Brooklyn singer-songwriter Doe Paoro is a wild mixture of contemporary sounds and ancient techniques. Her single “Born Whole,” taken from her debut Slow to Love (out last month), has the spectral fervor of Zola Jesus’s haunted house swirl, Adele’s retromaniacal bombast and ghostly traces of James Blake’s post-dubstep—but Paoro’s take on modern art-pop comes from an untethered vocal style she credits to her study of lhamo, the centuries-old Tibetan opera tradition. “Born Whole” starts as nimble, muted neo-soul but finds its magical energy through post-chorus flights of vocal fancy—think Winehouse-gone-Diamanda and you’re close. Its unsettling video was shot with four close friends in her Syracuse hometown. Collaborator Miranda Siegel conceived its theme, as Paoro describes it, “of a fruitless quest and getting trapped in cycles of attachment and detachment,” all influenced by their shared practice of vipassana meditation, the Buddhist tradition that seeks to understand the truths of reality.
Download: Doe Paoro, “Born Whole” (name-your-own-price Bandcamp link)
What is “Born Whole” about?
I met a woman who had lost her husband in Cambodia when she was 19 and pregnant, during the Khmer Rouge period. She was telling me how she felt completely lost, being that she was now responsible for two lives without any help and this oppressive political situation. And she told me that she was constantly searching for husband, and felt like half a person… “Born Whole” is about this idea that we are born complete beings but lose that sense of wholeness as we travel through our lives and get messed up in cycles of attachment. I think many people subscribe to this mythical idea that we have to find this perfect mate or other person to complete our lives and what I’m saying in this song is that the opposite is true—we are already complete but forget that throughout a lifetime as we experience attachment and inevitable loss.
What inspired it musically?
Since the song is really about existence and how we understand ourselves, I wanted to capture something both of the earth and otherworldly. My study of Tibetan opera singing can be heard in this song—and to me that wailing is both primal and out of body. Adam, my co-writer, and I also wanted to capture the samsara-esque elements to the song so we started out instrumentally with a loop, and built off that.
What effect did studying in the Himalayas have on your music?
When I began studying lhamo in the Himalayas, I felt my voice as I had never felt it before, which is a strange thing to realize a power within you that was there the whole time. The technique unlocked something in me; and I really felt my body was an instrument for the first time, because I could physically feel my voice vibrate through my entire being. Sometimes when I sing I feel like it’s just moving through me and it’s so effortless—I never felt that way before I left to India. I was so tense and closed up before.
Is it hard to meditate or find solace in NYC?
It’s possible. Just gotta make it a priority.
What’s the most memorable show you’ve played in NYC?
There was some real magic happening in our first show at Pianos. I can’t tell you why it happened and I can’t recreate it, but I looked out and all these people had tears in their eyes, and I did too.
What’s your favorite place to eat in Brooklyn?
Doe Paoro plays Glasslands on April 4.