Ragnhild I H Jordahl is lead singer in a band called Soda Fountain Rag.
The band consists of
Ragnhild on drums and vocals
Moa Paulin on keys
Alessandro Paderno on guitar
Fabio Benni on bass
How would you describe yourself?
I am an autistic, non-binary, and very geeky person. I am trying to become a philosopher (currently working on my PhD), and I have a music project which is called Soda Fountain Rag. Soda Fountain Rag has been going on in some shape or form since early 2006, and currently it is a band with three people besides myself.
I find describing myself a really difficult thing to do, as I do not know what people might find interesting. I am a cat person. I love the moons of the solar system. I am scared of driving, but working on becoming less scared. I love headphones. I am scared of being an adult. When I think about my school days I get nauseous. I enjoy being an adult because that means I never have to have a gym class again. I contradict myself. I enjoy and appreciate things being “OK”, because OK is far above how bad I know things can be. I live in the countryside outside of Bergen, Norway, with my husband and our cat. I am never lonely, and never bored. I like to climb trees, but finding good trees to climb is hard.
When did you first realise you were autistic?
It was first suggested to me by my then psychologist in January 2015, after I had been very ill for a long time. I was just being shipped from psychologists to psychiatrists and back again, and no one really did a proper job, until this one person asked me whether I had heard about Asperger Syndrome, and said that she suspected I had that. I reacted to this by going to the library, because I didn’t have enough information about autism to really know what she had suggested. After reading about Asperger’s and autism for a short while I started to recognize myself in the descriptions I read. The stuff I struggled with, and the stuff I had struggled with in the past suddenly started to make sense. It was a wonderful feeling! After this we started on the path to a formal diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome (still a diagnosis in Norway where I’m from). In the beginning the Asperger diagnosis was important for me, but after some months had passed I settled for autistic as my identity. Discovering other autistic people, and seeing that there is a whole autistic community out there has been truly wonderful for me. Both because it is lovely to meet people with similar experiences to mine, but also because this community teaches me a lot. There are still lots of things about autism I do not know, or do not understand, and I want to learn more. Lately autism in itself has been a special interest for me.
How do you think being autistic has impacted your art?
I think it has impacted both the art in itself and also the fact that I am an artist, and that I feel I belong on a stage. Particularly in childhood, when life at school was hell, the life on stage as a dancer was very important to me. This was a way of interacting with people which was scripted, which had distance, where everything had its place and made sense, and where I could pretend to be someone else, someone with different properties. When I was dancing I was worth something. This was not the case in school. I am forever grateful to my dance teachers for giving me the feeling I was worth something, and equally disappointed in my school teachers for the opposite reason.
The same things apply now that I am a musician. I think it can be hard to understand how someone who is not very competent on human interaction and who has pretty grave social anxiety can thrive on stage, but I think it is connected to the fact that the concert situation is mine, and that when I am on stage it is a situation I can control. You cannot control an ordinary conversation in the same way. And even though the songs are written some time ago, and the set list is decided, it is still communication, and I still have something important to say to my audience in those moments the concert lasts.
In addition, I think that being autistic both influences the songwriting process, and also the topics explored in the lyrics, with songs like “Lovesong for the Geek”, and “I sit and wait for what” for example. I need to be hyperfocused when writing songs. I want the process to be fast. Songs which are not more or less finished in one day will most likely never be finished.
It is of course also the case that it might have been easier to travel around and play concerts with a neurotypical brain… So in that sense being autistic does not only influence things in solely positive ways. I assume it is practical to be able to contact promoters, to not be afraid of meeting new people, and so on. However, I have wonderful people in my band which makes it possible for me to have gigs organized without me being the one trying to organize these things.
What advice would you give other autistics who wanted to develop their creative side?
Always do something you love doing. Don’t try to make compromises with your art to fit a particular public. I have very marginal success with the stuff I do, but I was able to find a tiny group of people who like the stuff I make, and I would rather mean something to this tiny group than try to find a larger audience and then fail at that…
Here’s a link to a video of the song Lovesong for a Geek played in London 2016