Finally, I'm getting around to posting the interviews. I first met Susan Ploetz (a.k.a. Pash(ly)) when she toured with Anna Oxygen and Khaela Maricich in 2003. She performed a "choose your own adventure" opera. I played her first EP "Pash Please Don't Hurt Them" until I wore the CD out. We became pen-pals for a few years, and she recently moved to NYC (from whence she has since relocated). Susan's music, visual art, video, writing, and performance limn the distances between communication and isolation. Even at its most complicated, her work has a certain beguiling ease. Ploetz mines emotional experience (trauma, joy, love, boredom, and optimism) and reveals it as gorgeous, comprehensible, significant, and something you can dance to. I am a huge fan of her work, and tremendously proud to call her a friend.

FC: Something I'm really curious about is your lyrics. I always assumed that they're really personal and about "real life". Is this true? I once asked you what the title of one of my favorite songs of yours, "eSSI", refers to, and you said "I don't know yet", which kind of blew my mind. When you're writing, how does this figure?

SP: Well mostly they are personal, I guess, from my life, but I guess there are more...un personal or, more-than personal (?) elements. like, there is me and my emotions and this other person, and then....a tree or water. Maybe because I’ve made up a lot of lyrics on walks, so I will have an feeling, then pass a tree. eSSI, that is based on my life, but the eSSI itself... I thought maybe this is what you asked me? well, that place is kind of a mysterious place, but its a place, or, a space really. its a s/p(l)ace that exists inside when its raining outside... (I have written a companion song to eSSI that explained more about what it was, hope you get to hear it soon..!)
I took a writing course from Anne Waldman and she taught us a method of haiku where you had to have one line about heaven one about man, and one about earth---above, below, and here. so I think I try to balance out my songs the same way I try to balance out myself, by remembering things greater than myself, on both ends...above and below. I guess things just come out of me sometimes and I know what they are later. a lot of songs just start out as choruses or chants I sing to myself to keep myself upright...from falling over, and literally I have nothing else in my life to keep me going and connected. or some sort of rhythm that happens, some movement of my arm, that makes those words come to me. I write down a lot of slogans too, in my journal, all the time. Some of them are premonition-y, phrases that just come to me. and seem weird or out of no where, but then become true somehow. like I will write HER BIG TATTOO because I don't know why AT ALL, then a bit later, I see a woman with huge peaches tattooed on her back at a performance with Japanese dancers who also have huge back tattoos! they aren't lyrics, really, they really seem more like they should be posters or banners, BUT, some of them get into songs.
every once and awhile, a song will seem to just rise up out of me, like a dream, sometimes right when I get up, or often I will make some music and the lyrics will just all tumble out to fit into the music, but I go back and realize the seeds for those lyrics usually came from a line or two I had already thought of or written down awhile back. its all floating around, everything is use-able. or sometimes, I will start writing a song, but can't finish it until something happens in my life to finish it. or, a thing starts in my song then happens in my life. it's a magic thing, and I think I more and more realize the magic of songs, not just to figure out my life or cathartic or expression, but also as reality-making...its sort of a heavy responsibility and also a source of power, or, maybe just a way I can feel like I have power to do something in a world that often feels too big for me to do much about. which is why I would like to move away from the more "personal" songs.
I think, now that I’ve written all of this, the eSSI is where my songs come from....

FC: You've lived and made performances in a lot of different places, and across a lot of different contexts (PICA's TBA Festival, Punk basement shows, nightclubs). Do you alter your set depending on where you're performing? How has living and working in really different parts of the country affected your work?

