Interview: Paola

Today we’re joined by Paola. Paola is a phenomenal musician from Sweden who has recently joined a new punk band called Psykonauterna. The band formed last September and doesn’t have an album out yet, but have recorded and played covers of punk and grunge songs. They’re planning on playing some gigs in the summer. Paola is incredibly dedicated and excited about music. She obviously loves music, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.

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WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I am the guitarist, lead singer, and songwriter in a recently formed punk band called Psykonauterna (Swedish for “the Psychonauts”).  We formed in September 2018 and so far, have been playing covers of punk and grunge songs in small gigs, though we hopefully will soon begin working on our first songs and album.  My inspirations, specifically, come primarily from the Manchester music scene of the 70s/80s/90s—things like the Smiths, Joy Division, the Sex Pistols, etc. — but I also endeavor to find my own path when I consider the kind of songs I want to write. I have been playing guitar for less than two years and spend most of my time learning songs written by musicians I admire.

What inspires you?

What inspires me the most, musically, is the punk movement and attitude.  Nearly every punk musician, especially during the early punk years of the late ‘70s, came from poor and/or inexperienced backgrounds. After being inspired by their contemporaries, people would just pick up a guitar or bass for the first time, gather some friends, and weeks later they would be playing gigs together and eventually writing songs.  As someone who has been playing guitar less than two years at this point, this “anyone can do it” attitude of punk is alluring to me and helps me to realize that I do not have to be Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page or any of the legendary guitarists of the past 100 years to make it as a musician.  If Peter Hook [bassist to my favorite band] can go from hardly knowing what a bass guitar is to writing amazing songs within a couple years, then I think I may not be in such a bad position.  I feel captivated by learning the stories of these musicians because they make me think, “Hey, this could work!”.

What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

Yes and no.  Perhaps everyone has experienced this, but I have always been fascinated by the guitar.  As a child I would daydream about playing the songs on the radio or my iPod that had cool riffs, and from the age of about 15 I remember telling people that I wanted to someday learn guitar (I specifically remember saying I would learn Stairway to Heaven first, which I have yet to do, shame on me).  However, it was not until the past year or so that I seriously decided that I wanted to write my own songs, be in a band, and have a career within music.

As for what got me interested in my field, the short answer is all the music that I love.  I’ve always been passionate about listening to music—everything from punk to new wave to synthpop to grunge—and learning about the musicians behind the music that means so much to me.  I connect better to music than I do to novels and films, despite also being a hungry consumer of those types of media.  When I listen to a song, I often pay attention to every part: the lyrics, the bassline, the guitar, etc., and how they fit together, often getting moved by more than just the lyrics of the song. The right bassline or guitar riff or synth sound can energize me and make me feel things just as well as a well-written lyric. Shortly after picking up my first guitar and learning some of the simpler songs that I enjoy I began to hunger for more. It probably wasn’t a specific moment that this happened, but I eventually began to think, “you know, I want to do this. I want to be like all the musicians I love and admire, going up there on stage and both playing and singing my heart out.” So, I began to write lyrics.  Simple things inspired by my favorite lyricists, Ian Curtis and Morrissey, as well as my own experiences.  By September 2018, this dream started to become a reality when I grouped with several people as a band and prepared for my first gig.

Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?

I haven’t finished any of my self-written songs yet, but when writing lyrics, I keep in mind the thought of writing songs that can touch a variety of audiences.  Of course, I endeavor to “write from my heart”, as in lyrics that mean something to me since good lyrics often come from the author’s experiences and feelings.  However, most of my songs so far have been neutral in that they talk more about the feelings aspect and don’t focus specifically on a certain gender in either the perspective or the subject of the song.  Most are not even explicitly or implicitly about romantic relationships. I have these half-written song lyrics that are about different painful experiences I have gone through—mental illness, losing friends—that have nothing to do with going through a breakup, which is contrary to what many songs of varying genres are about.  Like the late Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks said, “I enjoy writing songs that do not exclude anyone.  The only people they exclude are people who don’t know anything about love.” In my case, I consider the broad definition of the word love.  Though it may not be as direct a signature as other artists include, it is my way to let my identity shine through and to include people of varying genders and sexualities, much in the way Pete Shelley did.

