Pauli The PSM: We Do Everything But Be Human

emilytreadgold #1, Features

I had never felt more nervous and excited for an interview. Getting to sit over coffee during the peak of springtime in Austin with what I deem a genius in music - both on and off the stage. Pauli the PSM stopped by our little Texas town for a few SXSW showcases and I KNEW we had to meet. We got to chat about music, his inspiration, and just being human. Needless to say, I will be gawking at our afternoon coffee for years to come. 

So, what's the one thing you're most looking forward to for this SXSW?

Pauli: I've been to more South Bys more times than I can remember. I played with at least six different acts - which is insane. 

Holy hell. Incredible AND impressive, honestly. So, as a music director and, of course, a drummer, but now you're here as a solo act - how does it feel? 

Pauli:  I'm a little bit overwhelmed if I'm honest.  It feels like a full-circle moment. And I keep saying this to my manager, but I'm like, "Yo, I'm living my dreams right now." I did a showcase on Monday, and it was just the wildest thing - to be on stage and see everyone and like, "Hey! I'm at South By!" Just me, ya know? No one else - playing my music was the most mind-boggling thing. 

But yeah, to answer your question, more than anything, this is what I've been looking forward to - coming back on my terms. Like, that's my name on that poster! 

You've worked for so many acts as a director - FKA Twigs, Maggie Rogers - how was it working with different artists and how did you decide where to start? 

Pauli: I guess I'll start by saying that becoming a musical director wasn't something I had ever intended. Like, I didn't think I would just become a musical director - I was just a drummer playing with different bands, and FKA Twigs was my first real gig. I knew her from London; we'd hang out and go to parties together. One day, she hit me up and said, "I need you to MD my band. 

She saw something in me that I didn't see in myself, and I always give her credit for that. That's where it all started. And since then, I kind of got to a place where I'm conversing with any act; my whole thing is like, "Can I add value?" "Can I bring something to the table?" I don't want anyone to take away from what I'm doing, and I want to collaborate. 

Yeah, totally. Like a symbiotic relationship.

Pauli: Mmhmm - doing that, and then, in turn, I'm the best version of myself. 

And you bring the best out in each other, too.

Pauli: Yeah, the conversations are always open dialogue. We connect as humans - that's how it always works. It's never like a business first. It's friendship first, the art, and then business. 

So, fans obviously know you toured with Harry (Styles) for the last couple of years. As someone who has attended every solo tour - this felt so different. Knowing your background as a director and also an artist, it felt so awesome to see you also on stage doing your own thing. So, all that to say, how did this tour influence your music now - if at all? 

Pauli: I think it definitely put more eyeballs onto what I was doing. I was making weird shit that no one was listening to. I've got an experimental R&B album, and I'm still making the same weird shit no one's listening to. But it's fun to have an audience now that I can share things with, have a dialogue with, see what's working, and see what maybe isn't quite connecting. 

It's a constant conversation of building, learning and growing together. Harry has the most emotionally-giving fans and I'm so grateful to share those stages with him and just to be able to share some of the fandom, which, now, is like a family for me in some ways. They've embraced me an I'm just looking forward to what the future holds - there's so much more to come. 

I know you called your music "weird," but I loved the astrology concept album you created. I'm a Gemini, so I obviously liked that track first. What was the inspiration, and HOW did you find the inspiration to create this? 

Pauli:  Okay, so Gemini's actually one of my favorites.


Pauli: Well, Gemini is the only track that uses binaural beats. And I wanted to experiment with binaural beats. Like, it's this idea that wait, do you know about binaural beats?

Oh god, I don't!! 

Pauli: So it's mind-boggling stuff. It's science more than music. It creates this pulse. The beats produce single-line waves. Ooh! Ooh! So there's like a beat you can hear, it's like doot doot doot, but that's not a beat. You just synthesize and play one thing and play another.  It's a tone.

No way...

Pauli: Yeah! And it does this thing to your brain where it opens up new ideas, labs, connectivity. I'm obviously not a scientist! 

No, but that makes a lot of sense. If I'm having trouble sleeping, I'll go searching for a specific sound, and I think there's a lot to be said about the beats in certain music that aid in that. 

Pauli: Yeah, it's just all energy - sounds, energy, waves - a spectrum. Synthesizing any of this stuff. 

So to backtrack all of this - how do YOU get started when it comes to creating either a new song or project? 

Pauli: The Ambien record is quite unique in that it's a collaboration record label. I  met the label boss, Nate when we were in the most random sentence ever, when we were sitting in a crater in the desert. And you'd think it'd make no sense - where we were just hanging out, but it was mad seeing all these shooting stars. And he was like, what if you were to soundtrack a star? So a couple of years later, he hit me up during the pandemic, and we created a soundtrack for the stars. We created it, and it just became astrology meets astronomy. 

That's incredible - so if you were to create a new project, what is that process like? Obviously not in a crater, but how do you know how to begin? 

Pauli: Just life experiences - like being in this coffee shop. I can write a song about that. It's whatever you're going through at any time. It's something that can oftentimes be taken for granted. There's this beautiful Miles Davis interview where he talks about how he can't turn it off. And I think that's true for a lot of musicians. Even as I'm sitting here, there's a soundtrack playing in the background - I can hear stuff playing and begin making it into something. 

I read this interview where you said, "Being genderqueer and being black, I think it's important to make others feel seen." This is such a powerful quote - while the industry has a long way to go, how do you do this for your listeners and how has the industry, sort of, shaped you? 

Pauli: I guess I should say, "Thank you." Because I'm just being myself. I see myself i my audiences. I like to be a mirror of what I can see, and it's amazing to have a platform to be able to express myself. 

That's powerful. Totally agree. 

Pauli:  I think people look at me and say, "You're a director, you're a musician, you're a filmmaker." No, I'm just human. I'm a human, first and foremost. We do everything but be human. We forget to breathe, you know. We're all sitting here holding our breaths. When was the last time we stopped for a second and just breathed? How beautiful is that, the fact that we're all breathing?

Keep up with Pauli on Spotify and Instagram. 

Samantha Fong

"At 15 years old, I begged my mom to take me to Walmart to get Taylor Swift's debut deluxe album and I never turned back. This was my very first entry point to stan fandom. Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee I was exposed to a ton of music - from rapping 3 6 Mafia to bopping to Justin Timberlake's solo discography. Now, in LA have a day job working in nonprofit development, but by night, I'm a full-fledged fangirl. I'll listen to generally any genre, but I'm a sucker for a good pop song. If you ever need someone to scream sing Carly Rae Jepsen's E·MO·TION with, I'm your girl. No, I still have not gotten over the One Direction hiatus. Please continue to respect my privacy. Twitter : samfonggg, Instagram : samantha_fong"