Pops Magellan: An Interview with Poliana Magalhães

Pops Magellan (Poliana Magalhães)

Pops Magellan, aka Poliana Magalhães, has spent her career playing behind some of the biggest names in popular music: Willow, Adam Lambert, Avril Lavigne, Travis Barker, and more. But no matter the situation, she’s always been true to her own musical voice. Now she’s gearing up to share more of it with a solo album.

Magalhães has plenty of experiences to draw from for her music because she’s had an incredible journey. She grew up in Brazil playing in her family band before moving away and starting from scratch halfway across the world. After some time in Europe, she settled in Los Angeles in 2019 and has become a go-to bassist on the scene.

We caught up with Pops to learn more about her musical journey, her advice for up and coming bassists, and what it’s like to play for 85,000 people.

The debut single, “Misunderstood”, from her upcoming EP is dropping on July 26th. Be sure to follow Pops on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok to keep up with her.

You got an early start on the bass, but your dad actually wanted you to play piano, right?

I was like, “No, dad – I can do it!” He said my hands were too small. He would take me to piano classes, but when he would come pick me up I would be watching the bass class. Finally he said, “I give up, I’ll get you a bass.”

And your family had a corporate band.

That’s right. My dad played guitar, my brother played drums and we started building it up. It was huge – we had five singers, six dancers. We would travel every weekend to play shows and weddings. All types of corporate kind of things.

It was fun because I got to play different styles since I was young. The shows would last like five hours so I’d be standing up with a bass for four and a half hours straight. For a kid [it was a lot], but I was doing it with my family so it was great. It was my school, actually. Dad couldn’t afford for me to go to Berklee or MI or stuff like that. I was in a really small town in the middle of nowhere in Brazil. So it was the way that I had like understand music and travel.

When I read that you started doing that when you were 12, I thought about myself at 12 and I think I couldn’t have handled it. Were you always really into it or did you feel roped into the family business?

No, it was fun because it was a family thing and it became our lives. My dad and mom had day jobs, but we had this thing we could do together on the weekends. It was great. You know, I could be going out with my friends and playing like other kids are playing, but it was fun.

Music was fun. It was healthy, being with your family, playing music, growing something together, learning together. I think it was great. It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun. And things in Brazil are different, you know.

How so?

You do what you gotta do. You don’t think too much about it, you just do things. You make things work and that was what we had. It was like, “We have a band, we gotta do this, we’re gonna do this way, we’re gonna work hard.” We didn’t have money to buy a Fender. Fender was like a dream for us. It was like buying a car or something.

I grew up like playing on a a bass, but it was not easy to play, not the ideal or anything.

So yes, it was a lot of work, but it was fun. It was a good thing.

But it got a point where I was like, “I’m done with it,” especially in a sexist and patriarchal environment. I felt that I couldn’t play with other people. Other people wouldn’t call me to do gigs because, “Oh, she plays with her dad and her brother. She belongs to them,” like that kind of thing.

So it got to the point where I had to get out of there and do my thing. I wanted to play more music with different people. I started moving around Brazil and I started playing every day of the week with different musicians. I would get called at the last minute so much that people started calling me the “Palm Reader,” because I’d be watching everyone’s hands [to play the song on the fly.]

How old were you, when you struck out on your own?

I was 21, but I had already started before that because I was going to school for engineering so I was traveling home every week to play with them. When I was 21, I moved to southern Brazil to a really cool city called Florianópolis. I was studying agricultural engineering during the day and playing every night. I thought, “Ok, I’m finally really on my own here living on my own terms.” But then my family moved there! [laughs] So I said,” Ok, I’m gonna leave the country.” [laughs]

My family is great. I’ve just always had this need to explore and to be by myself. It’s not that they’re not cool, I just needed more space.

So from Florianópolis I moved to Portugal.

What was that process like? Did you know anyone there?

It was a fresh start. I didn’t know anyone.

That’s incredibly brave.

