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Shannen Roberts: The Strange Is Beautiful

Shannen Roberts is a 22 year old musician, blogger, yoga instructor, and advocate for self-love as well as feminism. She radiates positivity and is impacting her community through her involvement in these topics.

Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m known for eating a lot of corn based products lol….like tamales, tortilla chips, tortillas, choclo, canchita, you name it ahaha. My friend Lou calls me corn master hahaha. My career goal is to work somewhere that doesn’t abuse me and pays me enough so that I can live comfortably with good health insurance…and to be hopefully doing something within journalism, PR, music or mental health – any career that let’s me maintain good health and happiness, that’s the career for me. I inspire…to live on my own with many cats…ahaha. And to continue doing what I can to help others with my activism work.  

What’s the best advice you have ever received?

To never quit and to put myself out there. I’ve been told this A LOT throughout my life yet, oddly, have had people ask me “how do you put yourself out there? I’m afraid to do that…how do I start?” and I think, YOU’RE ASKING THE WRONG PERSON I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING AND I’M ALWAYS SCARED but then I tell them exactly what people have told me: to never quit and to be loud about it. My mom was the first to tell me this. She’s the best. My number one fan always. In everything I’ve done in my life since I was little, when things would get hard, challenging or tough and I wanted to quit, she’d say “quitters always quit.” That’s an old saying that doesn’t apply to everyone, but it worked for me and has kept me going to this day. My mom didn’t want me to quit anything just because it got a little hard. My mom wanted to see me figure it out and succeed. Parents can give verbal advice all they want, but kids learn from parents’ actions. I saw my mom in action all the time fight for what she believed was right. And she’d never give up! From the small things like, no this coupon is definitely not a day old lol…to the big things like, she brought her whole family here from Peru, learned four (maybe five by now) languages, fought for my Spanish teacher in high school to respect me, fought for my brother’s choir teacher to respect him and pay him the money she had promised him. Seeing a five foot tall Peruvian woman have THAT power has forever engrained in me that once I set a reasonable goal, I can find a way to complete it no matter what.  What’s your best advice for handling criticism? Do not take to heart any criticism. Who CARES what anyone else thinks. I’ve been told my whole life to change. My choir teacher in high school straight up told me I’m a terrible singer, a terrible piano player and I should just quit music. She went out of her way to bar me from playing any shows…but then I made my own music club where we’d have lunch shows that were featured in newspapers and she called me into her office, apologized and thanked me for bringing the school together with music. My pageant director asked me if I have any other “talents” for the competition because my songs aren’t good, and yet when I played my own original song anyway wearing the combat boots and floral dress they hated, the whole crowd was singing along to the choruses of my song and I won.

People are afraid of “different.” Anything that is outside of the box scares people. I think I’ve scared a lot of people in my life.  If someone’s criticism makes me go into a spiral of self-doubt, after taking the time to cry and vent, I then take a moment to reflect and ask myself why. What insecurities do I have that are allowing me to believe that the critic is right and I am wrong? What can I do today to love myself and gain inner power to be confident in my work again? I’ll make a list of all of my insecurities, acknowledge that though they are real, they aren’t the truth, and write a statement that is the truth. Then I do some self-care and self-love practices like yoga or I just go ahead and get back to songwriting or zine making. When I’ve recovered from the blow and am not triggered anymore, I send the person that triggered me loving energy when I meditate to thank them for strengthening me and, if it was a mean or hurtful criticism, I send them love in hopes that they will heal inside too.  

How would you describe your musical style and how long have you been making music for?  

I mainly play piano and keys, sing and songwrite. I’ve been playing music since I was five years old. My first band was actually a Fab 4 band with my brother and my cousins where I played bass lines on the piano that my brother taught me…when I was five hahaha. I have videos, it’s hella cute to watch. My mom put my brother and I in classical piano lessons from five until I was sixteen and random voice lessons here and there. We were also in and out of recording studios as little kids because we were hired to sing for things like Hal Leonard’s kids songs. 

