KPSU Spotlight: Noah Puggarana of Mood Swings
Written by Little Squigg on May 8, 2016
DJ: Noah Puggarana
Show: Mood Swings, Thursdays @1pm
Hometown: Portland, OR
I hear you’re a native Portlander, which basically makes you a unicorn. How did growing up here shape you as a person?
I grew up in the Alberta Arts district in northeast Portland. There’s so many quirky things about that place. I don’t know if you know about Last Thursday? From a very young age, I was exposed to a lot of different kinds of art, specifically music. Every month with the street fair, there would be, like, ten different bands that would come play. And I always made it a point to walk the whole fair and get the full spectrum of what people were playing. It was a really diverse community.
I also have a weird fascination with different kinds of energy that people give off, and that art gives off, and I can get a vibe for pretty much any kind of energy. That’s really defined me, because once I can soak up the energy that somebody or something is giving off, I can really make it a part of my life. So on my show, I try and find an album that gives off a specific kind of emotion or emotional energy, and I play the whole album and I try to get the message across that music is deeper than the words, deeper than the melodies. It has an emotional impact. That’s why my show is called Mood Swings.
Right. Music that makes you feel. I love that explanation. Do you want to go more into depth about energy and emotion, how it relates to music, and what that means to you?
I’ve had many teachers because I’m a jazz pianist (classically trained, and switched over to jazz in high school). From a super young age, all of my teachers put an emphasis not only on learning the notes, but on researching the musician’s life- what impacted them and influenced their songwriting. Beethoven had a very hard life, especially later in life when he was going deaf and losing everything that was dear to him because he couldn’t hear the beautiful music that he was writing. Stuff like that can add so much meaning to a song or an album because you can put yourself in their shoes and feel what they might have felt. On my show, I try to find an album that can make me go to a completely different emotional state, or I’ll try to emulate how I’m feeling in an album and convey that through music. It’s super interesting to try and find stuff that’s cohesive in the sense that it has a feeling, a mood, and it also has a message. That’s my goal for the show.
And what kind of message would you say you going you for in your shows? Is there an overarching theme?
The overarching message is that music is super powerful. In fact, I think it’s the most powerful form of art. Each show, I try and talk about how the album I’m playing makes me feel, what led me to find this album, and why I connect with it. I think understanding why stuff speaks to me is just as important as understanding that it does speak to me. I’m all about figuring out why.
So it’s a good tool for introspection and learning about yourself.
Definitely. I’d say I’ve learned more about myself through music than anything else in life.
What would you say are some key artists, songs, or albums that have really impacted you?
That‘s a tough question. I have like nine hundred albums on my computer and I’ve listened to all of them. I can give you an idea of the different genres that have stood out…
Firstly, as a jazz pianist, I have a weird obsession with jazz-influenced stuff and especially progressive artists like Miles Davis. There’s something about their style of playing, their songwriting, and just the type of energy they give off that intrigues me. One of my favorite jazz albums of all time has to be “Sketches of Spain” by Miles Davis. This album is a total trip in itself. I first listened to it when I was driving through a high desert in Utah on a road trip. It was like a twelve hour car ride, and we were nearing the end. It was nighttime and all I could see around was the sun setting, red rocks, canyons everywhere. And I was listening to the album and I just got shivers because it’s so atmospheric. I felt like I was absorbed into the music. That’s one of my most vivid memories of I think maybe ever. Hearing the album just brings me back to that place. I think a powerful thing music can do is bring you back to a time in your life when you felt a certain emotion or certain way of thinking. So that album definitely impacted me a lot. And since then, I’ve branched into many different kinds of jazz and orchestral, classical music, but the beauty of Miles Davis is he’s able to meld these two genres that seem a little inaccessible to people and create this beautiful soundscape.
It sounds like a mystical experience.
Oh, it definitely was. It was definitely spiritual.
So, moving on to some different vibes… In high school, I knew this guy named Aiden Collins- shoutout to Aidan Collins!- and he’s a cellist, but he’s really into metal music. Not just an average thrasher. He really liked to listen to progressive, technical, virtuoso style of metal music. At first, I couldn’t see the appeal of listening to metal. I was like, “It’s just noise; what’s the point?” But he introduced me to this band called Animals as Leaders and oh my god. It’s just this fiery kind of music that shakes my soul when I listen to it. It’s so fast paced. It’s so technical. But it’s also really melodic, which I’m a big fan of. And there’s no words. I prefer instrumental metal because I can focus on the instrumentation and the technical skill of all the musicians in the band. There are two guitarists and they both play eight-string guitar, so they’re playing bass and guitar at the same time. And the drummer- I’ve never heard a drummer like that before! He’s just so good. So that appeals to my sense of what kind of energy it is, and when I’m trying to get hyped up and go running or go to the gym and lift weights. It just gets me in the zone.
There’s a different brand of the same kind of energy that I think is brought about by different styles of hip hop. Depending on who I’m listening to, I can feel laid back and calm about everything and feeling good. Or, a lot of these rappers have an ungodly amount of struggle in their life, and if they’re able to convey that through their lyrics and production, nothing can really compare to the energy they bring to the table. It’s so hard to pick a favorite. The album I’ve connected with the most is definitely Mos Def, “Black on Both Sides.” This guy is a poet. I love how hip hop can be this energetic fast paced thing, but it also is about crafting a song, a poem. I don’t think anyone does it quite like Mos Def.
