Written by Michelle Lesch. Photos by Kristan Whitlow Hughes.
Mihali Savoulidis is an unstoppable force. He’s been collaborating with huge players in the scene, has an album drop right on the horizon, and some incredible shows lined up in the coming months. A few weeks into his fall solo tour, the Twiddle front man stopped by Gypsy Sally’s in Washington D.C. on Saturday, November 2, with his special guest Sam Johnson. The iconic Georgetown venue is sadly closing down in early 2020, with its future in the hands of condo developers. This was Mihali’s last time playing here, having graced the stage with Twiddle several years ago, and he was sure to make it a memorable night for everyone in the crowd.
Introducing a bass to his rig, as well as some songs off his upcoming album, he treated the audience to a melodic blend of classic and new. We grooved along as he set up his loops and performed his signature shred on the guitar; and we belted out the words to all of our favorite songs. As always, Mihali brought an energy and light to the stage that swept the crowd away. By the end of the set, the collective spirit of the audience had been boosted. We left grateful for this evening of friendship and music, and ready to bring the love and energy back out into the world.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Mihali in the green room at Gypsy Sally’s before he took the stage and find out some more details about his life on the road, and at home, as well as what he’s got up his sleeve for the future.
My first question is about your single “Stubborn Smile” that just came out. I’m curious because I’ve been following that song since you first started playing it live, much more stripped down, about a year ago. So after you’ve been working in the studio, and you’ve got the finished product, do you feel like that is the way you always intended that song to sound? Or is it more of an evolution from beginning to end?
Well, for the record I had Eric Krasno producing, so every song that I had for it, I’d bring it to him. And we would record it, play it back and talk about it. Then parts that I would really like, or maybe would think needed to move differently…we would just kind of analyze it all. You know, maybe we should move that chord here, or maybe this part shouldn’t be a verse. Maybe this part should be a bridge, because it kind of extends the chorus. I write slightly non-traditional, in the natural way I guess I do it. And sometimes, I just had to sort of make it fit within how I wanted the song to come out in the end. So some changes were made to a few of the tunes.
And it’s an interesting thing to work with someone else on your music. I wanted to work with Eric because I’ve always been a huge fan of his music and his musical ear for so long. The whole point of working with a producer, and co-writing with someone new, is to have another opinion about it…to have different ears on it. And if there was ever someone who’s musical opinion I trusted more, it was him. So when he would say, “I think maybe you should try it like this…” your instinct is always to resist because you didn’t do it that way initially. But every single time we came to that bridge where he was like, “maybe try it like this,” and I had written it like that, I always preferred his way in the end. So I think that was a real learning thing for me, for sure.
So, it seems like you’re always touring with Twiddle, and then playing solo in between… I know you’ve recently had a little break there, but I’m sure it’s easy to burn out if you let it get to you. What are some things that you do to combat exhaustion and frustration on the road?
Sleep when you can, and just try to keep a positive headspace. It’s really easy to get caught up in the mundane BS of the daily routine… and the little things that might annoy you. If you don’t let that stuff mount up on you, and you just are there for the bigger picture… which is, how lucky are we to do this? On a bus of all things. Not even a van anymore! We are blessed. So, all those other little complaints that trickle in because maybe you’ve been on the road for six weeks or whatever, they really mean nothing in the big picture. So keeping that mentality is always, I think, the best for mental stability.
Kristan: That was an awesome answer, because it just comes down to gratitude.
Yeah. Trying to keep that in the foreground. No matter how tired, or burnt, or that drunk person bothered you, or whatever it is. That’s not really important. You know, you’re just lucky to do this. Because most people wake up and go to a job, and they don’t even see the sunlight. Then they come out of their job, and they walk back to their home and I’m sure it’s a happy and a good life. But to think that you only get whatever vacation time… two weeks, four weeks a year… that’s like somebody telling you, “You can do what you want, but only for two to four weeks a year. Other than that, no go!” That, to me, is fucking nuts.
Kristan: Michelle and I are both moms. Sometimes it’s hard for me with all the traveling that even I have to do, so I can’t imagine as a parent how you deal with that. How do you cope? Are you Facetiming all the time?
I should probably do more of the Facetime thing… my one daughter, Lucy, is ten months, and Hattie is almost four. Hattie’s grown up with me being on the road. So she’s used to Dada going to work, and for extended periods of time. Twiddle took a little break this fall and I’ve been home a lot. I’m noticing now… I don’t think it’s going to be that easy anymore, now that I’ve been home all the time doing Dad stuff. We do bring them to the daytime events and the things that are local… but, yeah I’m a little nervous about going back full time. It’s just one of those things, though, where you talk about it openly and honestly as much as you can. For me, there’s no solution. The only solution is eventually you bring them with you. I’d love to do that at some point. And I hope that happens sooner than later… but it’s difficult. There are so many moving parts.
