Our 6th annual LEAF Festival Singer-Songwriter Competition is this weekend, Saturday, May 11! All this week we are introducing readers to our eight, talented finalists. Today we are proud to highlight Warren, OH-based Demos Papadimas.
Singer-songwriter Demos Papadimas (guitar/vocals/harmonica/bouzouki) skillfully intertwines American roots music with Mediterranean influences. Based in Northeast Ohio, Papadimas cites among his influences Dylanesque balladry, Leonard Cohen’s latter day touring ensembles, and string-band revivalists such as Old Crow Medicine Show as well as Greek Rembetiko—the “Greek blues.”
We asked Demos some questions to learn more about his artistic process and vision. See Demos and the rest of our 7 fellow LEAF finalists perform at NewSong’s LEAF Singer-Songwriter Competition this Saturday May 11.
For me the songwriting process is marked by quite a bit contemplation. As with most aspects of my life, I could easily be accused of overthinking the process. I typically am writing several songs simultaneously. I mark different sections of note books with colored post-it bookmarks and flip back and forth. Some lyrics start in one song and end up in another. I usually jot down random lines anywhere possible, and I’ve got post it notes all over the place. Some of them are lines that seemingly randomly come to me and others I’ve been working on for months. Still, other potential lyrics of mine are phrases that I’ve heard in conversation or read somewhere, and others are probably subliminally, inspired by songs that I love.
Voice Memos have become essential for recording initial ideas for riffs and melodies. Without the easy access of Voice Memos on a phone, I probably would abandon many ideas. If I didn’t have the option of playing back recorded ideas so easily, I would be overly critical. The best musical ideas—whether it is riffs or chord progressions or even melodies—seem to be the ones that come to me immediately when I pick up my guitar. The more time I spend thinking about it, the further I get from the initial sense of inspiration. There’s a similar Paul McCartney quote in which he says something to the effect of, “the best idea being the purest and the purest idea is the one that comes to you initially.” With lyrics it’s practically the opposite. With more editing and re-writing, I tend to better focus on the essence of the line and it helps refine what I’m trying to express. Much of the process is stringing together various ideas, some of them musical and some of them lyrical.
My inspiration comes from various sources, but the most obvious is from musicians whom I hold in high regard. Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen are certainly high up on the list in terms of songwriters that have inspired me.
In another sense, the best inspiration is when I’m playing with my band or working on existing songs of mine either in practices or in the studio. Revisiting my old songs gives me a sense of perspective while the process of working out new material inspires me to continue writing. It seems fairly obvious, but the less I am engaging with my art, the less I produce. Also, seeing other bands on a local or regional level is inspiring as well. Seeing what my peers (many of them friends in bands that play in the same scene that I’m a part of) are doing inspires me as well.
The notion that hard times and suffering produce better songs is not something I necessarily agree with. Obviously, some kind of heartbreak, yearning, or general difficulties add to one’s philosophical outlook and deepen their understanding of existence, but if you’re deep in depression, you can’t think clearly enough to write. The memory of difficult times perhaps informs our memory as songwriter’s and is something to draw upon for inspiration, but only years later. I suppose for some people the process of songwriting is therapeutic and maybe it is for me, but it’s not something I’m conscious of when it is happening.
What important news about your music do you have coming up?
This summer I’ll be working on a new studio album as well as wrapping up an EP of recordings of old Greek Rembetiko songs. Rembetiko is a Greek genre of music known somewhat as the “Greek blues” and these songs are great source of inspiration for me. Also, I’ve been going through live recordings of my band for a future live album.
What does it mean to you to be selected as a NewSong finalist, and what do you hope to get out of the experience?
I’m honored to be selected as a NewSong finalist. I’ve been following news about the NewSong competitions for a few years now, and I’m grateful to be a part of it. I’m sure it will be a good networking experience not only with the other finalists, but with everyone from NewMusic as well as the LEAF Music Festival. I’ve never been to North Carolina, but I’ve been intrigued by the Asheville music scene so it will be good to see this area first hand.