Over the span of his 20-year career, Pavlo, the internationally renowned, award-winning recording artist, performer and songwriter, has released 10 albums of his own music, plus two collaborative projects, including 2015’s Guitarradas with Remigio Pereira of The Tenors, and 2009’s Trifecta with fellow guitar masters Rik Emmett and Oscar Lopez.

Born in Toronto to Greek parents, Pavlo has made a name for himself by offering a musical amalgam he simply calls “Mediterranean music” – a blend of Greek, flamenco, Latin, Middle-Eastern and even Balkan flavours, wrapped in contemporary pop. His music has taken him all around the world. Along the way he’s performed for royalty and worked and toured with artists such as José Feliciano, Jon Secada, Olivia Newton-John and The Tenors.

But when he was starting out, he was told his music wouldn’t get him anywhere. Record labels told him his music was too “ethnic.” He was told instrumental music wouldn’t draw an audience or sell enough CDs. But Pavlo stuck to his guns because there was something else he’d been told. It was the advice his father gave him many years ago. He told him, “Have the courage to do what you love, and the drive to do it well.” That advice has been the constant star he’s steered by, and now it’s guided him back to his ancestral home.

“All I did was play guitar all day and all night. My mother thought I was nuts.”

His latest album, Live in Kastoria, captures Pavlo’s performance in the town in northern Greece from which his parents emigrated to Canada. A companion DVD documents the journey back to his familial home, and presents Pavlo and his band performing under the stars at a small amphitheatre nestled in the hills overlooking the town and Lake Orestiada. There’s also a television concert special – his second – that has aired across America on PBS.

The 46-year-old guitarist and songwriter grew up in Toronto’s heavily Greek-populated Danforth neighbourhood (he’s since dropped his family name, Simtikidis, for obvious showbiz reasons). He first picked up a nylon-string guitar at the age of 10, and that was it. “Everything else went out the window; my whole life went out the window,” he recalls. “All I did was play guitar all day and all night. My mother thought I was nuts.”

The fledgling guitarist’s repertoire certainly included the Greek music that he was hearing around the house, but he soaked up other sounds as well; His father loved the contemporary music they were hearing on the radio.

“He loved Neil Young, he loved Gordon Lightfoot, he loved songwriters like Elton John and Billy Joel,” Pavlo says, “which is kind of odd for a Greek father. So I would grow up listening to that stuff at the same time. But he loved guitar specifically, so he’d play José Feliciano in the house, and he’d play Paco de Lucia.”

He also credits his hometown’s diversity and the variety of music genres on tap for shaping the hybrid nature of his music.

“I think it’s because I was born in Canada, more specifically born in Toronto, that I do what I do,” says Pavlo. “I would wake up one day and go see [flamenco guitarist] Sabicas from Spain; the next day I’d go see Sting or Yngwie Malmsteen or Paco de Lucia. In Toronto, you could see a different artist every single day in a completely different category, and that surely influenced me in the way that I play, the way that I light [my shows], the way that I perform, my songwriting – all that stuff.”

But after more than two decades performing over 150 shows a year around the world, there must be more than a father’s words to keep him inspired and to keep going out on that stage every night.

“At the heart of it, I love to play. I love to play guitar,” he says. But it’s more than that. His joy in playing music is inextricably tied to his songwriting. “I have co-written dozens of songs with people, but for the most part, the music that ends up on my albums, it’s usually songs I’ve written by myself. So when I go out into the world, every night I’m playing my music. I’m so personally connected to every note that I’ve ever written in my music that when I play it live, it means something to me.”

For the next 12 to 18 months, he’ll be playing his Mediterranean music to people around the globe in places like Japan, Korea, Germany, Greece, Mexico and, of course, North America. But there’s still one noteworthy country he hasn’t played.
“Ironically, Spain!” he says, laughing. “I’ve never played Spain, and I’d love to, because it’s a guitar-loving country, right? I’d love to show them what I do.”

