Hello and welcome to the first in two Christmas special episodes of In the Key of Q, the guest in this week's episode is, well, one of the family, really. He composed our theme tune and has been a brilliant supporter of the podcast.
Please be aware, though, that there was extensive discussion of depression and including some references to suicide. So listener discretion is advised. As ever, there will be support links provided in the show notes.Paul:
Well. I remember the first time I was depressed, seven years old. And my answer to me? What's wrong with you? I said, I'm depressed and she goes, Oh, seven, how can you be depressed? I was. It was this sense of someone dims the screen and your lens of perception, and everything feels heavy.Dan:
This is In the Key of Q featuring musicians from around the world who inspire my queer identity. Everybody is welcome to the conversation, whatever beautiful identity pleases you. Music helps us feel connected and know that we are not alone.
This program is made possible thanks to the financial support of listeners like you over at hatred on dot com slash in the key of queue, and remember to join the conversation across socials using the hashtag queer music. I'm Dan Hall.
Come on in, sit down and be heard. You've been hearing this week's guests since episode one. He composes and sound designs for advertising and short films and studied music technology at the University of West London, as well as a composer.
He's also a singer performing and releasing under the name to D Loono. So a big, big welcome to the horribly talented and very, very lovely Paul Leonidou.Paul:
Hello. Hello, Daniel San.
I was born in North London, which is a bit of a cliche if you're Greek Cypriot. I remember my mum telling me that at about a year and a half old, the first sign that she saw that I loved music was that I was watching Bugsy Malone with my milk bottle.
I was lying on my back with my legs crossed, swinging my leg and kind of learning every single word that musical. And I remember being so small that I didn't get that they were kids. They were like grown ups to me, you know, in terms of context.
So and then I started singing a bit of Tallulah, and then she got a bit worried was going to be warning signs.Dan:
You should be singing The Boxer!Paul:
Yeah, exactly. I sang that to a saying all of them. Yes, the thing I embrace, the more indiscriminately.Dan:
What was your upbringing like?Paul:
I had a very vivid imagination, and you know, I would talk to things and beings that weren't there. And I was so in my own world and kind of music being this intangible thing that's just surrounding you, I just get swept up into music.
I remember. I remember my mum playing Phantom of the Opera on vinyl, playing a really loud, and I remember hearing that that main piece of music and I could visualize the note, you know, I could see it. It was kind of like this symphony unravelling like an animation in front of me.
So yeah, I was very much, very, very much in my own world. My mum said when she's used to pick me up from school, actually, she could. She could touch her eyes. That was quite bad, but she could tell it was me because all the other kids are walking kind of very, you know, you uniformly, very slowly. And I'll be the one jumping up and down and spinning and deviating from the line, she goes, I just summed you up, you're always singing and you know, it's a real, joyful. Joyful child, you know, I. I remember laughing or smiling a lot.
But I also remember there was there's that tipping point where you kind of realize other kids aren't quite so expressive and then and then you start getting singled out for it and from quite a young age. I remember thinking, Oh, I'm getting picked on for this.
I'm getting singled out for this. And you start to see that. There's a message that that you're being fed, which is, you know. What you are in your natural. Form is not OK or not accepted or is a point of ridicule, and I think sadly, that's when I kind of started to retract into my shell.
You know, so…Dan:
A lot of the time we get asked as great people, when did you realize you were gay? And my stock answer to that is always been. I didn't realize I was gay. What I did is realize that other people thought I was wrong.Paul:
Yeah, that's a really good way of looking at it. A grammar school, you know, career about age 13, 14. Everyone was calling me gay, I had long hair. I remember I was quite expressive. I moved my hands a lot, which I just thought was a Mediterranean thing or just being gay.
But it was very I realized there were I was being called gay in all these different words, and I didn't even know what it meant. And I kind of thought, you know, whether they thought I was or not, I was just slightly different and a bit creative.
