LA-by-way-of Syracuse’s dreamy siren, Doe Paoro, and her new album, Soft Power, are the kind of dynamic sonic duo rarely found in the music industry today. Passionate and empowered, Soft Power combines the alluring mystique of The Shirelles, The Ronnettes, and other original girl groups of the ’60s, with the kind of blazing soul found in the children of the liberated and rebellious.
Audiofemme caught up with Paoro before she took to the road for her upcoming tour to talk music, healing, unrelenting honesty in the midst of pain, and the intimate video for her single, “Walk Through The Fire.”
AF: You transformed incredible frustration and pain into a gorgeous record, full of passion, soul, and rebellion. How did you work through the negativity and transform anguish into art?
DP: I think by just being really present with it and acknowledging it, and acknowledging that these things were coming up for me. Not trying to control the feelings but instead writing about it and sitting down with my guitar and really just allowing them to pass through.
AF: Why do you think music and art are so important when it comes to healing and growing through difficult times?
DP: Oh, gosh, that’s such a big question. I think they offer abstract ways for us to process things, and I think there’s something, both in making art but also in being a fan of music and art, of getting the sense that somebody else has walked the same path as you at some point and has made it through. I was reading something recently about how isolation is really the source of all anxiety, and sometimes [when] we hear, “Well, when I was a teenager, and I heard a song about something I was going through, and it was like, okay, somebody else has thought that way,” that sense of isolation is lessened a little bit. Music also just heals on a completely vibrational level. There’s a lot of healing that comes from art.
AF: Your music is evocative and recalls girl groups from the 60s, like The Shirelles. What does it mean to you to be compared to the women who first pioneered the music industry in a time where feminism was still considered a dirty word?
DP: I mean, I’m so honored and flattered to be compared to some of the artists who have inspired me over the years, and through this record, and always a bit overwhelmed by it. Women musicians are part of a lineage of artists who are working to both expand our craft and expand the sense of empowerment and placement that woman have in the art world.
AF: How do you carry the flame with your own career to help clear the path for those who come after you?
DP: It’s funny, I was looking at some old pictures today of bands I was in when I was like…16, and it was me and this group of guys. It’s such a normalized experience, playing with men, and for a long time, I just accepted it, but these songs, they’re inclusive of a lot of the experience of what it’s been like for me to be a woman in the music industry. I was playing them originally with a band of guys, and I was like, “This just doesn’t feel authentic.” I didn’t feel like they could relate, [despite] their best intentions… they didn’t understand exactly what these songs mean to me, and I just needed to feel a little bit safer in that way.
So I really changed my band up, for one. I play with a lot of women now in my band; that’s one thing. But also just talking about these issues and not falling victim to silence because of shame or guilt or blame, or all the other tactics that are used to keep women quiet about misogyny that they’ve encountered. I really do see that as part of my responsibility as a creative person to step up to and make it so that it’s not the norm, so that people in twenty years see mostly men headlining festivals, or that having an all-girl band is an anomaly. I want these things to be normalized because there are so many amazing musicians who are women, and are just as good.
You know, unless it’s like NSYNC, we don’t say it’s a boy band. But when it’s an all girl band, we’re like, “Oh, that’s an all-girl band! I’d love to be in an all-lady band!” It’s very cute, but that says something about how our culture thinks about gender and music.
AF: What would you consider the greatest inspiration for Soft Power?
DP: My music is super personal, and every record’s kind of a diary of the time period I’m writing it in, but I think there’s a lot in the title and a lot of things that I tackle in this record that I hadn’t really talked about in the past, just power dynamics. I have had a lot of trauma in the last few years, just working in the music industry and being a woman. This record was really about me examining and reclaiming some of that power that I’ve lost, and acknowledging it, and the title was my mission statement for myself on how I wanna be in the world. Just because I’ve been a victim of abuse of power doesn’t mean I’m going to carry on that way. For me, it’s like the pendulum is in this sort of toxic masculinity, in the way that countries are being led and business is being done, and we have the opportunity for the pendulum to swing the other way, which is a much less violent, kind power, one that’s a little more compassionate, you know?
AF: What was the most challenging part of writing Soft Power? What was your proudest moment?
DP: I think the song “Guilty” was the last one I wrote, and that was like — it’s interesting. You know, now we talk about #MeToo and the #TimesUp Movement, and I wrote that song in 2016, which was way before all of this happened. At that time, people weren’t talking about it the way they are now. So that was really challenging. I was contemplating not writing about it, but a friend of mine was talking about it and was like, “I really think you need to write about this experience,” and I was like, “I don’t even know how you’d put that into song.” So kind of challenging myself to be honest, and to write about topics that I haven’t written about before, and feeling that responsibility to expand out of my own comfort zone.
I would maybe say the most special moment was in writing “The Vine,” just because lyrically, it’s probably the one I’m most proud of. The craziest thing is that I wrote it in like ten minutes, so it just felt like something that was supposed to exist in the universe. There are some songs that I’d been writing for, you know, four years, so it’s just kinda a mystical moment for me. I think it’s such a wild experience when you just surprise yourself.
AF: There’s an overall feeling of rebellion throughout Soft Power; did you set out to write a record to the theme, or did it just occur naturally?
DP: Yeah, I definitely didn’t write it with that pretense, but it just came out. I think that’s true.
AF: What’s your creative process like?
