Paul Slavens' dream was to be a renowned classical music composer. It didn't quite work out that way, although he's hardly disappointed with how things turned out: The radio DJ, keyboardist, vocalist and all around musical wise guy is well known by his weekend show on KXT 91.7 and his frequent improv performances. But thanks to a huge, 10-album archival release, Slavens is ready to revisit his days as a young musical dreamer.
That new project's name, Juvenilia, comes from the common name for the early works of an artist or composer. Those 60 or so songs, due to be released on his birthday, May 20, come from his explorations that predate even his band Ten Hands, whose reputation for being one of North Texas' most paramount weirdo psyche acts has lasted more than 30 years.
Slavens wants other artists to use these early demos as much as possible – completely free of charge. The whole point is to give out the music as reusable art and he'd love for anyone to do a remix of his stuff. That idea comes from his compositional ideologies, he says.
“That's the sign of a great piece of music – when it can be reinterpreted or even appropriated by somebody," he says. "Nothing tickles me more than hearing little snippets of my old recordings being used for something."
Although, if someone makes a hit out of his tunes, he wouldn't mind if they throw a buck in his pocket.
Slavens made the music in 1984, after he moved to Texas from Sioux City, Iowa once graduating from Morningside college with a bachelor's in music. It was his first time away from home. He wanted to go to UNT, which at the time was North Texas State University, to work on his masters in music theory. But because tuition hikes tripled the cost of school and it was even more expensive for out-of-staters, he took a year out of school to work as a pizza delivery driver while he waited to become a Texas resident.
It was during this time that he recorded the dozens of tracks that would be Juvenilia in an old rundown farmhouse in Aubrey. The house sat on an 88-acre ranch on Blackjack Road, with just a dirt path leading to it and no hot water. That wasn't a problem for Slavens, though, who enjoyed every bit of the country lifestyle as he honed his craft.
“It was probably one of the happiest times of my life when I recorded this stuff,” he says.
While his motivation and sheer joy led him to create as much music as possible, it was the new technology that allowed him the access to do it. At the time, Fostex, the audio gear pioneer company, had just come out with the X-15 which was the first commercially available cassette recorder that revolutionized home demo recordings. Slavens sold some of his gear to buy the new four- track recorder that would become like a best friend. That was his first opportunity to record all the music he could, raw and willy nilly.
Much of what he recorded was inspired by the works of Brian Eno, an artist he admired growing up, as well as classical music. So far, he's only released two songs from the demos but they're in the style and fleek of ambient proto-indie rock with true soul and intimacy of the budding artist at his youth. Some of material would evolve into songs that would later be performed by Ten Hands.
Over the years, Slavens has gone back and listened to his old work over and over again. He calls it “demo love,” when an artist appreciates the original recordings with the magic that couldn't be recreated in the confines of a nice studio. He knows every little mistake, pop and missed chord in each track. Of course, not many other people have heard the songs and Slavens simply likes to idea of releasing 10 albums of music in one day.
"Now with people doing remixes and sampling, we've got a whole new art form where we reconstitute existing art into new art," he says. "Some people don't like that but I think it's great!"
He's releasing the music along with an art installation at the Norman Roscoe Pop Up gallery on the square in Denton on June 1. The music will be on Bandcamp starting tomorrow, but the release party will be a collaboration between him and other artists in and around the Denton community. All of the album artwork is by Sue Little, whose cheeky but risque paintings and sculptures really appealed to Slavens.
While Slavens doesn't want to give away too many details about the music or the installation until the release, it'll definitely be a novel multi-media event for old friends and fans to enjoy. As for what comes next, Slavens says this is the first step in a totally new musical direction. After Juvenilia is released, he plans to release his first collection of new music in six years, Alphabet Girls Vol. II.
“I've been recording music all my life and written music all my life, I just haven't released and I just mostly enjoyed it for myself. Now I think I'm just going to go ahead and release everything,” he says. “Then, hopefully, I'll be standing at the threshold of a new period of composition — [one] where I have some ideas of where I want to go that's a little different from where I've been.”