Learn to Sing
||Yogi is a singer-songwriter whose first solo project, Metta, was released two years ago. His music conveys true sincerity of the heart and is calming and uplifting. Aside from his solo projects, Yogi is getting ready to release another album with his rock band, Run Through the Desert, for which he will be touring shortly. For the time being, he is currently Chris Cornell’s guitarist and backup singer. You might catch Yogi play his solo stuff in L.A. or in a town near you between gigs. He is a gifted guitar player who has played with or opened for a panoply of pop and rock artists, including Fuel, Ron Sexsmith, Kid Rock, Bonnie Raitt, Axl Rose, Slash, Sarah McLachlan, Anastacia, Third Eye Blind, Billie Cox, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, AC/DC, KISS, Lenny Kravitz and Korn. One last thing worth mentioning is his recent participation in Changeling, an indie film in which he plays a rock star poet.|
Interview by: Valerie Bastien
Valerie: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Yogi: My name is Yogi Lonich. I’m from California and I’ve been living in L.A. for 20 years. I’m a singer-songwriter and currently play guitar for Chris Cornell. I’ve also been in other bands like The Wallflowers, Buckcherry, and Anastasia to name a few. I recently recorded an album with Yusuf (aka Cat Stevens) a few months ago. I put out my first solo record a couple of years ago called Metta. It’s on iTunes.
Valerie: You’ve got the greatest job! You can travel so much….
Yogi: Yeah, it’s good!
Valerie: So I was listening to your songs and I think that you have a very nice soothing and calming tone. I like that a lot. How did you develop your singing style?
Yogi: It was by accident because I’m not very trained vocally. I’ve had coaching and it did help me develop some range and volume. I do a lot of high singing and somehow it kind of works. For about a year, I practiced vocal exercises everyday for thirty minutes. Evidently, my voice got stronger but then I just got lazy, so now I sing with my limited technique! (laughs)
Valerie: Well, it still works for you! As you mentioned earlier, you’re currently on tour, playing guitar for Chris Cornell and you’re also his backup singer. He’s a very important and influential figure on the rock music scene.
Yogi: He sure is!
Valerie: You’ve also toured and performed with other famous singers and bands such as Fuel, Ron Sexsmith, Kid Rock, Bonnie Raitt, Axl Rose, Slash, Sarah McLachlan, Third Eye Blind, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, ACDC, KISS, Lenny Kravitz and Korn. That’s pretty impressive!
Yogi: Yes, I’ve been blessed to have had so many wonderful musical experiences. Like, Bonnie Raitt sat in with a band I was playing in. Kid Rock and Fuel invited me to play with them at one time or another while on tour with them. I was playing at the Cat Club in Hollywood and Axl Rose ended up sitting in with us till 3 AM.
Valerie: Would you jam with them?
Yogi: Sure, I jammed with many of them on and off stage. Had the pleasure of hanging out at Seal’s home a couple times and sitting with him and a couple of guitars while he sang songs and I strummed along. I’m a big fan of his. I’ve been touring about 15 years.
Valerie: That’s a long time. So the question in relation to that is what have you learned vocally from these singers that could be useful to our readers?
Yogi: Well, the most proficient singers that I’ve worked with are Anastacia and Chris Cornell. Are you familiar with Anastacia?
Yogi: She’s an American artist and has had huge success in Europe. She’s a powerhouse singer. Chris Cornell is the equivalent soulful rock/pop singer in my eyes. It’s funny how natural he sings. I hear a kind of a built-in compressor in his voice. When he sings higher, he doesn’t necessarily belt-out or scream all the time. He is mixing his voice to the point where it’s even all the way through his range. He does scream and does that thing once in a while but when he’s just singing acoustically with his guitar, his voice has a beautiful natural balance to it. So for me, when I sing by myself with my acoustic guitar, I aspire to do that without belting or singing so hard. I find that when I’m in a band situation battling loud bass, drums and guitars, then it’s difficult. Then I find the need to belt out my voice.
Valerie: That’s the one thing to be careful of: not pushing yourself, you know. You have to let the mic do the work for you.
Yogi: Well, when I do these concerts with Cornell and with other big touring artists, we use in-ear monitors, which allow us to hear ourselves perfectly. I have a personal mix all set up with my voice very prominent. The drawback with that is that one tends to sing very quietly. If there are drums and guitar amps nearby, my mic is going to pick up a lot of that. The microphone picks up mostly my voice, but the soundman is still saying; “Sing louder ‘cause your mic is picking up all the instruments!” So in a rock band you kind of have to learn to sing loud. I feel like I have to deliver that.
Valerie: But could there be a little bit of misinformation on the part of the sound engineering about the fragility of the voice?
Yogi: Of course! (laughs)
Valerie: Can’t they just put you louder in the mix? It’s unhealthy to have to push your voice night after night.
Yogi: Yeah, but then there can be monitor feedback issues. It’s easier because we have in-ear monitors instead of monitors onstage. Onstage monitors may create feedback with the loud volumes we’re contending with. We haven’t had many problems with this band, but I know that sometimes if you don’t have in-ear monitors, they’ll have turn the volume up really loud for your mic and then you start having feedback. It’s tough…
Valerie: You have to compromise…
Yogi: Some people have quieter voices and others have more developed diaphragms.
