JPR Live Session: Doe Paoro

Feb 8, 2019

On her third album Soft Power, L.A.-based Doe Paoro digs into her own frustration and anguish, and ultimately comes away with a newfound strength that’s profoundly inspiring.

So much of the album is about reclaiming parts of myself that I had lost,” explains Doe, who’s originally from Syracuse, New York. “It’s about being a woman, and what exactly that means at this particular moment in time; about witnessing a lack of justice when it comes to men and control. Both at the personal and societal levels, I was watching people in power play games with our lives, with the environment. I found this theme reappearing in the music I was writing during this period; it was less intentional and more about a certain kind of catharsis.

Touring her electronically adorned second album After – a 2015 release produced at the Wisconsin studio helmed by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon – shaped Doe’s intentions with Soft Power. “After had so many elaborate arrangements that were bigger than we could recreate with a live band, so we had to use backing tracks. It was limiting on stage – the music was mapped out in advance and I felt like we could never be completely spontaneous. I wanted to make an entire album that could be recreated live because for me, that’s where the deeper connection takes place.

Produced in London with Jimmy Hogarth (Amy Winehouse, Sia, Corinne Bailey Rae), Soft Power captures that immediacy while channeling the new-found self-possession into a soulful take on piano-driven pop. And with her penetrating contralto that can shift from gentle to commanding in an instant, Doe delivers a vocal performance perfectly suited to the album’s message of thoughtful defiance. Recording to tape with a live band lent the songs a more instinctive, spontaneous quality. “There was no doubting or overthinking,” says Doe. “We didn’t record any part a million times over.

Soft Power thus bears a raw vitality that marks a major departure from Doe’s previous album. Naming Carole King among her inspirations, Doe notes that the new record’s more urgent feel comes partly from reconnecting with the instinctive approach of her earliest songwriting. “One of my intentions was to drop any questions about what might be inventive, and just focus on writing songs that felt true to my experience,” she says. “The idea was to push things forward just by creating something well-made and authentic.

Despite its classic sensibilities, Soft Power is deeply innovative in its emotional element. From track to track, Doe slips into careful self-reflection and teases out new insight—a process that subtly demands the same of the listener and, thanks to the album’s strong hooks and indelible melodies, feels strangely exhilarating.