Most North Texans old enough to rent a car have probably heard of Paul Slavens. The 60-year-old has fronted the band Ten Hands for 35 years (with a break here and there). He plays with the Baptist Generals and the Travoltas. He was the music director for the improv troupe Four Day Weekend. He has played live scores to silent movies in venues all over. And, of course, he has spun tunes on our public airwaves for 18 years, first at KERA 90.1 and now at KXT 91.7, where The Paul Slavens Show airs Sundays at 8 pm. In June, a serendipitous series of events led to the release of his first solo album in more than a decade, Alphabet Girls, Vol. II.
Do you remember that Ten Hands show at Club Dada circa 1988 when a schoolteacher brought her underage son with her and they had a total blast? Wow. No, I don’t remember that.
I remember like it was yesterday. And then I went off to college with your album The Big One Is Coming. I can’t tell you how many times I played that my freshman year. We recorded that at Dada. We probably played that space out back two or three times a month during that period. Dave Castell had a mobile recording truck that he pulled up, and I think we recorded two nights there. Those were wonderful nights. I loved playing back there.
Most folks now probably know you from KXT and The Paul Slavens Show, where the audience gets to pick the playlist. What’s the song that gets requested so often you’re sick of it? I’ve played “White Bird” as many times as I’m gonna play it for a while. “Season of the Witch” I probably am not going to spin much anymore. Older men seem to love that song.
So if you were a Noriega-style drug kingpin—How do you know I’m not? [laughs]
That’s fair. OK, so you are a drug kingpin, and you’re in your compound with your cat, and you won’t come out. What’s the song that we should blare at your front gates to beat you into submission the quickest? The thing about the radio show is, I realize that music’s not there for you to hate. Music is there for you to listen to and to get information from. Music’s not there for you to be entertained by, either. If somebody took the time to make that music and record it and put it out, and somebody else listened to it enough to like it and suggest it for me to listen to, then I’m going to listen to it. I realized early on with the radio show that if I only played music that I liked, it was going to be a dull show that wouldn’t last long. Anybody who has listened to a lot of music knows that your favorite music is usually stuff that you did not like the first time you heard it. Giving music that you think you don’t like another chance has been one of the most rewarding things in my life.
So much in music that I thought I hated when I was a kid, I love it now. A prime example would be the Bee Gees.
You wrote on your SoundCloud page that your new album, Alphabet Girls, Vol. II, is a “distillation of your long, varied, and accomplished career, complete with all the requisite breakthroughs and disappointments.” What are the disappointments? I’m like anybody else. I’ve had a bunch of disappointments. I thought I was going to be big rock star with Ten Hands. That didn’t happen, and it was kind of disappointing. [laughs] I had a badass career as a voiceover talent making crud loads of money, and then the internet happened, and that career kind of fizzled out, and that was disappointing.
I read this album is a bit of a tribute to the late Trey Johnson. What’s the connection? Trey is a wonderful guy. He was in a lot of bands, but his main band was called Sorta. I didn’t know him real well until like three and a half years ago, and he called me up because he wanted to know if I could play piano at a steakhouse, Knife. The gig paid good, and I got a free steak. That means something to me. So it was worth the drive. I was playing jazz piano. Trey got me the gig, and so he would show up and help me set up the PA and stuff, and then he’d hang around while I was playing. I started playing some of the Alphabet Girls songs. And he’s like, “Man, what’s that? What’s going on?” I told him about the first record [Alphabet Girls, Vol. 1, 2010], and he said, “Why don’t you do the second record now? I’ve got a record label [State Fair Records], and you should put it out on our record label.” So that’s what happened.
You’re putting the album out on CD? Why not hipster vinyl? To tell you the truth, I thought people still made CDs. I guess while I wasn’t watching, everybody got rid of their CD players and all their CDs. But not only would it take eight months to get it pressed on hipster vinyl, which is hugely expensive, but there’s another problem: the album is 50 minutes long, and 50 minutes will not fit on vinyl. That’s how I’ve got my first album in 12 years coming out on CD, which used to be fine but nowadays, I guess, nobody wants. We’ll see.
This story originally appeared in the August issue of D Magazine with the headline, “Cleans Up Well.” Write to [email protected].