In conversation with Power Packed Singers Shalmali and Sunidhi Chauhan – Score Short Reads
Having a unique gifted voice and tonality is an undoubted asset to any singer. But evolving from her natural tonality and with great experimental selections of songs, Shalmali has carved a niche for herself in the music industry. With her subtle voice that shows up so many emotions, Shalmali has interesting songs in her discography.
Gaining prominence for her amazing debut ‘Pareshan’ from the film Ishaqzaade in the year 2012, the singer never looked back. Now, she has released an exclusive independent album 2X-Side A.
Shalmali, along with the acclaimed playback singer Sunidhi Chauhan released a music video for the single from her Album 2X Side A called “Here is Beautiful”.
Sunidhi is one of those power-packed singers with excellent vocal range. Her versatility when it comes to singing western as well as folk is commendable. As years pass by, Sunidhi just gets better with her passionate vocals that are appealing and suave.
Interestingly, these two gifted singers share many things in common- in which creating independent music is one aspect.
After the release of the song ‘Here is beautiful’, along with tremendous praises, Shalmali and Sunidhi were featured in the prestigious New York Times Square Billboard as a part of Spotify’s campaign “Equal”. Interestingly, they are the only Indian artists to be featured on this. We are so proud of them!
The Score Magazines brings to you a candid conversation we had with these two divas.
In conversation with Shalmali
Talk to us about your music video ‘Here is beautiful’ with the prolific Sunidhi Chauhan
I am thoroughly in love with my boyfriend and I wrote this song for him as a present which I wanted to give him on five years of us being together. It’s a true blue love song no matter the fights and crying we have done in the past.
We never intended on releasing this song for the public but it was just a gift that I wanted to give him on 15th August.
I happened to be chatting with Sunidhi at that time. I told myself to just go ahead and ask her if she would like to sing this song which was a gift for my boyfriend. She immediately said she liked it.
She agreed and we recorded at my place. On that very day, my computer acted up and we had to record with bad latency.
Some months went by and I decided to put out an album with this song as part of the album. That is when I reinitiated my conversation with Sunidhi. She was the kindest person and agreed to be on the video as well.
It is very interesting that you are making us relive the cassette days with the name of your album. How did the idea come to you in the first place?
As much as I’d love to take credit for the Side A-Side B idea, it isn’t originally mine. It was initially called 2X Part I and Part II.
I was on a call with my brother. He lives in the US and is 8 years older than me. He is the reason why I heard and started to sing English music. As I was telling him about the album I was working on, I mentioned how its in two parts.
I took a brief pause to complete what I was saying but thanks to the lag he completed my sentence excitedly with “Oh! Like a Side A Side B! Cool cool!!” I immediately jumped on the idea. I decided then, thanks to him, that I’d call it 2X Side A and Side B.
I love how he was the reason why it’s called Side A and Side B. We heard Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, Phil Collins, Bryan Adams on cassettes growing up. He had to be part of this journey with me. What better than being the reason why an Album is named a certain way.
Could you talk to us about the concepts behind all the songs
2X Side A has 6 songs. I’ll go according to how they appear on the EP.
It was Sunny’s idea to have an Intro to Side A and B. So you’ll hear an Intro on Side B too 🙂 He said we’d write that song last once we knew what the sound of the album was. So, Language (Intro) was the last song we wrote on the EP. It introduces the sonic space of the album.
I wrote the lyric to the song over a musical bed that Sunny and Zafar created. I instinctively felt like it could have a spoken part. I felt like it made sense to write this song about why it took me so long to write my own English music.
I’ve always felt the pressure of living up to the reputation and name that Bollywood built for me, but I never felt at home singing for films. I built a non-English audience, when all I always dreamt of doing was writing and singing my English music. So, the first song on the album is an announcement that says “This is the language I choose.” The language being English.
The second track, Love You Double, is a love song. I wrote it a while back, but with the help of my teacher Sarah Brindell at Berklee College, I restructured it.
