In the spotlight – Alvinos Zavlis

In the spotlight – Alvinos Zavlis

Electronic music producer Alvinos Zavlis writes, records, produces, mixes and masters songs for himself and the artists he develop. Alvinos grew up in Cyprus, but is currently living in Bristol (UK).

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

“Hey! So, my real name is Alvinos and I’m born and raised in Cyprus. I’ve been producing music for just over 8 years and I currently live and create in Bristol, UK.”

How did growing up in Cyprus shape you?

“Life in Cyprus is fundamentally different than any other European country I’ve visited or lived in, so, growing up there gave me the chance to experience a myriad of different music genres and culture. Growing up in Cyprus shaped me into an artist who isn’t concerned with fitting into a specific genre or sound, since Cyprus for me doesn’t fit into a single box culturally; there’s obviously Greek culture, but also Turkish, Arabic, Lebanese and African too. Being exposed to all these growing up made me approach music from an ‘aesthetic’ point of view rather than focusing on genres.”

“Aside from music, Cyprus taught me the values of positivity, especially when things don’t go my way. Living in an island with a very troubled history hasn’t stopped me and my people from always living in the moment and having a care-free spirit, something I brought with me to all my travels so far!”

How did you end up living in the UK?

“I first moved in the UK in 2016 to study Music Technology. After I graduated, I decided that the wisest choice for my future as an artist would be to stay in the UK for the foreseeable future. As much as I love Cyprus, our electronic music scene is still very underdeveloped, something I hope can change in the future. Hopefully I get to help in that.”

You were also studying for a Master’s degree in Sound Art. Have you finished your studies?

“Yes, I just handed in my final project about two weeks ago! I think I did good and I definitely learned a lot and met a bunch of interesting artists that I hope to work with sometime in the future!”

Let’s go back to the beginning. When were you first introduced to music? Who or what made you want to pursue a career in music?

“The first music I was introduced to was traditional Greek music (Laiko, Rebetiko, Smyrneika), something that my parents would listen to a lot, as well as something we were taught in school. Eventually in my teen years, I discovered hip hop and became obsessed with Eminem, 50 Cent and the Roots. But up to that point the idea of a music career didn’t occur to me since I didn’t know how to play any musical instruments or sing. It all changed when I went to a night club for the first time when I was 16. That was the first time I heard House music and, on the next morning I started listening obsessively to David Guetta, Avicii, David Morales and Laidback Luke. Seeing all these idols DJ, made me want to try it as well, so I started Djing on a small controller I bought on eBay and, eventually at 17 years old decided to start producing music. The idea of a career in music only became a thing when I turned 20 and finished my military service; that’s when I decided to move to the UK to study music.”

You make music in different genres. ‘Wampakacha’ with Young Smart was latin pop, ‘When I Think About You’ was lofi/chill, your album ‘We All Float…’ was moody electronic. Do you have a favourite genre?

“I don’t really! I mainly listen to hip hop and most of its subgenres, but I consume music in so many genres that it just feels like a shame to only commit to one. I find interesting nuances and characteristics in every genre and I love to study them and try to figure out how I could flip, Latin for example, into something different and fresh that has my own sensibilities as a musician, you know?”

Regarding musical styles and genres, is there anything different that you would like to explore?

“I would love to produce a singer/songwriter acoustic album – for a different artist, not me – and add to it abstract textures, electronic ambient noises and things like that! That seems like a cool aesthetic to me but I lack the singer/songwriter aspect of it for now!”

“Also, I’ve always wanted to work with an orchestra and just twist and bend classical music into something experimental that would fit one of my albums. I sort of flirted with this idea on my album ‘Time Travels’ but not with a full orchestra.”

Of your own songs, do you have a favourite? Which one and why?

“I don’t know, it feels weird to separate them like this but I find that I always resonate more with whatever it is I’m working on at the moment, which makes sense since that’s what usually reflects more my current state of mind. I guess my new single ‘Darkness’ is the one I currently really enjoy/listen to non-stop, and it’s the one I got the most positive feedback on in my so far career.”

“I also still love/obsess over ‘Falling’ from ‘Time Travels’. I love that ambient-glitch combination, as well as how much of a journey that song is.”

You just mentioned your song ‘Darkness’ which is out today. What’s it about?

“This is the fourth single from my upcoming untitled album. ‘Darkness’ is about embracing the darkness inside you and finding comfort in it. Your darkness and your sorrow are what make you unique. A dark, moody banger with experimental, yet contemporary production.”

“I’m used to sleep on my own and not feel alone”.

What’s Darkness to you?

“Darkness is singular; it’s unique to all of us. We all have a dark side, qualities we don’t dare reveal to others, traits we deem shameful because society has rejected them. The song is about accepting and embracing the darkness as something that’s part of you but doesn’t necessarily define you. I’m still trying to get this right, making a song about it doesn’t fix anything but definitely helps at my pursuit of happiness!”

