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Creating Unity in Community: Roz Raskin on adapting to pandemic life

In Motif’s March and April editions I highlighted the virtual experiences of Rhode Island musicians Dylan Block-Harley and Chachi Carvalho. In this edition, the series concludes with the ever-evolving Providence-based songwriter Roz Raskin, also known as NOVA ONE.  

Roz values the creation and strengthening of community and works toward this effort as musician, show curator, community organizer and teacher. They also serve as board co-chair of RIOT RI, a “non-profit that uses music creation, critical thinking and collaborative relationships to foster collective empowerment and the development of healthy identities in girls, women, trans and gender-expansive youth and adults.” On April 24, Roz celebrated the one-year anniversary of their album Loveable, and they are currently recording a new set of songs for their fans and loves.  

Mayté Antelo-Ovando (Motif): I’m really interested in what you’ve done to adapt as an artist in pandemic life. 

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Roz Raskin: Yeah, so the way that I musically move through my life is I obviously play shows, do touring, release records and things like that and the other half of my life is I teach. I’ve been teaching songwriting and piano for, I guess now, 11 or 12 years. I think for some [of my students’] parents, it’s nice to see a working musician doing their thing, making this work as a career — not just touring or just teaching. So my life has been both those things, [and] when the pandemic hit, I very quickly thought to myself, “I know people teach online.” 

So, I got myself a little webcam and I have a second camera set up so I can teach people piano and songwriting online. I’m actually busier than I’ve ever been because so many people have wanted to learn instruments with the time that they now have available. I think a weird silver lining, and this is not me putting a toxic positivity lens on things, is to see people picking up instruments. It’s cool to see people digging into their creativity once they’ve had the space from the capitalist cycle. You work your 9 to 5, you watch some tv and go to bed because you don’t have time really for anything else. With so many people being on unemployment, for example, having the option to explore other parts of themselves, I think that’s cool.

In describing the fatigue that can come from streaming live shows as a performer, Roz also shared how they’ve had to adjust their thinking when curating shows under the name “SELF LUV,” since given our pandemic reality, they can no longer book them in their apartment attic or basement. 

RR: I think a lot of people are screened out, [though there are] amazing ideas from local people [on what to try virtually]. [P]re-recorded stuff tends to work really well, because the thing about livestreaming is that as fun as it can be interacting with people, there can sometimes be a lot of space and awkwardness. It really depends on the performer. I think that a lot of people are missing like, the engaging live experience [and] sometimes seeing a really sick pre-recorded show feels great. You know, there is no right or wrong way to do any of it, right? 

So yeah, I’ve been thinking about how I wanna be performing [online]… and what it looks like to be booking shows on the internet right now. I did a few early on in quarantine that were really fun and then it just, you know, I go through bouts, like we all do, of mental health struggles, and when you’re singing to a camera all the time it’s just challenging sometimes. 

MA-O: When you’re in that space, what do you do to hype yourself up, to engage in that process?    

RR: What I really like to think about most is, especially if it’s a livestreaming session, is regardless of how I’m feeling, if people have shown up for this I wanna play my ass off like I would for any other performance, right? If people are here to support my music, I’m gonna pour 150% in no matter how I’m feeling. I think if you sign up to play something and people are there you gotta make it happen, you know what I’m saying? Otherwise, you should be considering what you have capacity for, which is sometimes hard to gauge right now. I always try to think about the people who support the project, or the booking company or really support anything. That’s the way I felt in live shows, too. You know, there are certain nights when you don’t feel completely on, and then you get out on stage and people are psyched and that’s the thing that a lot of musicians miss. We fuel ourselves from the energy a lot of the times from the people in the spaces, so to not have that you are sort of imagining [it]… 

MA-O: It’s the feedback loop that you don’t have … and it goes both ways, from performer to audience and back around.  

R: Right. I’ve talked to a lot of folks, and it definitely feels like it’s hard to put yourself in the right headspace for it, which I get.

And some of this just feels like, reaching out to people. I go to a lot of shows and a funny thing about musicians and perhaps show-goers too, is that we’re so used to running into people. A lot of socializing was just, “Oh, I’m going to that show.” You can look online to see who’s gonna go, or you can text your buddies, or you know the band that’s playing and you go to the show, right? So I feel like NOW, for musicians who are already often so self-loathing and maybe don’t do much socializing outside of show spaces, it’s a lot more difficult to feel like you’re in community. I feel like there was a time when I hated small talk and now, I LOVE the stuff. I love running into people at shows and saying, “How’s your band doing? Are ya’ll writing? How’s your family? Oh you had a baby last year? What does your musical life look like right now?” Or just like, “Hey! Did you see that show?”

