What’s it like to graduate from Penn and pursue a music career? What’s it like to tell other Penn grads that you didn’t gun for a finance or consulting job and explain why you decided to settle for a smaller salary? Hadji Gaviota, a former 34th Street writer and Queens–based singer, songwriter, and producer, might have the answers.
“Any time I meet a Penn person and explain to them what it’s like to be an unsigned artist, I say…” Hadji trails off, his eyes wandering down, off–screen. Suddenly, he looks back up: the animated Hadji Gaviota persona is gone. In his place, Mark Paraskevas (C '17) emerges. He looks me dead in the eyes, with an expression as earnest as it is fake, an expression seen in every vacant smile on Locust Walk.
“I tell them… ‘it’s like a startup.’” I hold his gaze for a few more seconds before muting my microphone, sparing his eardrums from my peals of laughter. He does the same.
A few months after graduating in May 2017, Hadji released “Harajuku,” currently his most streamed song on Spotify. A month after dropping the track, labels and publishers started reaching out, ready to sign the fledgling artist. Thankfully, not all of the pre–professional air Hadji breathed in at Penn was toxic, and he turned down the deals. Instead, he opted to continue his artistic and professional growth, hoping to command better offers during later negotiations once he’d built up a stronger discography and held more bargaining power.
So far, this choice seems to have paid off: his career has maintained a consistent upward trajectory since releasing “Harajuku” over two years ago, even without label backing. His fanbase grows with every track he releases, and one of his latest singles, “4049 SPRUCE,” earned a spot on Spotify’s widely popular, hand–curated “Anti Pop” playlist.
Despite making music throughout his time at Penn, Hadji was terrified to share it with anyone. “I was super shy,” he says flippantly, attempting to brush off the question. I press him further. He admits, “when I first came to Penn, I was super gregarious and excited to meet all these new people. Then I realized they didn’t keep that same energy.” It wasn’t until he joined Jazz & Grooves, a club for music–lovers, that he found his home. “[Jazz & Grooves members] gave me the confidence to keep working on [music], even if I wasn’t ready to be super outward with it. That really changed my whole perspective on Penn: being a J&G director, being in that community.”
Once Hadji found support at Penn, he was able to build his confidence and self–identity, writing better songs along the way. Eventually, he realized he had the potential to turn his hobby into a full–fledged career. “It took me a long time to explore what I wanted to explore, to actually pursue something that I actually enjoyed, rather than just what the world dictated was gonna be my path,” he says.
Hadji’s upcoming album, Purgatory, is set to be released this December. The concept behind the new project is simple. In Hadji’s own words, “People don’t want albums anymore. I’m gonna release almost every song as a single.” Each track will be accompanied by a music video, too. So far, “RUNNER’S HIGH,” “1–800–PUR–GTRY,” “4049 SPRUCE,” and “CATCH THESE HANDS” have been released, and “TELESCOPE” will be out November 17th. Purgatory shows Hadji pursuing a variety of different sounds, folding in layers of psychedelia, dream pop, and funky soul into his lo–fi, vaporwave aesthetic.
Hadji values honesty and knows that his fans do, too. And not just surface-level honesty, but being real with yourself and doing what makes you happy. That ethos carries directly into his songwriting. “One thing that I used to think was necessary was using these words that people were going to directly relate to, where they were gonna be like ‘Oh my god that exact thing happened to me!’ That sounds cool in theory, right? But my dad texted me the other day about how he liked [“4049 SPRUCE”], saying that he wanted to try to figure out what I was talking about. So yeah, no one has any idea what I’m talking about. But because I delivered it as if I knew what I was talking about, people latched on to it… what really matters is to write stuff that makes sense to you. And if you deliver it the right way, it’ll eventually make sense to other people, too.” He pauses, looking me dead in the eyes, before smiling and shrugging. “Put the weird shit out!”
“4049 SPRUCE” perfectly exemplifies this approach to songwriting: it’s so personal, it may alienate listeners. To Penn students, the name is an instant reference to a major street on campus; to anyone else, it’s four numbers and a tree. The dreamy banger is named after a house Hadji lived—and made music—in during his senior year at Penn. “The first verse is about how I met my ex at a party we threw at that house… The second verse, I came back [to Philly] to play a show… and I walked past 4049 Spruce, and there was a demolition sign in front of it… I had so many memories in that house,” he mourns. The track is propelled by moody, jangly guitars, and Hadji sings “Always told me nothing good could last / life comes at you fast… couple years a wrecking ball / turn this house to ash.”
Hadji’s strong sense of self bleeds into every aspect of his life: his communities, his music, his personality. He’s been honest with himself, and, as a result, his music feels strikingly genuine. At the end of the day, Hadji wants that for you, too. What do you enjoy doing? Why aren’t you doing that? “There’s so many [Penn] kids who have some insane talent… what if you pursue that – the creative thing? Are you gonna have enough money to go to brunch for the first three years you live in New York? Maybe not. But are you gonna come out of it fulfilled? Yes.”
Hadji Gaviota's next single, "Telescope," will be released on November 17th. His upcoming album, PURGATORY, will be released in December 2020.