And if the Spaniards are anything like the folks in Greece or Mexico or Singapore or North Dakota who fill venues when Pavlo plays, they’ll make him one of their own, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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For Dan Swinimer, the key to a successful musical collaboration of any kind is mutual respect. “First of all, respect everyone,” he says. “Unless they give you a reason not to, why wouldn’t you? Secondly, the power you give artists, writers or young producers when you give them confidence and a reason to carry on, is unbelievable.”

The Victoria, B.C.-based songwriter, producer and owner of Manicdown Productions has plenty of experience that supports that approach; writing, producing and touring with bands including 99.3 The Fox’s Vancouver Seeds contest winners Superbeing and Beyond the Fall as well as Todd Kerns, before ultimately joining the band Jet Black Stare (JBS) in 2007.

“We signed with Island/Def Jam and everything seemed great,” he says. “Our first single was Top 30 in the U.S. Then the recession hit and it literally ended almost overnight. We were opening for the biggest bands in the world and then it was over.”

It was a tough pill to swallow, but along the way, Swinimer met people whose belief in, and respect for him fueled his confidence. “That’s why I went from being a terrible songwriter to having some success,” he says. “Giving people respect is the right thing to do on many levels and – if you need to look at it this way – it’s good for business because it empowers people to do better work.”

“I will never work with people that I don’t want to work with. I don’t care how talented they are or how much they’ve got going on.”

Constantly cutting someone down, he believes, drives potentially viable artists out of the business. It nearly happened to him. “I came back after the last JBS tour with my tail between my legs,” he says.” It was pretty much a Spinal Tap kind of tour.” JBS were also touring Canada where they had very little in the way of a live draw. “So promoters were basically screaming at me that we were getting paid too much,” he says. “It was a humiliating experience.”

Following that tour Swinimer decided to get out of the business. Shortly thereafter, however, he wrote a song, “Welcome to the World,” for his four-year-old daughter. It was the first time in a long time he was writing purely for pleasure. He sent it to his parents, they sent it to Swinimer’s cousin, Stephanie Beaumont, a successful country singer in her own right, and she sent it to Ron Kitchener, head of RGK Entertainment and Open Road Recordings.

That changed everything. On the strength of subsequent songs Swinimer sent to Kitchener, a series of writing sessions in Nashville were arranged. There, he stayed at the SOCAN House, and met and befriended professional hit songwriter Tim Hicks, an artist he’s written with numerous times since.

“I was excited after I decided not to let music hold me hostage anymore,” he says. “It freed me of stress, but now I had this opportunity and decided to give it a try, but with one iron-clad rule: I will never work with people that I don’t want to work with. I don’t care how talented they are or how much they’ve got going on.” His mission statement, one he’s cleaved to since, without exception, is “Love what you do and love who you do it with.”

Case in point, his first signing to Manicdown Productions in 2011 – a development deal with 17-year-old Madeline Merlo, during which he secured Merlo a recording contract with Open Road and a publishing deal with Nashville’s Rogue 11 Publishing. Merlo’s first two singles, “Sinking Like a Stone” and “Alive,” produced and co-written by Swinimer, became country radio hits in Canada, earning Swinimer and Merlo a Canadian Country Music Awards and multiple British Columbia Country Music Awards nominations.

“The things I look for in an artist, I think, are different from what some other people look for,” says Swinimer. “Madeline is sweet, kind and obviously has talent, but she also has something I feel I’m sensitive to: when she walks into a room it’s like somebody flicked the lights on. It’s a charisma that she doesn’t have to try for, the kind of thing you can’t teach.”

Although Swinimer spent most of his life working in rock ‘n’ roll, he grew up in an environment suffused with country music. His dad was an avid country fan, and he spent time every summer in Nova Scotia with musician relatives – including his great uncle, Fiddlin’ Jim Swinimer, a Nova Scotia Music Hall of Fame inductee who toured with Hank Snow.

