Artist Spotlight: Oatmeal Queen

Paloma Pendharkar makes “quirky indie pop, piano ballads, and synthy pop tunes.” She also loves oatmeal.

Paloma Pendharkar, also known as Oatmeal Queen, on a rainy day in Gastown. (Aly Laube)

Paloma Pendharkar really likes oatmeal. Specifically, she likes rolled oats cooked with chia over fresh banana and walnuts, topped with hemp seeds, cinnamon, and soy milk.

Her name’s origin story is as simple as that. She’s a queen who loves her oatmeal.

Her origin story as an artist, however, is longer and more complicated.

Pendharkar’s adoption of Oatmeal Queen as a new artistic identity marks a separation from who she is as a person and who she is as an artist. And while that might seem like a new start for the musician, she’s already quite familiar with distinguishing her art from reality.

Life brought grief to Pendharkar when she was very young, with the loss of her father at age four. Coping with that loss scared her so much that, for a long time, she kept her emotions at bay, choosing to express them through music rather than conversation.

“I have always been a very emotional person who needs to work through a bunch of things, so I started songwriting,” she says.

“When my dad died, for many, many years I was very afraid of feeling deep feelings because I felt like I had these crazy, unbearable feelings — that if I allowed myself to feel very deeply that I would get lost in a sea of darkness or something.”

Now, with the help of music and some personal development, that’s changing.

“I feel like, in recent years especially, I’ve kind of been working through stuff in a more deep way …. Even between Paloma Pendharkar and Oatmeal Queen, between the songs I’m writing now and the songs I wrote a while ago, I can feel a shift in my perspective lyrically of, ‘Oh, I’m feeling this feeling and I don’t know what to do with it,’ to the focus being, ‘This is what I want. This is what I feel actually.’”

Her first single as Oatmeal Queen reflects that. A heartfelt, tender ode to her now-partner, “Stay Here” is deeply emotional and full of yearning. Pendharkar’s gentle but resonant voice dances around bare piano — no drums, no strings, just her and her instrument. It’s beautiful in its vulnerability, and for Pendharkar, getting comfortable with existing in that space has been a long time coming.

A part of her past that she’s still happy to carry with her as Oatmeal Queen is her love for theatre.

In high school, she became enamoured with the sweeping melodrama and structural progression of musicals and, with time, found herself using it in her own songwriting. What came out was climactic and unique — a likely explanation for why some listeners deem her “quirky” or liken her to acts like Regina Spektor.

“Melodrama and intensity are definitely things that I’m drawn to in art. I really like it when things kind of go to extremes,” she says. “If there’s an emotion they want to communicate, they make up an extra line that doesn’t fit in the song to communicate that emotion. The songs they make are like journeys, where you go through emotional ups and downs.”

Paloma Pendharkar started off by making music in her bedroom in Victoria, and later in Kelowna, plunking away at keys and singing into her at-home recording setup. She eventually enrolled in a two-year music program in Nelson, worked on cruise ships as a keyboard player, and went to Langara for digital audio production.

It was through that latter program that she put out her first official solo album as Paloma Pendharkar, which she intends to re-record and release as Oatmeal Queen.

“It was the first thing I ever completely produced myself. I mixed it, I mastered it, I did everything on it except one guitar part,” she says.

Other than reworking the album, she’s planning on releasing a music video for “Stay Here,” an homage to her “new era of feeling things,” within the next few months. A three-song EP should be dropped sometime this year as well, but for now, she’s focusing on building a local following.

To keep up with her on social media, follow @whoisoatmealqueen.