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

My advice? Dare to try. I know it is cliché, but I never would have made it half this far if I didn’t just dare to try.  Emphasis on the dare.  If I didn’t for example dare to attend that club for musicians who wanted to be in a band, instead of listening to the voice in my head saying that the others would be much better than me, then I would still be playing chords by myself in my bedroom. Not only were we all at a similar level, but we also developed and learned so much together—things I never would have learned and experienced if I didn’t take that step.  I think this applies to any artistic field.  Maybe you want to be a cartoonist but don’t feel good enough at drawing to do the pieces in a local newsletter. Well, you never know until you ask.  Or maybe you want to a publish a novel but feel insignificant, unskilled compared to the authors on the bestseller lists.  Sure, they may have experiences, skills, and techniques that you feel you lack, but their skills do not take away from yours.  Dare to send in that art portfolio.  Dare to contact that publisher.  Dare to answer that “band members needed ad”.  I can’t promise you would achieve everything directly, but I also won’t suggest you would “fail”.  When you ignore that nagging voice in your head that says you are not as good as everyone you admire and that you therefore won’t succeed, impressive things can happen.

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ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

It is all a bit hazy for me, but I have been calling myself demisexual/romantic because I’ve only felt those kinds of attractions toward one person (a friend), though since it has been over a year and seems unlikely I will experience it for a blue moon or several, I sometimes consider myself more on the aro/ace side of the spectrum. This doesn’t much have to do with the ace spectrum, but I also like to think I could be pan.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

Fortunately, not, though that could be in part to the fact that I am not completely out to the “real world”.  Only a few close friends and some LGBT+ friends/peers that I have met in real life know my identity, and with my friends/peers/contemporaries/etc in the music industry the topic of dating or sex has never come up, so I haven’t had the opportunity or necessity to share. However, the people I associate with seem welcoming to LBGT+ people and I would expect them to be understanding of me.

I will perhaps face more difficulties as I gain more experience in this field, considering how sex is typically seen as an essential part of music industry.  It is almost expected that musicians would have sex with their “groupies” and indeed I jest about wanting a “rock n roll” life first when faced with questions from friends I am out to about marriage/dating.  But so far, most ignorance has come from coworkers pressuring me about having a boyfriend and have had nothing to do with the music industry.  I will just continue being unapologetically myself no matter what prejudice or ignorance I may someday face.  In a way, it will feel truly punk, standing up to the stereotype of musicians being male and getting with their groupies, solely by being myself.

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

Gosh I come across so many all the time I scroll through the internet, more so when it comes to being demi specifically, but I think by far the most common is that asexual is a label used by people who want to feel special for being celibate and/or for not being interested in having sex.  It frustrates me to no end! We are not just people who are celibates, or prudes, or uninterested in sex who want to be “holier than thou” because of that.  We do not feel sexual attraction or feel it rarely in some cases.  Some aces are even the opposite of those labels and have sex with their partners as an act of intimacy, even if they do not feel attraction.

What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

Take your time and don’t be afraid to try different labels that may or may not fit.  It is okay to not be sure of your exact identity and to change from different labels if you realize one does not fit anymore. It is also okay to not have a label or not want one and to just consider yourself aspec, because that is a catchall term that will always be there for you. Remember also that you are not lesser or immature for not feeling sexual attraction or for feeling it less than your peers, no matter what they say to the contrary.  You are a loved and precious individual.

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

My band does not have an Instagram account or anything yet, but if you want mini updates you are welcome to follow either of my personal Tumblr blogs, at winterknightdragon and at thequeenisstilldead where I sometimes post my cover songs and will eventually share the link to our band Instagram.  You are also welcome to dm me if you want a link to something. My work is all over the place now so that is the easiest way.  You don’t have to be shy! I’m not scary just because I am in a band.

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Thank you, Paola, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.