Artist Interview: Pauli Mia of Twin Princess

Posted: by The Editor

Synth-pop outfit Twin Princess came blooming and bursting out of Philadelphia with their single “Allston,” released April 14. This week, the band released their visually and aurally stunning music video for “Violets,” showing a new band brimming with promise. Ahead of the release of their luminous debut record Blood Moon, I caught up with Pauli Mia, the band’s lead singer and indie darling-to-be. We chatted about boots, traditional Eastern European painting, the Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums of all time, and shooting a music video in a love motel.

Could you tell me a little bit about the history of the band, how it came to be in its current formation?

For sure, it started out as a recording project with me and Ryan Facano. We both had some of our own projects that we would just work on here and there, and one day I was in a really bad mood and he said, “why don’t we try working on some music that could be fun?” and it was fun! And so we just worked on stuff together, this was in 2018 or so, and had eventually got together a different band and would play a lot of shows around Philadelphia. And of course right after we put out our EP in February 2020 everything sort of stopped, so we were paused for a while. And then when we started playing shows again we started working as a duo. We were playing as a duo for a long time, and decided we wanted to get a full band together while we were recording this new album that’s coming up. There’s a lot of live drums, and some lap steel, and some pedal steel, and it just felt like we could definitely benefit from a full band, and it might just be more fun! And Ryan isn’t playing in the band anymore, but we made this album together, I got together with a different full band and that’s been super exciting as well. Having new people to be working with, writing with. But it is also very much a release for him as well as for me, and for the new band. So it’s fun and life events happen and all these big changes that are unforeseen, but I’m very excited for the project in this latest iteration, for sure.

There is a lot of synth instrumentation in your work, do you consider yourself to be an electronic musician?

Yeah, basically. I think synth sounds and synthetic textures and programmed drums are pretty important for the project, I think definitely that’s a guiding thing for me is being able to work with big synth textures. I’m super drawn to ’80s pop-goth music, like Depeche Mode, but also Suicide in the seventies, and that one Sharon Van Etten album [Remind Me Tomorrow] where she said she was listening to Suicide constantly. It’s very linear there, I think. It’s tough because sometimes it can feel difficult to pin down a genre of this music, but kind of in the way where it ends up being… well I guess indie pop. It’s not that complicated, but we’ve got some synth stuff going on, and it’s definitely an electronic project but also drums, and a country-folk influence.

Yeah, you mentioned lap steel guitar! What was it like combining these different sounds? Was it challenging at all?

I don’t know if I found it personally challenging. Whatever the songs call for, I’m very interested in the way those textures work together, and I think you can see it a lot with some of the alt-country stuff from the last twenty years. There’s definitely a lot of that dreamy, almost dream-pop, but coming from Neko Case or something. The album like I said was me, mine and Ryan’s, project that we really labored over together, so for a lot of the production choices I would have certain ideas about how I wanted things to feel, and then Ryan would be the person who would sort of get in and problem-solve, at least initially, about what sort of instrument that would be, what would accomplish that feeling. So I think that both of us working together in that way made for some unusual, and exciting, results.

I also wanted to ask you about Philadelphia, what it’s like making music in a scene that’s so dense with indie musicians?

That’s funny, it’s so exciting! It’s the most exciting thing overall. I feel like I only listen to music that my friends make. Obviously that’s not true, but sometimes it really does feel that way. I love Philly so much, and I really love being surrounded by so many different kinds of music, and really seeing certain scenes popping off so hard, and people that I know finding varying iterations of success or just playing all the time, and having fun and going to shows. It makes me really happy to be here.

That’s so beautiful! Talking about music more generally, on Tiktok you did some mini-reviews of music on the Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums. Can you tell me a little bit about what that experience was like?

That was a fun project, that was really just for fun.

It was super fun to watch, too!

I’m glad, thanks for watching them! I was just trying to listen to more music, because I get stuck in such a rut, so I was like well, let’s just go down this list and listen to these albums, many of which I’d never listened to before, and then I can know a little bit more. It’s good to know about the canon, or whatever. I was so deeply unemployed at the time, [laughs] and then as soon as I got a job I lost all desire and drive to make videos. I have desire, but no drive anymore. I keep waiting to be driven to do it again because I think it would be fun. It was a very unemployed project.

How many did you get through?

Like thirty, I have a few that I never posted. It’s not that many. You know, there’s 500.

Yeah, it’s a big endeavor!

It was fun, whether I agree or not I kind of don’t know it’s not that important to me. There’s some stuff I don’t like, love, but it’s already on this list, so I wasn’t already necessarily thinking of them of reviews, because we’ve got the critical acclaim right here. We’ve got a lot of people smarter than me that have already written a lot about these albums, it was just fun to listen and talk about them a bit. And I feel like I learned a lot while doing it too, which is fun.

Back to this new release, how did you decide the album art?

