Mark Paraskevas (C ’17) packs the same thing for lunch every day: “a chicken gyro basically, with like pita bread and spinach and cheese. I just cook a lot of chicken in advance.” In between hours spent at the studio, Mark, a former The Daily Pennsylvanian and Street staffer, is a high school teacher in New York City with the two–year placement program Teach For America.
As such, he dutifully packs his lunch every day before setting out to the Bronx high school where he works, a twenty–minute drive from his home in Queens. As a teacher, multitasking is key to getting through the day, and so over his fourth period lunch break, Mark sets out to grab a black coffee from a nearby bodega because there’s “no way [he’s] getting through another four periods without it” and we catch up over the phone about his first album, released under the moniker Hadji Gaviota, Captain, out on streaming services December 1, 2018.
In many ways, teaching is the “perfect job” for making music because of all the time he has: after the final bell dispenses students at 3:30 p.m., Mark has the three extra hours in his day not available to friends working nine to five.
Music weaves its way into his work, too: Mark runs an after–school music production club on Wednesdays, and has built lesson plans around songs like “Jesus Walks.” “The kids give me a lot of energy,” reflects Mark, which comes out in the bounding, ambitious, and coherent soundscapes of his first LP.
The album roots itself in the breadth of artists Mark grew up on: “I feel like I’m the product of the kid whose parents bought him an iPod in like fourth grade, and so I always had different things to listen to. My dad would listen to like The Clash, and my mom liked Sade, and I liked Kanye West...and then as I got older, I got into more .”
Songs like “Hot Sugar” are the kind of mid–2000s MTV or VHS jam of your cable consuming reverie; Strokes–y guitar progressions confirm that “this has been lovely” (on “Lovely,” fittingly). “Hadji got his groove back,” he announces on “No Sway.” The “groove” plays out throughout the album, ebbing and flowing with a tidal current on others like the woozy, explorative “Saltwater/Corvette,” or the darker “U Don’t Know Me,” both featuring collaborators—"Saltwater" features Dummyfresh, recent Penn alum Andrew Ellis (C '18).
Early hit “Harajuku,” (which has racked up over 50,000 listens at time of publication and has been featured on Spotify curated playlist “Feel Good Dinner” adjacent to likes of Daniel Caesar, Amy Winehouse, and Phoenix), is an explicative post–mortem for a relationship, laying bare the confusing feelings of loneliness layered over of–the–moment, lo–fi pulsing guitar and synthy percussion. On the varied influences that he builds on and toys with, Mark says, “The fact that the album is kind of all over the place is a testament to that—in a good way, you know?”
The sonic coherence and depth is a product of a partnership with musician and producer Mike Mroz, who goes by Mrozerati, another Astoria, Queens local. Although they're from the same area, “I never knew him in high school or anything,” explains Mark. “I met him because I needed a studio to record at,” and Mroz’s studio came recommended by a mutual friend.
“He’s just like this absolute maestro. He’s a classically trained guitarist, he’s an amazing piano player. The two of us together are really like, a superstar team.” They write and produce the songs together—one intensive session last spring resulted in what became much of the album. “In April we went to the Hamptons to this empty house and just like, wrote a bunch of songs, so most of the album is that.”
These songs include intro song “Golden Boy,” “Harajuku,” and “Lovely.” “We all just wrote that in two or three days, and we’ve just been sitting on it, working on it for like seven months, so it’s really exciting to think that people are gonna finally hear it.”
While his artistic process has evolved since leaving school, Mark traces his inspirations and experimentations back to campus: his senior year, he immersed himself in the music scene, especially in “jam sessions” with SPEC Jazz & Grooves members, which he served as co–director.
It meant a lot to him, “to find that Jazz and Grooves community towards the end.” Of the jam sessions, he recollects, “It was just a bunch of kids hanging out till like two, three in the morning, smoking, making music, rapping, freestyling, singing, all that shit. It was just a really cool environment, made me feel more confident about myself.”
On what he does not miss about Penn, Mark sighs and says, “People who are close–minded about their future.” He pauses before adding, “Pressure.” He has felt the weight of the pressure to follow a more corporate, laid out, cut and dry route, as people in his life question the financial and temporal commitments he’s made to his music.
Mark has this advice to offer those who may want to follow a more creative path: “If you wanna do something creative, your friends might support you but they’re not really gonna, like, take you that seriously. And you have to be okay with that, because you have to trust yourself. That’s something I would’ve loved to hear.”
What's next for Mark right now is apparent: we wrap up the conversation as he hurries to cover a fifth–period class, his final words muffled by the students shouting amid the commotion that comes between bells.
What else is on deck remains to be seen. The waters post–teaching, post–album release may be murky, but it is clear that Mark is on his own path, captain of whichever route he embarks on.
Check out the album below: