5 Questions: Pen Palindrome

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Fear. Anxiety. Uncertainty. The coronavirus has transformed our world with all three.

It’s vital, of course, that all of us play our part — practice social distancing, donate to nonprofits helping to respond, look for ways to volunteer and offer support to loved ones, friends and strangers alike. But just as vital is keeping ourselves psychologically and emotionally healthy. One of the best ways to do this is listen to more music — specifically, the music of DC singer-songwriter Pen Palindrome.

Pen Palindrome has become something of a crutch for me these past few weeks. The talented singer-songwriter, aka Ava Mirzadegan, specializes in crafting delicate songs of introspection, wistfulness and longing. There is a sadness that pervades her music, and yet I find her songs to be strangely uplifting.

In these scary and strange times, Pen Palindrome has helped me find my center.

When I was faced with the dilemma of how to move forward with WE FOUGHT THE BIG ONE’s 16-year anniversary celebration, I knew exactly the right artist to play for us. Thankfully, Ava was up for it. She will be our first livestream performer via our now monthly Zoom music showcases.

The Marx Cafe, like most bars and restaurants, has lost its main source of income and is struggling to pay its bills. A GoFundMe campaign has been launched, and a big focus of the 16-year anniversary showcase — and the next few — will be supporting the Marx Cafe to keep it running.

I had an opportunity to speak with Ava about her journey as a songwriter, and how this new phase of social distancing has affected her and her ability to make art (and a living). Read on…

1) Can you tell us a little about your journey as a music maker? When did you start writing songs?

Ava: My musical journey began when I was a kid, starting piano around age 6 and constantly singing with my older sister in the house and then eventually in school choirs. We used to write songs halfheartedly, and throughout my youth I wrote to process emotions. In high school I started to take writing a bit more seriously, writing songs on both guitar and piano. But it wasn’t until college that I actually felt good enough about my writing to share it with anyone. I spent a long time wishing I could write better or trying to figure out my style.

2) I love that you once described your music as “ambient rock that you can take home to meet you family.” How important is it to you to make music that connects with listeners outside the DIY underground music community?

Ava: I love that description too! Honestly it’s extremely important to me because although I’m deeply invested in the DIY community now, I was a little late to it. I have loved non-commercial music for a long time but the first time I attended a house show was in college. It just goes to show that it can be a little scary to engage with even the things you love if you’re not feeling like you fit into that space.

3) This might sound strange, but as melancholic and introspective as your songs are, I find them to be very comforting, especially during the scary and uncertain times we’re in. Listening to “Anna I’m Sorry” is like wrapping myself in a warm sonic blanket. Do you find comfort in your own music?

Ava: Sometimes! I generally find the most comfort in the process of making them, but I’d be lying or a bad musician if I said my own music wasn’t comforting to me. The whole point for me is to create the thing I’ve been searching for sonically, so I always try to write what would feel good to listen back to. (Also, thanks for saying you find comfort in it! That’s so sweet and I’m so glad to provide even a sliver of solace.)

4) Can you share with us how the COVID-19 crisis has affected you? And importantly, how people can support you?

Ava: I’m lucky enough to have a supportive family, and while I’ve been working more on music-related things, I’ve been able to work part-time and live at home while writing, recording, playing, and hosting shows. However, all of my music gigs, including a tour that I booked myself, have been cancelled. And my supplementary gigs have also been cancelled due to the virus.

I was planning to move back out on my own this summer, but now that I am without any income, I’ll be looking at an even longer time getting back on my feet. Supporting me could be through listening/buying my music on bandcamp, supporting the record label I just started with a friend called Oof Records (we have our first comp tape out now!), telling your friends about my music, or booking me to play virtual shows. The more I am able to keep myself involved in music while I’m holed up in my house, the better I will personally fare through all of this.

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5) Lastly, it looks like we may be in this livestreaming phase for several months if not longer. How do you feel that our connections with others are now taking place in the virtual world? Do you see any upside?

Ava: I’ve spent quite a bit of time having long-distance friendships with all of my dearest friends in NY and also with my family abroad. But while I’m used to the digital correspondences, what I’m not used to is the additional emotional weight hanging over all of us. Everyone I know is having a hard time, and it shows.

While it’s lovely to spend time with friends, and even to watch my favorite musicians live-stream, I think it’s also important to prioritize time spent outside. I try to go on a walk every day and spend even a short amount of time away from my electronics, because I tend to feel dissociative when i live through a screen.

The upside is definitely that I’m finally talking with people I’ve always wanted to spend time or collaborate with and we may actually have room in our schedules now to do it. But I’m doing my best to not put too much on my plate just because I’m unable to socialize. It’s important that we recognize and honor that this is a heavy time. It’s not vacation or an artist retreat… people are dying and losing their jobs constantly.

There is hope, however, and joy to found in all of it. So I’m grateful for everyone still making art and choosing the light.

Thank you very much Ava!

Support Ava by purchasing her music through the Pen Palindrome Bandcamp page, and don’t forget to “Like” her on Facebook and follow her and her label on Instagram.

Don’t forget to check out Pen Palindrome’s live set tonight via the WFTBO Sweet 16 livestream party. For more details, including the Zoom code, visit the FB event page.