Quirks & Queries: Ananya Birla

What is the most potent misconception that people have about you?

Either that I’m serious (I’m always playing around, as people who follow me on Instagram have probably seen) or that I’m very confident. I was extremely shy as a kid, music was the only place I felt more able to articulate how I felt. I am still a very shy person by nature which surprises people who have seen me perform live.

Music and micro finance. Why the interest is such fairly divergent circles?

I think entrepreneurship and music have both been my passion. At 17, I knew I wanted to make a change to women’s lives through providing them the access to funds they wouldn’t get otherwise. I’m proud of everything I have done with Svatantra and the growing success of our clients is proof that they can achieve so much if they are given the opportunity.

Music has always been my personal passion, it was just a matter of me working out if and how I could turn it in to a career, and then build up the courage to make that break. Seeing the women that Svatantra works with break-out of stereotypes, blossom both personally and professionally, and build something for themselves and their family – that was a huge inspiration for me to follow my heart in to music.

Even though music and microfinance are very different, the aim with everything I do is to reach out and connect with people, make their lives better and spread positivity!

Is there a dream that you have not begun to work on yet?

One day I would love to write a song for someone else. Right now I’m just working on my own music, but it would be so fun to see another artist bring my music to life.

What do you really care about? What drives the desire to make music?

I think it comes from a basic need to communicate – a desire to express myself and have that message be received by someone. Music is just the communication medium that feels the most ‘right’ to me.

I went through a long period of not being able to communicate how I felt, I feared it and I repressed it and I felt so horribly alone as a result. I don’t want to be in that place again myself, and I don’t want anyone else to find themselves there either. I don’t think there is any shame in wanting or needing to connect with something outside of yourself – especially in this tech age where so many of us just connect with a screen so much of the time.

Everything I’ve pursued in my life, business, advocacy, music, it’s all been based in this deep desire to reach out and make a connection, to feel like part of something bigger, moving forward together.

Who do you listen to for inspiration?

I love Sia’s voice. Her songs are fearless, powerful, and hit you right in your heart. She’s one of the best out there at the moment. Sia worked with Mood Melodies, who I also had the pleasure of hitting the studio with in his freezing home country- Norway. Producers like him are inspiring and it’s such a blessing to have talents like that wanting to collaborate with me.

As a musician, you’re always going to go back to those artists who first opened your eyes to what music could be and how it could move you- for me that’s Kurt Cobain and Eminem. After listening to both of them, I knew there was no going back! They’re obviously very different characters but they share this ability to be so raw and emotionally vulnerable. They both ‘put it all out there’ and lay themselves bare for their music in a way that is addictive and inspiring to me. The emotions they communicate are universally relatable which means they’ll always be relevant to a huge amount of people.

That is the ultimate aim with my music. My songs are based on my own experiences, but I try to deliver them in a way which people will connect with regardless of their location, background, gender, sexuality, job etc

Tell us about your composing process. How deep is the extent of your involvement with each song?

The idea for the song always originates with me, I draw on my own experiences or the experiences of those closest to me. I then work with producers and topliners on the melody and words to help the ‘story’ connect with the people who listen to my music. I am particularly inspired by love and stories of overcoming adversity.

I released Circles a month ago, which I wrote to celebrate friendship. It was dedicated to my best friend who has been with me through all the good times and the bad. I have so much to thank her for. I usually like to touch on the things that we all go through: love, heartbreak, isolation, friendship, trying to fit in, that kind of stuff. I want my music to be universally relatable and to show that at the end of the day none of us are that different.

With my previous single Hold On I was inspired by relationships of people close to me which have been challenged, because of sexuality, race or religion. Society puts so much pressure on relationships and for me, it is inspiring to see how people hold on to love and overcome these pressures. I wanted to tell couples going through a difficult time to reject fear and confusion, and hold on to what they know is right for them.

Who do you like among Indian indie artists?

Such a diverse mix. Contemporary Indian artists like Parekh & Singh who have this totally unique sound and also make offbeat, cool videos that I think are helping the face of popular music in India to evolve.

I like Aditi Ramesh – she used to be a lawyer apparently, so knows what it’s like to break out of the boardroom and embrace the piano! In her song “Marriageable Age” she fuses Indian sounds with jazz and explores the pressure that women like me feel around relationships, and how we can feel torn between being independent and living up to what is expected of us traditionally. She has a great voice, a lot of soul.

Ritviz a lot of fun too, so catchy and it’s great to see Indian artists get more in to electro and synth-pop, it was released a while ago but I still workout to his tune Beatific.

But I’m not snobby about saying I love mainstream artists like A.R Rahman. I don’t think any other musician has been able to deliver such instantly catchy songs so consistently! I personally find it inspiring how he can combine Western and Indian styles so seamlessly.

What do you hope to achieve within the next twelve months?

I have an acoustic version of Circles which I am putting out soon, then another single some time in October before dropping the EP in November. There will be a good mix on there, some acoustic tracks and some which incorporate more Indian sounds. My first musical training was in Indian classical and I want to make the most of that.

I am really excited to have a good body of work out there. The step after that is to use those songs to do more live performances around the world.

I am also doing a few talks in Europe and potentially the US about why it is more important than ever for young people to be looking after their mental health.

If you could change one thing about any song in the entire world, what would it be?

Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana. I would change that I was there when it was recorded – that would be like watching history in the making.

This interview was featured in our September 2018 issue: https://bit.ly/2MqcmO2

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