As musicians, a challenge is to put the effort into reaching out and maintaining community. I think we all took for granted that it was so easy to see people. You could just show up to a bar and grab yourself a drink of whatever kind, and chat with somebody. Or, something I used to love about shows is  depending on the night, cause I’m sort of an introvert/extrovert, if I was going to the Columbus for example, sometimes I just like to go sneak into the nose bleeds, quiet, my hood up, just watching the band, love that. And then people sometimes spot me and I’m like, “Shhh, I just kinda wanna be chilling back here.”  

MA-O: That piece of our lived experience has been taken away, and now we’ve had to re-create that experience virtually. And with performances, whether something is pre-recorded or livestreamed, I think that what adds the potential of connection with other viewers is a chat box or something where people can interact with each other. To be honest, it’s a little weird and yet engagement CAN happen, it’s just different. 

R: Well said. I love the chat box. I’m huge on the chats. I have a blast and it’s nice to be interacting with people in digital space in that way. I think no matter what I do for the SELF LUV shows, it’s going to be something that has the option to do that. For NOVA ONE, we did a set on Facebook at the start of the pandemic and people were chatting, and it was fun to see who was attending. 

M: Thinking of virtual shows, I know you did Culture Shock… 

R: Oh my God yes, that was so sick! That was a great example of a pre-recorded show all edited, but you could chat. Chachi hosted it and then they edited everything down to all the performances. There was one song per performer because there was so much high production value in what was going on and it would’ve been [a lot with more songs]. I liked the way that it worked because you could get some really beautiful footage and a diversity of sound from different performers and people could still be watching, commenting on what was happening, and some of the performers [were] in the chat. When it’s pre-recorded you can join and see what everyone is saying, like, “Oh Roz, what’s this song about?” 

I filmed that in person with them, [they] had a great sanitized space. Everyone doing masks — on the nose — gotta love that. When they’re falling I’m like, “Yo, I’m not trying to see that schnoz, if I see ya nose, I’m out.”    

When reflecting on Dylan (who they’ve known since childhood) and Chachi (who they’ve worked alongside), Roz said: 

I just really appreciate people that have been here doing it for a while because it’s a special connection to the city and the community of people who have the history…

MA-O: There’s dedication to the music community here, the activism you’re in, being a teacher, board member of RIOT, creating community through music. 

R:R I feel like for me there’s no other way to be. In the same way that I make music because I have no choice, it really is running through my body and my brain at all times that I need to be making and creating. I wish I could pause it sometimes; it’s just always kind of going. I feel the same way about community. There is no choice but to try to provide as a good of an education through my music [lessons] as I can, or do the same with  programing with RIOT or keeping in touch with people. Texting friends in the music community, like, “Hey! I haven’t seen you since I saw you in that show in March.” I’ve been texting people this week and been like, “We’re coming up on the year, remember me? Remember you?  We’re here! I hope you’re doing okay.” I’m trying to be more active with reaching out to people. 

MA-O: What do you think you’ve learned from performing in virtual space and might be taking to future live events? 

RR: I love that question, I think something that has been highlighted quite a bit is the inequity of so much that’s going on in artist spaces, like who has access to what. Performers with a lot of capital and resources and tools can put on these insane-o beautiful pre-recorded performances or live. And then performers that were just getting by playing shows, it’s just harder. The money is just not there for the production value that people are expecting these days. I think recognizing that is really important for us to be taking into the future. That all parts of our communities need to be seen and held and loved. It’s a little existential in the way that I’m thinking about it right now … generally being aware. So many things go into what makes a performer at a show do what they’re doing. Some people don’t have access to a vehicle, they have to be driven to a show by a friend. Or like, they don’t have access to an amp, they need to borrow one. Trying to be aware of what people have and what they don’t, and how we can better support each other. No matter what. Pandemic or not. 

Also, there’s a lot of value in online programming! I really fucking hope that the Columbus could get an elevator at some point, because people who can’t walk well can’t access that spot. Accessibility right now is huge, cause if you have a phone, if you have  an iPad if you have a computer, [or] you can go to the library and watch things, the accessibility through technology is huge. 