Early love of rock notwithstanding, since his time in Nashville, most of the people Swinimer’s developed and written with are country artists, and include Tim Hicks, Heather Longstaffe, Elizabeth Lyons, Billy Currington. Lanie McAuley, Danica Bucci and Jojo Mason.

Jojo MasonThe path that led to signing to a development deal with Mason in 2014 was the result of a strange series of events. “I had a co-write during the day,” says Swinimer, “and we were arguing about a line, ‘sipping moonshine out of a jar,’ which I did as a kid, but the guy I was writing with didn’t think it made sense. That night I go to this Christmas party, Jojo shows up and pulls a jar of moonshine out. So I started talking to him, taking selfies and sending them to the guy I was writing with.”

Like Merlo, Mason just had something. “He lit the place up and completely changed the mood,” says Swinimer. “Everyone was drawn to him.” Although Mason was a country fan, he’d never sung for anyone before, but based on the energy that Swinimer saw in him, they arranged for a session.

As it turned out, Mason also had an exceptional voice. “I’d like to take credit for his vocal ability,” says Swinimer, “and have people assume that I was a genius in taking this guy who’d never sung and converting him into a singer, but I can’t. We worked on the details, but 90 percent of what you hear of Jojo Mason, he had before I found him.”

“A big thing with someone who hasn’t done a lot of writing is, you have to convince them that there’s no such thing as stupid ideas.”

Providing opportunities for young, talented artists is immensely important, Swinimer says. When he started working with Madeline Merlo, she wasn’t a songwriter. He suggested she work on her songwriting, explaining that it would be a different experience singing her own words, and that the more skills she had, the easier it would be to make a living in music.

Madeline Merlo“A big thing with someone who hasn’t done a lot of writing is, you have to convince them that there’s no such thing as stupid ideas,” says Swinimer. “Some of my best ideas have come from my worst ideas. It happens often.”

Conversely, playing the egotistical “I’ve had success and you haven’t yet card, he says, is counter-productive. “I respect people who’ve had success,” he says, “but once you’re in the room working together, just get the best out of the person sitting across from you. And the first, most important thing to do in order to get the best from them is to make them feel comfortable; to value their ideas and make them confident and brave enough to not fear throwing out an idea that doesn’t work. You need those ideas. They’re not going to be what we’ll use, but they may change my thinking about something.

“It’s the end result that counts,” he says. “Everything you do is aimed at getting a result that you can be proud of and maybe will resonate with people. I work with a lot of artists who don’t have a ton of experience as songwriters. Watching them grow – that development process – is part of what I take the most pride in.

“Madeline’s become an amazing songwriter and one of my favourite people to write with, but the first time we wrote she was quiet and nervous. I had to dig to get ideas out of her. Now she’s amazing, and writing on a lot of her music. You get this fatherly feeling of pride when someone you’ve worked with, who you’ve watched work hard and struggle, grows and becomes successful. So that decision I made in the early days, to only work with people I wanted to work with, because I stuck to it, meant everything changed in my career and my life.”


  1. Parker Hedges says:

    I love your work Dan. I’d love to work with you on some originals . Great job on all of your artists and wide open mindedness.

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What do songwriters Sylvie Paquette and Steve Veilleux have in common? They both have put words in music. Except in their case, the words were those of Anne Hébert and Gérald Godin, just like Les douze hommes rapaillés and Chloé Ste-Marie have done for Gaston Miron. But the comparison ends here.

Last March, Kaïn’s singer took a break from his popular band to dive head first into the release of an homage to the politically active and outspoken poet, the late Gérald Godin, a magnificent opus titled T’en souviens-tu Godin?, a one of a kind outlet for Veilleux who created, in collaboration with his partner in crime Davy Gallant, sonic universes for a dozen selected poems.

As for Paquette, this week’s release of her Terres originelles is the result of four years’ work, a bold gambit of admiring sonic paintings inspired by the collections of poetry written by Anne Hébert between 1942 and 1997, an warm, serene and celestial album created alongside producers Yves Desrosiers and Philippe Brault.