I don't know what it was, but it also came a point where. I did get bullied quite a lot, but I also played into it, so as in, there was one point where somebody says, Oh, you're queer, you're gay, whatever, and I said, Yeah, I am, what are you going to do about it?
Yes, if he's not the guy, then I'll be like, Yeah, yeah, and I'd I thought I'd play into it to kind of defuse the situation, but actually it made it worse. I went to an all boys school, which I don't recommend, by the way, but I remember I was sobbing.
In classroom and all the other kids have, all the other kids had left sorry and. Our image saying to the teacher, everyone hates me, no one likes me, and I think he kind of caught on to the fact that it was gay related issue and he was a former priest and obviously very religious, and he just turned to me goes, Well, I can't make people like you. Charming, I thought. That's nice.Dan:
So, Paul, you talked about you going from this outgoing, bubbly kid and then I guess. Witnessing the gradual disapproval of the world around you, the sort of suburban mode around you of your outgoing us, and you gradually retreated into yourself.
What did that feel like retreating into yourself and what did it look like, what was your behaviour like? What was your what were your thoughts like?Paul:
Haven't really thought about it in these terms, so I'm just kind of. Mulling it over, because I think actually. Kind of putting on an act or pretending or at least holding certain parts of my personality back became second nature.
Greek Cypriot grandparents. They loved me dearly, but, you know, devoutly religious and from a different world. So, you know, they always just thought gay equals evil. And I kind of had that level of understanding where I thought, would that from a world that can't comprehend it?
So I don't kind of I don't judge him for it. But then you fall into the the habit of apologizing for who you are and apologizing for your existence, albeit under your breath and internally. I think I found myself becoming quite exhausted quite quickly, and, you know, a sense of imposter syndrome and what if I get found out? And there's that constant feeling of looking over your back. And I remember people used to say to my mum, Of course, too soft, you need to toughen them up. You'll be a sissy when he grows up.
And so those things ring they stay in your mind, you know? And to some extent as well, I kind of agreed with the wider opinion or, you know, I did believe that there was something wrong with me as well. So just pretend, hopefully no one will find out and everything will be OK.
But obviously that takes its toll well for a while and especially when your identity still forming and you figuring out who you are.Dan:
You've spoken a bit about your Greek Cypriot identity. What does that mean to you?Paul:
It means something different to me now than it did when I was younger. I mean. So growing up, you know, single mother, she used to work a lot, so I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and so I'd speak Greek to them and I'd hear stories from the old, from the old days in the villages and some very bizarre characters.
If you go to the British Museum and look at Cypriot ancient, separate, specifically artifacts, they look like bizarre, quirky. Nutty clowns. They're just something really funny and endearing and childlike about them. And I'm going with my friend Fiona, and she saw some of these statues.
She goes, suddenly, I understand you better seeing that. I think there's such a rich tapestry to draw from, and it's wonderful to be a part of that. And then there's the kind of less appealing side where, you know, some of them used to be quite judgmental and narrow and bit sexist, homophobic, et cetera, et cetera.
I think, you know, the younger generations are definitely getting better. But there was this weird sense of balancing and treading the line. But as a child and as an adult? Being Cypriot. Greek Cypriot, especially, I think, yeah, it's I appreciate what a special island it is. It's very beautiful, has a quite sad history. But the resistance of magic, and I think that's the side I tried to embrace.Dan:
And how do you feel that weaves into your British identity?Paul:
Growing up, I see this is less politically is less politically correct to say this these days or less PC to to ask someone a question because someone would say, Where are you from? I'd say London or Rochester or wherever.
I don't know where you're really from.Dan:
It's basically saying, Tell me the origin of your otherness, isn't it? That's really what they're saying. They're saying, I look at you and you look like the other.Paul:
I remember going to Cyprus on holiday and it'd be like, You're English, you're the English boy. And in England, at school, I know your Cypriot. You're different, you're different. And so there was a sense of always being, you know, ping pong from one tribe to the other.
You don't quite belong with us. You don't quite belong with us. Your identity is this your identity? Is that? And at a point in life where you really, really want to fit in and belong, that was very difficult romantically.
