[Cover photo credit to Rinny Perkins]
Most, if not all of us are dealing with questions of change right now, and how we address change in our lives may have a lot to do with the world we end up living in. Singer/songwriter Doe Paoro has been giving this question a fair amount of thought and also using her own forms of musical and therapeutic outreach to connect with other people and explore how we can "normalize discomfort" in a way that might help us break out of our own "loops".
Doe Paoro released her album Soft Power in 2018, and since then has released some new collaborations and singles, most recently "Universe Promises" which really speaks to our times, too, and reminds us to hope.
As well as joining our Tower Instagram Livestream recently, Doe Paoro spoke with us about navigating life and a changing world, below.
Hannah Means-Shannon: How have you been out in LA?
Doe Paoro: I’ve been sticking it out, and even saying that is a little privileged, since this isn’t the worse place to quarantine, given how beautiful it is. But it’s just been so intense, on top of the quarantine, and everything that’s happening politically here. I took a little trip last week to New Mexico, just drove out there, which was really nice to get some perspective.
HMS: The landscape and being outdoors has been really helping people.
Doe Paoro: It’s about reconnecting to nature.
HMS: It’s interesting to hear the kind of extreme version of that, which is people talking about how, once this settles down, they want to go homestead off the grid and things like that. It seems to be coming up more than before.
Doe Paoro: It’s interesting, because I posted a video on TikTok recently that went somewhat viral. It was a video of this community I visited out in New Mexico, Earthship Community. They build houses out of recycled materials and natural things. It makes so much sense to me that the video went viral, because it shows where peoples’ heads are at. From being at home, cooped up, and aware that the lives that a lot of us our living are very one-dimensional, and not reflective of the lives we want to aspire to. To see this alternative way to live, off the grid, and in touch with your environment, is super appealing. I think there’s this very understandable return to the prairie!
HMS: I was talking to another musician about this recently, that we’ve come to realize the fragility of what we thought was normal. The only response is to try to create something else.
Doe Paoro: I really like that, that resonates for me, “the fragility of normal”. I remember the first few weeks of the Corona Virus, people were saying, “When things get back to normal…” And I maybe a little quicker to adapt because being in the music industry is like warrior training, but I was very doubtful that we ever would return back to normal. I’m hearing that less and less now, because, well, we’re not.
HMS: Yes, I remember hearing two ways of thinking: The people who thought it was going to flip back to exactly the way it was before, and the people who were looking forward, and saying, “Actually, no, brace yourself. It’s not.” It was almost an angry struggle between those two ways of thinking, which you could see in the media and on social media. Because naturally it was terrifying to conceive of that much change.
Doe Paoro: I think “anger” is the right word, because of people trying to deal with it. Though humans are adaptable, they also don’t deal well with change, at all.
HMS: Actually, this is quite relevant, to something that you posted on Twitter recently that I wanted to ask you about. You wrote “Normalize discomfort”. What were you thinking there?
Doe Paoro: My train of thought is what I can speak to, which is the white experience in Black Lives Matter. I just notice that there’s a lot of silence, and it’s not a silence because they don’t have anything to say, but they are scared to say the wrong thing. I think what that speaks to is a discomfort and a real perfectionism, a fear of getting in an uncomfortable conversation. But learning is uncomfortable, just like any discipline.
Any time I’m learning an instrument, it’s uncomfortable too. And this is extremely uncomfortable because it’s asking people to look at their ego and look at themselves. The only way that we can do the work that needs to be done is to stop making comfort so precious. We need to de-center it.
HMS: That’s a great summation. I just felt like when saw that phrase, it said everything about right now. Because the longer you struggle away and don’t face things, your prolonging the process of growing or adapting.
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Please read through till the end. We wondered if we should postpone this event but the reality is - and I share this to stress the gravity - we simply cannot delay as the situation in the Amazon is so dire with so many indigenous people dying due to COVID19 that we have to act now, and we are asking for your support. Next Wednesday, June 10, myself and all of these artists will perform to raise money to provide direct relief to communities in the Amazon. Our intention is to raise $150k - link in my bio to learn more, get tickets, and be a part of our efforts. A personal note - this is a cause that is very close to my heart as my life has been deeply touched by the wisdom, generosity, and teachings of the Shibipo people. Learning from their lineage has been a big part of my own healing and if you have been touched by my music or healing work, you’re also linked to them, as so much of my expression has been shaped by what I have learned from their medicine. Thank you @santiparro for organizing this. A note from the organizers: The situation throughout the Amazon Basin is dire as indigenous peoples, already facing centuries of systemic oppression, suffer from illness, lack of food, medical supplies and income due to the pandemic. Medical infrastructure has collapsed in many regions and jungle communities are left largely to fend for themselves. FOLK MEDICINE, an umbrella fundraising concert on Wednesday June 10th, supports multiple direct relief campaigns throughout the Amazon. To purchase tickets for the Zoom live-stream, or to donate directly and find out where to watch on Facebook Live visit folkmed.org Hosted by @natkelley @santiparro @sibbyfresh & Lisa Bonet! #pachamama #music #amazonia #medicina #musica #folkmusic #concert #yoga #meditation #quarantineconcert
Doe Paoro: What’s that expression, “What you resist, persists.”? It’s something I’ve been thinking about for years, and on my last record, there’s a song, “Second Door” that says, “Learning to be comfortable when I’m uncomfortable.” I just think it’s so essential to any growth spectrum.
HMS: I think it comes into the question of identity for some people. If they could somehow identify as, “I am a learner. I am a person who is learning things.”, it could make a difference. I think it’s a huge part of the human experience to keep doing that, but right now it’s a social necessity and a survival necessity.
Doe Paoro: Yes. I like thinking of it as “learning” because that’s also empowering. Instead of learning, people are thinking, “I’m avoiding getting things wrong.”
HMS: [Laughs] Yes! We put a lot of stock in making sure we never make public mistakes. Especially with social media, there’s a fear.
Doe Paoro: I know! I just woke up and went on a rant on Instagram about Joe Rogan and his Spotify deal. That perfectionism, that cancel culture, is really holding us back.
HMS: The latest full album that you put out, Soft Power, was recorded in London, I believe. Are you grateful that you did that before the world became more complicated in terms of travel?
Doe Paoro: Yes. I kind of wish I’d stayed there, to be honest! We recorded that when Trump was elected, and I was there when it happened. It was very isolating to be there.
HMS: I was actually there in January for the actual Brexit day. It was a sober, kind of sad time.
Doe Paoro: That’s actually exactly how I’d describe the tone there, and how I was feeling that day, too.
HMS: That must have been hard to record during that and produce good work in a studio.
Doe Paoro: What actually happened is I just went to bed, thinking I was going to wake up to the first female president, and then around like 2AM, my boyfriend woke me up and shoved his phone in my face. I was so shocked that I stayed up all night, hitting refresh, hoping things would change. Then I was up all night, and took the tube to the studio, just wrecked.
HMS: Geez, that’s rough. To me, and to many, many people it was a big shock.
Doe Paoro: I think the shock aspect took a lot of energy.
HMS: You didn’t know how relevant the themes on Soft Power were going to be. Now, the sound on Soft Power was very different from your previous album. I heard that you were trying to move more toward songs that could be performed live.
Doe Paoro: I think After was the first album where I really toured, I was kind of a late bloomer musically that way. There was a very big expectation vs. reality, that I could only take two or three people on the road, and I felt like I was singing karaoke.
HMS: This has come up a lot lately among musicians, the learning curve of needing to compose for live performance.
Doe Paoro: I think it’s also going to change again, because people aren’t going to be touring for a while, so now they can record whatever they want.
HMS: Elaborate soundscapes, perfectionistically crafted?
Doe Paoro: Right! Twenty-minute orchestral tracks.
HMS: Actually, there’s a trend that’s a little different than that, which is that many people are releasing EPs right now, and they are often live performances that were previously unreleased.
Would you have been touring or playing during this time?
Doe Paoro: I would have. I have been scaling back on touring in general, just due to the economics of it. But I’ve been doing a lot of soundbath activations, and I had some artist gigs that were supposed to take place on the West Coast.
Yeah, I’m really having to rethink all of that.
HMS: Can you tell me more about the soundbath work? I know that you’re someone who focuses on music as a healing art.
Doe Paoro: I have a pretty strong spiritual practice, and I have for a solid ten years now. I’ve always had that as something separate from music, because I didn’t see how to integrate the two. There didn’t seem space for that. The music industry is predicated on so much that is not healing, like toxic masculinity, power structures, and addictions. It got to a point where it was unmanageable because I was living two different lives.
I was spending half the year teaching yoga, and meditating, and learning healing music. I would go to India every year and study with a Tibetan teacher, learning healing songs, and I was also working with a shaman in Peru. It started to be a really dual life, because any money that I would make from music, I would then spend on my healing life. I needed to find a way to integrate.
It actually happened when I was in London. I wanted to stay in London longer with my boyfriend after I made the record, so I started renting out yoga studios to hold soundbaths. A bunch of really successful artists started coming to them, like journalists who worked for the BBC, and visual artists. It just started growing organically and I thought, “Wow, this is something I feel really resonant with and somehow does not seem as a much as a struggle as other areas of music for me.”
So I just started leaning into that and I started working with crystal singing bowls, and I made my own drum. Now I’ve really expanded into that, where I do soundbath activations, where I do a guided meditation, and I sing for 45 minutes. It’s a different form of live music, I guess!
HMS: That’s amazing. Did you have to build the structure of the events, or were there people who had conducted stuff like this, who you could look to?
Doe Paoro: Yes, I had gone to a soundbath. The stuff I was doing in London was a mix of different practices I had been learning. When I got back, I went to LA, and I realized that I could build into it all these other practices that I have, since I have, not just the musical background, but the yoga teaching background, and some shamanic practice. So, it was more of an evolution of a model that already existed. I also lead cacao ceremonies, which are kind of a different thing, but I’ve been circulating between different worlds.
