Down the rabbit hole with ASHWARYA
Every year, many artists are hailed as the next big thing, but in the case of Indian-born, Melbourne-based, superstar-in-waiting ASHWARYA, it rings true. With just three singles under her belt all released this year, she has not only launched a promising career in an unprecedented pandemic, she has personified what it means to be releasing exciting pop music in 2020. In a post-Billie Eilish era, the bar for actually intriguing, attention-grabbing and impressive alternative pop has been raised, and it requires a particular skill set to match it. Thankfully, alongside her frequent collaborator and producer, Jarrad Rogers (Diplo, Charli XCX, Mark Ronson), ASHWARYA is one of the most promising cases yet.
Fluidly merging her formative influences of Bollywood with RnB, hip hop, pop, indie and many more influences she gained over the years, ASHWARYA‘s sound is vastly developed beyond her 21 years. She sings in both English and Hindi, effortlessly switching between the two like we heard on ‘BIRYANI’, and is as “future-facing” or forward-thinking as they come. Her sound is adventurous, ambitious but confident, and so addictive you can’t help but get hooked. It snakes along, twisting and turning when you least expect it, and more often than not you finish worlds away from where you started. And while her sound is bold and brave, it’s also powerfully emotive with her lyrics and stunning vocals staying with you long after the dust has settled from the unpredictable production. It’s also this that proves ASHWARYA has staying power — she herself stands up to her bold production, fearlessly in control without ever being overwhelmed or swallowed up, so much so she’s able to cut through and still leave you with a tangible feeling while still taking you on a sonic rollercoaster.
From first introducing her peculiar, deeply affecting sound with ‘PSYCHO HOLE’ and backing it up with the similarly unpredictable and curious ‘BIRYANI’, ASHWARYA has charmed fans and critics worldwide and has received lots of love from the likes of Complex, Clash, The Face, Paper Magazine, us here at Purple Sneakers and many others. She’s amassed millions of streams combined, was selected as part of this year’s BIGSOUND50 and continues to buck trends and defy expectations with her dizzying, head-spinning releases. As 2020 begins to wind down, she’s intent on showing there is still plenty more to come with the release of her most self-assured and defiant release yet in ‘[email protected]’, a hard-hitting track dripping in braggadocio and assertiveness before the rug is pulled out underneath you, revealing an almost alarmingly vulnerable side to the multi-talented artist we haven’t yet seen before. It’s her finest work yet, and another entirely impressive addition to her steadily growing slew of singles. Here, we dive into her new single, her journey so far and what she still hopes to achieve. While she’s continued to prove it’s impossible to predict her next move, the only certainty is it will no doubt be a thrilling ride once again.
Your new single ‘[email protected]’ is out this week! Can you tell me a bit about this song?
[email protected] is literally just like a explosion of my emotions that I went through during an experience that I had with someone. It’s just a roller coaster. I wrote it about this experience that I had. It’s about when there’s someone that’s really close to you and they end up breaking your trust and you end up going into this cycle of bad habits and continuing to come back to that person until the point of where you just want to talk about everything. Then the end of the song is pretty much just me being my most vulnerable, it’s always going to be hard to let go of that person.
It’s very confrontational. It’s very assertive. You’ve got lyrics like, “Ima keep it moving, you got nothing on me.” It’s very bold. However, as you said, it’s got that really vulnerable part at the end as well, and that duality is so striking. I’ve listened to it so many times and it still catches me off guard a little bit, because it’s just such a interesting pair. Why was it so important for you to pair that vulnerability with that self assertiveness in that way?
I think like you said, the chorus is very badass. It’s assertive. I think there’s a part of me when I was writing it that wanted to be that badass person, when I was trying to confront that person. Naturally, those were the emotions that were coming out, whilst in reality, it was the emotions at the end of the song that I was expressing to that person. So I think it was my way of coping with the situation to just explode in the chorus. It was more of a coping thing.
Is it in a way, almost like you’re saying the things maybe you wish you could have said back when it was happening?
Yeah, totally. I think it’s always harder to say in person exactly what you want to say. Especially when you’re trying to confront someone for sure.
Do you think that in a way being self-assertive can be vulnerable in itself?
I think I’ve always been really self aware in terms of what I’m doing when I’m trying to communicate with someone. Whilst I was writing the song, I had to make sure that I don’t just come across like, it’s all just me hitting at this person. It’s also about the internal struggle that I had gone through whilst letting go of them.
The visuals have been such a big intrinsic part of your project. Can you talk to me about how it’s been for you representing your music in the visual sense, and why was that so important to you to keep with your project from the very start?
I think I’m just a very visual person. Even before I think of an idea or a lyric or melody straightaway I put myself in a setting and then that gives me the inspiration to take lead of whatever direction the song goes into. I think visuals, I’ve always been very like it has to be this way or it has to be that way. Otherwise, it’s not sitting right in my head. So for [email protected], I just wanted to surprise people. I think with PSYCHO HOLE, it was filmed at home, BIRYANI, filmed in the garage. This time I was like, let’s just break it up a bit. I’ve always been a big fan of 3D artwork. So that’s where the inspiration came from.