You said something about hip hop being a different form of the same kind of energy as metal. I found that really intriguing. Do you want to expand on that?
I try and always think of a visual representation of what a song would be and what kind of energy it gives off. For Animals as Leaders, I think of the sun. Not just because it’s bright, fiery energy, but because there’s so much detail in the actual physical shape of it. It’s ever changing, ever combusting. There’s so much raw power inside, waiting to be unleashed. That’s how I figure Animals as Leaders would be. But moving across genres into hip hop, I feel like because there’s one rapper, because it’s his or her story, it’s a lot more focused. So if you can imagine a magnifying glass concentrating the rays of the sun- it’s still burning but it’s a lot more pinpointed. So I would definitely say they use that same kind of power and energy to tell a different story and perspective.
It’s really cool to recognize that and point it out, because I feel like people tend to think of musical genres, and the people who listen to them, as belonging to vastly different worlds. It’s great to point out the commonalities.
Absolutely. Sometimes when I’m angry, I want to listen to someone wail on an electric guitar. Sometimes, I want to hear, like, trap rap, about the struggles of selling dope on the corner. I haven’t lived that life, but I can feel their struggle and I can relate to it. Maybe not literally, but emotionally I can connect to it. I think a powerful part of music is being able to take something in my own life and relate it to what I’m hearing.
Yeah, exactly, that’s the thing that connects us all: the things we feel even if we haven’t had the same experiences. And music is like the universal language.
Oh, definitely. I’ve played with people from Japan who don’t speak English. I just point to a song and they’re like, “Yep, I know that song,” and we play for two hours. And we don’t say a word to each other, or maybe we do… It’s just like the communication goes so much deeper than just a conversation because I can get a sense of what kind of person they are. Like my friend Yoshua from Japan. His English is a bit shaky, but I know he is a thinker. He’ll sit and think for a little bit about what he’s going to do, and once he has a plan he executes it to the Nth degree. It’s just like that was the universe’s plan and he just put it into action. He’s amazing. And being able to do that kind of stuff, to have an idea and carry it out without any flaws, is super respectable. And I knew all that from just hearing him play. When somebody takes a solo or does something really interesting, I always pay attention because it’s a window into their psyche.
So how would you describe the music you make, and what does it reflect about you?
I make a variety of kinds of music. I have a lot of influences. More often than not, what I’ll be doing is making some kind of hybrid hip hop, dark booming trap-ish instrumental music that comes from a place of feeling confident and powerful. If I can make the room shake with just my speakers, it’s a good feeling for sure. And I love to find a melody… I’m a fan of minor keys. Intensity is a part of my music, no matter what it is. If I can find something that’s super intense and melodic, I just run with it and see where it takes me. And often it will start as one thing and end up as something completely different. So I’d say my music, summed up, no matter what it is- jazz, hip hop, rap, trap- the energy I try to give off is like smoke. You don’t want to get too close to it, but you can appreciate that it’s there, and it’s powerful.
Amazing. So what drew you to becoming a DJ and what has your experience been with it so far?
I remember when I was super young, like seven or eight, I had a dream about having floating speakers next to my head that would always follow me around. Everybody had them, but they were silent unless you chose to tune in to other people’s speakers. It was crazy! And it’s been my dream for my whole life to be able to share music with other people. Because sharing a conversation with somebody… It’s fun, definitely. But experiencing the same thing and knowing that their interpretation is going to be different than mine, and they’re going to take that energy and do something with it… One of my favorite things in life is being able to share music with somebody else.
Yeah, it’s like sharing a piece of yourself with them that you can’t express in any other way.
Yeah, definitely! That’s a great analogy. So that’s been a dream for a while. And I did some DJing in high school, I’d play from my laptop at house parties and whatnot. And just getting a feel for what the crowd wants, and what the energy of the room is, that’s super key for me. I love trying to fit the occasion, fit the mood, every time. Find the perfect thing. And it’s not always easy. Sometimes it goes wrong just because I’m feeling something different than what the crowd is feeling. But when I hit that perfect song at the perfect time, and everybody goes wild, there’s no better feeling in the world. I’m an adamant believer that that’s the best feeling in life.
Yeah, exactly! All the pieces fall into place. I think it takes a certain degree of empathy and ingenuity to find the right song for the mood. So if I can hit that, I feel like I’ve succeeded in my goals. So coming to KPSU was a dream come true, because now I can create the mood, I can create the energy that I want to give off, and if other people want to discover it, they can. I know that some of my friends do and they love it every week. It’s a dream come true, for sure.
If someone were to listen to your show, what do you hope they would take away from it?
My hope is that they come away from it having heard something they may never have heard otherwise. I play popular albums, but I think the beauty of playing an album straight through is being able to appreciate the overall message of what an artist is trying to say. ‘Cause one song has a message, but within the context of an album, it takes shape in a way that is completely different. So when I play a full album and I talk about it, I really try to bring my interpretation of why it sounds a certain way and how I connect with it. And I hope that gets people to think about how they can connect with music and emotionally relate to it. That’s my goal for the show.
Well, I think you are hitting your mark. Thank you so much for sharing with us today!
My pleasure, thank you.
This interview was brought to you by Lara Lee Ingram (Little Squigg) of The Dreamers Guild!