Interview 'A few minutes with Alien Skin's George Pappas'
Kage Alan interview:
'A few minutes with Alien Skin's George Pappas'
May 31, 2014
KA: Tell us about the birth of Alien Skin.
GP: Let's start at the beginning....I was previously in the Australian band, Real Life, best known and loved for our 80s hit Send Me An Angel. That song topped European & Australian charts and spent time in the US Billboard Top 20 twice in the 80s. I wasn't in the original formation of the band but joined as keyboardist & co-songwriter in the early to mid 90s. This wonderful & inspiring opportunity allowed me to tour the world with the band & co-write three albums.
After our 2004 'Imperfection' tour of the US, plagued with and suffering from permanent hearing damage and acknowledging that it was impossible to avoid being forced into becoming nothing more than an 80s 'review' band if we wished to continue, I left Real Life, being the only surviving member after singer David Sterry.
It was then I had the first thoughts of doing something by myself, for myself. Home studio recording technology had come such a distance since I began making music in the 70s and electronically in the 80s, that I had the confidence to do it. This would be the first official opportunity to release my own songs as performed by me. I'd never been a lead vocalist but thought I could achieve it, being my songs. So, basically I sat down with an acoustic guitar and wrote quite a number of tunes. Some I considered good enough to spend more time on, and then recreated them electronically. They became my first album, Don't Open Till Doomsday, in 2008. One of the songs, Alien Skin, provided me the idea for the artist name I chose to use.
This then is the wee story of how Alien Skin came into existence. Writing songs is what I love doing best, musically, and with Alien Skin I retain control and work at my own pace. After 5 albums I'm still going, and I will continue producing music till I am unable to.
KA: I've always felt that an Alien Skin album is a soundtrack of sorts. Each one is unique, but undeniably Alien Skin. How do you go about deciding what an album's theme will be?
GP: There is never any prethought about an album's theme. It's all quite organic really, one song flows on from the other. They inspire each other, and as long as I don't take too much time between writing them, they end up sharing an apparent commonality. It heavily depends on my frame of mind at the time the first few are written and this more or less informs the remainder. I do agree that each album is a soundtrack of sorts rather than a repository for disparate singles. That's DISPARATE singles NOT 'desparate' singles!
KA: The lyrics to your songs tend to be--at least in my mind--very poetic. How much of 'George' do you slip into them or do you consciously distance yourself from doing that?
GP: Firstly, thanks for considering them poetic, it's too high a praise but I won't challenge it:)
As for your question, well, that's quite a psychological can of worms really. I guess the 'simple' answer is that when I, or perhaps any writer, composes, and does this repeatedly, he/she and certainly I, must draw from something within. The reason a song ends up the way it does must come, in most instances, from the ideas, emotions and experiences over one's lifetime. Including observing other people's situations; situations that resonate within me in a certain way therefore only because of my own accummulated ideas, emotions and experiences.
A lot of what you hear in the songs is me, 'George', but not necessarily to the letter; it's more in the spirit or general emotion of a piece of music. In which ever way you categorize Alien Skin music, I certainly would be unable to create its opposite because that would not be me.
KA: You've mentioned that The Creature With The Human Face is your favorite of the albums so far. Why that one over the others?
GP: It's generally the case that one's latest work becomes the favourite as it is the freshest. Perhaps in the future I may alter my preference but I have to say that I love the individual songs on 'Creature with the Human Face'. I love their, what I consider, strong melodies and they have more defined choruses & verses. Not to say I dismiss what I've done before, but at this present time, I am in a certain mind frame that wants to create 'this' type of song. My next album will probably be nothing like this though!
KA: You and I have talked about this via e-mail a couple of times. I keep finding parallels between what you're doing as an independent artist and authors (myself included) in terms of promoting yourself and getting people interested in your work. This is something we've both expressed having difficulty with, yet I'm always astounded by all that you do. Perhaps you'd talk about some of the things you do you do to get yourself out there?
GP: Well, it's an enormous struggle to not just be heard but to be remembered and revisited for a protracted period. So, on the contrary, I do not believe I am very succesful at it. I would need a constant large volume of traffic discovering my music and then convincing that demographic to be motivated enough to want to commit time, emotion, obsession and money on it. Speaking generally, that really only occurs successfully and repeatedly when you have a successful brand name.
I have accummulated quite a few Alien Skin fans over the years but it is not within my capability to rise above the social profile I have built. This then over time causes attrition, people lose whatever initial passion or interest they may have had and file you away in the 'archive' of their consciousness. Very little can be done to battle this, short of large investments of marketing money, and in the case of music artists, finding the fountain of youth and starting over!
KA: Are there any relatively new singers/groups out there who you've been surprised to find yourself enjoying?
GP: Being honest, no. I've been around for soooo long, and have been writing & producing songs for so long, inspired for so many years by so many great talents, people who were originals when their critical work was contemporary that I now almost weep at the state of the present music industry. I could write a thesis on this, literally, but be grateful that I won't. I began writing more but I realize it cannot be discussed simply or briefly.
I can say though that my favourite album from last year is 'Tales of Us' by Goldfrapp. I love, love, love the songs on that album, listened to in one sitting. That is, actually listening, not iPod scanning, or bombing my ears while crossing a busy intersection or at the supermarket check out. I need concentration or I don't listen at all.
If someone popped over during the week for a cup of tea, what would the find you doing and what music would they discover in your CD player?
Well, and I do drink tea, yes.....I'd probably be working on one or two or three songs simultaneously. I love creating music, it's my life, it's not a chore so I am always at it. The more songs I produce the more chance one of them will be a keeper:)
If I'm watching TV it will be something off TiVO (I loathe live TV as programming is forced upon you and it is always mentally painful). I love old movies, film noir, 50's scifi, documentaries and classic comedy. I rarely make a habit of listenening to CDs anymore (unlike my youth when it was an obsession), so I only listen to a favourite album when I am in the absolute mood for it and have th time to concentrate on it and nothing else. Having said that I just listened to the Nick Drake trilogy yesterday, Pink Moon, Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter.
KA: I realize this is a general question, but what makes this worthwhile for you? What keeps you going, creating and sharing?
GP: I've been creating music since I was about 13, in 1972. Inspired by The Beatles I've been excited by nothing on the same scale ever since. I get no greater satisfaction than writing and producing what I consider a 'good song'. Flippantly, I keep writing because there is also the chance that I will one day write the 'perfect song':) There's little financial gain but the love of giving birth to something that wasn't there before is still a worthwhile reward.
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