Toronto-Based Pagan-Punker NYSSA Talks To Us About Her Debut Irish Shows, Her Upcoming Second Album, and Marrying Paganism with Rock ‘N’ Roll

The mononymic pagan-punk artist NYSSA got a taste for music at a young age. “I was in choir in elementary school, but I don’t know if that quite sparked the excitement,” she laughs, while in conversation with Post-Burnout. “It kind of more happened when I was around twelve or thirteen, and all the ‘The’ band were coming out – like The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Strokes, and The White Stripes, and The Libertines – and that hit me at a ripe, romantic young age, and I adored those bands, and it just never really occurred to me to only listen; I heard them and wanted to do that. I wanted to do that, too.”

She continues, “I saw Yeah Yeah Yeahs when I was thirteen, and Karen O spat water all over me [Laughs], and I just wanted to do that, too.” Soon, NYSSA began getting involved with her local punk scene. “I had friends who were more nestled into the hardcore scene,” she says. “[Laughs] But it always kind of set me on edge to be that level of hardcore! But, yeah, I gravitated towards the ‘70s punk from a very young age.

“Despite being quite an awkward, nerdy kid, I have never liked rules. [Laughs] I would be always off, doing my own weird thing instead of playing sports because I just couldn’t handle the rules. So, punk always appealed to me for the breaking [of the rules], and for shattering things open and asking for something new, and that’s something I’ve always valued from music, whether it sounds like punk or not; the ‘I don’t like the way things are and I want to change them’ attitude.”

Photo by Calm Elliot-Armstrong
Courtesy of Amplify Agency

Not too long after, she started realising her vision. “I played my first show when I was fourteen,” remembers NYSSA, “at this venue in a Toronto neighbourhood called Kensington Market. So, I started writing songs really young. I’ve still got my first book of lyrics, which is really mortifying, but really funny and fun to look at. It’s good to be able to track your process, I’ll say. [Laughs]” For years afterwards, NYSSA was the vocalist for the local indie punk band Modern Superstitions. About eight years ago, after the band broke up, NYSSA began learning to produce on Ableton, and started her own eponymous solo project.

With this music, NYSSA blends her rooted interest in rock ‘n’ roll and love of rule-breaking with her paganistic spiritual foundation and philosophy. “I feel like I’ve always kind of had this witchy, pagan influence on the music,” she says, “and it’s been a throughline, but I would say that during the pandemic is kind of when it became more conscious, and I started really weaving it into the stories that I wanted to tell. Instead of having it be this symbolic texture, having it be more of a philosophical foundation, because I really found my way, hardcore, back into witchcraft and paganism during the pandemic, and it became my coping mechanism to organise my mind.”

It can be argued that the entropy of the pandemic had a catalytic effect on her beliefs being fully realised. “For thousands upon thousands of years, we had these ways of giving meaning to difficult lives, via living in-tune with the seasons and the cycles and having these rituals and ceremonies that we would perform at various times of the year and at various points in our lives,” NYSSA says. “And I feel that when we lose that organising principle, it all becomes too much to bear. So, I think you can really sense that a lot of people are really craving something along those lines of communal ritual, and ceremony, and spirituality, and order, to not just fall into the chaos, and maybe birth something new from chaos, because chaos always leads to birth.”

Next week, NYSSA will play her first Irish shows, when she plays an acoustic set at the famed Ruby Sessions at Doyles on College Street, Dublin on the 21st, and a full-blown rock ‘n’ roll show at Little Whelan’s on Camden Street, Dublin on the 30th. As a first-generation Canadian with an Irish mother, NYSSA had the opportunity to first come to Ireland with her mother – who was visiting for the first time since she was a child – last year, when she explored Belfast, Limerick, the Hell Fire Club, and the countryside.

“I feel like for people with Irish ties, it’s a very strong ancestral call,” NYSSA says. “And, as a kid, I felt it. I felt it very strongly; being drawn to the music and the fairy tales and the mythology, and just the image I had of it in my mind. And then I came, and I found it really strongly matched the image I had in my mind since I was a small child. So, I’m very excited to come back and play my first shows, and I want that to be a regular thing.”

Last week, NYSSA released a four-track EP, consisting of her new songs “Blesséd Touch,” “No More Bodies,” “Werewolf,” and “Breakup Party.” The EP is a waterfall release for her upcoming sophomore album, Shake Me When I’m Foolish, which drops on February 1st. “I think it’s a very raw and emotional album, but I also think that it is an invitation to party and occupy space and be in each other’s hair, in a way,” NYSSA says of the record.

 “And I, personally, have a lot of belief in rock ‘n’ roll; it’s the genre that I love most. And, speaking in the way that we spoke about punk, these genres can get empty when they become hardened, but I think that rock ‘n’ roll was kind of the first…the way it came upon the scene with the advent of teenagers, and moving into the ‘60s and the ‘70s, and the possibilities, and the sort of rebellious Dionysian – moving back into the polytheism [Laughs] – just breaking open the straight-laced, puritanical confines of societal norms, and I do still think it has the power to do that, and nothing quite compares to being in a room where powerful, primal rock ‘n’ roll is being played. I think it is a very pagan experience.”

NYSSA will perform two shows in Dublin, at The Ruby Sessions in Doyles on the 21st (Tickets will be available here from this Sunday) and at Little Whelan’s on the 30th (Tickets are available here). NYSSA’s new album, Shake Me When I’m Foolish, is out from February 1st and you can presave it here. You can keep up with NYSSA and find her social media links on her website. Check out our full interview here:

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