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Melissa Polinar on creative freedom, YouTube and India Arie

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Melissa Polinar was an early adopter. YouTube performers are around every online corner these days, but Melissa’s smoky, soulful voice and beautiful original songs found an early audience on the Internet that’s given way to a successful solo career. On the verge of an EP release, we asked Melissa about the praise she’s received from India.Arie and her place in the industry.

You’re a bit of a pioneer, so to speak, in the modern music industry. As one of the first artists to launch a successful career after starting out in the world of YouTube and social media, how has your career path taken shape?

Pioneer. That’s a heavy title to live up to. It’s been a unique journey, no doubt. I can think back and recount so many cool events that have happened in my career so far. It’s been a grind and sometimes I really don’t know what I’m doing to be honest. I basically grab whatever comes my way. Other times, I jump at an idea I want to see or hear come to life.

It’s been such a blast but there have been some trying times too. I look at my career as seasonal – sometimes fruitful and sometimes I just have to “weather the winter months” that do come. Altogether, I’d still consider myself as one of the fortunate ones. I get to do what I love.

Do you have musical training, or are you self-taught?

I grew up surrounding myself with music. I joined choirs, ensembles, performed solo, was classically trained on the violin for a period of time. I was “that” music geek in grade school until high school. I listened to whatever resonated me: from classical, classics, gospel, to whatever’s on the radio. I didn’t take music in college or anything. I was a communications major.

So as a singer, I’d say I was pretty much self-taught and same thing goes with my guitar playing. I sometimes ask musician friends and collaborators, who I perceive as way better than me and who I deeply respect, to give me some pointers at times. But other than that, it’s been a matter of singing a lot from a younger age and having to perform publicly for a while now. I found my voice that way – both technically and as an artist. I’m still learning as I go to this day. There’s always something new to learn.

How does your Texas heritage find its way into your music?

I’m not sure if my Texas upbringing directly affected my sound as an artist but my love for music definitely started and was in its early stages there. I suppose the quiet life a little outside of the city gave me the ability to love solitude, enough so to be a songwriter. I live inside my head a lot, and I processed my world inside my head so much that thoughts needed to come out eventually. I suppose it took on the form of songs.

This eventually led me to write songs professionally as a teenager in Nashville, and Nashville reminds me a lot of Texas. My love for folk and singer-songwriter music blossomed then and there. So as much as I do the “soul” thing, there’s a soft spot for that kind of music in my heart. It is kind of funny that my music today has taken me all the way west to Los Angeles where I do most of my work these days.

It’s been a couple years since your last album. How does this compare musically?

I’d say this EP came about differently than my last album. My last release pretty much had all the songs written with the exception of one before I went in the studio. For this EP, I came in with virtually nothing but complete trust that I could form and gather something together with my producer/collaborator for this project. I had morsels of ideas and even had completed songs but didn’t know if any would fit a solid “vision” to weave a project.

I eventually brought in a song that I had co-written with two other collaborators last year, which I initially thought I’d never record for myself. The rest were written during my time in the studio in San Diego. One song was also co-written after my time in the studio and decided to add it to the project. I then recorded some of it at another studio in Los Angeles.

There are some cool surprises for this EP including the decision to add a cover song, which I have never done for any of my past projects before. There is a personal reason and mission as to why I decided to choose the particular cover song. Sonically, I think those who have listened to my earlier music would still hear me. They’d still be able to say, “hey, there’s Melissa!” At the same time, I approached my vocals not only as a means to sing my heart out but also used it as an instrument that lend to the production. It’s interesting.

Lastly, Jesse Barrera [producer] and I had a more fearless approach. We’ve worked together so much in the past that at this point of our lives, we just wanted to just “go for it” whatever we’re trying to go for. There’s a sense of freedom in that. As an independent artist, anything goes. That’s the beauty of what we do have in spite of what goes against us.

Your work has captured the notice of musical luminaries like Questlove and India.Arie. How has the support of industry veterans helped you out?

I mean, what an honor. It definitely gives me an extra boost of confidence to say, "Perhaps I’m doing something right.” It’s truly encouraging to hear complimentary words from music industry veterans – especially those who are truly musicians! I sometimes confide in India about personal things – about my journey, the struggles, etc. It’s nice to have that. To have a group of artist/musicians rooting for me helps me out tremendously.

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