Rebelling Against The Odds: A Sam Mazza Interview
Words by Belen Castillo & Kariann Tan
Determined and headstrong does not even begin to describe the personality that makes up NYC-based Sam Mazza. Creator of the Rebel Hearts podcast, Poptized was lucky to catch her on a free day to explore the beginnings of her podcast (which has recently just turned a year old!) and the prospects based off her current success. We really enjoyed this one, and we hope you do too.
Hey Sam. How are you doing today?
I am doing okay. It is my day off so I’ve been putting together Parahoy orders because with [the event] coming in a week, a lot of people have ordered merch from me. I’m delivering it to their cabins and I’ve just been doing everything to get them together and just filling a backpack full of orders and praying that they all fit.
That’s awesome. Are you going to Parahoy this year?
Yes! I am super excited about it. It’s gonna be my second Parahoy. The first one was really nice, I went last year and it was really cool. This year should be a lot better because there’s a lot more people that I know plus I’d be making new friends.
Before we talk about your podcast, let’s talk about history. Have you been a Paramore fan before you started the podcast, or has it been more of a recent thing?
I’ve been a Paramore fan since 2006. I was just on a podcast called Misaligned and they approached me about doing an entire episode about the Paramore fandom. I was also on another podcast not too long before I started Rebel Hearts and I decided that I just wanted to talk about music. There was this zine by the band BLEACHED called Can You Deal In Conjunction? with their EP of the same name and they interviewed Hayley Williams; Julien Baker; numerous amounts of people. Pretty much all of my favorite front-women ever and they just did this whole zine on sexism and interviewed them and everything. It just really inspired me to start the podcast.
So yes, Paramore was already in my life and from there, it solidified into me doing this podcast with that zine. The whole year before, Paramore was kind of dormant - but we were just really excited to see what they were gonna do and it turned out to be one of the best things they’ve done as a band.
So you were telling me about your inspiration about Rebel Hearts, when did you say you started this podcast?
A friend of mine from elementary school approached me about a feminist-driven pop culture podcast, and maybe around October-November of 2016, we went to a diner after not speaking for a while, where she approached me about doing that. It was something that sounded super interesting and I knew nothing about podcasting. Personally, I was in the dental field and I like science and dentistry, so I never dabbled in sound engineering or podcasting. I really had no fucking clue.
She had asked me to be her co-host essentially and I was super down with it. We did it for about three or four months and I realized that she knew so much about what she was talking about; she had read a lot of books, she knew feminism basically inside and out. She was studying to be a gender studies teacher, her whole heart was in that podcast.
Unfortunately, I was working a lot; 4 twelve-hour shifts and we hung out super late and recorded super late. It was just not working out for me and I don’t think it was working out for either of us because we were on two different wavelengths. You know, her whole heart was in this, this was her project, it was her blog, her website, everything. And I was just the co-host. In the middle of us doing that, she had other projects she was gonna pursue in addition to the one we were doing.
One day I was driving to go pick up my boyfriend, and I decided that I wanted to do a music podcast as a spin off or actually a side-project. So one night, I came up with everything, and the other podcast kind of dropped off and that was it with that. I just pursued Rebel Hearts full force and luckily my work schedule got better and I had more free time. Everything just timed out perfectly and I was able to devote 100% into this podcast and it’s something that I know more about in doing it by myself.
You know, I think it’s something that was always ingrained in me, I’ve been into women in music since studying it in 2009 when I got Cherie Currie’s [a] memoir, Neon Angel, Memoir Of Our Runaway. Basically the book that inspired the movie, The Runaway. Ever since I got that book, I sat down and I read it that whole summer and that’s what got me into women in music. It just kind of spun off from there. I think it’s just always been something I’ve been interested in, and after doing one podcast, I was like “man, maybe I could do this by myself, maybe this is something I could pursue.” That’s how that started.
Considering that you’re so into music and women in power, as I believe something that keeps you and makes you so passionate about your cause and podcast, leads me to my next question: what keeps you motivated through these hard times?
Nice pun. To be honest, it’s really funny that you ask that because there are a lot of times that I think “how am I gonna be going?”. The first couple of episodes that I did were really hard to do because all of the stuff that I was researching. It was really hard to read all the articles that I was reading and also the fact alone that I had a podcast is strange because I have huge struggles with anxiety.
