Paul Leonidou a.k.a. Paul Leion is a North Londoner of Cypriot background who has long played multiple instruments, composed ardently, and obtained a degree in music technology. His one problem: A severe case of clinical anxiety, which has prevented him from launching his performing career. However, this November sees the release of his debut album Bipolar.
Skope recently tracked him down to ask a few questions…
Did you create the beats for all the “When You Do” remixes? You’re rather obsessed with that track, no?
Ha. Definitely not. As obsessive as I am, I don’t think I have the endurance for that task. There are several different versions of the song but each one came about quite naturally.
So we have my original mix with the pop/Motown/retro feel. Then my PR company got one of their producers/remixers (Rachel) to do their own interpretation. She enjoyed working on the track and ended up doing 3 slightly different versions, which is how the Skyroom mixes came about.
Then while we were approaching different DJs with the track with a view to getting it played in clubs, a production duo called Pink Panda heard the song and liked it a lot. The next thing I knew, they were doing an official remix and breathed new life into the song yet again.
It’s nice when someone likes your song and wants to play it. It’s a different kind of thing when someone wants to work with it. In my view, I get to achieve the sound I want when I produce my own song. If someone else has a vision for the work and they’re good at what they do, then I’m open to letting them do their thing.
You speak of an ongoing battle with “anxiety and stage fright.” Do you think it’s now less difficult for musicians with such issues to operate in this age of omnipresent internet?
There are different aspects to this. On the plus side, most people have a camera phone. You can quite easily record yourself singing or performing and watch it back from a critical point of view. That’s useful. On the down side? Most people have a camera phone. Your warm-up gigs that didn’t go quite so well in the pre-digital age were mostly kept to yourself and the people at the gig. Nowadays your ‘not so fine’ moments can be captured and uploaded within minutes.
Ultimately, it depends on how you utilise the tools at your disposal. I think it’s great that people can test their creations out in different ways online before they even think about stepping out in front of an audience. There’s more to manage and organise in a sense, but there’s a lot to gain as well.
Paul Leion – “When You Do”
In one of your bios, you describe yourself as an “over-thinker” (I hadn’t before seen that in a bio). Care to elaborate?
I used to over-analyse. Conversations, words, the way in which words were expressed, the impact that had on me, etc. Then one glorious day, I started overthinking my work instead of my social interactions. It’s a busy place living in the mind of an obsessive, but once you make your peace with it and turn it to something that has a productive outcome, like music, or writing, or whatever it is you’re good at, then suddenly this thing you’re afflicted with starts to serve you quite well. That’s why now I call myself a ‘professional over-thinker’. Kind of like saying, ‘hey, I may be nuts, but it’s a living’.
I hear you’ve rendered music compositions for the advertising world. You say that’s a stressful (anxiety-provoking) environment?
For me it was very stressful. Simply because I was new to the game and probably the last person to be called for a job on many occasions. I got the impression that a director of an advert would nominate his friend to do the music and then at the n’th hour they’d realise that they couldn’t handle the job, panic, and think, ‘who’ll do this at short notice and save our backsides? I know, that new guy!’.
Once I was asked at 4pm to have something written, recorded, and presented by 1pm the next day. So I pulled an all-nighter, delivered the work only to be given a list of changes for the next day, which I’d made, only to be told that they were using someone else’s music. It was quite demoralising. I know people who’ve composed for advertising who have a good time of it too. I wasn’t really in with the right crowd.
Was it stressful working for Greenpeace? I thought eco-hippies were supposed to be cool?
There’s a certain hierarchy that goes on with producing an ad. The client (say Greenpeace), approaches a production company (or agency) who represents certain directors, one of whom may take on the job. The director’s representation will have on its team what the industry calls ‘creatives’, who usually outsource music from another company or from composers.
The client may have one idea, the director may have another vision, but he’s ultimately serving the client who’s paying the bills. The creatives have to liaise with the music company (my old boss for example) and convey the director’s (and what they perceived to be the client’s) wishes and that’s where it got confusing. My boss would say things like, ‘The client likes traditional music, but the director likes electro music, and the creatives like Abba’. So who do you write for? If I, as a composer, could talk directly to the “client” or even the director then I felt a lot of this confusion and conflict could be avoided. Chinese whispers, too many chains of contact, and not enough time!
Anyway. Greenpeace? I did that job as a favour for my cousin who was animating the advert. I didn’t have any knowledge of advertising. I simply wrote something, sent it, and they loved it from the beginning. Those were the days.
What short films have you composed for?
Off the back of the advertising jobs I was doing, I met a great director called Giles Greenwood, who did a short film to accompany a book that was being released at the time called Sheen. He also asked me to work on a short film of his called Bird Brain, which is a bit of a dark, psychological piece. It was great that I could pick the director’s brains and really try to serve his vision. It was also nice to have the luxury of time. I got to see Bird Brain on the big screen at the BAFTA building in London. That was really cool.
You speak fondly of producer ‘Benny D’. How do you feel he has helped you?
He had the imagination to see beyond my limited demo songs at the time. He was very patient with me as I came out of my shell in the studio environment and encouraged me to let go more. Watching him work was fascinating as well. Seeing the way he approached the architecture of a song really helped me develop my own production skills. He works you hard, and he pushes to get the best out of you as a vocalist, but he’s got a good eye for what he does.
What is the easiest way to purchase your album?
Well the EP, When You Do, is out now and is doing the rounds. The album was going to come out in November, but it’s now been pushed back to the new year. Ultimately, a lot of changes had to be made in a short time, and I figured I could either stress for 4 weeks and not enjoy it and not do my best work, or take an extra 2-3 months on it and enjoy it. I opted for the latter. So it’ll be on iTunes and all the usual places, but all the latest updates will be on my website, www.paulleion.me
The video for When You Do is an animation which I initially opted for so I could focus on recording time and not worry about a video shoot (and it gave me a chance to shift the extra pounds I’d gained whilst being in the studio). So people have been commenting on the fact that I’ve remained largely hidden during promo. So between now and album release, I’m going to record and film a few live acoustic sessions with me and the piano. It’ll be a nice way to preview to the album, as well as an offering taster of the upcoming live gigs which I’m really looking forward to.
Anything else you care to share?
Yes. Thank you for talking to me.
And on a final note, the album is called Bipolar. Some doctors have said that I too am Bipolar. So the title isn’t a gimmick, it’s more a statement of owning a condition. I see many performers who strive to convey this perfect persona, but I believe in, and identify with, flawed individuals. There’s less stigma these days with regards to depression and mental illness, but there’s still a lot of ground to cover. Suffering in silence nearly killed me, and so I encourage others to speak out and not feel a sense of shame with regards to certain conditions shall we say? Don’t get me wrong, don’t irritate the hell out of everyone by going on about your problems all day, but do get things off your chest and do ask for help if you need it.
Ray Cavanaugh – firstname.lastname@example.org