In both cases, the motivation was a duty of remembrance. But beyond that, both artists have created major musical milestones in their respective careers.

sylvia“Singing and poetry have always gone hand in hand, says Paquette. Léo Ferré did it with Aragon. I’ve always done lyrics-based music and I’ve worked with people like Jean Fauque (Alain Bashung) and Daniel Bélanger, authors that are very close to their lyrics, but taking on Anne Hébert was a completely different adventure.”

This adventure took her to Kamouraska, the Québec region that was so beloved by the poetess: “I paid my respects on her grave, went snowshoeing on her land. It’s an intimate encounter with her poetry, free, kind of like prose, I had to let go completely, confides Paquette, I did not adapt her poetry in any kind of way, although I did create choruses, sometimes, but only by using a stanza or a few lines and repeating them. I approached it with utmost respect. We wanted something that showed a lot of restraint and where the voice was front and centre. Even in the final mixdown, there are no effects on the voice, but I stayed very true to the folk ethos I’ve been championing for years.”

 

steveveilleuxAs for Steve Veilleux, he admits it outright: “It was a creative process that is completely different from what I usually do. I stumbled upon Godin’s oeuvre and simply devoured everything I found: his poetry, his biography, his politics, all of it just captivated me. That’s why, ultimately, I decided to turn it into a musical essay. Of course I was totally outside of my comfort zone, but I was also totally inspired. I found myself a lot in this project, through musical exploration, by revisiting the way I write music because of such beautiful yet in your face images.”

“What I seek, above all, are melodies. Obviously, lyrics are a song’s soul, but the melodies have to be strong and accessible. Godin uses a very percussive language, it’s in your face, unpredictable, he was poetry’s black sheep. He uses joual, he doesn’t mince his words and doesn’t shy away from using swear words in his writing. He didn’t pussyfoot and was utterly proud of his culture.”

Michel Faubert is the one who offered Sylvie Paquette her first collection of poems by Anne Hébert, a book published in 1942 and entitled Les songes en équilibre (very loosely: balancing daydreams). Out of this book, the poem entitled Marine found its way into the final selection of 13 songs selected by Paquette as a magnificent vocal duet. “We’d never sung together, we were acquaintances. I was looking for someone who inhabits words and Michel is a raconteur. I suggested this duet over email and he replied seconds later saying: What a beautiful gift! Turns out he was just reading Kamouraska and he freaked out! I’m very pleased with the result, we sang facing each other, it was quite an intense studio experience.”

Veilleux too couldn’t be happier with the result: “Recording this album to me was like a rejuvenating experience, we did not set any limits, musically, and it reminded me of how simple and relaxing going into a recording studio can be. The songs a rock and all over the place at times, but other times, they are very sparse and vulnerable. The words dictated what the music should be. We practically did the whole album between just the two of us. In the end, what mattered was that not just Godin’s protest spirit came through, but also his touching side.”

The approach for Terres originelles was quite different: “The three of us were never together at the same time, explains Paquette, Yves and Philippe didn’t work as a duo. Most times, I would get things going with Yves, just guitar and voice, and later Philippe would come in and add colours and atmospheres. That’s how the whole album was done, never the three of us at the same time. In any case, Yves is a loner, he needs to be in his bubble. We need to be bothered, jostled a little when creating music. Take Rouler dans des ravins de fatigue, for example: I wrote the music and Philippe came in and put a light beat to it, and it worked with the rather heavy subject matter.”

“I enjoyed this kind of calm and serene exploration process so much, confides Veilleux, that I can’t even imagine working any other from now on. I would come out of the studio in ecstasy. Words should always dictate the way the music is played. They are just fragments of his body or work, but there were key ones that I absolutely wanted to be on the Album, such as Liberté surveillée and Tango de Montréal. His poetry put a spell on me, how dearly we miss someone like Gérald Godin!”
Sylvie Paquette

Steve Veilleux

 

 


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