Composer, Singer-Songwriter, and Multi-Instrumentalist Pàppa D. (Dimitrios Papavasileiou) emerged from a small Greek city and has been creating music ever since, pushing the boundaries of genres, styles, and songs with unique melodies, lyrics, and harmonies. Songs, improvisations, and melody-driven compositions that depart from the standard showcase his diversity and adaptability as a musician and person. His passion for music began in his early teens, and at the age of 27, he has been writing, composing, and exploring music for more than 14 years. Check out the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how it all got started?
PÀPPA D.: Originally coming from Greece, It all started for me at the age of 11. I was accompanying my mother, while she was getting a haircut, and her hairdresser saw me working with fingers, always building something. She noticed my flexibility and urged my mom to start me on piano lessons. Her husband was a very prestigious pianist in the Balkans. She deserves a lot of the credit. My family was very supportive with my musical education, and although my parents are not musicians, it is indeed a very musical family. Music was a round the whole time, and the love for this art form was built long before I touched an instrument, or sung my first note. Truly a long and beautiful journey.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
PÀPPA D.: I had the privilege of studying classical piano, and later opera, choir, theory, harmony, counterpoint and fugue. I always found myself deviating, exploring and “interpreting” the classical pieces my way, making them different, arranging them, almost “recomposing” them, and the more knowledgeable I was becoming to music theory and harmony, the more I would be exploring all these concepts, changing the tunes, till I started writing my own. I was 12, 13 years old. A lot of the knowledge I obtained was self-taught, as soon as I had enough knowledge under my belt. The process is, and should always remain self-explorative, and I managed to do just that. By pointing yourself in the right direction, you have a chance of discovery, and arriving to a result, a sound, a chord progression, or a melody that you may’ve never been before, and for me that process is extremely enjoyable. I feel very grateful to say that I made a lot of these discoveries, that were later explained to me in more technical terms. I now feel there is a balance, between knowing all the terminology, the rules, and breaking out of them, listening to your heart and trusting the process.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘PÀPPA D.?
PÀPPA D.: It all begun with rock music for me. My mother’s brother (my uncle) was a heavy rocker kinda guy, always pushing me to check out new music, and I became obsessed with the idea of what’s out there to listen. Besides his early introductions to bands such as the doors, Led Zeppelin, scorpions, Jethro Tull, Aerosmith and other heavier ones, the one that really stuck with me, funny enough was Bon Jovi. There was just something about his voice and songwriting, that made me love them, and the first years of writing were a mere imitation of that style. The more I would explore and discover music on my own, getting into bands and later on discovering the “piano-man” singer songwriters, the influences changed a lot, and they were stronger in a sense that they led me as close (stylistically) to the artist I am today. Artists such as billy Joel, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Survivor, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Duke & Basie, all the jazz singers, and a lot of singer-songwriters/poets from the 60’s & 70’s. Stying their words, perfecting my English as an entirety, I was enamored by that way of writing and 2015-2018 were the most fruitful years of songwriting (over 700 songs were written in these 4 years). Skipping forward to my arrival in the US for studies at Berklee College of Music, I found myself wiping out all past influences and immersing myself completely into jazz and other cultures and styles that were available to me in America but not in Greece. The Name came around after my first visit in Nashville, and my very dear friend Eddie Rutland (Eddie Slide). It was him who came up with name Pàppa D. And together, we had hopes and dreams of a western swing duo called “Pàppa D & Eddie Slide”. I still owe him to this day, and feel extremely grateful that he’s a part of my life. Pappa, is a short version for my last name “Papavasileiou” and D. For Dimitri, my first name. It has seemed to be very well received, and I’m very happy about it.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
PÀPPA D.: My music has to be true. It has to have soul to it, life, energy (without having to be energetic) and power. Words are a very important aspect for me, as equally important as the music. Sometimes the lack of words is more important than their presence. It’s really just a matter of dynamic, what’s needed and what’s not, what serves the muse, the calling that it has presented for us. When it comes to my music, the fluidity, flexibility and endless possibilities that comes with it is what I believe sets it apart. The variation of styles, instrumentation, moods, feels, way of performing, and the fact that it’s being reborn every time it’s performed. Every time is different, and I think this is a beautiful thing about it. When you have listened to so much music, and have written even more, it is a beautiful thing what happens: the clarity of the influences starts fading, and you start sounding more and more authentic. It’s a melting pot of inspiration, and you are the cook stirring the whole stew. The sound is blended, and it sounds like you! This creates a sense of unity, something that makes your music and your songs pretty recognizable regardless of style, mood, or instrumentation.
5. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
PÀPPA D.: The process is as vast as the song styles and genre: infinite. There Is some methodologies that I follow though, and have increased my songwriting capacity utterly. I like to write a lot, and usually the majority of the words I will write, will be done in my travels. Inspiration really comes when I’m on the road, and it sparkles new ideas and songs almost instantly. Wether it’s a plane, train, bus, a walk in a beautiful neighborhood or my rooftop, clean air is good for my writing. The next thing I do is take one of these songs (yes, they are many at a time) and lay down and just look at it. My professor would tell me to try and write ideas away from the piano, cause the fingers, they remember. It has been a great way for me to start looking at the words and decide how do I feel the music to be, the mood, the tempo, the pulse and other stuff. Then I sit on the piano and figure out the rest. Memos recording all the time, cause you never know when you’re gonna capture magic. When it comes to the instrumental stuff, it’s always on the piano, with a lot of improvisation. I later go back, listen, and transcribe my improvised compositions. I got inspired by this easy of playing and writing by the great Oscar Peterson. The results are quite incredible, and it has generated me tons of material, and enchanted my artistic journey and the way I compose and improvise on the instrument. I try to keep the writing process very light, easy going, and flowing, without sitting on something for too long, rather try and capture it in a fresh and efficient way, naturally.
6. For most artists, originality is first 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 music maker, and the transition towards your own style, which is known as POP?
First of all, I’d like to point to the direction of the doors, some incredible innovators that saw existing music in a different way (for example bringing the rhythm of Bossa nova, into Rock’n’Roll with “break on through to the other side” and so many other examples). It is not always about finding something that hasn’t been done yet, especially with the saturation in today’s music industry, as well as others. It’s about reinventing, or seeing and doing something in a way that may have been done before, but adding your element to it. And as I mentioned before, you will get inspired by other artists, and at the beginning of the process, when the writing is immediate and immature, you tend to sound exactly just like them. And that’s not a bad thing! You get a glimpse of their magic, copying every little thing they do. That’s knowledge! But it has to be intentional, and in the early stages, it’s most likely not. Once we understand that we are copying something a little too close to the original, that’s when the real work begins. I found that, the more I would write, the more I would set myself apart from my biggest influences. They would be there, to guide my way, but not to be used in a literal and overpowering way. It is definitely one difficult task to complete, but at the end of it the results are so so so rewarding. This is the process that led me to start finding my true voice, the way I wanted to sound, and find a way to reach out and engage with people musically, and gain “popularity”. You see, for a long time I associated pop with something that is more digestible, easier to listen to, mainstream, and all sorts of terms. I have nothing against that, but pop music can be any music that is “popular”, meaning it’s heard by a lot of people, it’s received well, it’s memorable, and catchy, and I have some songs that are just that, and some others that aren’t. It’s the true nature of writing songs.
7. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative, and entertainment?
PÀPPA D.: Here’s a tricky one. I definitely believe there is meaning and engagement with matters that have to do with our day-to-day lives. This makes absolute sense, since the influences are drawn by the world around us. Now this, can touch political matters, religious matters, society matters, and matters of the heart, and they are all valid and heard. The songwriting sorcery and mastery here is to choose how to present these concerns and sensitivities, in a literal and direct, or poetic and creative way. I feel that for me it has been the second option, especially after reading the words of a lot of great songwriters. I have just been fascinated by the true power of the language, and the far ways it can take you. There can be religious songs, love songs, hardship songs, longing songs, political distress songs and all sorts of things, but it is all about how is the story communicated and conveyed. I like to build narratives, fantasies, idillic scenarios and honest stories about self-navigation, realizations, and explorations through life. This can cover the wider spectrum of all matters that are circling my current existence, and that can involve, Everything!
8. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfillment as the amount of work you are putting into it or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
PÀPPA D.: I think It is all about finding enjoyment in the process, in the day to day growth, and just magnify and scale that. I chose to not think about success and fulfillment in the sense that “I will be happy when I play the Hollywood bowl”, or “I will feel successful when I get a record deal or a million dollars in the bank etc”, rather chose to see the day to day improvement, the day to day effort of workin g towards that thing, and finding happiness in just that. I already am doing my shows, writing my music, generating interest and buzz around my art, and I find utter happiness in that. I early on understood that it is something I have to do, and that I will keep doing, because I want to, regardless of the outcome. All the planets align, and things magically start to happen. This is not an overnight thing, and the times that we find ourselves forgetting that, looking back to all this time and resources invested, can take us a long way. You always want more, but I wouldn’t use the term expecting. I like to think about it as crating the vision, setting up the intentions, understand the task and the mission, and then trust the process to take you there, provided this is the best path for you to take. This elevates a lot of the pressure, trusting the process, not doubting yourself, and having faith that greater success will be achieved.
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
PÀPPA D.: I think moving to America, a little over five years ago must be the hardest thing I had to do. Being away from family, your home, your friends and loved ones, giving up your life for a new one, was definitely one of the most challenging and fulling at the same time decisions I ever made. Along the journey, the things I encountered to be the most difficult always had to do with the batter we are facing within us. The self-destructiveness of the artist, who paints the pictures that in order to show suffering you have to suffer. I lived by that ideology for a very long time, and although it helped me write some wonderful music, the end taste was bitter. The faith, relief and realization that I can do it, finding strength to push through it, and trust the process, find courage to ask for things, and recognize one person’s value, including myself’s, was definitely one of the hardest things to navigate. In the end, this is what makes this journey so special, and I wouldn’t change a single thing.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
PÀPPA D.: To be able to make a fine living out of making music, traveling the world sharing your art and soul with others, and continue finding happiness in the making and constantly creating art, is the most fulfilling way I can think of my career going to. It is very important to remain a kid, curious, playful and young, and keep on loving what you’re doing. That’s how a perfect life would look for me. The Great Bob Dylan said “To wake up every morning, and do exactly what you want to do, that’s freedom man. Real freedom”.
11. With social media having a heavy impact on our lives and the music business in general, how do you handle criticism, haters, and/or naysayers in general? Is it something you pay attention to, or simply ignore?
PÀPPA D.: I think the point that you start understanding that not everyone is gonna like you, and that some people already don’t like you, it means you’re off to a good start! I think being a people pleaser, or caring too much about what others are gonna say, can have tremendous impact on the craft and on the way you think of yourself and the music. It messes with your mind, your authenticity, and the reasons why you chose to make music in the first place. I will always listen, but try to be very careful on what information I allow to affect me, and by whom. It’s a switchblade knife, but I like to take my chances.
12. Creative work in a studio or home environment, or interaction with a live audience? Which of these two options excites you most, and why?
PÀPPA D.: These are two different concepts, with their own ethics and satisfactions to them. The performing part is where all the pieces come together, it’s the end of line, the cherry on top of the pie, and theoretically why one’s doing it in the first place. Music is meant to be performed and shared, so I feel the audience of a live show is really the way to go about it. We cannot not mention the importance of the studio, and the moment of creation. This is where the magic happens. It’s the place where all the elements come together, and the ideas are conceived. In my opinion, a sacred moment. These two aspects of it, co-exist perfectly, like the day & night, Ying-Yang, and any other substance that cannot co-exist without another. Therefore, I value them equally.
13. Do you think is it important for fans of your music to understand the real story and message driving each of your songs, or do you think everyone should be free to interpret your songs in their own personal way?
PÀPPA D.: I like to not impose on my audience and tell them what to do, or assume they know what they want to hear. The audience needs to be directed, that’s why they came to see you. An experience is provided, and the message is sent, but the interpretation I leave up to them. Very rarely I will mention something about a song, or a certain way it should make you feel. All is do is point some directions, and then let the music take over. It is a very beautiful feeling to have an engaged room of people, resonating with the story you are sharing. Truly powerful in any possible way.