Self-taught musician releases holiday CD; explores diverse styles

Creating a presence

Posted: Thursday, December 26, 2002

For many people, the Christmas season just wouldn't be complete without Christmas music. Kenai Peninsula music enthusiasts have a chance this year to fulfill their need for Christmas tunes with a locally-produced CD.

Matt Yaki, a musician in Homer, has released a holiday-themed album this year, called "Open Up Your Presence."

The album contains six original songs that were written, produced, performed and engineered by Yaki himself. There also are two Christmas standards that Yaki has adapted into new songs. A few of the songs have guest vocalists and instrumentalists, but other than that, it's all Yaki's show.

"Open Up Your Presence" is meant to be fun and light to listen to.

"I really aimed for it to be accessible and be sort of different and original as far as Christmas songs go," Yaki said. "Basically it's fun. I think of doing the Christmas thing as a license to be sort of 'whatever.' It wasn't like a serious project in the sense that I didn't slave over the artistic aspect of the music. I more focused on friendly, warm and easy music."

"Open Up Your Presence" is Yaki's second major album release, following "Black Lico-rice" in 2001. Around Christmas last year Yaki did an early version of "Open Up Your Presence," and he has recorded a three-song preview of his upcoming album, "Stereolight," which he will release in 2003.

These albums, though only three years apart, each display different styles and influences. "Open Up Your Presence" is fun and light, while "Black Licorice" is much more rock oriented and Latin influenced, which was the style Yaki was into at the time, he said.

Yaki focused mainly on instrumentalism and composition in these albums, he said. In "Stereolight," that focus switched to songwriting.

"This time I concentrate a lot more on the songs in terms of the message and lyrics -- the whole package," Yaki said.

This diversity that comes out in a span of just three years is representative of Yaki 's music career as a whole. As a musician, he has never been one to restrict himself to any one style.

"I like everything," Yaki said, listing Latin, classical, jazz and blues music among some of his main influences.

"The funny thing is, when you make a step into being a recording artist, it is so recommended by everybody in the business that you define yourself. You have to be something quantifiable. It's such a drag. For now, since I'm able to support myself as a (music) teacher, I'm pretty happy to just throw out whatever comes out of me and figure that's what it is for now. In the big picture, I think that's consistent."

Yaki first forayed into music when he received a guitar for his 12th birthday. He has been playing ever since, branching out into electric guitar, bass, drums and piano and pursuing an interest in classical guitar.

He took some music theory and composition classes from the University of California, Davis. Though he never majored in music -- he graduated with a bachelor's degree in American studies -- he did play a lot of music while in college. Yaki has had a few brief stints with music teachers but never saw a teacher more than a few times. Other than that he's completely self-taught.

"Most people who ever heard me play assumed that I was trained," he said. "A lot of the people who knew I was pursuing classical guitar said, 'You can't do it without a teacher,' but there's lots and lots of books out there and a lot of resources out there. Just hanging out with better players is a resource. Everyone you meet can really be your teacher if you open your eyes to it."

At one point in his life, Yaki considered taking up creative writing for a career and also briefly pursued being a professional surfer before settling on music as a career. Now he composes, performs and teaches music in Homer.

"It's like having a job that's not like a real job," Yaki said. "I love to teach. I think I'm naturally inclined to be a teacher. It seems to work really well, because I get to hang out with young people and adults and play music with them and I get paid for it. It's really fun."

Yaki moved to Homer from San Francisco eight years ago. He has a wife, Nancy, who is an artist, and a daughter, Bo. He has played with bands in Anchorage and Homer and currently is starting up his own band, which will focus on dance and reggae music, he said.

For his recording projects, Yaki does everything from engineering the music to sticking the labels on the CD cases in a recording studio he put together in his home. He is self-taught in this field as well.

"You can learn pretty much anything if you look for the information and try it," he said.

"Open Up Your Presence" and "Black Licorice" are available at Solstice Music in Homer, on the Web site or by contacting Yaki through his Web site,

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