Valerie: That too. I mean… you have to accept your voice the way it is. You can’t be someone you’re not. Going back to Chris, if his voice is loud naturally, it might also go with his placement to project the voice and then it frees the voice. My teacher used to say that all the time: “Feel like your voice is free!”
Yogi: I like that!
Valerie: At one point you do feel that because when the opening is right and the placement is right, then you start having harmonics in your voice. That really helps the voice “float”! (laughs)
Valerie: Like the monks. You know how they do the voice harmonics?
Yogi: Yeah. (Does a low and throaty “ooh”.) I can do it, I think. (Does it again.) You hear the two octaves?
Valerie: Yeah! You have to relax your larynx a lot to do it.
Yogi: Can you do it?
Valerie: Yeah. (Does a low but not so throaty “ah”.) Do you hear it?
Yogi: Yeah, that’s great!
Valerie: So when you sing higher and everything is open you’ll have the harmonics. They won’t be as obvious, but they contribute to the sound to make it float and create that light sensation.
Valerie: So on a different topic now: As we said earlier, singing every night on tour isn’t easy. Do you have any tips to protect your voice on the road?
Yogi: For me since I’m singing backup right now, it’s not as demanding, but it’s mostly no smoking and rarely drinking. Some people say to drink whisky like Janis Joplin did but… (laughs)
Valerie: That would numb the throat!
Yogi: Right! No, for me, I practice yoga and I try to keep my body limber and agile. I eat fairly healthy; I’m a vegetarian. A healthy lifestyle is good for your voice in general. Stay away from the drugs, kids! (laughs)
Valerie: That helps a lot! (laughs) Actually, meditation was part of my next question because I did remember you mentioning something about that before. Do you use meditation sometimes to inspire you with your music (maybe not with the voice itself but as a whole)?
Yogi: When I finish a 10-day silent meditation retreat, I come out inspired and ready to take on anything in life. When I’m inspired in life, that’s when I’m motivated to write songs. I become a sort of channel and things happen effortlessly. For me, meditation is nothing more than the barometer to measure the stillness of my mind. Yoga provides the same thing. It’s important to move through life free of attachments. If you’re swimming down a river and you’re clinging onto branches, then you’re not swimming with the current. Consequently, your progress will be stifled. On the other hand, many people are solely concerned about the result. That’s where meditation and yoga keep me present. Joy is found in the present. It’s not found in the past or the future.
Valerie: I like that you said that.
Yogi: That was kind of a long explanation!
Valerie: No, that was an excellent answer! That makes me think of another question. Do you use meditation to release stress; like before a stressful performance? Do you get stage fright?
Yogi: Um, I never get stage fright.
Valerie: Not anymore?
Yogi: No, I just don’t. However, breathing is always the best gauge. When one starts experiencing anger or stress, it’s a reactionary emotion. It’s conditioning. One person may react to being on a roller coaster with exhilaration, while another may be fearful. Just observe the breath objectively. Notice that you will have physiological changes in your body. If you’re stressed, you may experience an increased heartbeat and perspiration; your body temperature may go up, or shortness of breath. Try to observe those sensations in your body non-judgementally. Avoid thinking, “I don’t want these sensations”, but just observe them and let them pass through smilingly. This will help bring calm and centeredness to you.
Valerie: It’s a good tip because when people are nervous, it’s hard to sing.
Yogi: It’s hard to play guitar, too!
Valerie: For me, my hands start shaking and then I can’t pick the strings anymore… Then my voice becomes shaky, but when I do that, when I breathe it’s better. I try to choose my songs carefully, too; to start with a song that has long pauses in it and that helps.
Yogi: If anybody wants to check out a good non-secular meditation technique, go to dharma.org; that’s the Vipassana website. There’s no dogma or rituals associated with it. Vipassana is the pure meditation technique that was taught by Siddhartha Gotama (Buddha), 2,500 years ago.
Valerie: Cool! Can you tell us about your CD Metta?
Yogi: “Metta” means “loving kindness” in the old Sanskrit language. It’s also a meditation technique where you project happiness to all beings. I wanted to put a good message out. That’s why my second record is called Kill Everybody! Kidding! (laughs)
Valerie: (laughs) Well, you’ve got to get some balance, right?!
Yogi: Well, I do have a heavier rock band with Jason and Cory. They’re the drummer and bassist in Cornell’s band. The band is called Run Through the Desert. It’s a more aggressive sound than my solo records.
Valerie: Will you be touring on your own?
Yogi: I will be touring the new music with Run Through the Desert. I play a lot of shows in L.A. and plan to play shows on off-nights while on the Cornell tour.
Valerie: Can you tell us where to get your CD?
Yogi: You can go to yogimusic.com or Itunes and just type in my name or the name of the record (Metta). Run Through the Desert’s album is probably going to come out in February 2009 on iTunes.
Valerie: We’ll keep an eye on that. Thank so much!
Yogi: Thank you!
Valerie Bastien is a vocal coach, teacher, musician and freelance journalist.
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