Great question. There were a lot of different ideas that I had been rolling around trying to figure out for album art, and I think I had become kind of obsessed with Eastern European folk art, finding folk art paintings on furniture and stuff that looked a lot like the things my grandparents had in their home when they were alive. And this really specific kind of patterning and coloration and abandon for any negative space, everything is completely full. I became totally obsessed with that idea, and I’m not exactly sure how I settled on painting a boot! But the idea came to me [laughs] and I decided I needed to paint this boot and I needed to photograph it. I got very attached to the idea of album art being one thing, and the thing itself can be recognized as a tiny square on a screen. A striking image. There was always also something to me about folk art and hand-painted-ness and really specific kind of divines in an unusual placement, and unusual setting felt pretty aligned with whatever the mission is for Twin Princess sound-wise as well.

Do you have a favorite article of clothing?

I did buy Tabis, the Tabi boots, and they are very precious to me. They were bright gold and I painted them black with leather paint. I sort of had a focus on painting boots for a while which felt a little bit nuts, but also I knew I would wear them if they were black, and maybe less if they were gold. So maybe those!

Wow, do you paint a lot of your clothes? How many boots have you painted?

[laughs] I haven’t painted that many boots! I painted a different pair of boots white just to get an idea of how they might look, and I’ve painted some handbags that were just not a color that I liked. I get really attached to a craft, and like the idea of making stuff myself, or being able to do stuff myself. Making my own hair accessories, I dye a lot of my clothes. It’s kind of a thing that I’ve learned that I need to quell a little bit, because I’ll be at a thrift store or needing to purge my closet and I’ll be like “but I can dye this!” or “I can embellish this in some way and then I’ll use it!” I’ve had to really learn, actually labor and time are resources and maybe you don’t want to use them on crafting all the time!

Do you have a specific way that you style yourself when you’re onstage?

Kind of. In a basic way, I like to go with looks that I know I will feel good about being photographed. And maybe that shouldn’t be exactly the driving force. I like to go with black things and sparkly clothes, and I do style myself. I try to keep it very simple right now, I’m still sort of figuring out what I want to be expressing how I’m dressing onstage.

Do you have any pre-show rituals, or anything special you do beforehand?

I definitely try to warm up my voice, it feels really important and I want to make sure I am singing in a safe way. In general, warming up in itself is very meditative, you’re forced to do just that for ten minutes or fifteen minutes or however long. Being able to take some time to do that before getting to the show, and just having a nice time with my band as well, it just helps so much to feel connected and be laughing and goofing off with these people I’m playing music with.

Do you have any upcoming shows you’re especially excited about?

We have the album release show that’s in a few weeks. It’s in Philly, at PhilaMOCA on May 27. I’m really excited about that one. PhilaMOCA is a great space, I love playing there, my favorite sound guy ever. And the lineup, the other bands that are playing I’m really excited about as well. And we have another show coming up in June.

You were recently touring with a different project, has that experience informed your current performance?

Yeah, I joined Puppy Angst in January or February, playing keys and backing vocals. Going on tour was great, I had never toured before and it was almost three weeks, so it was kind of just diving right in. And I think it is so fun and cool to be playing music and being in a band that isn’t my thing, having a little bit of space. Of course I want to do well and play well and perform well, but it isn’t my dreams and ambitions in the same way. It’s definitely healthy for me to play music with another band. Also, [Puppy Angst] rocks, it’s so fun! I think the music is really good and I’m excited. I feel like Puppy Angst is doing really cool stuff and it’s definitely really fun to be playing with them.

What was the process of making the music video for “Violets” like? Any symbols you imbued with meaning?

[laughs] Definitely, definitely lots of symbols. Always! I worked with Amelia Swaine who did videography for me, she also helped direct the whole thing. We met up a few times to figure out what are the settings we want to work with, what are the general feelings? I tried to come up with a very basic shot list for each setting. It was really fun, we had a little party in her practice space that we decorated with a few friends and did one of the shots there. We also went to the Feather Nest Inn in Cherry Hill, just the best. Just so dreamy.

I feel like it complements very well with your acoustic textures as well… not acoustic guitar,  but the sonic aura of your music matches up with the aura of that space.

Wow, that’s high praise! I appreciate that. I wanted to shoot in a love motel forever, so it was a dream, really. It was fun putting it all together, and working with Amelia who is super intuitive and so smart, and knew what I wanted without me having to say it sometimes. And I edited it all together. Sometimes I get so sick of DIY, of doing it myself, and then sometimes I feel so excited about having so many opportunities and possibilities about being able to work with people who can actually make DIY feel like something super special and magical.

Blood Moon, recorded and produced by Ryan Facano and mastered by Elain Rasnake at Daughterboard Audio, is out May 26.

Elizabeth Phelan|@ONEFEIISWOOP

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