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ASHWARYA is Fresh on the Scene and Wasting No Time

The Melbourne-based artist speaks on her Bollywood influence, learning lyrics in reverse and her latest single ‘Biryani’.

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She might be the new kid on the block, but for ASHWARYA that’s hardly taken away from her debut releases’ garnering the attention akin to that of a seasoned musician. Her first single ‘Psycho Hole’, released earlier this year, gained a flurry of positive reviews across multiple platforms, instigating commentary that she was the ‘next big and innovative thing in Australian pop’. 

Impressive in itself yet even more so considering the added difficulties of launching a career in isolation, ‘Psycho hole’ pulled sounds from a dark, nightmarish world elevated impressively by early-childhood Bollywood influences. Indian-born but Melbourne based, it’s these influences that see Hindi effortlessly blended amongst the complex layers of each song, and have contributed to the wide-stretching popularity of her sound.

‘Biryani’ is ASHWARYA’s latest and second release, named playfully after a favourite traditional rice dish, and is a celestial, futuristic track that seamlessly transitions through several distinct musical layers, pushing further the lightning production seen on ‘Psycho Hole’. It’s a track headed by the talented producer Jarrad Rogers, who’s worked with the likes of Diplo, Charlie XCX and Lauryn Hill, and whose new label NOiZE Recordings signed ASHWARYA as its first artist.

Upon the release of the exciting new single, we sat down with ASHWARYA for a bit more insight into her quickly-developing world.

Hey! How’s your day been?
Yeah, it’s been pretty good so far, it’s release week, so it’s been pretty busy!

Are you excited?
Yeah, I’m really keen. I just forget about it until the night before, and then I’m like, “it’s out tomorrow!”

How did you first get started in music?
I pretty much was into music and singing, dancing, all that, since I was little. So I was surrounded by music, predominantly Bollywood music when I was younger, before I even entered school because my grandparents used to babysit and look after me a bunch. So that was really cool to be surrounded by those different sounds early on. Then I just went on to primary school, joined the choir, and then in high school, I figured out that I wanted to take it seriously. So that was pretty much my light bulb moment where I was like, “Okay, I have to do this seriously.”

So growing up you were surrounded by Bollywood music, and I noticed that your songs have Hindi intertwined with the lyrics. How’s your heritage played a role in your music, especially growing up?
I think it’s played a huge role, but I think it’s been quite subconscious. It’s never been like I have to use Hindi or have to use a Bollywood or a cultural sound in my songs, it kind of just came naturally, especially with ‘Biryani’. I didn’t even realize myself that I had all these different sounds in my head that just came out naturally. When I’m in the studio and when I’m singing, or when I’m writing, especially on the spot, I just kind of surprise myself when the Hindi comes out.

When you’re writing songs, what’s kind of the process behind it? Do you come up with the lyrics first or does the beat come first?
I think each song is different, but I think I’ve found that the best way that works for me is the beat would come first. Initially, I used to write the whole song and then come to the studio, but then I figured out that it’s not the truest expression of what I want to sing or what I want to convey. So now I prefer to go into the studio with not any one mindset but go, “Okay, I’m feeling this kind of way, let me try and convey that feeling”.  I live on improv. I love to improvise until I find the right sound. So yeah, that’s kind of become my process now, just doing a lot of improv.

So for you would you say it’s more about the sound than the lyrics?
I think for me it’s like a combination of the two. I think definitely sometimes I catch myself listening to music, not even thinking about the lyrics. Even if I’m just listening to music from a different language, I get that feeling across even though I can’t understand what they’re saying. So I think the sound is definitely really important, but I do spend a lot of time on lyrics as well, just to make sure it all matches up.

Could you talk us through your latest release ‘Biryani’?
So I wrote the song with my producer Jarrad Rogers, and we had this beat. At the start it wasn’t an easy process to get this song, cause it’s got a tempo change and it’s got quite a lot of things going on. So I worked on different iterations of what I wanted to write, and I would just come into the studio, but it wasn’t hitting the nail on the head for me. 

It’s so weird, but I remember my mum made biryani and I was eating it. And we eat biryani only on special occasions, it’s not something we eat all the time, but I was eating it, and I just thought to myself how sick the word biryani is itself and how much I love it. I love eating the food, love the word, and it reminded me of someone at that time who I used to kick back with, and we used to eat biryani occasionally. So I was like, maybe that should be the title of the song. So it pretty much started from the title. It all happened really quickly.

What is it like working with Jarrad Rogers?
It’s so sick. The best thing about working with him is that he allows you to do the craziest stuff. You can literally go into the studio, and you don’t need to feel like you’re boxed into something, like you don’t have to make a pop hit or an R&B hit, you can literally do whatever you want, and he’s really encouraging about experimenting.