When I put out the first episode, I didn’t tell anyone about it because I was waiting for the right time. When I put them out, they had only one listener. I remember thinking that this was gonna fail, that this is awful, and that nobody was going to care. And you know, it happened in the first couple of episodes that I did up until the first handful - it really was not getting a lot of attention and I got really discouraged super quick. The motivation was definitely at a serious low point when I first started, which is crazy because you can’t just start something out of the game and expect it to be a big, huge, worldwide success. I think I was just struggling mentally and I thought that I failed because nobody knew that I existed.
So how could I have failed just because no one knew it was a thing?
The motivation was actually people who continued to encourage me. I never felt so much support in my entire life than I have since more people have found me. Over the summer in July, I tweeted out about an episode that I talked about concerning anxiety with Paramore doing a lot of interviews centred around [their album,] After Laughter. I did an entire episode about that and about Lindsey from PVRIS. Hayley actually ended up catching wind of it, she told me she had listened to it on Twitter and it was really cool. It’s really cool to have someone like that, it’s crazy because all she did was tweet at me, like she didn’t even put it on her personal Twitter. And let me tell you, that episode started with like 80 listens, I had put it up about a week prior, and by the end of half the day, it had about 2,000. It was crazy, it was just really cool, and after that a lot of people had emailed me, saying that they heard about me through the tweet.
I think that definitely people paying attention and actually responding is super motivational for me. There are days where I think about packing it in and shutting the whole thing down, but all this people are giving me all this love and support that I never imagined and it really is really is just a big help. Like even just people tweeting saying hey good job or hey this episode was cool, you know just really simple. I’m easy to please, so it’s just really cool to see people giving attention.
I’ve been listening to all this and everything you’re saying and this has really struck a chord with me because I never realized this, but starting a podcast I assume, is so much harder than starting a magazine with a team in my instance, because you’re doing it all by yourself. I completely understand that, and having someone like Hayley, a person that you have been following and looking up to for such a long time, finally like giving you credit for your work - I imagine that that would be an amazing feeling, and I’m so happy that you got that.
It was so cool because it was like I wasn’t even trying to get her attention per say. It was more or less of a ‘thank you’ because, I keep saying it, but it’s really nice to hear someone that you’ve grown up with say that they’ve struggled with the same thing that they struggled with. It’s like I’ve been a fan of them for a long time and I felt like I never connected with them as much as I connected with them now. So that episode that I did that she listened to I was actually super excited about because it was more so a ‘hey, thank you for finally telling everybody that you’re struggling with the same things that all of us are struggling with right now’.
I’m just really glad that she got to hear me thank her for something that really helped me out, because had she not done that, I mean the whole band has basically done it and were pretty open about talking about the struggles they had with anxiety and depression and all of that. So if that didn’t happen I don’t know if I would still be doing the same content that I’m doing. It’s not me saying Hayley Williams is the reason that I make a podcast, but it’s everybody that makes it what it is.
The whole point of Rebel Hearts was to make a music community that I never had growing up and that’s why I make the zines that I do and that’s why I commission art for a lot of my friends and I retweet them. The whole thing is a non-profit thing, it’s supposed to uplift people, be a community, and be all these things. So I’m just glad that what I’m doing is being recognized by people in the music industry because it’s basically what I’m doing; trying to make women in music a thing, because it’s not a thing. It’s really cool that she’s the front-woman of the band and I’m talking about bands like Paramore and other bands that have front-women. It’s cool that she’s essentially making it a cool thing.
Has there been an instance where your perspective on a particular issue was altered because of your podcast and the people you have surrounded yourself with and interviewed?
When I started, I had a basic knowledge of the things that were going on. The podcast made me sit down and research things to death. I need to be credible, people need to be able to rely on me. The last episode I did I was talking about Hayley Kiyoko and her sexuality and I knew nothing about her. Someone said that she was identified as bisexual, which turns out, no one has confirmed that. It’s just one of those things that I have to go back and say, 'hey, so you know, this isn’t confirmed, she has never really come out and said that is her sexuality.' I think something like this has really made me try to research more.
But there are topics that I didn’t really know much about that when I started diving in I was like, holy crap. I did an episode talking about how Steven Tyler’s basically a trash person and prior to that, I had no idea of anything about it. I didn’t know about him marrying a teenage fan, that he married this girl who was underage, and that she ended up having an abortion. It was just a bunch of things that made him a trash person and I knew nothing about it.
