Picture this, the same picture you’ve all been seeing /living in for a while… I’m in my bedroom, laptop open in front of me and about to conduct another video call. The difference from my usual day-to-day work calls? This one is with LA based musician Polartropica, who’s dreamy pink bedroom backdrop, accompanied by the sparkliest disco ball* – makes video calling that much better.
*Polatropica stated she sleeps with her disco ball and everyone should have one. I wholeheartedly agree, given the fact we have a disco ball in our flat which when the sun hits just right…. it’s dreamy.
Can you tell our readers who Polartropica is?
Sure Polartropica is a project I started about 3-4 years ago. It’s my first project where I’m leading and writing all the music. I’ve played with a lot of bands as a keyboard player, back up singer, different roles – I‘ve always had my eye on my own projects.
Playing for other people, especially cis male, expectations and microaggressions and feeling like I didn’t have a voice. I was always researching how to make my own band, but in the best way possible. From a local scene vs. a major label backing you. I was trying to find a way to have the most creative freedom and control over what I wanted to make.
It’s also good to note whilst the dreamy backdrop of Polartropica’s bedroom was as beautiful as it was, Google video chat did NOT want to work for either of us. So we reverted to a good old fashioned voice only interview- who knew?!
Where did you come up with the name?
There’s a song from Frankenweenie that I heard in the grocery store that’s called Polar tropic – and it’s by Mark Foster, from Foster and the People. You can’t actually find it anywhere online, but for some reason it was playing in this grocery store.
It’s this weird mix between broken organ and keyboard and it’s the weirdest song I ever heard. Usually you just hear the top 40 playing in the store, but I remember Shazaming it thinking ‘ this song is weird, i’m weird and I liked the opposites of polar and tropic.
I love that! Yeah there’s definitely been times when I’ve been in a supermarket and wanted to get my phone out to Shazam a song and missed it, I hate when that happens!
Your music genre is classed as an ‘ethereal fantasy dream rock that you’ve never heard before’. What makes it that?
I feel like it’s harder than pop, I play with a full rock band. We have bass, guitar, keyboard, and drums, so it has that classic rock feel and so. But also, we have a lot of synth, shoegazey elements – it’s a weird mix. There’s complex string arrangements too, more so in my last record not the latest.
I love pushing the limits of what it could be, and sometimes I might go too far, but that’s the fun of having your own project/band.
I mean that is the beauty of being your own boss per say – if you can’t push the limits then, then when can you?!
Yeah and honestly my computer crashes so much because there’s so many layers and tracks. It’s always like I’m trying to paint a scene or picture with the music. I think of it as when you close your eyes – how does it look?
It’s like a full sensorial experience then? Wow that’s a big word for me on a Monday haha.
You create these fantastical dreamlands with your music, would you say you want your music to help people escape from reality?
It’s definitely a little break, a little vacation. It’s rooted in the things we face everyday. Because life can be beautiful, but it can also be hard and dark and painful.
I feel like there are many dimensions and you don’t always have to feel trapped in one mindset. Because essentially that’s what it is, your world is a projection of what you think and feel. So if you can learn how to change that to solve your problems or see things in a different way, I think that changes everything.
I think that’s my own problem solving process, to get through my anxiety and issues. It just bleeds into my music and art.
That’s a healthy way to deal with it and it’s great that you can use your real life experience, pain and emotions to create your music and essentially help others.
It’s so beautiful in our imagination. Look at the history of movies and artwork – our minds are incredible. We can create these beautiful worlds – you can make that your reality
Even with misogyny or racism – what does a world look like without that in it?
This is a random example but say:
You have an ugly brown house and you want to paint it rainbow colour, you have to be able to see / visualise the rainbow colours first, you know? Imagine what it looks like, feels like and how can I achieve it.
So think about what you want and what you want to create, visualise it and then make it. It’s the same with art and music.
Yeah that makes sense and of course, I’d totally be up for living in a rainbow house!
How else do you use your music to voice your passions / beliefs?
Our experiences are everything, so I feel like especially for marginalized queer folx, music and any kind of art – gives you a voice in a world where it feels like you don’t.
I love it, it’s nice because music resonates with me and I can understand how it resonates to other people. So that way I can craft my message. I know it’s cliche when people say ‘music saved my life’ but it’s true. It moves people in a way that you can feel, not just hear. It’s universal, I love using my music to express and communicate things I can’t just say.
Where do you find inspiration for your music?
I get so much inspiration from my community, family and heritage. The LGBT community here in LA is so inspiring, nature and our connection with it plays a big part. My friends, literally anything ya know? I get inspired by food, I like fruit and snacks. Even just everyday things, things that make me happy. It’s all inspiration as it’s part of our journeys.
That is totally fair, it makes sense when it’s a personal project to take inspiration from the things around you that make you happy. I’m no musician, but I can appreciate finding that inspiration around you – I mean I write copy for a living and sell people stuff they don’t need, so it’s not quite the same but still, I can relate.
Even in advertising, writing copy – how you write it is an art. The way it’s presented, who you choose to curate it to. I think that’s really cool.