She helped me give the existing lyric a better form and flow. This is the fastest I’ve ever written a song. I remember that day – I had fought with my boyfriend and I just grabbed my notepad and pen and ran down to the coffee shop.
I wrote three pages of everything I was feeling. I came home, sat on the piano and ended up writing Love You Double. That hasn’t happened ever again. But I hope it does!
I wrote As Far As We Get in the lockdown. Although it sounds like a song someone would sing to a partner they weren’t happily in a relationship with, I wrote it addressing my audience.
There are times when I get utterly annoyed with my fans. These are the times when they keep expecting me to do things they like, not approve my choices and decisions. Times like these, I feel like breaking up with them. That’s where this lyric came from.
I wrote this one on the guitar. It took me a few days to finish this one. I was particularly pleased with myself with the lyric “Even though your loves a number”, “sometimes your words bludgeon me, even your silence bothers me” So I wanted to make sure the rest of the song lives up to it. I wrote and re-wrote this song a bunch of times.
Here is Beautiful has the most precious story to it. I wrote it as a gift for my boyfriend for our 5 year anniversary. I was chatting with Sunidhi at the time and I thought it would make a mighty impressive gift to have Sunidhi also sing on this gift song.
So I sent her the song. She loved it. I told her how I didn’t want to release it, that it was just a gift and asked her if she’d be willing to sing it. After a little back and forth she was on board and we ended up recording it at my place. I gifted my boyfriend the song.
He loved it and that was that. A few months later when I was discussing the idea of a potential album is when I felt like Here Is Beautiful had a place on the album. So I broached the idea of the song with Sunidhi again. She agreed to sing it with me for the album. We even ended up shooting a video for it!
Uncool is the oldest song on the album. I wrote it when I stayed alone in a New York Apartment for a month in 2017. Clearly, long distance relationships aren’t a thing I’ll be good at. This song is testimony to that. Uncool was written after a fight over text messages with my boyfriend.
I felt neglected and I cried so much, that I felt unlike myself – I felt uncool. This is the basic premise of the song – “Your loves got me feeling insane, Your loves got me feeling like a fool, Your loves got me feeling deranged, Your loves got me feeling uncool.” I am not this person anymore, but I love how this song reminds me of the girl I used to be.
The last track is titled Sora, after my friend Sora. She died suddenly in a car accident and I wrote this song the day I heard she wasn’t with us anymore. I’ve never written a song as an ode before.
But with Sora I shared one of the most special relationships. She was Japanese. As a result she spoke very little English. Our communication was limited. But she taught me how one can be patient, gentle and loving. We met only a handful of times when I traveled to Japan, but she left a lasting impression on me.
The lyric at the end of the song “You should know your jacket, Still hangs in my closet, I still dont fit in it, But as long as I got it..” – refers to a denim jacket lined with pearls which Sora gave me to keep me warm one night. It didn’t fit me then, it doesn’t fit me now.
Talk to us about the production of this album and the duration
There’s two producers on this album. Karan Pandav has produced Sora and the rest of the songs have been produced by Sunny M.R.
I met Karan at Berklee in 2019. He was a full time student at Berklee then. We ended up talking a lot in the time that I was there and I knew we had to work together at some point. Karan’s primary instrument is the Guitar and we hear that so evidently in the production of Sora.
The entire production is electric guitar and vocals based. I love how he understood the sentiment behind the song and gave it the space and richness by keeping it minimal and ambient. Annette Philip, has added all the lush harmonies on the track single handedly. She used the vocoder for a lot of the parts she designed for this song.
As for the rest of the music on this album, Sunny was the captain of the ship. When I went to him with the proposal of putting an album out and having him produce the music, he said we should do it like how people do in the west.
So we booked Island City Studios for three full days. We got Zafar Ansari and Roland Fernandes who play piano and guitar respectively, for those three days as session musicians. They had no idea what we were going to work on.
I went with 10 songs to that session and we ended up working on 8 out of them. I literally auditioned my songs for the album. We would work on whatever vibed with everyone in the room.