My friend Christy did a country music episode with me, and while I didn’t know anything about country music, she really helped me out; she really knew a lot about what she was talking about and I was (a) really impressed that she actually knew so much about something she was so passionate about and (b) also the fact that she gave me so much knowledge about something that I never would’ve researched. I didn’t know any of it was there, so it’s really cool to have all these different people give me different perspectives. It’s just really nice that I’m able to keep learning. I haven’t hit a wall yet where I’m like “all right, I know everything about this topic, there’s nothing new to learn”, so I’m always trying to learn, read more books, trying to get more into the nitty gritty of certain things. Like Warped Tour, I have a huge problem with and the willpower it took me to read all those articles about all the shit’s that gone on. I have a lot of patience and the Warped Tour was trying me.
It does help you have this certain community that’s able to engage with you on Twitter and help you with articles and advance your knowledge. Sometimes I think not a lot of people do get that so you’re very lucky and I really do respect that engaged audience that you do have from your podcast.
That's interesting. Let’s get into the nitty gritty of Rebel Hearts; tell me about your standard routine/process. What usually goes into a standard episode? How long does it take? Where do you begin? How do you look up your information?
When I started, I started out with a $20 microphone and a MacBook from 2008, using GarageBand and praying that that was gonna make it. I kinda upgraded and I got better things. A lot of people ask me about the process and it’s funny because I’ll go days, weeks, even a whole month without anything. A lot of people ask me because I have friends that do YouTube and do other things.
Like my friend Cait, God bless her, she does three videos a week, I don’t know how. They’re short but relatively the same content. She does Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and I’m just like oooh girl! I said when I first started this that I’d do episodes every Monday or every Wednesday, and so on and so forth. I actually have a friend named Paige and she just recently started doing episodes every Wednesday or once a week on her YouTube channel. She was saying how she can’t do this anymore because she’s uninspired and she doesn’t want to make a video just to make a video, so she said “I’ll start making videos when I have something to talk about. I’m not just gonna make one for the sake of it.” And honestly, I’ve adapted the same philosophy, I’m not just gonna make an episode just because I want to put out content and stay relevant.
I have a notebook of bands that I want to feature and I used to reach out to bands and ask them if I could use their music, but it became too time consuming and a lot of people weren’t getting back to me. I was basically doing it because I was trying not to get in trouble with copyrights. I mean I buy all my own music, I don’t illegally download it. I usually go on iTunes so at least I’m paying for the music and supporting them and promoting them and doing the right thing by them. I had to stop doing that though because the copyright thing was just getting too in my head, thinking “oh I can’t play this band.” I just don’t play bands like Paramore, bands that everyone knows. It’s not even my thing anyway. I try to play underground bands or bands that no one knows about. I have all my music planned out and I usually try to look for a right time to feature them all. For the country music episode I did try to keep something that aired on the side of country, but obviously I didn’t really play any country music because I don’t know any underground country artists.
I’m also active on Twitter so I’ll just scroll everyday and see what’s going on. I’ll save a bunch of articles and my brain is always going so sometimes I’ll link two articles that I found throughout the week together like “oh, maybe I could do an episode off of this.” Because I try to do one blanket topic. Like one episode I did a whole thing on biracial. So I did a whole thing on Halsey, Demi Lovato, and all the people that identify as bisexual. So I always try to keep at least one theme and if I don’t I’ll try to break it up with the music. For example, for the March for Our Lives episode, I half played a song and I did something else, play a song. So I try to at least keep everything uniform. So then after I get all my content, it usually just happens the same day,
If there’s anything else in your podcast that you haven’t covered as of right now and would like to cover, what would you like to cover and why?
Well it’s funny actually, because when I first started I just wanted to talk about music, just women and music, all of that, but I did a Twitter poll a couple months ago and I asked if my followers would mind if they listened to an episode that’s not just about music, and people were actually pretty receptive to it.
I like the idea of exploring movies because I’m a big fan of movies. My friend Pat, he went to school and got a bachelor’s degree in mixed media, and he loves movies. They’re his favorite thing to talk about, because he knows so many things that I don’t. He’s so knowledgeable and so smart and I love everything that he has to say. His perspective on everything just makes me really proud of him and the person that he’s become. That being said, I love the idea of branching out. I don’t want to extend too far because, like I said, I don’t want to get away from the whole women in music thing, I don’t want to take away from that because it’s very unique.
So yeah, I like the idea of doing movies every now and then but that’s the only thing I would branch out to. I don’t want to do politics because I have to be on point and well versed about the subject. I don’t think it’s fair that I doing something that I don’t know 100% about. It’s like taking away from another podcast or someone who knows more about the subject that I do like a politician or like a historian.
Now that you’ve becoming more experienced within podcasts and particular women in music, is there any advice or any sort of advice that you would give to someone that kinda wants to start a podcast or delve into this particular concept?
