Artist: Helena Protopapas, 22

How did you get interested in music? Both my parents are musicians. They actually met studying music in India. My mom was studying Sanskrit and Indian singing, and my dad was playing sitar and tabla, which are traditional ... Indian instruments. I was born in the Himalayas. I grew up in Pennsylvania, though, because (my parents) ended up relocating to Pennsylvania where my grandparents were. Music's been part of my life since I was born. I started violin when I was 4 years old (and studied) The Suzuki Method. I studied classical violin for most of my life. I was in the orchestras in high school. I think because I was so immersed in music (because) everyone in my family is a musician of some kind. I always picked up different instruments and kind of taught myself.

Did singing come naturally to you? Because my mom was a singer ... I always thought of myself as a violinist. Singing was something I never took seriously. It was very personal and kind of a fun outlet. I didn't think I had that great of a voice. I moved out to (California) when I graduated high school, and I started (using) the loop pedal with my violin and just exploring different ways of creating music. I've always written poetry, so I started making loops with my violin and ... I started to sing my poetry over some of the melodies. Through lots of mutual friends, I found my producer. We just really hit it off and created three or four really beautiful, unique songs. From that, I got signed to Warner Bros. It's all happened very fast.

What are some of the things that inspire your poetry and songs? It's completely visual to be honest. I have synesthesia. I don't perceive music ... sonically. When I write poetry, I'm writing from seeing a film ... in my head. It's like cinematic music ... and I just kind of transcribe what I see ... kind of writing down (my) stream of consciousness. What's really awesome (is that) most of the time when I look back, most of it rhymes. So, it's not too hard to just kind of string things together. I kind of play with words as well with my poetry.

Do you think your style sets you apart from other musicians? It's weird because I don't really listen to (pop) music a lot. I listen to a lot of classical music, world music and a lot of Scandinavian electronic music. I don't think I perceive music the way a lot of people do. I kind of use my violin as ... an adventure and explore different sounds and ways of playing it. I also think I perceive music so differently because of my upbringing and because I've been exposed to so much world music.

Was getting signed a nerve-racking experience? Not really. Music was always a very personal, fun thing for me. I was busking on the streets ... outside of cafes in Los Angeles just for the fun of it. And through that, I met a lot of people, and it's kind of grown to what it is now. I was never shopping around (and) trying to get a record deal. I never really took it seriously enough that I thought anybody would see any commercial appeal to it. (Getting the record deal) wasn't really nerve-racking. I think I was just so overwhelmed with excitement.

Did you see yourself as having music for a career? No. I didn't. I went to boarding school in India in 11th grade and I came back (to rural Pennsylvania) and was very disillusioned. I think (it) made me realize ... how big the world was. When I graduated ... I decide to go to art school where my mom had gone in Philadelphia - Tyler School of Art. But right before that... I went to visit a friend for two weeks in Santa Cruz, Calif. On my second day in California, I decided I wasn't going to go back. There were so many things that I wanted to do. I didn't ever think I'd ever be a professional musician. I feel so blessed that I can do what I'm good at and what I love.

Are you working on an album? My album is pretty much finished, and it should be coming out sometime this year. Because I had three or four songs completely produced before I got signed to Warner Bros., (recording has been) just a really natural thing. We never went into it like, "Let's record an album." It was more just like, "Let's make more songs." I have everything planned for it already, but I can't say. And (with) touring and shows, there's a lot that's going to be happening this year. I'm really excited.

You recently came back to York to teach at a school. One of my greatest joys in life is working with kids. I love sharing with people that you can use difficulties in life as really good material for writing and for making music. It's a great outlet to express yourself, especially in inner-city schools. My mom set this up because she teaches English as a second language (at Devers Elementary School). She just kind of posed the idea to me, and I immediately jumped on.

FlipSide staff


Helena Protopapas:

Listen to the interview: Read more meet-the-artist interviews: Read about Protopapas' recent songwriting workshop with York students:

What is synesthesia

Synesthesia literally means "joined perception." It's a condition in which one sense is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses. Another form of synesthesia joins objects such as letters, shapes, numbers or people's names with a sensory perception such as smell, color or taste.


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