I always thought the outsiders had this automatic sense of solidarity, but there can be a lot of conflict from outsider to outsider as well, because everyone's trying to struggle and find their own way. And I think there's a sense of dissonance there, which is quite sad.Dan:
What is the adult Paul like? So he's left school. So who is this person that is thrown out onto the world?Paul:
Because you pick some tough questions, don't you? All right, let's use the system, put myself in the therapy session, OK? Listen, I'm still. I'm still that sensitive kid. I still have a great sense of magic and imagination. Unfortunately, you know, there have been some very.
Very traumatic incidents in my life. Know, I think we all have. We all have things that scar us and shape us. And as you know, you know, through our friendship that, you know, depression and anxiety have reared their heads several times in my life.
And there was kind of a coming out when I first admitted I had depression, and that was interesting, and I was almost too ashamed to admit that to see this as a running thing, this internalized shame and this sense of what you are isn't OK. It's not OK to be depressed. It's not okay to be gay. It's OK to be sensitive. It's not OK to be not as masculine as as, you know, cowboys, you brand cattle or whatever. So. I think.
The grown up me now is more accepting of the of the darker aspects of of of my psyche and to realize that. If you are depressed or anxious, you know, it's well, I remember in a in a therapy session, Akanbi who said it, but there's a sense that your brain is just trying to keep you safe. And so it will try and lock you down and make you more lethargic and make you want to stay at home and protect yourself because that's just it. You've had something traumatic happened to you in a certain sphere of life, somewhere out in your travels and your brain is just simply slowing down, trying to keep you in a sense of in a lockdown, in a sense.Dan:
For those who haven't experienced it, can you help? Creates a picture, a 360 picture of what that experience is like.Paul:
All right, well, let me start with anxiety, because I find that one easier to. To describe, and I remember writing a blog about this because I, you know, I've nearly taken my life on a few occasions and when I kind of got to the other side.
I had this thought that I needed to make sense of the suffering, and I thought it was any good that can come from the suffering is that perhaps it can ease someone else's. one day I had I felt like I had three exam nerves, pre driving test nerves.
I felt like I just received terrible news about death or something like that. And then the house was on fire and the anxieties of all of those things combined, which is condensed into a tiny ball. And that was with me for most of the day, for several weeks, several months, and it became torture.
It was awful. And there's just a there's a degree of suffering that just seems so senseless because, you know, rationally, I know I'm OK, I'm safe in the space that I'm in right now. But something was spiralling out of control, and a lot of people would say to me, it's the opposite, but I always felt that anxiety so exhausted me to the point of depression, whereas a lot of people would say, actually, depression will trigger the anxiety and who's to say? But that was my experience of anxiety, and after that, I was heavily medicated. And even though I I will say that the medication did saved my life. It also it comes at a price you're addicted, you are foggy, your brain is a bit. Is a kind of Claudia. And there are other issues, let's say that, so, you know. For me, medication wasn't that wasn't the solution, but it did save my life and is one of many stepping stones.
I remember the first time I was depressed, seven years old, and my aunt said to me. What's wrong with you? I said I'm depressed and she goes, No. seven, How can you be depressed? I was. It was this sense of. It can be quite a physical sensation, it's like someone dims the screen in your lens of perception and everything feels heavy, you feel tired, you feel defeated and just lost in this fog and it just genuinely feels like there's no way out and in the same way you get the endorphin rush when you get a text message or a like on social media, it's the polar opposite of that is the antithesis of that.Dan:
Depression and anxiety were a big part of your existence and continue to be so what is the interconnectivity that these feelings have with your music and with the music that you create?Paul:
When when I'm deep in a depressive episode, there's very little I can do, I don't have a desire to create to even get out of bed, so that's quite difficult. But as it's starting to lift, there's this kind of like this, this just before the dawn. The Sun starting to come up and you can kind of reflect on what's just happened, and I wrote a song called Underworld at the end of a depressive episode, and it was really about feeling like I had died; gone to the underworld and then really asking someone, Don't bring me back to life. Don't don't make me cross the River Styx and come back to this realm of reality unless you mean it. As in, unless you're going to allow me to to live in a way that is, I don't know, authentic, if you like. It's part of the journey where you you travel and explore and and the darkness sometimes forces you to try to access places that you wouldn't normally access. And so you kind of have to take the gifts that are given even in the awful scenarios.Dan:
one of the most lovely things about you, Paul, and my friendship with you is how open and honest you are about the anxiety and depression that you're experience, and it makes me feel that I can be open with you about things I'm going through.
