
In creating the visual tale for “Worth It,” director Tiger Darrow created a story that follows two young men: one, a smitten lad (Yanni) willing to do anything for his shady love interest (Kevin Reed), even home invasion.
“He’s obviously pressuring me into doing these things that I’m not comfortable with,” says Yanni of the video’s antagonist. “So, we just played with that idea and had it turn around on itself. So, you get two kinds of products out of it. You have this song you can listen to by itself then you see it with the music video and you get a different take.”
Yanni loves the idea of interpretation, “when you get multiple angles it becomes even more fun for people to analyze it, put their own spin on it.”
His videos are always artistic. The one for another of his songs, “Awake,” was more of a single-shoe dance concept video, while yet another, “End Up Missing” was shot in Joshua Tree amid a freak cold snap.
And that’s how it goes with Yanni. His music is not, or at least his songs are not part of an immediate collective. It’s an ever-evolving catalog, one that he fills with individually nurtured works that are only ready when he’s happy with them.
“I think where I’m at, I really enjoy doing a single at a time because I can fully immerse myself into just one song, one project, produce a track and work with a director or an artist to kind of give it another layer, give a visual component to it,” he says. “And then I can just spend all my time on that one song. And I think financially if you are focusing on one product you give it your heart and soul and push it a little more and give that baby more love rather than a whole album at the same time which I mean I would love to do but I think just where I’m at right now, my career, for me, I get more enjoyment on a per project basis and also time, because I have a day job. I can spend a little more love on it and move on to the next track.”
However, after is all is said and done, Yanni does have a back log of unreleased songs, he says about 10, “I just don’t want to put them out there. I want to like give them the little love they deserve and do it gradually.”
Speaking of love, Yanni has found it in the form of a southern boy named Jordan Palmer. Unlike the character in the “Worth It” video, Jordan is a positive influence who throws his support behind Yanni in everything he does. In fact, Jordan was the driving force behind the musician’s motivation to make more music.
“We met seven years ago actually,” in a bar, Jordan says. “And he’s probably the main reason I pursued singing and songwriting. My relationship before was not great and I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do and when we started dating he was just like, ‘yeah, you should be doing this, like your music’s great, get out there.’ He would come to all my gigs and he really gave me that confidence to pursue this career.”
That confidence has also led to an engagement. The couple plan on getting married this coming August in Scotland. Yanni says it’s a place where both families can come and relax for three nights and four days. As for kids, it’s definitely in the cards, “Kids in New York and managing careers is very difficult. But yeah, family is very important to Jordan and me. It’s something in the horizon. We want to be out of a one-bedroom apartment.”
The new year is bringing some new things to the artist. His day job, as he calls it, is as a production director and manager for a small arts company.
Along with new remixes of his song “Mess Around,” he has another song and video coming out in the next month or two, it all depends on when the final edit is finished. He is just going to keep plugging away, “It’s like the most I’ve ever released and working with these artists, both musicians and writing and also with creative and visual people it’s just been an eye-opening experience, a privilege to bring a bunch of minds together and create something that we didn’t even think was possible.”
What it all comes down to for Yanni is the love of the work and you can clearly hear that in his songs. From the lyrics to the composition, the handsome man from Australia with a great voice is only putting things out there that come from a very special place. And as sporadic as that might seem, his works still follow one important rule.
“As long as you put heart and soul into it and you believe in what you’re doing I think that’s the biggest thing,” he says.