My biggest advice is to love what you do. If you aren’t passionate about it and that’s with anything in life, don’t bother doing it. My boyfriend loves listening to podcasts and he loves to listen to different types of podcast, this one guy was talking about starting a Patreon account because he wants to cover his costs. I was bummed about it because I get that people do this for a job and a way to live. I respect that but if you’re just doing this as a side project or a hobby like I am, I don’t think that you should have people cover your costs.
I’m not gonna lie, I bleed money for the podcast. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have a problem charging my international friends for certain things because, it’s just like, why would you charge your friends money? I get that when you run a business, you have to do these type of things but I have never been that type of person. I believe in giving back to the people who give back to me. I made three zines for this podcast and they wouldn’t exist without the people who support me in the end.
I’m really grateful that not only do I know such talented people but they’re all super supportive. You have to support the people who support you and that’s my biggest thing. If you ever want to start a podcast or anything in general, you have to give to people in order to get anything back. In my first podcast I said you had to spend a little to get anything. That’s how I felt with Rebel Hearts.
Another advice I have is to be comfortable with spending a little and putting yourself out there. Know that you aren’t going to come out of the gate and be successful from the start, that’s the main thing I had to learn. I thought that I was going to create and everyone was going to be like, “Oh my god! This is amazing!” It just didn’t happen like that because that isn’t how life works. So be prepared to fail, to pick yourself back up and to give back. That’s my thing, I always try to give back. There’s been times where people have given to me and I didn’t have anything to give them in return. I finally have something to give.
Doing the zines is the best thing I’ve done as a human. Seeing people tweet about them, getting emotional over them and reacting to them. My friend Cait did an unboxing video of stuff that I sent her. She got super emotional. My friend Alex who was in the zine multiple times was happy about seeing himself in it. Seeing people happy over things that I’m doing because they’re involved it just is a nice feeling. I’m so glad that I have a band like Paramore to use as an example of what I want to do because every time they support us, I want to support them. It makes me want to do more for my podcast and my project to give back more. Every time they give back, I want to do the same.
If there’s one thing that you want your listeners to take away from your podcast what would it be?
The main point is to look into our community a little more. It took me a while to pay attention and look into our problems within a community. Which is terrible because I’m old as hell. See that’s there’s issues and that there are solutions. There’s all these issues that I talk about the main point which is sexism and the things that we can change. I always try to provide a solution with each issue that I talk about.
In my recent episode, I talked about how Harry Styles shouldn’t be a "lesbian icon" because he is neither a woman or a lesbian. My solution to that was to look at people like Hayley Kiyoko who talk about loving women and featuring women in her music videos, saying that it’s okay to like girls. I was like, here’s the problem - Harry Styles isn’t a lesbian icon but here’s the solution: Hayley Kiyoko may be. We should educate ourselves on the problem but look within to find a solution.
If you’re just presenting problems but with no solution, then what’s the point?
Agreed. To close things off, what can we expect from Rebel Hearts in the future?
Some context before I answer this: when I first started Rebel Hearts, I was going to see Painted Black in New York. I had emailed the singer and she’s the sweetest person on the planet. I talked to her through email a couple of times and I asked to interview her. She was down for it and the day I was supposed to she was surrounded by a bunch of people talking to her about the band. I ended up just leaving because I was like ‘I can’t do this!’ I had a panic attack and everything.
So, I want to interview people but I don’t feel that I’m credible in the eyes of journalism yet. I’ve tweeted about it before it kind of bums me out because I don’t expect to be like AP Magazine tomorrow. I just feel that I’m not taken seriously. I have episodes, a website, and all these things but I have never interviewed anybody. I’m waiting for the right time and the person. I’m waiting for the right opportunity.
I don’t make any money off the podcast, I barely make any money on merch. I tell everybody that’s not really a sacrifice but it’s more so me giving back. I budget for everything that I do with tissue paper and the stickers. Those things people care about people love the packaging and the free things. It takes me twenty minutes to pack an order just because I want to make. Every time I make a zine, they get a huge response so those are my main sellers. Every time I put a new merch item they get one or two orders and I’m happy with that. I love making it, even if one person wants something, I’ll do it - I don’t care.
The future is very bright and I have a lot of goals for 2018. I want to put the podcast everywhere it belongs. I would love to take this so far and travel with it if I can. I would love to take on the world. I don’t have fame or fortune in my sights.
Listen to the Rebel Hearts podcast now by clicking here.