Today on Audio Saturdays we proudly present “Undo” by John Pavlou, the winner of our most recent songwriting prompt contest! Be sure to visit John at his website to find out more about this compelling, multi-disciplinary artist.
I met John Pavlou many years ago in the wilds of the NYC downtown open mic scene, and have always been impressed with his ability to balance the thoughtfulness with which he pursues his projects and the prolific nature of his output. Whether that particular week’s performance was poetry, song, monologue, or some combination of all three, I could always count on his performances to have a sense of purpose. I caught up with John this past week and he shared some thoughts on the song he submitted for the contest and what he’s up to.
Q: John, thanks for submitting this track and letting us feature it. This was based on a wordless acoustic demo I posted a few weeks ago. I feel like you tapped into a bluesy side of the music I didn’t realize was there when I was writing it; I always imagined it as a folk thing. Anything you want to tell us about how the song came together?
JOHN: Well the first thing to notice really is that I don’t sing all the lyrics in this first and only take of the demo. I think every songwriter does the same thing. You write a bunch of lyrics but then you have to make it work in the context of the music. The music is really terrific here melodic, insistent, slightly unsettling.
The track already came with a name or partial name, “Undo.” The song is basically a guy trying to explain to his girlfriend or lover that he had a little inconsequential affair in order to get back at his girlfriend for some slight or some thing that she did. Do you know the funny thing is that I haven’t really been in a relationship for a long time that hasn’t stopped me from writing love songs or songs about relationships. I just have to put myself in the mindset and create a character in a certain set of circumstances. I don’t know how well it works. The music gave me a lot to work with here.
Q: When we would see each other at shows in the city, I always knew you as a guitar player and painter, but I found out recently that you’ve got an impressive body of work in design, conceptual physical art and sculpture. How do you feel your different modes of expression inform each other? What was your first artistic love?
JOHN: I always find that a hard question to answer. I’m not really certain what the overlap in my different forms of expression is. Except I would say in the way that I make them. Because when I draw or design or write I start with a line, and then I add another line and I’m always reacting and improvising and playing off of the previous thing. And I trust that process. It’s not like I receive something fully formed that I am transcribing. I will have a feeling in my gut that leads me to want to create in the moment and I follow that by putting pen or pencil to paper.
Now that I’m writing a lot of poetry I tend to look out into my environment for a line or phrase that I might hear on the radio or read somewhere. Then I grab that and say I can play with that or play off that. For instance this morning I was half awake and half asleep in the term ‘ivory black’ came to me. And I know ivory black is a kind of black paint that has certain qualities to it. And I thought that ivory black is very evocative and then I could do something with it. So I decided to use that as a name of a poem.
There’s no doubt that my first artistic love was drawing. But drawing abstractly. I was born as an abstract artist. And that’s mostly what I’ve done. Even though I drew monster cars in school and all sorts of stuff like that. My first love is what I call my “designs.” It may not be a coincidence that I went off to school to study design.
You know, I studied architecture… And I always wanted to create spaces and places for people. I was able to explore that in graduate school and beyond. And I think there’s a way in which a song or a poem can create a space that you can walk into an experience. I find the notion of slowing down time and creating an invitation for people to enter a slightly different world is really delightfully compelling to me.
Q: We’re both from Yonkers! I’ve been hearing for years that there’s great art happening up there, but I have never made the trip to check it out. Care to shout out any Yonkers related art happenings?
JOHN: You know the whole Yonkers art scene is really coming alive. Slowly, but surely. I was involved, for a while, with the Blue Door Art Center. They are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. They have new exhibitions every month and they occasionally have readings and events. There’s also an organization called Yonkers Arts. And there are a few new galleries downtown as well . There’s also a great hive of studios in the old Alexander Smith Carpet Mills, it’s called YOHO Studios and they are dozens and dozens of artists who are working in there and all different media.
I also have to give a shout out to the delightful Hudson River Museum. They’ve got an installation there by red grooms. Have a bookstore. That sort of mashes together the New York Public Library and the Morgan Museum and Library. What was so amazing to me when I was growing up is that’s just full-size model of a bookstore was actually the bookstore and gift shop for the museum, so you would walk into this crazy three-dimensional sculpture and buy a little postcard or some astronaut ice cream. The bookstore is still there but it’s set up as a separate exhibition that you could walk through.
Q: Is there anything you’ve been working on (artistically or otherwise) that you want to talk about?
JOHN: Well, the next thing I want to do is put together a book of poetry. But I just feel like I’m so busy writing right now that I just can’t stop. I have this ongoing project on my YouTube channel, JohnnyX Music, where I have been uploading a song snippet or an instrumental or a spoken word piece every day for the past few months. I must have 170 videos or more by now. I love the fact that I’m doing it primarily for me. Even if my viewership is quite low I feel like I’m building up a body of work in which I am honing my craft and working through my obsessions
Thanks Johnny for sharing your songs and answering some questions. Johnny is doing his thing every day on his youtube channel so be sure to check it out, subscribe! Next week we’ll be back with some ambient reviews and a NEW SONGWRITING PROMPT CONTEST! You too can win $50 and have your music featured on Sunshine and Wind.