And it intrigues me as to why there is society's stigma around mental health and around having discourse about mental health. Where do you think that comes from?Paul:
History. And I think in order to explore various mental health issues and those kinds of themes, you have to be in touch with your emotions and display a certain degree of emotional intelligence. And I think historically showing emotions has been deemed a sign of weakness.
I think that that definitely is changing there is less of a stigma, but I think it's so hard wired into people that there is still that slight resistance and sometimes people will be, you know, have the attitude of pull your socks up and.
And also, I think people who've never experienced depression, I think it's it's it's hard. It can be hard to relate because people often say, what have you got to be depressed about? And I think, well, you know, it's like saying, Well, what have you got to have a cold about? It's just you. You have the cold, you have the depression. It's it's not always circumstantial, but I think circumstances can. Can exacerbate. A depressive episode, if you like, but yeah, I think it's just it's just been talking about our feelings, especially, you know, in the masculine kind of patriarchal kind of society. You know, it's not it's not the done thing.Dan:
You talked about going through multiple episodes, multiple periods of anxiety and depression and multiple points where you were feeling suicidal. And yet here you are recording this podcast, so you've clearly. Found solutions enough that rather wonderfully, you are here today.
Could you share with us some of your coping mechanisms that you have discovered over the years?Paul:
Yes. Silence is what nearly killed me the first time. Silence and shame and keeping quiet. They nearly killed me. And those were the things that I was encouraged to do. Don't talk about this, don't say this, don't admit that you're feeling this way, you don't admit that.
And you know, and and as someone who. Well, we all need to express ourselves, but I think if if you allow your voice to be diminished. I think there's some there's some level of. Of apologizing for your existence.
And and then if you start apologizing for your existence, then you don't feel like you're entitled to the space that you occupy. And if you don't feel valid in the space you occupy, then you start to fade. And that that was kind of my scenario for a long time.
So in terms of coping mechanisms. Just knowing that. We are all entitled to basic fundamental rights, whether that's rights under the law or emotional rights or just being seen, heard, acknowledged and just. Understanding that what you're going through is valid, and because quite often we invalidate our pain and we invalidate our angst and our experiences.
Whereas I've had friends say to me, is that is that an extreme reaction I'm having to this? Am I being over the top? And I'll say, I think you're having a valid response to a very weird situation. Whether you feel it's over the top or whether you feel it's too much or people are judging you does not matter for now. You just need to be OK with it. And is it serving you? Is this how you want to be portrayed? Is this how you want to feel? These are the next questions and you can dissect it.
But I think just normalizing an intense experience I think can be a big game changer.Paul:
I've composed music fine for commercials, for short films and whatever, and you know that music serves a purpose and it was done for a reason. And it's not the most freeing experience, but you're still using the skills of your craft to deliver something that is needed.
Then on the other side of things, I've always been the singer songwriter, but I've always remained behind the scenes because it ties back in to that apologizing for your existence. You cannot be apologetic for your existence and then go up on stage and own the stage and be proud of what you've said.
The two things just don't marry up. So I've done a lot of work on myself in therapy and just understanding that, you know, I have as much right to stand on stage as someone else. But, you know, I had to ask the question, Why can I champion someone else a contemporary appear? Why can I champion them going up on stage yet not champion myself?Dan:
So why would you treat someone else with the grace that they deserve, but not yourself?Paul:
And well, it ties back to everything we've been talking about. I think ultimately low self-esteem that whole. There are still echoes of that, apologizing for who you are and then not fully accepting it. But there comes a point I think, you know, did I create music for me? Yes. Did I create it to be heard also? Yes. And I'm someone who always says that let the material speak for itself, but the material can't speak for itself if I don't give it a platform to be able to speak in the first place.