Now that I’m older and I’m looking back it’s like, “Oh my God, I was not thinking,” because it takes a lot. But it’s just my spirit, the way I am. I like challenges and changing my mentality. I like learning how to be in other people’s shoes and understand how other people live. And I really like adapting and changing my brain, like resetting.

When I moved to Europe, I thought it would be better musically, but it was very sexist, too. I had a hard time there because I was a Brazilian woman moving by herself, playing bass, and riding motorcycles. I couldn’t fit in very well, so it was kind of hard for people take me seriously.

So it took me a while, but I got a chance to play with a really cool artist. I was visiting this music store in the first week that I was in Portugal and he was trying some instruments. He won Portugal’s version of American Idol. He was a really great musician. I had a bass, then he got a guitar and there was another guitar player in the store and then we start jamming.

He was like, “Hey, do you want to do a TV show with me this week?” I said yeah. So things started happening like that. But even when you are accepted and you start playing for people, they still treat you differently as a woman.

My experience, like in Portugal and Europe was great and I learned so much, but it was very challenging. It was tough, but I made it made friends. I was able to play and tour constantly and do things. There are good things and bad things about everywhere you go, you know what I mean?

Pops Magellan (Poliana Magalhães)

Photo: Denis Santana

How long were you in Portugal before you moved to LA?

Well, I actually during my time in Portugal I was called to work on a TV show in Brazil. There’s a big network called TV Globo and I got an audition to play for a late night show.

I was like, “…what?” I went to Brazil, played this TV show for two years, going back and forth between Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro. Doing the TV show was great. I played with the biggest Brazilian artists and I learned so much about how things work on TV.

I always wanted to go to LA. So after the TV show and going back and forth to Portugal, I moved to LA. I went to NAMM in 2018, came back to Portugal, and then 2019, I said, “I’m going to move there.”

You mentioned having to deal with sexism. Are you still dealing with that in LA?

Yeah, still, but it’s different. People are more ahead here, for sure. It’s gonna still happen for a while, I think. It’s gonna take a few generations to actually get much better but I try to not focus on this much anymore. I just move forward because If I pay too much attention, at some point I’ll be too much in my head. I cannot do much more than I’m already doing to change things.

I was going to ask if you had advice for other women dealing with it. Do you just put your best foot forward and ignore it?
You can ignore, but I’m aware of everything. At home with my partner, I explained a random situation at a soundcheck. They treat me like I don’t know what I’m doing. It happens all the time. I always point it out to my partner when we’re working together because sometimes we play together. So it’s like small things, you know, daily.

I think it’s more about just doing your thing. We women allow ourselves to be whatever we want to be and fight for it. Don’t let any judgment or whatever stop us. This is the best we can do.

I was born in a small town in Brazil. I couldn’t be myself. I could just play bass to help other people, to play for other people. I could never do something for myself. That was weird, you know? And then here I am in LA playing bass for a living. Nothing can stop you.

It’s like a scale. You just do a little bit and then the next person does a little bit more and things will get better, better and better.

Once you got to LA, you’ve gotten to work with some incredible artists. What was the path to get you here like?

I didn’t know exactly who I wanted to play with or what stages I wanted to play. I just knew that I had to follow that thing that was driving me. I just had to go and talk to people and go to jams and say, “Hi, my name is Paulina. I play bass. I’m from Brazil. Give me work.” I just started showing up at places and talking to people. I couldn’t speak English, by the way, when I moved to LA. It was very basic.

I think you just attract, you know, the opportunities and stuff. L. A. is a place where you can, you can get it. If you’re willing to work, you’re going to have all the opportunities. You just need to go talk to people, network, show up, and show your face. LA a big place, but it’s a small circle. You end up knowing everyone, everything’s connected.

Speaking of opportunities, you played Wembley Stadium with Adam Lambert. The video of you performing “We Are The Champions” is incredible. What did that feel like?