SP: yeah I’ve played almost every different kind of place! except nursing homes, and street fairs, I would still like to do that.... I do alter my sets, sometimes according to the venue, hopefully not to what I think people want/expect (and, I have done that and sometimes its ok but sometimes it not, I don't suggest it really).....you can't really predict what a night will be like. BUT, I guess I have to think about what the limits of the space are. Like both TBAs I performed with video, but most shows I play are in venues where they don't have projectors, and I don't have one, or a screen, (which also means I don't ever get to rehearse with the visuals, which adds to my un-comfortablity with them sometimes), or just, the right technical set up, or...time to rehearse in the space. its also about my own comfortability, and making sure I feel comfortable on stage. its pretty vulnerable being alone up there, and when I start to feel too naked or uncomfortable I think I don't perform well, and having to deal with a lot of technical stuff before and during my show can be distracting and knock me off of what I am really there to do. which is sing and feel my feelings and connect I guess. I think I’ve always tried to set things up where I have at least my basic little talismans and security blankets, like, a thing to do, a thing to wear, and maybe, a thing to say. little tricks for myself, I guess its sorta like a weird stage autism....! having a balance of enough prepared so I have an anchor on stage, but enough open-ness to let magic happen, this is the most important thing to have at every show, which sometimes I fail to give myself, but sometimes there's only so much you can do. I think its BECAUSE I’ve played so many different venues that I’ve had to develop this sort of skeleton for myself, and have sort of a warrior attitude towards performing, because I’ve played so many venues where it was just sort of wrong, wrong space, wrong crowd, but...the show most go on!
I use to be really exploratory and switch things up almost every night and every show, just to try out new things, and be fresh to what I was feeling or thinking that day. I miss the craziness of those days, like one show where I only pump up the crowd, got them to beat box, I took off clothes for money (but always had more clothes under), I didn't sing or anything...! or where I stole someone from the audience and hid in the closet and made them play act a scenario with me. or, just sitting in the audience on the floor with people. maybe it was more wild but it was also sort of a cover up. I was too scared to sing and really reveal who I really was/am. but I think I was intoxicated by the feeling, maybe some feeling of the happenings in the 60s, that you can do ANYTHING! really! but lately I’ve been more into rehearsing and refining, and trying to find new subtle things and adding layers to a thing I’m already set in. but I think it's time for a really new thing.........I can feel it, and its sort of scary. I guess I liked feeling like maybe I was getting more professional or something.
My location, of where I was living...well, Olympia influenced me a lot. I probably wouldn't have really pursued performing if I hadn't lived there. I mean, I went to Indonesia, and there I started singing again. I mean I think there's this myth that everyone is an artist there, and that's not totally true but music IS everywhere, the first thing I saw out of the airport was a boy playing guitar sitting in the grassy median of a busy street! and people have parties and everyone sits in a circle and EVERYONE gets up and recites poetry (sometimes composed on the spot), or sings, or performs, and basically I was sort of forced into doing it too, like you would be weird and un-generous if you didn't join in. and I came back from Indonesia, and lived in Seattle...I was writing and singing to myself a lot and found a guitar to play in the trash, but not really showing anyone what I was doing. But in Olympia, it was sort of like Indonesia, where everyone is doing stuff, so you should too! and everyone's really supportive... will clap, dance, to just about anything, and mostly mean it. and also at the time there was a lot of people doing interesting things, I guess Khaela was one of them, Wynne , and Phil, and Calvin, and McCloud and Jenn Kliese and K--Mrozcek and Anna Oxygen to name a few...of visual arts and performance and storytelling and audience interaction. so that was exciting to me. I started off doing puppet shows, or spoken word things with puppets...not singing. then at evergreen I took a class and made this piece with live piano and film loops and a weird audio soundtrack (that DID have singing in it actually) and I didn't sing live but it was the first time I felt like a real artist doing the thing I really had always wanted to do, maybe because it had weird things like film of sleeplines in it. and playing piano just improving, for the first time ever in front of people. it was live, but also combining all these different ways I think and work, with sound and visuals, with technology but also really raw performance and energy.