Because I think it's very important that we don't allow our fears to turn into regrets.Paul:
Even saying I'm gay in certain spheres still still gives him a sense of dread. Some people really need to do to align themselves with a label, and that helps them, some people don't some meat. And again, even with mental health, some people really need to align themselves with a diagnosis.
And I think that really helps because it kind of helps to realize where you are on on a spectrum at any given point. But I don't think I'll ever be entirely OK because in in the sense that. I know that somewhere out, somewhere out there, some people are going to have a problem with who I am and through something that's not my fault. And for some reason, there's this, just it just. I just find it sad, and I think that sadness triggers a little bit of. Of reluctance, if you like.Dan:
Paul, what do you think your 15 year old self would think of you?Paul:
Oh, gosh. I think he'd be impressed that. That he'd be impressed with some of the songs we've written or we we would have written. He'd be. Dare I say to be impressed that we're still alive and I do mean that in the in a series, but kind of comical way.
He'd be impressive, made it so far, actually.Dan:
What queer musicians are you listening to at the moment?Paul:
Well, I'm a big fan of John Grant. I love him, I think his lyrics are just. A fantastically clever and yeah, and the energy behind his music.Dan:
Fantastic. The Queen of Denmark is probably one of my favourite albums. When I discovered it through well, I discovered him through the film weekend, which used a couple of his tracks and gosh, incredible album.Paul:
I didn't know him when I watched that film, actually, and I was just so I fell in love with that film. It was just, yeah, really got to me, and I know you've had him on as a guest, and he's one of my musical partners in crime, Memory Flowers aka Andy Pisanu.Dan:
All the impossibly handsome Andy.Paul:
Yes, yes. And impossibly talented, too. He's just I listen to some of his songs and it's it's so nice when you have a friend who is genuinely talented and you really genuinely like the music they create. Yeah, I wholeheartedly. one of his biggest fans.Dan:
I have to say, Paul, that's also how I feel about you. So I'm now you can know how I feel when I hear your music.Paul:
No, stop. Thank you, I appreciate that. Well. But also, you also I listen to a lot of. You know, eighties music and you know, my comment, I love, I love his voice.Dan:
Some of his Chanteuse stuff is just incredible. The torch song material that he was doing, especially in the nineties and I think nonstop erotic cabaret is another one of my favourite albums. He's just got such an incredible voice.Paul:
Yeah, absolutely. And it's kind of nice having grown up in the area in the era of eighties music. You know, I kind of grew up on Eurythmics and. Go, who else did my mum play in the car she'd play Eurythmics, the pretenders, you know, fantastic songwriters and you know those songs, really?
I ask myself, Do I like this stuff because it's a nostalgia type thing? Or would I like it if I discovered it today? And I think know that there was some really, really great stuff? And also, you blew my mind when the Tina Turner, when I had no idea Bucks Fizz wrote and recorded What's Love Got To Do With It the first time, I literally mind blown, and I love that version as well.
Liberty X’s A Little Bit More I think Anastasia was meant to have that first? I think she turned it down. Maybe it was Kylie. But yeah, it was just, Oh, you hear that? Oh, this was this was penned or, you know, put aside for this singer and then someone else grabbed it.
Also, I think that's true with Elkie Brooks’s No More the Fool.Dan:
Oh, I love the song.Paul:
Samantha Fox was meant to have that, I believe. I think.Dan:
Yeah, I think so.Dan:
Well, it's like Mandy Smith recorded the first version of Kylie's Got To Be Certain.Paul:
But it's like, I've got to be good to business as she can't do that Key change. But you know what, Kylie goes, oh-oh-oh. Oh yeah, she just she doesn't even try.Paul:
Now, Paul, we've got a new bit on the podcast where I say to my guests that they can get two minutes guaranteed. No edit pencil comes out where you have a platform where you can talk about whatever you want, because as you know, I do edit this podcast down.