In those three days we got a lot of live recordings done. Piano, Electric guitars, Bass, Drums on As Far As We Get, and even material for Side B. I completed writing a lot of songs and recorded demo vocals.
Sunny then took over a month to compile all ideas we had laid down, giving the songs a rough structure and seeing where they stand. He added production elements and then called us all in again for a listening.
The songs sounded almost ready when he played it to us then. But we did 2 full days of Synth sessions on the songs. We worked out of Sunny’s studio with his huge collection of synths – Zafar’s playground for creating beautiful riffs and soundscapes!
The last stage of the production was recording vocals. Sunny acquainted me with his recording set up and I would go everyday and record myself on the songs. There was no pressure of a final recording.
I recorded some songs 3 or 4 times while some I recorded just once. But being in that room alone gave me the space to experiment at leisure. I would put down ideas and re work them.
Exactly what Sunny intended. Sunny probably knew that if I had time, resources and the liberty to experiment I would come up with interesting things.
We have the Side A of this album which is 18mins in duration and another Side which is probably as long or longer coming in a few months. I don’t find any challenges in the making of this album, just sheer joy.
Talk to us about your songwriting process. Where do you draw inspiration from?
I have to feel strongly about whatever I’m writing about. The song idea being juicy is key. So far I’ve only been able to write about real life instances. The songs on Side A are a reflection of a state of mind, an incident, a mood, a feeling – all of which I’ve experienced.
For me, the lyric comes first. Writing a melody to a lyric comes naturally to me – whether the lyric is completely fleshed out or just an idea.
If I am moved by something, I write an essay on it. As many pages as I can write. Maybe a few days of writing with no pressure of having to convert it to a song. Just words, phrases or sentences, sometimes incomplete sentences, but basically everything I want to express about it.
If I’m still invested in the idea after writing about it, I’ll read it over and over again. Then comes what I want to say, and reaching the point of the song in the chorus, if there is a chorus at all.
It’s interesting how sometimes I end up writing a verse which doesn’t feel like the start of the song, but more like the middle of the song. Then I’ll rework the structure. It helps to keep writing and re-writing and re-writing. If I hit a wall, I turn to my songwriting books and do some reading, so I can find another place to pick it up from.
Anything and everything is worthy of inspiration. There’s a song titled “Running” in Side B. It is inspired by our way of life. We seem to constantly be running – behind dreams, success, running to meetings, to catch a flight. The lockdown put a stop to the Running. I wrote this song in 2020 inspired by how we have to slow down, stop running.
Having sung for popular film music as well, do you feel liberated and free while creating your own music? Tell us more.
I’ve wanted to experience this feeling for too long. I always imagined my life to be the way it is today – writing and singing my own English music. But it took me a while to actually do it.
I never dreamt of singing for films. I guess it wasn’t in my upbringing to want to sing for films. But I’m grateful those opportunities came my way and I learnt a lot from them. They gave me and my musical life a lot of impetus.
But there’s an unparalleled feeling of accomplishment to write your own music. I’ve never felt it was enough to just sing well. I knew I had in me to write my own music.
I needed to give it time. I didn’t have that time unless I took a break from other commitments like gigs and recordings. The 2020 Lockdown was a compulsory break. A welcome one for me. I could set the record straight. I could remind myself and focus once again on my original dream.
I got the opportunity to involve myself in every note that was played on this album. I didn’t step in just to sing the song. I sat in and was involved in every session. So this feeling of ownership is plain beautiful. I feel like a newborn since this album. I am excited about this new life.
If there is something about the music industry you absolutely dislike, what would it be and why?
I wish we, as musicians, wouldn’t jump on the trend wagon as frivolously. I wish we would have more faith in our vision, our love for music. A lot of the music we hear these days, doesn’t sound honest. It sounds like an attempt to just be relevant.
That’s what I dislike about the music industry today. Also, our consumption pattern is such a studied subject right now that there’s so little thought given to making timeless music.