so I think I still have that whole north-west DIY attitude, but also I think there was a point where I ran into limitations with that....like, no one really dressed up when they performed. I sort of wore costumes when I first started but it seemed weird, I mean, I always toned it down a little more than I actually wanted to do, mostly out of my own fear of my own ideas but also it really wasn't a thing people did, and I would even get little comments about it. I think there was still some left over grunge attitudes, and now, I think there is a sort of electro-clash backlash.
moving to Portland, I dunno....I don't know how it affected me. I first saw Modern Garage movement there, and that effected me deeply. they work with color and costume and space in such an amazing way....it really made me want to work with color and movement more. I took voice lessons and mind/body centering stuff and yoga and dance and therapy there....it's cheap so I could do it, when I had jobs and enough money I guess. I worked for an advertising agency for a little bit and that was educational. it kind of gave me a greed for a little bit, wanting a piece of that world, scheming for it. but also a complete repulsion of it. but I honed my technical skills a lot there, and learned a lot about GETTING THINGS DONE.
now that I’ve been in new york....I don't know how new york has effected me. I worked so much when I first lived there, I haven't been rehearsing or writing much. it takes awhile to settle in there, but I don't think I want to settle there. I guess new york opened my eyes to all the money in the art scene especially, all the greed, and how creativity is a real industry there, and how there are trends and market ups and downs.... and just the dangers of ambition. because you can be getting a lot of attention for a few years, and be selling things, or getting a lot of myspace hits and being written up and down all over, and all of that, and then 5 years later not be. so you really have to focus on what's important to you in your making: you don't have to, but to survive with any amount of humanity left, you do. I think I thought I would go to new york and work hard and really exploit the ambitious feelings I was having, make things "work" for me there, but really it has made me want to shed everything, become really humble and naked and...I guess I am still sorting it out. and now, actually I am in Iowa!! hiding and thinking and recording and making and getting ready for the east coast again, and Europe, and hopefully beyond.
being from the Midwest I think informs me a lot. I am really deeply connected to the land there, having spent some more time there recently (here) makes me realize how grounded I feel when I’m here (there), and sometimes I feel like if I came back here my life and work might have more meaning. I think I have a connection to the land that people from the east coast don't have as much maybe, but also since my grandpa was a farmer, and I spent a lot of time on his farm as a girl, I have a visceral connection to LAND that....I feel like not many people my age have, that I notice. there is a tradition of land stewardship and humanism and populist liberal politics that runs pretty deep in the Midwest, Minnesota especially, where I’m from, and I forget that it's my lineage. even though in a lot of ways I think I really stick out in the Midwest, and I would probably not be making what I need to if I had stayed here. when I was in high school there was a rave scene that I sort of tried to be a part of, but was too scared of drugs, and didn't really have money for....and then the punk scene was crusty/drunk mostly, something I really didn't fit into as much as I tried. and, it didn't seem like there was much performance art happening, really. hippie punk puppetry was as far as that went.
so, hmm to sum it up...I guess I’ve just gone where I’ve though I’ve had to do what I need to and be who I am, so I guess I’m in a place to get something new or something that was missing, or see what's there and if I can get those things. but also I am realizing a simple change of local is not always the answer. I have tended to seek isolation, so moving helps with that...I’d like to think I am more well rounded because of all the different places I’ve been. but also I have sort of played this price of not being solidly in one scene or community for a long time and established deep roots there. but I also impose that disconnection on myself. but there is this way I have where I am never satisfied, and always want to combine things....like I in my ice cream I NEED to have nuts AND chocolate AND coffee or some other thing....! and my art is the same way, (singing AND video AND conceptual-ism AND story AND...) and that's probably why I am always moving, because I NEED city AND trees AND excitement AND quiet AND friends AND isolation....