HMS: Thank you for explaining. Do you think that you’ve benefitted from developing that as an outreach alongside your other musical world? Do you feel more like those two things can exist together now?
Doe Paoro: Oh, yes. I think it helps me be more authentic. I’ve integrated this thing rather than hiding it. I’m emboldened since I was depriving myself of this opportunity to offer something maybe much more rich than just my artist’s experience. In that, it actually helps people, and they have really positive experience at these soundbaths.
Also, spending hours singing with these singing bowls, I can say that it’s really helped my singing. I think those bowls work on some level that I don’t fully understand, and my pitch has become better. There’s some kind of resonance in the voice that I think has been developed like a muscle.
HMS: How has your practice been affected by quarantine? Have you had to just work on your own?
Doe Paoro: I have been using it as an opportunity to practice more. Also, I’m not a trained musician, so I usually hire people to tour with. Not having that option has forced me practice more and become more self-sustaining. I’ve been putting in hours on the guitar and am trying to figure out how I can do livestreams by myself.
HMS: That’s great. I know that for Soft Power there was a strong live performance aspect for the studio recording. Do you think that’s something that will stick with you, or was that more for that particular moment?
Doe Paoro: I think it will stick with me. What I liked about Soft Power was how instinctive the musical aspect was. We played the musicians the demos, then recorded what they came up with as they were doing it. The trusting of the gut instinct is something that interests me, and I think it’s not that common anymore, because we have the ability to rerecord things a million times. A lot of times, I think what makes musicians special, is that they are really in touch with their intuition and their first instinct can be right.
HMS: The rerecording and perfecting is such a world away from anything like a shamanic approach to music. I imagine that would be quite difficult to try to keep both ways of thinking in focus at the same time.
To ask you about a couple of your music videos, when I watched the video for the song “Over”, I noticed in the opening shots, you can see the city in the distance, and we’re sort of out in a suburban area.
It made me think of isolation, that areas where you live can feel isolated even near cities, and then we’re with a character who’s isolated in an apartment. My perspective on that song is that it seems like it’s saying that there’s not a short cut. To dealing with yourself. But I think there’s a lot of hope there, too. It’s a tough song, but it’s hopefully. Is that what you intended?
Doe Paoro: [Laughs] Yes, definitely. It is a song that I’ve been thinking about in quarantine, and during this time period, is that everyone who is of a certain age is becoming aware of what their “loop” is. You can’t escape yourself in this time. You can ask yourself, “What is the thing that I keep finding myself in?” That song is about loops, and there is no short cut, but there is a way out. In normalizing discomfort.
HMS: [Laughs] Yeah. There’s that cool line in that song, “to get under to get over”. That you have to be in that low place before you can be in a better place.
Doe Paoro: Definitely.
HMS: Another one that’s relevant to what you’re saying, too, is “Cage of Habits”. That’s about a relationship, too, I think, though the video is quite different. Do you think that people find it hard to talk about their internal states? Do you think that’s a modern problem?
Doe Paoro: I think everyone struggles with it. I think our society is so dis-integrated and disconnected from itself. People are so cut off from their emotions, unless they’ve been actively involved in a therapeutic process.
I don’t know how it happened. But I do think that what’s happening now is some kind of mass thawing. Yesterday, during this workshop I was running, there were a lot of tears, and people were saying, “I’m sorry I’m crying.” At some point we’re going to stop apologizing for this and it’s going to be normal to be moved by something and have tears. But this apologizing for our feelings is the first thing.
HMS: I’ve heard a lot of this from friends, and also experiencing it myself, that I’ll have a lot of sudden emotion right now. I think it has partly to do with the pressure that we’re under. It’s no longer possible to keep totally in control of that.
Doe Paoro: I think it’s great. We go there because we have to go there.
HMS: Is there anything you’d like to share with readers? Any ideas of things that might help them get through these times?
Doe Paoro: I really think this time is a great opportunity to get very clear on what you want for your life, and what’s working and what’s not working. I think that’s why there’s this fantasy of the homestead right now. Because in many ways we’ve been living in a much less magical way than we could. I hope everyone takes the time to realize that it’s normal if you’re questioning everything. And that nature can be a great source of comfort, and that music can too.
HMS: Tower Records has a motto, No Music, No Life, which can also be written, Know Music, Know Life. What might that phrase mean in your life, too?
Doe Paoro: I saw it in my mind as “No Music, No Life”, because I think music is a sign that things are alive. That if people want to express that creative, generative force, that is within them, that to me is a sign of aliveness. It’s a sign even of health for a person.
When we’re creating, whether that’s the creative act of cooking a meal, or birthing a child, or birthing an art work, we are in flow with the generative experience of life. And if we’re not creating, we’re usually consuming, and that can be a less inspired state. Music, to me, is such an expression of that. I don’t know what life would be without music. It would be so much less. Music is the audio expression of vitality.
HMS: Thank you. To me, the answer you’ve given sounds like the answer of a teacher and a healer.