Author: Justin Grome
• Where are you from? Have your surroundings shaped you in a creative sense, and in what way?
I was born in India, but my family moved to the Philippines when I was 9. I finished high school in the Philippines then moved to Chicago when I was 17. I was immersed in Indian classical music and Bollywood growing up. Carnatic (South Indian) classical is where my training started in India. In the Philippines I was introduced to Western classical music and was exposed to music and TV shows from all over the world. Japanese, Filipino, Korean, American and British music and shows were the main influences. When I moved to the US I got more into jazz, hip hop, soul and industrial metal. I'm not afraid to experiment with sound, and love drawing on influences from around the globe and finding a way to make the sounds work together.
• What’s your background like? Where do you stand on the music scene in your area?
I'm all over the place. The most important thing for me to do with my music is to capture emotions I'm feeling and try to communicate them to folks who are listening. I live in the Bay Area and it's got pockets of amazing music and people but it doesn't feel as vibrant as what I've heard people say of LA or what I've experienced in Chicago or NYC. Maybe I'm just not looking in the right place. I've found some great artists to collaborate and connect with locally, but thanks to everything being digital now I've also worked with artists in LA, NYC, Nashville, and other cities all over the world, sometimes without ever having met them in person! I love that I could work with someone on the other side of the world easily today, and it frees you up to create your own scene.
• What did you start doing first, producing or rapping? How did you get started?
I was a singer and a songwriter first. And though I've been told most people don't really listen to song lyrics, I put a lot of effort into my words. Sometime back I decided to try working with Logic to get into producing and loved it. It's taken me years of work to get here, but I love working with the software and creating the landscape for a song.
• Do you have anyone that you consider your mentor? How has their help or advice shaped you?
I have so many! My family, my Indian classical voice teacher in India, my former voice coach here who also helped me polish my composing and production skills: Robert Robinson, much older jazz musicians I've played with in the past, one of my best friends Maira, every producer I've ever worked with (Kevin DeClue, Christian Linke, Max Savage, Harris Mac, Saheer, Robert Robinson), college friends I used to play with, former bandmates Sean and Sean, and musical friend, frequent collaborator and sometimes bandmate, Conal Sathi.
• What is one experience in life that, without it, you wouldn’t be the artist you are today?
There are two. One, if I weren't my parents' daughter, I would not be who I am today for better or for worse. :) They love music and shaped a lot of the experiences that gave me the lens I use to look at the world and also gave me the genes that make me want to venture out and try new things and think differently. The second one is I wrote my first song with a melody I still remember when I was 9, and I wrote parts of it in a dream while I was asleep. It was magical. I revamped the song and it actually ended up on my album "Broken, Perfect." I have never composed music in a dream since. :)
• What do you hope to accomplish this year?
I hope to finish my album at the end of the year, survive 2020, grow and learn through it, and become a better version of myself by the end of it. I also want to find ways to give back to society and communities I've been a part of and help in some way.
• What does you work aim to say?
It's great to believe in yourself, it's great to have feelings, it's awesome to count on friends and family for support and love, it's okay to make mistakes, it's wonderful to be able to forgive, and as long as you're not hurting anyone, be true to yourself, it's amazing to make a stand for yourself and be seen.
• Who are your biggest influences and what do you like about them the most?
Thyagaraja: he was a South Indian classical composer. I love how spiritually and emotionally powerful his music is, and I love the beauty of his melodies and how challenging they are to sing.
A. R. Rahman: One of the most brilliant composers I have ever heard. He draws inspiration from a global array of sounds, and his work is on another level.
Sia: I've been following Sia since her acid jazz days and she's an awesome singer, songwriter, poet and artist.
Beyonce: I mean, do I really need to explain why? She's AMAZING! I admire everything about her. She's an incredible singer, performer, dancer, she's unbelievably focused and dedicated to her art.
Tool (really, Maynard James Keenan): the band is amazing, and I love how they play with complex rhythms. I also have a background in dance and love rhythm.
Regina Spektor: Another wonderful songwriter and poet. Her use of melody and words is really playful and intelligent.
Kendrick Lamar: I absolutely love his production and how much intensity and emotion he can convey.
• How would you describe your own style?
My style is eclectic and very rhythm driven. I like to keep my production sparse, which is influenced by hip hop and funk artists. I appreciate different styles of production, but I think space allows for a lot of expression and I don't like crowding things. I also love words and their meanings, and what I say in my songs is important to me.
• In what ways has your newest music changed from when you first started?
My EP is so different from my latest singles! I was a lot more involved in playing jazz while I was writing the songs from my EP, and it was more classically influenced as well. The composition is more rough and my style was a lot more wild back then. My newest music uses everything I've learned since to polish my work and keep it focused without distractions while conveying the right emotions. It's become even more sparse and more electronic, as well.
• What are the main inspirations for the lyrics you write?
Events and emotions that affect my life. Whether these events are societal, or personal, it's what I'm thinking about and what I think I need to say.
• What would be your dream venue in which to perform?
I like smaller, more intimate venues. :) So I'm not super ambitious when it comes to size. I pay a lot of attention to great acoustics, so I would love to play at a venue where the acoustics are incredible and I can feel really connected to the people in the audience. The Fillmore in San Francisco, for example, comes to mind. Also any major classical concert hall is likely to have been architecturally defined to have amazing acoustics. There's also this awesome part of the Powell Bart station where a lot of musicians play, where if you stand in the right place, the acoustics are really nice. I want to play there too, someday!
• What’s a song you have stuck in your head these days?
"Reagan" by Killer Mike.