FC: What's the ideal audience reaction to your performances? Do you think about what kind of reaction the audience has when you're onstage?

SP: Ideal reaction? well I love it when people dance to my music. I really love it. but often times they don't so I have to find other things to be satisfied with. well one time people went wild and danced so much to the music I felt like they weren't even paying attention to me anymore, and then I was like...wait a minute!! please look at me a little!!... ha ha!! but that's really great too. because then everyone's performing. and it is a huge united front.
someone told me you can't go by a face....like a person could be deeply effected by a performance but not really be showing it in anyway, or the performance might bring up some sort-of negative feelings, like shame or sadness but that's still good...I do long for the feeling of that the audience and I sync up, and a loop sort of happens, where I put my thing out and then they are putting out their feelers towards me and are engaged. I like feeling like I get some energy from the crowd, that they receive what I put out and amplify it a little and I get to feel it reflect back onto me. I guess the worst is when there's no reaction at all, just blankness, even if people are being polite, I guess I’d rather them be rude and a little engaged than polite and blank. but even then, you can't judge what's going on in a person.
I think, though, performers have a responsibility to the audience, to really give their all, and if the audience doesn't dig it then the performer needs to figure out if any of it had to do from holding back or not being true to yourself...sometimes you are doing a good thing that people just aren't ready for or don't understand, but sometimes you just are being fake or false or hiding or egotistical....its a challenge to figure out what is what sometimes. it takes a lot of faith to stick to what you believe is worthwhile in what you are doing when you don't get a lot of feedback from anyone that it is. and, usually, if you are staying present and aware, you start to figure out what you need to change. so, in some ways, every reaction is ideal, because it is always a mirror to reflect on my work. even if I figure out that, so what, it was a weird crowd, and they weren't open to what I do, and I can't do anything about it. but I like to believe we are all humans and have some commonalities and that's the spot you try to reach as a performer.
I hate feeling removed from the audience. but its also good to be a little removed, so you don't crumble if one person looks at you weird. I am a little crazy that way, like if someone whispers something to someone else, I LITERALLY hear the thing they are saying as "BOY SHE REALLY SUCKS! THIS IS REALLY BAD!". I think playing as many shows as I have where there is no stage and a person is RIGHT BY me talking to someone else, has made me more sensitive to this sort of thing. having a separate space, at least, energetically, is good. when people hang back, and don't stand close to you, I use to try to get them to come in, but now I think it's sort of a sign of respect, like, they are respecting that imaginary sacred line. another deep thing for me that I wasn't really ready for anyone to like me, or my work. so the audience hating me and me being desperate for their approval me while I performed was the only reality I could conceive for myself, my only reality was that I was making these sucky things. which is actually a heavy thing to lay on an audience! performing has really forced me to work on my own shit, which is great, but I kind of feel bad for the audiences that had to witness some of it. but I guess there might be some merit in being just who you are, and exposing some of the terror and feelings of unworthy-ness that a lot of us carry around. its not something you're gonna get from Madonna or Beyonce....
I do think of audience reaction while I am performing, and I am trying to not think about it too much but also I want to stay engaged and sensitive enough that I can deliver what's needed at the time. I think about it all the time, while I am playing but just have to shut a lot of it out. often I play a song that I think people won't like, like the girls the breakdowns, because it's a bar or a party, but I think its a good song people need to hear. that song especially I think about the reaction as its happening. I just feel like it's important for people to hear and I try to structure it in a way in the act so it won't totally kill the buzz or whatever.....but esp boys I watch in that song, how some boys seem to get really mesmerized, and other boys literally turn their backs to me and can't watch it. really interesting. sometimes its good to just give people what they want, and other times you have to challenge them, and ultimately I want to give both.
I think its when I start commenting on the reaction and catering to it too much, or am at its mercy, then that’s when trouble starts. I have a lot of feelings like the thing I do is too weird, or people aren't into it (never were, or not anymore, or?), or my voice is weird/bad, or my songs are dancey but too complicated in subject matter, or too choppy, or my movements are not animated enough, I’m not a good enough dancer, I’m not "into it" enough, or that I am trying to do this thing that's impossible either for me or for anyone.....with me just being alone up there, it's a lot and can really weigh me down. I think in the past I had depended too much on the audience for my support while playing, and it became a dangerous thing because they didn't always want to give it, ...or were too freaked out? man, Portland freaked me out, that it seemed like I would freak people out....so I had to separate from the audience and cling to other things, like breath, or costume. ! I am still working on the perfect balance, I always will be probably.

Check out Pash(ly)'s music on MySpace

1 comment:

Nick T said...

I hope Portland is lucky enough to hear Susan's music again in the near future.