Yeah, that was one of the highlights for sure. I had been working with Adam for almost three years doing tours, a Vegas residency, a bunch of shows – just really cool stuff with him. We had this tour set up, but I’m at the point where I just want list of dates and then I’ll figure out where we’re going. I knew that tour we would play Royal Albert Hall, which I was excited for, but I didn’t see Wembley Stadium on it.

I got into the van and we went to the stadium. I was going to walk into the dressing room, then someone opened the door where I could see the whole stadium. It was like, “Ok, this is not a regular venue.” There were so many people. I felt the energy, the frequency, the vibrating of the floor.

When we did the soundcheck, I couldn’t even picture how many people could be there. When they opened the door for the performance, I thought, “That’s too many people together in the same place.” [laughs]

Once we started playing, it felt like I was looking at a picture. When my brain adjusted and I saw people and they’re moving that felt like actually natural. I just felt really at home, like this is right. What I love to do, feel like get the bass and be on stage.

The energy was just like on a very different level from any other venue or audience or anything that I have done before. Wow. 85,000 people, you know, and they all singing together.

You’ve worked with so many top artists and now you’re working on your solo album. Judging by the sneak peek of “Misunderstood” that you sent, it’s going to be amazing. What’s your creation process like?

I like to experiment and freestyle. I don’t have like an actual process. Each song is different, but “Misunderstood” is a song that I’m really proud of because I was able to play things myself, come up with the ideas, the structure, program the drums. And I was like, “Wow, I’m actually good at it!”

When do you think the album will be out?

I’m playing it by ear, but I thinking to do one single a month, then releasing it after four or five of them.

And you’ll be putting a piece of art with each song, correct?

Yeah, I have collages and I do like a lot of self portraits. I’m planning on using my collages as single covers and stuff like that, you know, to promote the album.

Switching gears back to bass geekdom, are you changing your gear for all the different artists you work with?

Yes, depending on the gig I’m doing. For example, this last tour that I was doing with Artur Menezes – opening for King Fish and Buddy Guy – it’s more like bluesy, rock, and psychedelic. I got this Music Man short scale, the Stingray short scale. This thing is so great, so perfect for this gig and even for the traveling. It’s a compact bass that sounds big, sounds great, and is easy to get around. For this gig I improvise a lot, it’s just a jam. Every time we play a song, that stage is gonna sound different because we’re gonna improvise, and I love that bass for that.

We play trio, so it’s a very different vibe from playing with Adam Lambert, for example, where we have keyboards, guitar, drums, and tracks. You kind of have to figure out how to fit in.
It’s very different way of thinking. When I played for Willow, I used a lot of the Jazz bass, too, more like when she was on that rock phase.

I play five-strings a lot, you know. I did a tour with Lari Basilio last year too, and I play a five-string Jazz bass, so it depends on the gig.

Photo: Skylar Joseph

What kind of advice do you have for up and coming bassists?

I’d say look further into your sound, like your voice. Most of the players, they just go work for other musicians, like side musicians and touring. But you should still develop yourself not just as a player, like techniques and simple, like as a whole package and as a musician.

If people nowadays could use less YouTube, because everything’s there, all the information, It’s really hard today to create something new. How can you be really true to yourself when you’re going to create and express yourself? There is so much going on and so many influences, you sit and start listening to another artist or to another bass player and [you risk becoming] kind of copy. You’re going to be influenced so much that where’s your voice? Who are you? So yeah, all the technology and access to information is amazing, but it’s tricky, too.

What else do you have coming up? Are you going back on tour?

No, no. I’m not going on tour for a while. I want to be home. That was enough for now. I’m home with my cat.

I’m working on my album and focusing on my own thing. I’m going to do like a few shows here and there. I’m going with Adam to Morocco. I’m going to do a show there, come back in the end of the month. I have like a few shows with Artur again, but right now I’m focused on the album. So, you know, doing sessions, mixing next song and that stuff.

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