DP: I do a lot of journaling, I do a lot of writing, and looking to other people. What usually happens is that a few words in a conversation will just spark a song. I’ll get really inspired by a phrase and craft the whole story around that, and come with my lyrics. Then I’ll bring it to somebody else, and we’ll kind of work out the music together, because I love coming up with melodies, but I’m not the best instrumentalist.
AF: How have you grown and changed as an artist and performer since your previous release, After?
DP: You know, before my last record, I hadn’t toured extensively. I did tour a lot on my last record, so that experience really changed the way I perform, in terms of having confidence or feeling like I know what I’m doing, because…I don’t know, I didn’t go to school to be a musician. I’m completely self-trained and, technically, I’m missing a lot of information, so it’s all been really trial and error, and almost imposter syndrome in the first years of being an artist, when you don’t have that training. And maybe if you do, too, I can’t speak to that. But for me it’s about really owning that this is my path and feeling confident in that.
AF: How did the move from Syracuse to LA impact you as an artist?
DP: LA could not be more different than Syracuse; it’s really like working class, there’s not a very big art scene — at least there wasn’t when I was growing up — so it’s really inspiring. I came with a lot of naivety, because I didn’t grow up with anybody who was in arts and the business, and I didn’t know how that world navigated, so it’s been a lot of learning over the years. I’ve really had to step up to embracing a path that I hadn’t seen modeled for me as a child.
AF: How has your platform given you the freedom to express yourself through music? How do you use your music to give your fans the freedom to do the same?
DP: Well, I just try to be really honest. I try to be honest with myself, and I feel like that’s the responsibility of any artist to continue to do that. I feel like there are a lot of artists who gave me that freedom, and made me feel like it was okay, you know? Like Fiona Apple or certain artists that sang about things that I thought were almost unspeakable in some ways, in the place that I grew up in, so I just hope that that carries through and that people hear that and feel that they have space to do that as well.
AF: You mention walking a path that no one modeled for you. That takes a lot of inner courage, but it’s so easy to forget the power that we have within us. How do you remind yourself of that power in the moments that you feel weak?
DP: I just think “This too shall pass.” I think about different expressions like, “It’s darkest before the dawn,” and I think about what I’ve been through. I try to reflect on all that I’ve come through and, you know, the “More will be revealed.” You’ve just gotta keep going and do the next right thing for yourself, because you can’t identify with defeat. It’s such a passing thing, and the second you start over-identifying with that, it’s easy to lose the plot.
AF: Soft Power was recorded to tape with a live band, which forces you into a situation of spontaneity. What was that like?
DP: With my last record, After, we worked on it for like a year, and it was just so heavy. There was so much thought and it was beautiful, but I just wanted something different, because I always want to keep trying new stuff. I was like, I want something that’s the opposite of that, because what I hear happening in music over the last few years, trend-wise, is people doing a lot of things on the computer where there’s just no end to the amount of editing you can do. Sometimes I think that my best ideas are my first ones, and once I start overthinking them, I just lose it. So I was excited about the process of making a record that was essentially capturing people’s first instincts about what to play, and that’s how we did it. I would basically play the band the song, and they would listen to it maybe four times, and then we just captured what they felt was the right thing for them to play, because it was on tape. It was limited on how much time we could spend on that.
AF: Do you think you’ve translated that inability to overthink or doubt yourself to your daily life since then?
DP: I’m trying to, I really am. I think that becoming an artist and being in it long enough is all about learning how to really, deeply trust your instincts. I’m sure other artists would say the same. But it’s like the second you start giving away your power, whether it’s to a manager or a record label, you really can lose yourself, and you’ve just got to trust what’s coming into your heart.
AF: Your video for “Walk Through The Fire” is so intimate, and full of energy; how did you capture that feeling?
DP: I think it’s just a truthful little capturing of the energy between all of us. We really love playing together and respect each other so much, both as musicians and as friends, and every time we play together, we have that dynamic.
AF: What inspired “Walk Through The Fire”? What do you hope your fans take away from it?
DP: I think “Walk Through The Fire” is inspired by the idea that the hardest moments in our lives are the ones where we have to walk alone. I feel like there are moments in all of our lives where we cannot turn to other people for the answers or look to someone else to get us out of the mess we’ve made. Nobody else can walk us through the process of transformation; maybe that’s a better way to say it. My life has been a lot of transformation, so I keep learning that. I don’t know, fire — it’s like humans have been gathering around fire and watching it since we were cavemen. It never gets old, that experience of sitting around a campfire and just watching it spark up. I think we’re very hypnotized by its ability to burn and start over, and it’s certainly relevant to what we’re going through.
11.27 – Portland, OR @ Lola’s Room
11.28 – Seattle, WA @ Columbia City Theatre
11.30 – Los Angeles, CA @ Lodge Room
12.1 – Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar
12.3 – Austin. TX @ North Door
12.4 – Dallas, TX @ Dada
12.6 – Nashville, TN @ The Basement
12.7 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
12.8 – Durham, NC @ Pinhook
12.9 – Vienna, VA @ Jammin’ Java
12.11 – Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade NYC
12.12 – Boston, MA @ Cafe 939
12.13 – Philadelphia, PA @ Voltage Lounge
12.14 – Findlay, OH @ Marathon Center for the Performing Arts
12.15 – Evanston, IL @ SPACE
12.16 – Detroit, MI @ El Club
12.18 – Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room
12.20 – Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge