DFW Music News

Paul Slavens Spells Out How He Finally Finished Alphabet Girls Vol. II a Decade Later

Musician Paul Slavens emerges from the forest on the cover for his single "X On My Heart."
Musician Paul Slavens emerges from the forest on the cover for his single "X On My Heart." Peter Salisbury
Ten years ago, singer, composer and KXT host Paul Slavens self-released Alphabet Girls Vol. I, a stream of jazz tunes with an alphabetical list of songs about famous women in power.

He got as far as the letter "N" on his first album, but he's finally completed his ABCs with Alphabet Girls Vol. II.

"From a compositional standpoint, I had been working on the whole thing all along but ever since I finished the first volume, which is like 10 years ago, by [that] time I had already had a couple of the next ones," Slavens says. "I think it was 'Sadie' and 'Zelda.' I wasn't in any hurry to finish writing them all. I didn't figure I was gonna record and put out a second album."

Slavens took the tunes he had for his second album, which veer between slow and sweet to swift and snappy, and kept them in his back pocket, playing them at various gigs — one of which helped him launch his second volume of jazz odes.

State Fair Records founder Trey Johnson, who died last February, heard Slavens playing a couple of his Vol. II tunes at The Knife Steak House, where he played piano for the dinner crowd. 
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Musician Paul Slavens pays homage to the naive Ophelia in a song named after Hamlet's love interest in his new album Alphabet Girls Vol. II.
James Bland

"He contacted me because he wanted to know if I could play piano at a steakhouse in Dallas," Slavens says. "It was a good gig, and I took it. That's when I got to know him, because he was always there and it was a cool gig. That's when he heard me start to play and asked what those songs were."

The two started working on releasing Slavens' long-awaited second album. Then the pandemic reared its ugly face and then yet another tragedy struck before the final release.

"I recorded a lot of it, and it sat for months and months while I grinded away during the pandemic, and while we were getting to the finish line, Trey passed away," Slavens says. "He was kind of the one who was the wind in the sails for this project. One thing for me personally was he was the one I would always bounce the ideas off, and when he was gone, I kind of had to imagine him there to bounce those ideas off and imagine what he might say and encourage me in person."

Fortunately, Slavens says, Johnson got to hear the full album before he died.

"He probably listened to the album more than anyone else has," Slavens says. "He was happy with it, and I'm happy with it. I'll just try to go on and make him proud."

Alphabet Girls Vol. II starts with "Naomi," the last track on Vol. I. Slavens describes it as a "sad waltz," as it explores its new space with the sounds of violin, harp and accordion. The rest of the album follows suit with a wide variety of instruments and new styles that go from serious to unapologetically silly.

"Some time ago, I found a melodica at a mini-mall in Denton and I just love it," he says. "It's one of those instruments that gets a bad rap, and I was always interested in instruments that get a bad rap. There are some beautiful instruments, but they get associated with some comedy like the accordion. The accordion is the most versatile instrument if you know how to play it."

The new instruments also give Slavens the chance to improvise new sounds and veer off from the styles  that have been a staple of his musical career. The song "Ophelia," an ode to Hamlet's love interest from Hamlet's POV — that uses sounds and footage from Laurence Olivier's 1948 film adaptation of the Shakespeare classic — is playful without being a straight-up parody.

"I love having humor in music," Slavens says. "It doesn't have to be real obvious or going for a laugh or something. It has a lightness to it. It's understated. The problem with me is it's way too easy for me to overstate. That's my bias. Instead of going from zero to five, I go from three to nine. I didn't want that to be the tone, but I also didn't want it to be somber. I kind of got what I wanted. It's kind of unusual and kind of confusing but it's beautiful."  He's also not taking a break, even though he finished an album he's been prepping for almost a decade. Slavens is getting a band together after a long time as a solo artist. He's putting together a group to compose and perform a live score to the 1921 Charlie Chaplin classic The Kid in September at the Texas Theatre.

Slavens says scoring the film made him more eager to experiment. He's got "a ton of classical stuff" he'd like to get recorded or re-recorded, and he's maybe ready to take on bigger challenges like writing "something for theater or ballet."

"The one thing that is problematic and that most artists don't have to deal with is they only do the kind of music that they do," Slavens says. "You ask, 'What do you play?' and they tell you. That was always a problem for me. What kind of band is this? I don't have one answer because I play a bunch of different things. It's a marketing problem. That's the way this album is too. It goes to a lot of different places." 
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.