Name: Grant Pavol
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, producer
Current release: Grant Pavol's Reflections EP is out via Accidental Popstar.
1) Theses on the Philosophy of History by Walter Benjamin: This is my favorite work of writing, I’m pretty sure. It exploded my views of time. I re-read it every few months. Give it time to sit with you and you will gain so much.
2) World of Echo by Arthur Russell: I mentioned this record earlier, but it’s probably my favorite work of recorded music. It’s just gorgeous. His melodies very rarely repeat, but they are so pristine, catchy, and ethereal that they just worm their way into your head after one listen. Definitely an essential. Best album ever. Hell yeah.
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When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing music in high school, sometime in freshman year.
My parents were both pretty into punk and new wave, and played in bands, so I had been raised listening to “experimental” music of various kinds. I have early memories of listening to Kraftwerk, Zappa, and They Might Be Giants with my Dad. I learned ukulele first in like 8th grade, because it was super easy, then I switched to bass because my Dad had one and because I was obsessed with Mike Dirnt from Green Day.
My first proper band was called Well Room, and I played bass and co-wrote the songs. We really wanted to make stuff that sounded like Nirvana or Dinosaur Jr, and we were all pretty fascinated with pop music as a concept. Beyond any sort of artistic drive, though, I think we just loved playing loud music.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I think for the first three or four years I was writing songs I would sit down explicitly trying to copy other artists. This was, of course, very important for figuring out tips and tricks for songwriting, though they weren’t very interesting songs because they were often (surprise, surprise) quite derivative.
I think things really started to shift for me towards the end of high school/start of college, as I had expanded my music listening palette to include weirder and weirder stuff until I automatically started synthesizing disparate things into my production.
I remember writing “Bones” as a simple country song, and then going to record it and being like “Hmmm…... well it needs some Young Thug Drums and some cold wave synths.”
I think once you reach the point where genre doesn’t register, you’ve reached a grounding point for originality.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I have OCD and I’m generally very stressed and meticulous about things I care for. Songwriting is no exception. Songwriting is a bit of an escape, kind of existing beyond worldly anxieties.
However, production is very nitpicky and anal, which is definitely an extention of my OCD. Obviously identity comes off in music as music is an extension of the self, though broadly speaking I don’t really try to put explicit political / social messages into my songs.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I suppose in the beginning the main creative problem was that I cared too much about how other people listened to my music. That drove me to stop myself short with especially weird ideas. However, those ideas are often the most important ones!
The biggest shift is that I have grown more confident in my creative decisions, and nowadays I make my music for myself first and foremost. If I’m proud of an idea, I know someone else will like it. And even if they don’t, it’s not their music!
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I’ve had the same setup for pretty much my whole creative life. I haven’t really gotten much new gear at all since high school. I still use Logic for my DAW, and I still use the same one/two mic setup I’ve used for years.
I work best when I’m restricted in my palette. I like to be forced to make a new sound out of old ideas and techniques. It’s more satisfying and leads to a greater control of your material.
Restriction is the mother of innovation!
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I’ve spent the last three years or so really getting to know the potentials of my DAW, Logic. I started making electronic music over quarantine to try to really get to know the limits of the medium better and it completely changed my production approach.
The time stretching and reverse functions have become really essential to how I produce; knowing your DAW gives you absolute mastery over temporality! That’s nuts!
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
For my solo music I do everything by myself. However, I do tend to send bounces of my new recordings to my music friends for critiques / compliments. You need a good network of artistically aligned friends to get anything done. It keeps you sharp and gives you new inspiration.
I’m very competitive, so when a friend sends me a really good track, it’ll stoke something in me, which is valuable. It keeps me from getting to comfortable in my methods.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I am currently a senior in undergrad, so I go to class and then spend hours studying most days.
Whenever I have a few hours of free time I try to record something. When I write a song it usually only takes 10-25 minutes for the whole thing to take shape, so if I feel inspired I can do it as a sort of study break. I tend to then record the song over the weekend when I have an extended block of time. I’ll generally go through and do the whole thing in one three to six hour setting, then go in and edit it a bit the next day.
One key factor I haven’t mentioned is that I run every other day, and I always listen to an album I haven’t yet heard during these runs. This keeps me going with new production/songwriting ideas, and the albums I listened to in the previous days almost always find their way into my recordings somehow.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I think “Staying in the Water” off my new EP is one of the most important recordings I’ve ever done.
I wrote it the day after I moved into my current house in the summer of 2020. I remember waking up from my first night sleeping in this new space, walking out to the porch, and writing the whole thing in one sitting. I then went upstairs to record it in the spare room. This song was key for me as the first really successful song I wrote outside of the more traditional pop idiom. Up until that point I saw my music as needing to be direct. With this recording I shifted my approach to pretty much the exact opposite; it became more meditative and psychedelic. I put much more thought into how to make the song breathe, in its rhythm, melody, and production.
All the music I’ve made since has been made in line with this philosophical approach.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I think a sort of brief boredom is the best headspace to make music. I write best when I have something to do later in the day, but some time to kill before.
Having a bit of a ticking clock makes things feel urgent and vital, but having the temporal space to actually take your time fosters experimentation and patience.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I have been pretty depressed for a lot of my life and (as cliche as it is) I have used music as a healing outlet frequently. I think a lot of my current musical approach derives from this. The more meditative music I’ve made for the past few years is directly the result of wallowing and listening to World of Echo by Arthur Russell on repeat while I was a hyper depressed college freshman.
Music heals when it extracts you from your body. I seek to make music which pleasantly dissociates you from you until you can see the beauty of the world around you. Perhaps I could frame it as a sort of Spinozist thrust; music reveals the wonderful potent love and relation of every object.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think genre isn’t real and that all the best music being made now draws from an extreme diversity of style and form. This is perhaps the one great advantage of the streaming age; this ready access to rare and globally / culturally varied music which was previously only available to the most niche of collectors.
I will say, of course, that all inspiration has to come with respect. I think as long as you are conscientious, sincere, and benevolent in your approach to musical production, you are doing fine. You should do your best to gain understanding of the music you draw from before attempting to utilize its elements.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Not particularly deep, but like most people I like the physical element of feeling musical vibrations from live instruments.
I think that’s why I like bass so much. It rumbles your whole body. That’s pretty neat. Your sternum starts to buzz and you feel giddy.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I just want to make art that I’m happy with. Art is only really determined in historical retrospect, anyhow. If I worried myself about “art” beyond my enjoyment of making it I would go insane. I just try to be honest and make nice noises.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music is pretty much the universal language feeling described by the early Wittgenstein. Language inherently fails because of the simplifications required to constitute its existence. We can only gesture toward an understood meaning.
Music conjures this feeling non verbally. It points you toward your own inexpressible understandings.