What song represents who you are best?

“Well, if I had to play just one song to someone who doesn’t know me or my music, either ‘Falling’ or ‘Sexy pasta and Korean film’ is enough to tell you all about my taste, aesthetics and sensibilities as an artist. As far representing who I am as a person, there is a song on my upcoming album that does that. It’s called ‘Not U’ and I’m still trying to get it right before the album is done!”

What can you tell me about your creative process?

“It’s very fluid and ever changing. For the past year, I’ve been trying more and more to sing and incorporate my voice in various ways in my music. What I’ve been doing for my upcoming album is collecting 10-15 sounds that would serve as the basis to a song. I would spend an hour trying to arrange these sounds, which could be singular synth notes, drum samples, break beats or just noises, into a soundscape that I would loop and try to capture a vibe with. I would then spend a lot of time humming melodies over this rough soundscape and come up with themes and lyrics that fit that vibe. Then record vocals and go through the soundscape, which is very much the back bone of what would eventually be the instrumental of the finished song, and try to fully flesh it into an arrangement.”

“I also find mixing music for other artists – something I started doing as a freelance job recently – a very creative process. It’s another way for me to discover new music, research it and learn from other artists’ creative process. I love to start mixing drums, then the bass and spend a lot of time mixing vocals and getting them to sound unique and complimentary to whatever the instrumental is. I get really into it!”

What’s your favourite part of creating music?

“I guess sharing it with the world, or the first time someone hears a new song and I get to see their expression or get a positive reaction/comment on something I didn’t think was that special but for some reason resonated with them. I still love the creative process, especially whenever I get to work with other artists! But the part of finally sharing a piece of me I’ve been working on for months always feels liberating.”

Do you have any hobbies that contribute to your musicality? You’ve mentioned in Release Talks you’ve made artwork for some of your releases.

“Yes, I think all creative endeavours are connected and each helps enrich the other, so I try to stay busy with as many as I can. I draw and a lot of what I draw becomes art for my songs. I also shoot and edit videos, whether it’s cover songs for Instagram, music videos and visualisers to accompany my songs or even cooking videos. I’m trying to start a cooking channel too! And I also cook too; my song ‘Sexy pasta and Korean film’, as well as its video and artwork, is very much a product of my cooking. See how it’s all connected?”

(Follow Alvinos on Instagram and learn his recipe for mango chili sauce.)

On your Instagram page you posted a video of the process of making visuals for your music using water, oil and food colouring. How do you come up with the ideas for your visuals?

”I think it’s all about studying your influences, and their influences and so on! Once I do that, I try to emulate what they did, but with whatever equipment/means are available to me, and this is where innovation happens.”

“That specific one with food colouring happened after I studied the liquid light show trend that started in the early 60’s to accompany psychedelic music live shows. Basically, the artist/band would perform on stage and a light artist would mix in a big glass bowl, water, oil and coloured mineral oils, while an overhead projector would project behind the band the light show. By moving the bowl and blowing air in it, the light artist could create trippy patterns with vibrant colours that made for an interesting live show. The way I flipped that was by adding food colouring, which is cheaper that mineral colour oils, and by using a microscope camera to film inside the glass bowl, since I didn’t have the space or resources to get an overhead projector. The idea of a microscope camera came when I was researching something else (I think it was alternative type of lenses). So, I believe it all has to do with always researching and studying how the greats created. Eventually you find your own voice.”

Do you think music education in schools is important?

“I think it’s important and very much underrated. I believe that music and arts in general, open up certain parts of our personality that can bring us more in touch with our emotions. This is definitely an endeavour worth fighting for.”

“I also think that a more modern approach in music education is long overdue! I hope that one day kids have, even a period a week, music production classes or after-school DJ sessions where they share music and culture with each other. It’s definitely up to my generation to make a fresh start and, with music consumption and creation more available than ever, I’m very hopeful that we can elevate music education in schools.”

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

“I would like to have my own studio (you know, a separate room, not inside my bedroom!), as well as be financially stable through music. I hope that I would have travelled and played shows in different countries, met great artists and got to visit Cyprus more and more often. I mostly though want to be happy, secure in who I am and with a group of people around me that I love and care for (and vice versa). This to me is more important, even if everything else doesn’t come true.”

What’s your favourite song from the Cool Top 20?

“‘They should be terrified of you’ by Manic Pixie. I just love her vibe, the visual aesthetic and her unique voice, all of which comes through in that song. I listened to a bunch of her other stuff and I’m definitely a fan now!”

What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?

“‘ETA’ by Nic Soze ft. Babebee. I’ve been a fan of Babebee for a while now and I wasn’t familiar with Nic’s music before. This song came my way because my friend Antshay played strings on it (quite beautifully may I add) and I just love the whole vibe of it. It’s super chill so I can see me listening to it in the car, in my headphones on the bus or just walking down the street. Plus, they both killed the vocals on this tune!”