But the next two minutes I won't do. You can literally talk about anything you want, and the clock will start whenever you do.Paul:
Gosh, this is like a quick fire round. This is bizarre. OK, well, what I would like to talk about is that I went to see the Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum a couple of months ago, and it was the first exhibition I've been to in a while due to lockdown.
And it was the perfect example of how creativity can be sparked from strange places and from different mediums. So, for example, there's a talk about Neil Gaiman and Tori Amos talking about creating, and Neil says, I won't read other books.
If I want to create a book, I'll listen to music or I'll look at a painting. And conversely, Tori says, Oh, I'll read a book or look at a painting if I want to write a song. So I just found that quite interesting how, you know, things can transcend different mediums and kind of spark an idea.
So I went to the British Museum and saw a sketch and the Hokusai exhibition called Ladder of Clouds to the Moon. And I thought this was such an amazing title, and I was just like, This is why you have to come out and expose yourself to things that are amazing.
And I went home and I wrote a poem called Ladder to the Moon, obviously directly inspired by it. And then it became a song, and it's probably one of the most. Poetic things I've done in the while, but still accessible and and it was, yes, and it was a sign of me not feeling the need to censor myself for. Oh, try and write it and. Yes. Not trying to write for this audience or that audience, don't try to simplify something so people may or may not get it. It was the first time, I think, you know, be authentically you and talk about the things you love and the things that you find a beautiful and hopefully other people will see that too. So yeah, that was a very recent experience, but it was a really wonderful one.Dan:
Now, Paul, for those people who falling in love with your music, where can people find you online?Paul:
My more pop electro stuff is under an alter ego called D Loono, and he's released one song and he's releasing a few others early next year, so DeLuna can be easily found at the usual places. But under my own name, I'll be doing the more singer songwriter stuff piano based vocal material, and you won't be able to find that right now, but it will be coming soon. But most of these things are featured on mine and Andy's website, so unstoppable monsters dot com and that all ties back to memory flower stuff. And you can find the D Loono stuff and you can find some YouTube clips of Paul Leonidou on it as well.
So I'd go to unstoppablemonsters.com as a starting point.Dan:
Thank you, Paul. We've been listening to a lot of your music throughout this podcast, but I think we've been saving the best to last. And if there was one song that would act as a gateway into your catalogue to people that didn't know your material, what would that song be and why?Paul:
It would actually be A Ladder to the Moon. And I'll tell you why, because at the core of it is its piano and strings, and it draws on influences like Simon and Garfunkel, who like Cat Stevens, like the people who really inspired me.
And I think if you just want an authentic look at who I am when I'm not censoring the work and just allowing it to flow, then I think that is an accurate depiction of who I am and who I'm happy to be as an artist.Dan:
Paul, thank you very, very much for not only composing our theme tune and being a fantastic support to the podcast, but also being a wonderful guest.Paul:
Thank you for having me and as you know, I'm a big fan of the podcast and I wish you much continued success with this and all of your other ventures.Dan:
Many thanks for listening to this episode with the lovely Paul Leonidou and remember to listen to him on the usual platforms and find links to his home page in the show notes, we have exclusive content over at Patreon.com/inthekeyofq, and then you can join other listeners by supporting the show's production costs for as little as five U.S. dollars a month.
Tell me what you thought about today's episode on social media using the hashtag #queermusic or email me direct on email@example.com and rate and review the show on your podcast provider. It really, really helps.
Our theme tune, of course, is by the wonderful, Paul Leonidou at unstoppablemonsters.com. With our press and PR by Paul Smith and many thanks to Kaj and Moray for their support, the show is presented and produced by me, Dan Hall and made at Pup Media.
Well, that's all for me. Go listen to some music and I'll see you next Quesday.