Photo taken by Luisa Ruiz for Cusi Coyllur

I’d say my current Cusi Coyllur music has the anxiety of Fiona Apple, the power of Amanda Palmer, the experimental electronics of Bjork and the energy of Bikini Kill. But that is comparing myself to all of my idols *cue Wayne’s World scene “we’re not worthy!*  I think the thing that makes me slightly a unique butterfly in the music industry are the stories I tell and my persistent effort and intention to make each song different. I like to manipulate my voice so it sounds like I’m 5 years old or so I sound like a bratty pre-teen, a ghost, an instrument or whatever the emotions or persona of the main character of my song is, I’ll morph my voice to fit it. (videos of “amivulnerable” sneak peaks:

Usually I’ll create these dramatic distinctions in my voice to match the emotions of the story. In the song that we’ll be using for our second music video on domestic violence awareness called “amivulnerable,” I wanted to sound completely numb. I sort of practice method acting for my music. I put myself in the shoes of someone feeling powerless in a destructive relationship (totally hasn’t happened to me IRL ha ha ha) and made my voice sound, quiet and swoopy. At first I had tried to make it sound monotone and my brother, Kevin Roberts, he produces me, said it sounded too robotic and wasn’t giving off the emotion of numbness. So I tried again and put in swoops and he said that’s it! We added some delayed repeated words and phrases to make it feel like the person is overwhelmed by the situation and by their own thoughts. The swoops, to me, gave the character a feeling of ghostly-ness, like they are slowly dying or already a part of them is dead, hence why they don’t have enough living power to save themselves from their destructive relationship.

I was told at my first show as Cusi Coyllur by an audience member that I cater my songwriting to what the songs need to tell the story best so each song sounds different. We take that a step further by having Alex Floyd dance the emotions of my inner self. So while I’m not moving much on stage to show that I’m “numb” and feeling powerless, Alex will tell the story of the pain I’m holding in with big movements. 

For me, the most important part of my music is telling a story that is relatable and provides insight, and that an audience can clearly understand and feel.

I understand that you are a Yoga instructor, what inspired you to dive into the world of Yoga and how has it impacted your life?

My mom. My mom is the coolest person ever and is the reason I do everything I do hahaha. She was doing yoga FOREVER before I was. My mom is from Peru. In Peru her mom used to make her home cooked meals everyday. When she moved to America as a young adult, she didn’t know how to cook but noticed that Americans don’t cook, they eat a lot of McDonalds. She started following the norm until she noticed she was gaining weight and was super confused. She did her research, learned to cook, became so health knowledgable it’s ridiculous, and started exercising and practicing yoga. I saw my mom do a headstand when I was 12 years old and was so freaked out and thought she was so weird I never wanted to go back to yoga. I wrote out my whole story on my yoga site and in a zine I made for The Strange is Beautiful about this but long story short I had been a hardcore ballet dancer (classes 5 times a week plus rehearsals plus shows), got extremely injured from ballet, had to quit, and the result was not pretty. My body couldn’t handle going from exercising all the time to being a vegetable, so I developed anxiety, depression, panic attacks and a bunch of other caca. I practiced a yoga DVD at my house, started to feel better, joined a studio and one thing led to another. I was hooked on being able to move again without having to push or hurt my body. I was hooked on learning to listen to my body and give it what it needs for the day. It was like secret, and I wanted EVERYONE to know so they could help themselves too. Hence why I teach and started The Strange is Beautiful :)  

Over the years I have seen the way you inspire others through your art and your blog, The Strange Is Beautiful, what was the process of creating the brand? Where did you draw inspiration from? For those who may be intersted in starting a similar project, what were your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them? 