I feel like you can definitely hear that in your tracks. You can’t really place them anywhere, they’re dark and nightmarish, and there are so many different elements to each song. Where did that sound initially come from?
Ideally, I’d like to say I did a lot of research and tried to figure out what my sound is, but to be honest it really just happened in the moment. A lot of the songs that I’ve written so far have just happened in the moment, and it’s a weird thing to say, but like I said before, I used to do a lot of research. I used to research a lot of songs and I used to find particular chords, and I used to write them from start to finish, and it never felt like me. But then I realized I could just literally do a lot of songwriting myself. So it’s a combination of bringing in my own songwriting, bringing in this mindset of just freeing myself, and then just singing on the day.

Yeah, I’ve read a lot of reviews and write-ups where people describe it as Billie Eilish-esque, is she one of your influences?
Yeah, I would consider her one of my influences. I think in terms of Billie Eilish, I’ve read heaps of comparisons to her. I think she’s so bold and fearless in the music that she makes and inevitably it’s become pop music. I think five years ago if she had released the songs she’s releasing now, I don’t know if it would be considered pop and I, in a way, totally understand that the kind of music I’m making is like that; genreless, pushing — I don’t know, some might say it’s pushing pop boundaries — but yeah, I totally get the comparison and I think she’s dope with what she releases.

Who are some of your other influences?
I have influences from the early 90’s to 2000’s Bollywood music; I don’t really listen to a lot of new Bollywood music, so that’s been kind of like my early childhood influences. Then my first introduction to western pop music was through — you know those So Fresh CDs?

Yeah, loved So Fresh!
Yeah, so those were my go-to, and it would have all your classics like Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Black Eyed Peas. I would listen to those non-stop and on repeat. So I think those heavy pop, heavy R&B influences in my childhood. Now I would say I listen, or I try and listen to as much music as I can, but I have a playlist on Spotify, and it’s so random. I  have artists from everywhere. I listen to Travis Scott, I think he’s so sick, but I’ll listen to Sufjan Stevens, and then I’ll go to Rihanna or Lizzo. I definitely listen to more pop influences than any other, pop and R&B.

And how about from outside of music, because from looking at your Instagram your really into things like fashion.
Yeah for sure, I think fashion is one of the sickest ways for me to express myself and I like to mix it up. I don’t have any particular like one or two people that I look up to, I kind of just grab inspiration from everywhere. I always like to have a piece, something about what I’m wearing or how I’m looking where at least one element of it is bold, and I think that also resonates with me in how I make music.

So I know that you were listed as number one on the best finds on Unearthed — and you’ve also been described as the next big and innovative thing in pop. How do those comments or that kind of attention make you feel?
Honestly, it was pretty surreal when I saw that article come out. I was literally like, “What the heck!” I’ve only had one song out. I didn’t know if people were going to get it, or maybe I need to release a bunch of songs before I can be heard or seen. I’m super grateful for the kind of comments that I’ve been getting on my music because I make it literally from this moment from my heart and for people to appreciate it, it’s pretty amazing.

Yeah, cause I was watching the video you have on Instagram where you’re listening to your song for the first time on Triple J. What was that moment like, how were you feeling?
I cried, but I didn’t get that part on camera. I didn’t want to show that, but I was really emotional because I didn’t expect that to happen at all. I listen to the radio all the time and to hear your own music on it is insane.

How’s COVID been going for you with your music?
It’s been alright, I obviously never expected that I would be launching my career through a pandemic, but it’s had its perks, and it’s had its negatives. I think all in all; it’s been an interesting process because everything that I’ve had to do has been with limited resources. So for the music videos that I’ve created so far, it’s been shot in my house, and even the one for ‘Biryani’ it’s been shot at home. So I’ve had to really, really think outside of the box, and try and make content that’s of a quality standard, but that’s also gonna be unique in this current atmosphere.

Yeah, with ‘Psycho Hole’ it was filmed on an iPhone with a bike light?
Yeah [laughs]

Was that a fun process?
Yeah, it was super rewarding at the end cause I learnt most of the song in reverse, so I was literally memorizing that and walking backwards, and acting backwards, so the whole process was pretty full-on. It was intense cause you just had to keep doing it until you got it right. I remember I fell in the pool a lot of times to get that shot, but yeah it was sick. Once it was done, it was so good! 

I guess the rest of the year is a write-off for live music so you won’t be playing any shows soon, but what other plans do you have after the release of ‘Biryani’?
I have plans to just create a lot more music! I feel like it’s a really good opportunity because I have this time right now to be at home. I’ve been writing a bunch of music, making songs in the studio, but also trying to find ways to overcome the hurdle of being at home and still try to make content that reflects the kind of art that I’m doing.

One last question, what do you want fans to take away from your music, what’s most important for you to convey?
I just really want them to get a feeling, like if it’s any feeling, even if it’s a negative feeling, just a feeling of something when they hear the music. I think my job as an artist is to convey my feelings and for anyone who’s listening to the music to feel that. When I get comments or DMs like, “Oh I hear this, and it made me feel this way”, it’s like, “Okay, I’ve done my job in creating the music.”

Follow ASHWARYA here for more and check out her new single ‘Biryani’ below.

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