So with the holidays coming up, are there any traditions that you do with your family that you’re most excited about?
I love Christmas. I think I like Christmas more now because I can start some new family traditions. It’s less about what I did growing up. I obviously include that, but for me, it’s trying to make something new for my girls and give them something that we consistently do together every year. They’re both born around that time, and that’s super intense for the family. So we try to balance all that. We’re going to have to figure that out as they get older.
Who is an artist that you love, that you feel like your fans might be surprised about?
That’s a good question… I’ll say this is someone I was surprised by, or maybe there’s something in the music that’s chemical or something that makes you like it. I don’t know… but Post Malone. I mean, he’s like the biggest artist in the world, right? But I’ve watched him play a bunch of Bob Dylan videos and, from what I’ve seen, at least the guy has a knowledge of musical history. He’s not someone who knows only what’s relevant in his own lifetime. He’s listened to a lot of music, a lot of records. He’s got a lot of influences. He loves the nudie suit cowboy-era of country music, when Hank Williams was wearing those dope suits and everything. I read some interview where he was like, “Honestly, hip hop artists with all of our flash and our custom shit, are kind of like the country artists back then..” and he was making this parallel which I thought was spot on, and also the worlds are so different. But if you break it down to the material standpoint, it makes a lot of sense. I like the guy… I listen to his music. His records are good. He clearly doesn’t give a shit, and I think I like people who don’t give a shit. It makes me say, “alright, this guy’s not taking himself too seriously.” And whatever it is, it works. He’s like the biggest artist of all time, breaking everybody’s records. He’s got billions of streams. Power to do the dude. He’s a hard worker. I dig him.
At this point, Sam Johnson enters the room. He’s getting ready to hit the stage, and he’s walking around, warming up his vocals and strumming his guitar. His voice is sweet and soothing. Mihali introduces us to his friend and we get to chat for a minute.
[Pointing to Sam] He’s one of the best. Sam Johnson, he’s been opening for me on this tour. He’s multi-faceted. He’s our sound man, our engineer, our producer. He works for Mike Gordon, too. He’s Mike’s live engineer and does all of his live releases. So, he’s opening, but he’s really a total boss in these other fields. It’s so great to see him playing. A lot of people in the industry that work on the other side of it are great players. But their focus is on one or the other.
Sam: Yeah, you get so caught up with the band, and the touring… I hardly ever play anymore. And I’m just like, what is missing from my life right now? It’s that I’m not playing my own music. Also, when you are on the other side of the microphone for a little while, you just get so much more appreciation for doing the live show and everything, too. I think that balance is super important. And to have that perspective of the musician and being an engineer, you can put yourself in their shoes. A lot of people may not be into what their doing. It’s just a job. But if you can put yourself in the musician’s shoes, I think your job goes ten times farther.
Here is a random one: My husband wanted me to ask you, what toppings do you put on your pizza?
Mihali: We like green peppers and onions. Ryan likes that with pepperoni and extra cheese.
Sam: No no no, from what I know about hanging out with you, you guys like the Ninja Turtles pizza. The extra, extra cheese.
Mihali: (laughs) True! We just want the string! The stringy stranng strannnng [sic]!!
We wish Sam a good show as he walks out of the green room and hops on stage. Mihali picks up the September issue of The Jamwich and starts thumbing through it:
Taco and Elise! I love them. The care and passion that they pour into supporting the scene…This takes so much hard fucking work. It’s just amazing what they do.
I just love passionate people. It doesn’t even matter what it is that’s their thing. I just love to listen to people who care so much about something. It’s like, I may not know what the fuck you’re talking about, but you’re so excited that I’m like, “Yeah!!” Neutrons!! Or whatever the fuck you’re talking about!” (laughs) If you get me with a person who is a musician and you get me going about gear, I’ll keep talking forever. Forever. If I find a like-minded musical nerd, forget it, nothing else exists anymore.
Before we leave, I’d like to ask you about the new album. There’s been a lot of talk of collaborations, so who can we expect to hear playing with you?
It’s G. Love, Matisyahu, Citizen Cope, Nahko, Trevor Hall, Eric Krasno… I think that’s it. (laughs) That’s a lot of great people!
Yes! That’s awesome. Is there anything else you want to tell us about your new album? Perhaps, when it’s coming out?
I can tell you the album is done. So, everyone should definitely expect it in the next coming months. We’re just putting the finishing touches on it. We don’t quite have a date yet, but I assume that will be coming shortly. It’s coming!
Well, Kristan and I are super stoked to tell you that we will be covering Frendsgiving this year!
Nice! You guys are going to have so much fun. The Cap is my favorite venue. If you’ve never been there, it’s hands down the best place for live music. And we’re planning some really cool stuff for you guys. We’ve got some things in the works, for sure. It’s going to be a great time. You’ll love it!
Visit Mihali’s Facebook page and give it a like to keep up with his tour.