Between His Music Groups, Solo Work, Texas Theatre Live Scores And KXT Show, Denton Musician Paul Slavens Still Has Time To Release An Album.
Paul Slavens is known for a number of things around here. Be it with Ten Hands, the Baptist Generals, Green Romance Orchestra, the Travoltas or his solo work, the Denton-based artist is also known for his acclaimed Sunday night specialty show on KXT, as well as his live scores to classic films at the Texas Theatre.
Given his output of material, you’d think he would have no time these days to make a new record. Well, as he explains, his forthcoming Alphabet Girls II album was years in the making. We recently spotlighted the jazzy powerhouse of “Queenie” on Song of the Day, and we had to know more about where this goodness comes from.
Bittersweetly, Alphabet Girls II is a makeshift tribute to Trey Johnson, as the album would have not happened for the dearly-departed Johnson, who passed away earlier this year. The album is all over the place, from jazz to prog to pop, but it’s as eclectic as Slavens is.
Ahead of its June 24 release (as well as a Ten Hands show at the Kessler on June 3), we caught up with Slavens — on his birthday, no less — to discuss his life these days, how Denton has changed, how he finds the time to do all the things he does, and more.
Describe a typical week for you.
Oh, god. Why do you want to know that?
Because you’re so busy!
[Laughs] I am not! I’ll tell you what I’m busy doing: I’m busy making it appear that I’m doing things.
You’re very successful at that.
Yes, I am. During the school year, my day usually starts off with taking my kid to school and then I go up, accompany a ballet class or a modern dance class in the morning. And then that’s pretty much it. If I have a gig at night, then that’s it. On the weekends, I put together my radio show — that usually takes several hours. Other than that, I play a lot of music and go for a lot of walks and ride my bikes. I live a very non-busy life actually.
So, in other words, you had time to do this new Alphabet Girls record.
Oh, I had all the time in the world. It took longer than I anticipated it would. The pandemic took a whole year out of everything. It’s been three years since I got started on it. The record itself has been done for over a year. It takes a long time to get everything done.
I understand, especially if you want a physical release.
That’s true. This is physical in the sense of just CDs, which who knows if anybody wants anymore.
I gotta stop you right there and tell you a lot of people like CDs. People can’t own all their physical stuff on vinyl, so there’s still a desire for CDs.
I love CDs! I was one of the first people dogging CDs and I started getting rid of a bunch. And then all of a sudden, I realized, “This is a great medium!” It’s so handy. You can burn your own CDs, you can rip your own CDs. They sound good. They’re pretty sturdy.
When I wrote about “Queenie,” I compared it to McCoy Tyner. Is that an apt comparison or am I totally wrong?
I have listened to McCoy Tyner and he’s wonderful. Not really what I was thinking. I don’t listen to a lot of it. Maybe I’ll try it. Basically, the idea on that track, I wrote a little jazz head/form. Chord changes and a melody. I hired John Sterino — who’s a badass drummer — to get the best cats he could get. Bring them to the studio and let them rip on it. I told them to play it as fast as they could. Getting people to listen to jazz at all is hard. So [I decided] to keep it under three minutes. [Laughs]
I think of the standard “Cherokee.”
Yeah! Exactly! I wanted it to be that blazing be-bop energy. That’s what I got.
I know Trey Johnson was imperative to making this album. How would you describe his importance to it?
None of it would have happened. From day one, it was all Trey. I had put out Alphabet Girls I maybe 10 years ago myself. It was fine, but I really didn’t any big plans to record [II]. I hadn’t finished all the songs. I was in no hurry to do it. I didn’t know if I was going to do it.
And then Trey got me a gig playing a steakhouse in Dallas. It was a good gig. That’s when I started to get to know Trey. We were acquaintances before that, but I didn’t really know him. As we got to know each other, he was such a wonderful person. It wasn’t until that long that he’s asking what I’m doing. He heard me play a few of the songs at the steakhouse gig. He said, “Why don’t you put out the album?” That’s how it started.
He invited me to come on the label and do the record. There are these single people who can really make so many things happen. He was definitely one of them. I wasn’t the only person he got to believe in themselves again.
Are you hoping to record more music?
Oh yeah! I’m always hoping to record more. I have the music, and it’s all done. I have way more music that’s ready to go that I can get recorded. It’s just a matter of getting it recorded.
Of all the things that slow me down and keep me from getting anything done, it’s being a good scheduler and organizer. Those are not skills that I have.
Do people recognize you around here, or do they recognize your voice as you’re picking up coffee?
I’ve lived in Denton for 30 years. I know a lot of people in Denton. When I go to Dallas, I’m often very surprised and pleased that people will come up and recognize me. Sometimes I’ll be buying a coffee or something and somebody will recognize me from my speaking voice. I spend most of my time in Denton. It’s not really hard to be well-known in Denton. [Laughs]
I swear there is a portal in Denton, where if you walk just a few blocks away from the square, you’re transported to 1956. It’s like I’ve stepped into The Last Picture Show.
Well, up until a few years ago, it was all like that. That’s the way I liked it. I liked everything the way that it was. Especially with seeing everything it’s being replaced with. If you want to know what Denton’s beginning to look like, go to Bishop Arts or Lower Greenville. They’re kinda making IKEA buildings around there. There’s no stopping it. Denton’s all growing up.
Are you planning on doing any more live scores at the Texas Theatre?
Yeah! I’m talking to Barak Epstein about it now. Chances are looking real good that we’re going to do one in the middle of September. I want to marry playing the movie and stuff from my album as a duo thing. I’m going to teach my performance group how to play the movie as well. I want to score The Kid by Charlie Chaplin.
All other photos by James Bland.