So older folks who are just at home, and anybody who is — we have this option now. In the future it would be cool to always allow things to be livestreamed as much as possible. I don’t want people to forget there’s a lot of people who can’t access spaces that we play, and I think that highlighting those things and making sure that we’re all staying aware and are trying to address [that] as much as possible into the future is important I used to book shows in an attic space that was three flights of stairs to get up there, and there’s just certain people that can’t make it to those spaces. It was so dreamy up there, this is like Chronicles of Narnia shit, but you have to be thinking about what’s accessible and what’s not. 

And then for me as an artist, I started a Patreon. And I have loved connecting with my fan base that way. It’s been so fun to be able to create pieces. Essentially, I’ve created prompts for myself. I do a cover once a month, and it’s really pushed me to make. And I’m also giving songwriting and instrument lessons and I’m drawing comics on there, something I haven’t done actively for a long time. I think I wanna continue doing that stuff, it’s a nice way to be able to engage in community with people who don’t live in Rhode Island. There’s someone on my Patreon who lives in England!

MA-O: Access to virtual spaces increases access and it also increases your reach as an artist.

RR: Totally, like even it being… an honor system, like hey I’m playing a show at AS220, it’s ticketed for people to come, we are also gonna livestream it. And on the honor system, here’s my Venmo. If you have the means, send $10. It also could be a viable option for people. Like say I’m playing a show on a Monday and you can’t come cause you’re doing work at your house, you can have the livestream on, you send $10 over, that’s [money] that wouldn’t have existed for the performer before that. It’s win-win if we’re able to keep that component involved. 

MA-O: Have people reached out to you yet for future live performances? 

R: So they have not. I think a lot of people are wary about what that looks like to do it in a responsible way  I do know places are doing live music indoors. I don’t feel comfortable doing it unless it was something like, for example, I might be doing an AS220 pre-recorded stream soon. I’m up for going to spaces to record with minimal people, masked, sanitized. It’ll be interesting to see what it will look like to do outdoor stuff this year. I was offered to do an outdoor gig in the fall and I was just feeling so anxious, I said to the booker, “You know, you’re amazing, but I don’t think that my energy will benefit the show, and I wish you luck with it. I think it’s good to know when you can and can’t do. I spent like a week being like, “Ughhhh what do I want to do??” Cause I wanna fucking play. It’s been months and I wanna play.

My big question is what it’s gonna look like when things come back because everybody and their mom is gonna wanna play a show… I think that booking is gonna be real wild. Booking of venues is gonna be super competitive.

MA-O: You know there is no substitution for the live experience, and yet there is connection to be had even in virtual space. It’s about really taking a step back and thinking about the comfort level of the performer and the audience. 

RR: Honestly, I think that one of the most nerve-wracking things for me is not even putting on the shows, it’s really more what it looks like to interact with people. I’ve been to numerous protests this year and people generally did a good job being masked. I had a few people try to hug me, and I was like, “Yo, were’ not doing that though right?” And at shows people are way more apt to wanna do that stuff, cause they feel connected. “I saw you play and I wanna hug.” I’ve hugged countless people after shows. When you involve alcohol and emotional connection, people want to be physical. So to me the most difficult thing to navigate is how to interact with people when they don’t have clear boundaries and are not seeing other people’s boundaries and respecting [them]. 

MA-O: Yeah, I don’t think you’re alone in that at all. Everybody has had to figure out what safety means for them. And when live music returns, we’ll have to renegotiate boundaries. We’re still trying to be careful. 

RR: I always try to emphasize that artists, all of us need to be really patient with ourselves, which is a challenge, you know? But just to be aware that if you don’t put out a record this year, it’s all good. If you have days when you can’t get out of bed like, it’s all good. Do what you gotta do for your mental health. Do what you gotta do to take care of yourself and your survival first and foremost. And the creativity — it will be there. This is a hard moment. I just wrote a song about the pressure to make when there’s a lot of time. I was just talking to a friend of mine [who] is being really hard on himself for not making enough while he had ample time to make. And sometimes it’s just not that easy, and we’re all facing a lot of different really heavy issues of varying kinds, so I think we just gotta be kind to ourselves and be patient, and the creativity will come. 

Follow Nova One (aka Roz Raskin): https://novaonenovaone.bandcamp.com, https://www.patreon.com/novaone and @novaone_

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