The success of a song is constantly marked by its performance in the first week or 10 days or month of its release, on the views, likes and comments in that period. Everything around music has gotten so calculated and measured that there’s so little or no risk taking behaviour on most musicians’ parts.
We know that most of your music is based on your own personal experiences. How do you feel when you are able to voice your thoughts through your music?
Fortunately I haven’t written anything controversial yet except maybe As Far As We Get which is a song directed at the audience. It is honest still. Honesty is a beautiful device.
It has the quality of attaching itself to listeners instantly. I love that I was able to be my truest most honest self in these songs. Whether they made me look like a fool, a fierce woman or someone feeble.
I don’t see any reason why I would stop voicing my feelings and thoughts through my music. There’s so much to write about.
You have a very nice texture to your voice. How do you maintain your vocal health?
The texture of my voice is god gifted and I don’t do anything in particular to maintain it. But I do try to exploit it. Spending time on a microphone to understand my voice’s capabilities is a very healthy exercise.
There’s always more than one way to use one’s voice. As far as maintaining my voice goes, I’ll say what you’ve probably heard before – sleep well, drink a lot of water.
What can we expect from the Side B of this beautiful album?
Side A just released, but my mind is already on Side B. The music on Side B is more rhythmic and the rhythms are the kind that make me groove. I am a huge fan of Afrobeat and you’ll hear it in Side B. Side B, is more Soul/Pop than it’s counterpart. All in all, it’s going to push the tempo.
An artist you would give anything to collaborate with- Rosalia
If not music, what would you have been doing? – Acting
Most bizzare song you have sung/written in your life – Locomoco (2X Side B)
Most embarrassing stage performance – I had a major wardrobe malfunction recently. I do a kick at the end of the second song in my set and that kick tore my pants at the crotch. I had to sing with my legs together for the next 20 minutes before I could get a window to salvage the situation with safety pins.
In conversation with Sunidhi Chauhan
Please share us your experience working for ‘Here is Beautiful’ with Shalmali.
My involvement in the project was absolutely spontaneous and was not planned. Shalmali told me she was working on her first English album and she wanted this song to be
released first. I was very happy to work with her in the studio, in fact, I really followed her instructions relating to the song. I love being in that position because we both think
almost the same when it comes to music and we share similar passion. It was challenging for sure because it is only the musician who has put her complete heart to the song. The recording session was of course memorable. I was very skeptical about being in the video as I hadn’t done it in a long time. But with her and the whole unit’s support, I felt very
comfortable and faced the camera confidently. Shalmali is a fantastic actor too while facing the camera, a rare quality.
What were some of the challenges you faced singing for this one?
It was challenging because the song has a lot of scope to do many things but this
particular song didn’t need too many improvisations. The song had to be heartfelt and passion driven and that is the reason why we kept it as raw and natural as possible. When too much freedom is given, we get blank on where to actually stop but I just followed Shalmali and her vision for the song.
What was your first reaction when you heard the song?
I was amazed. I called her immediately and told her how beautiful and fantastic the song was. I knew the singer inside of Shalmali but I didn’t know about her exceptional composing skills.
What’s your take on the independent music scene in India? How have you embraced it? Can we expect more independent music from you?
In the past ten years, people have started to listen to non-film music and attend concerts as well. It is definitely a good time to go Indie. I am not talking about remixes but about such artists who are passionate about songwriting and other skills as well.
Earlier, people used to run behind a reality show as a platform to get noticed, but thanks to streaming sites, a platform is automatically created for such artists.
Your best Bollywood song you’ve sung so far: It is difficult to choose one song but I’d say Le Chale for my brother Nikhil and Aa Zara.
Is there a composer you want to work with, and haven’t worked so far?
I have worked with so many musicians already but there are so many wonderful people to work with.
A song that plays often on your playlist?
Betaab Di Ki Tamanna- this song was nonstop playing in my mind while I was doing household work during the lockdown.
Do follow :
Shalmali – https://www.instagram.com/shalmiaow/?hl=en
Sunidhi chauhan – https://www.instagram.com/sunidhichauhan5/?hl=en