Your singles so far do operate in multiple modes simultaneously. You’ve got English and Hindi. You’ve got big racing, bold moments paired with these softer gentle parts. You’ve got so many different genres and influences packed into each song as well. Can you tell me about the moment you realised that there were no rules with making music and how it led to you creating the music right now?
I definitely wasn’t always like, “Whatever, let’s just see, let’s try different things.” There was even a stage [when] I used to write a full song and I would come into the studio and I’d sing it into the microphone and I would end up going home thinking like, “This is really restrictive. I’ve just created something that I can’t really move outside of.” I started going with the attitude that I need to start improvising a lot more, instead of just pre-planning and predetermining what I want to write about. Because sometimes when I write something down, it’s not exactly a true reflection. Or sometimes when I’m in the moment and I’m on the mic and I’m just singing, especially the end of ‘[email protected]’, I think that was like the first take. We ended up just using it and the lyrics and everything. Sometimes improv for me has become like my new little asset that I just do when I’m in the studio.
When you’re doing improv and it’s coming straight from the heart, like the end of [email protected], you don’t want it to be too rehearsed. You don’t want to have to sing it a few times. You would lose that genuine authenticity. It’s really interesting what you’re saying there, because that’s very similar to how rappers are when they just get in the booth and start rapping. Is that what you’re embodying there?
I wouldn’t call myself a rapper. If I had to do a freestyle on the spot, I’d probably make a massive fool of myself. I really find it like therapy sometimes. When I’m just top lining on a beat or there’s a piano melody playing in the background and I’m just like jumping on that. I’ll just take a bunch of voice memos on my phone, and then I’ll just listen to them back and be like, “Oh, that’s sick!” And then just use it.
The art of improv is quite scary to a lot of people. That’s very evolved and mature of you to be able to figure out that you are into improv and go with it. How does it feel when you realise you’re in the right direction?
I think for me it has to start pretty early on. I love to give things as much time as possible, so I don’t like to like just say, okay, that doesn’t work. I will keep trying, even though the beat could just completely throw me off. I will continue to try it but I probably really early on, once I hear something that I’ve done that’s really hooky or catchy, that’s the motivation to continue to go with that.
You’ve had a very exciting few months since the release of PSYCHO HOLE, given the very challenging circumstances that you’ve been releasing music into the world with. Can you tell me a bit about how it’s been experiencing the growth of your career solely online?
To be honest, towards the end in the last month especially, I’ve been just craving to especially do live, because I have never performed a live show since I have released my original music. So to have people DM me or comment, or enjoy my music, it’s like, “Damn, I just want to give you guys a live performance! I want to do this live for you guys!” It’s weird because I feel like I’ve been in a bubble almost, because I’ve been making this music and I’ve been getting these amazing responses, which I’m so grateful for. But at the same time, I’m like, I just want to see these people face to face!
Your music is very emotive and that’s something that you’ve said that you want people to take away from, whether it’s negative or positive. You still want someone to be able to just take a feeling away from it. And that by extension would lead it to a live setting, where someone could actually literally experience your music. I’m sure that would be something that you’ve been thinking about a lot, about how you can bring these songs to life!
100%, yeah. I honestly cannot wait to go live. I feel like it’s going to be just one massive party!
You clearly got a very open and creative collaborative partnership with Jared who has been a big part of this project as well. Was there a particular moment when you realised how strong this partnership was? How did that collaborative partnership come to be?
Pretty much since the day we wrote PSYCHO HOLE. That was the beginning of [it], we just get each other. I think we’re onto something. In the studio when Jared and I work together, it’s just a natural flow. So we just bounce off ideas. We try a lot of different things and usually we end up just getting something out in a session, which is great.
I guess it would be a lot of trust there, right? You trusting him to be able to go with you on the weird, wonderful path that you’re going down, but also him trusting you that you’re improving and you’re going to get there as well. How has that been able to develop over time?
I think now we just get the direction that we’re going. He now understands where I want to take my music, but at the same time we discuss things like that, but I’ve always said to him I don’t want to restrict myself to just one specific sound. I can’t wait. We’ve written a bunch of music and I think I just can’t wait for people to see how the music evolves and changes as it comes out.
You’ve said in a previous interview, the quote is, “I don’t ever want my music to be just one thing, but whatever the listener perceives it to be.” I thought that was really, really interesting given how open and “choose your own adventure” vibes that you’ve got going on with each song. Why has that been so important for you to maintain as an artist?
I think when I was growing up, because I was listening to Bollywood music early on, and then I started listening to Western music, I realised I was always putting myself in the setting of the song. I always put myself in that setting. If I really liked the song, I’d create my entire setting. I always thought, “Damn, if I make music, I’m going to want people to be able to do that.” I don’t want to create something for them to be boxed into. And I think that’s cool too. Maybe down the line, I may have something really strong that I just want to say and get across. But for the moment, I think the kind of music that I’m doing, it’s got a really vast range of emotions and I just want people to be able to experience all of them.
Interview by Emma Jones
Image: Gadir Rajab