I had a lot of self doubt creating The Strange is Beautiful. I at first made it as a secret. I didn’t share it on my personal social media and I signed my name as “Shay” instead of Shannen on everything because I didn’t want anyone to know it was me. I felt embarrassed. In high school I was bullied a lot and I was scared I was going to be called weird and crazy for coming out with my story of anxiety, panic attacks, depression, social anxiety and all my other crap. I was scared I would be attacked online and ridiculed in person. The more I posted and started seeing the positive feedback, the more confident I became in, yes my story is valid, yes telling my story helps others feel safe and confident to tell theirs, yes giving advice based on my personal experience and yoga trainings is helpful, yes, yes, yes. I just want to help people, so once I saw that it was helping people, I felt it was worth the risk and I felt safe having people support me. Talking about mental health is much more accepted today, but there is still a lot of fucked up systems that do not accept it. Not everyone can talk about their mental health like I do. Not everyone has that opportunity. I do what I do to give voice to those that cannot speak and to bring awareness to the need for our voices to be heard and understood. To be honest that same thing happened with my music. It’s crazy that I’m doing a solo project. It’s crazy to me that I’m finally releasing my songs. I used to get panic attacks when my brother would try to record my songs and we’d have to stop. I really do make myself revisit the trauma that the song is about when I record so it was hard to get myself to play music again. Backtrack, I used to play music ALL THE TIME with no fear. It was my thing. I played for my family, my friends, I’d play solo shows on the weekend, I’d put together duos, trios and bands for shows for my songs, I set up my own lunch shows and festivals with other local artists….and then I joined a serious band with my brother called GrowYoung. I felt like, this is it.

This is going to be my life now, this is going to get really big. But things happened and the band ended before it could bloom. At the same time, one of my relationships ended, I lost my jobs and I didn’t want to be a music major at CSUN anymore. I felt like I had lost my entire identity and never wanted to play music again. I was terrified of music for a long time, couldn’t even listen to it. I put all my energy into healing myself with yoga, teaching yoga and creating The Strange is Beautiful. Slowly I started to play, in secret, under a different name, for small shows and in queer spaces. Slowly I reached out to producer Bill Lefler to record one of my songs, met Lisa Sonoda at a Rookie event who offered to do my first music video and slowly my brother became pumped about my songs and truly believes in the value of the stories I’m telling so he jumped on board to produce me. The stories are all about finding my identity and struggling with my mind obstacles while trying to gather the strength to end destructive relationships with others and with myself. It’s taken two and a half years to convince myself to put myself out there with music and not just keep it to myself or possibly quit and burn all the evidence…and move somewhere quiet with a lot of cats…lol  

Where do you see yourself a couple of years from now?

In a house with my cat with three to four artistic and clean roommates making quinoa with peanut butter and banana trying to hustle doing my passions in LA!!!

Any upcoming projects in mind that you would like to share with us?

YESSSSSSSSS!!!! Super important domestic violence awareness show coming up. Super important feminist video releases. I’m so excited. It’s all SO EXCITING!!

 On Wednesday, October 19, Part 1 of Chingona Fire’s Self-Help and Self-Love poetry and interview will be posted on The Strange is Beautiful’s Youtube and blog !!! I’m so ecstatic to post their stories. I’ve re-watched Part 1 and Part 2 a million times not just because I was editing their videos but because they empower me to keep doing what I do. Chingona Fire is a feminist poetry collective made up of Angela Aguirre and Yesika Salgado. Part 2 will be posted Wednesday, October 26 and Chingona Fire will be performing with me on Saturday, November 5 at Gal Palace for Cusi Coyllur’s SUPER IMPORTANT SHOW!!!

 

I’m premiering my first music video “Woke Up From A Lazy Dream” at feminist center Gal Palace on November 5 at 8 p.m. featuring Chingona Fire.  Seventy five percent of door donations go to our second music video, a modern dance on domestic violence awareness for our song “amivulnerable?” Because the venue takes twenty five percent of door donations, we encourage people to enter our raffle for $5-$30 to win zines, shirts and more and to pre-order our album “Bipolar Lovers in Love” at the show to support the cause.

If you can’t make it to the show or your social anxiety says that’s a terrible idea (lol my life…), it’s okay!!! Our first music video “Woke Up From a Lazy Dream” (#WUFALD) will be posted on Youtube on November 14 and you can donate + receive cute gifts to support our second music video for “amivulnerable?” on domestic violence awareness here: helpcusi.wordpress.com.

*Promo video of show:

Links:

 

Hello! My name is Shary. I'm a student at UC Irvine with a passion for film, writing and graphic design.
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