Awww thanks, yeah I suppose it is when you put it like that.
We saw your Another Life music video. Personally I’m a huge fan because of the nods to Grease (one of my fave movies of all time). The video is epic, queer and dreamy. How did you come up with the concept?
I was literally just watching a movie the summer before with some friends. I grew up listening and singing Grease songs to myself. It’s the classic American, high school dreamy fantasy, but when we rewatched it we realised it was really outdated with the jokes.
It’s hard because I love the characters and music, but I was like let’s remake it into a Gay Grease. It was very heteronormative with the guys fixing cars, but I know girls who fix cars too! I have some gay friends that present as non binary, but they’re great as Pink Ladies- I just thought it would be good to mix it up, and with ethnicities too, to get that representation which is so important right now and body types.
All of us were out of our element. Usually when directors launch they just want a certain, palatable look. I really appreciate you saying you enjoyed it because with it being gay, it got shadowbanned on YouTube.
When we tried to do a google ad for it and position it but it wouldn’t let us. I’ve had other queer friends have this issue too. Unless you’re of a certain calobre, if it doesn’t fit their weird rules, you get shadow banned and there is no one to call?!
That’s made me mad, so it surely must have angered you?!
Yeah it’s a big tech thing. I know there are like 10 LGBT creators who had a lawsuit against YT. It’s hard to prove. I got a letter to say I was banned for life for making ads, but I was like but why? Apparently it didn’t fit the regulations and it’s all ‘fill out this form’ and ‘speak to this person’ – but there is no one there.
We need to figure this out within tech, it’s silencing people when actually it’s a tool for communication and expression.
It’s good we have publications like Unicorn Magazine, we amplify each other’s stories organically – that’s also very powerful. A lot of queer artists start by making our own line ups, shows etc before it becomes mainstream.
Who would be your dream to collab with on a track or album? And why?
Bjork – so iconic and I’m such a big fan. When I first started getting into music, I’d listen to whatever was mainstream and on the radio, like rock, pop etc. But now as I’m getting older, I’m rediscovering these artists.
I love Cardi B. Rihanna, those would be some dream collabs.
Dorian Electra- they’re a queer non binary artist based in LA. They’re very cool, their music is about identity and their visuals and music videos are really cool and resonate well.
Aside from music, how else do you use your voice / platform to share important topics such as BLM and Trans rights with your fans?
I was pretty active about femme rights, planned parenthood – especially when Trump was in office, because we felt it important we shared these issues.
I feel like there are a lot of legacies we’ve inherited from our ancestors that we take for granted. Now we have to actively fight for each other and our rights.
When BLM happened, it was during quarantine and I had a lot more time to think about it. In the USA, we learnt about colonial history but with an erasure of things that weren’t pleasant, including police brutality. I don’t know if it’s different in the UK, but mass media seems to cover / gloss over. It’s sad that that’s what it took for me to understand that, because I grew up as an immigrant, asian american.
It’s just a time of reckoning. Sometimes I’m like wow I didn’t know that and I went to University and I read a lot, other people probably don’t know it either. It’s cool we have social platforms to share this information.
I don’t think people understand how powerful Instagram and Twitter are?!
In the wake of the Asian targeted attacks, our biggest outlets like New York Times and CNN, they’re trusted news sources. They were trying to gloss over the ethnicity of the shooter and the fact the businesses were asian run, like it was a racist attack, but they were saying it wasn’t.
That’s really harmful. Those headlines can be really divisive. It took mainly asian american women on social media, calling them out and people retweeting, for these companies to change.
We have more power than we think and it’s literally free. It takes seconds to share something or repost it. There’s mutual aid, violence against black trans women, I have a friend who is organising kits for self defence because there is no one to call – the police don’t care.
We have to set up new ways to protect one another. They’re not letting us share on Google and Youtube – this is how we amplify one another.
I was the same in lockdown. I hold my hands up, I should have known more. But I spent time learning and trying to understand and educate myself. We don’t have the education about BLM in our school systems either in the UK and we should. Personally I try to share and educate other people. I make sure I read up before I share, but I know it works, my mum tells me I’ve helped her learn stuff, social really is powerful in helping educate people.
Yeah I know I’m not always right, sometimes sometimes I miss out on things that happen. We’re all just learning and sincere. It’s great to open up these conversations. It’s like growing pains, 2021.
What’s next for Polartropica?
We’re recording new music, a new record on the way. We’re going to take our time because our last record was right when quarantine started in 2020. I didn’t plan it that way haha. But yeah we’re working on some new music videos too.
I’m also excited about a new project we’ve started called @squidtropica with my
girlfriend, nonbinary artist Lauren YS a.k.a. @squidlicker . It’s a microgrant platform to amplify queer bipoc artists and build community – The grant is funded by donations and a portion of our own merch and art sales.
I’m excited about that and going back on tour.
I miss gigs sooo much!
Streaming is just not the same.
It’s not, but I’m excited to see what you get up to next.
Interviewed by Lucy Everett