Hi Aish, welcome to VENTS! How have you been? Hi Rafael! I’ve been good. Been reading about motherhood, families and migration of trees in “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben.
Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Promise Me”? “Promise Me” is the first single from my album Mother. I wrote “Promise Me” in the voice of my mother, to imagine what she went through when we separated.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
My mother and I experienced a decade long separation when I left India and when I came out to her. I wrote “Promise Me” to deal with the loss I experienced in our separation.
Who came up with the concept?
Do you mean, concept for the video? “Promise Me” is a song of bittersweet estrangement. It’s about the sorrow of separation between mother and child, but also about the joy and promise of a wonderful future. So I envisioned the mother and child character in a sparse, desolate, other-worldly landscape. I wanted the mother character to express the suffering of bearing the child and physically separating from it, and the child character to embody a wide eyed innocence and ardor for an adventurous future ahead. With minimalist backdrops, we were able to use colour pink, violet and gold as a very effective device to express feelings of sorrow, separation, adventure and excitement. I asked Tim Dee at Rabbit Hole UK to create a narrative along the lines of the classic Jungian Hero’s archetypal journey. On top of the narrative that Tim wrote, Phil Rugo added the energy bubble where the child emerged and the circle of women which, coincidentally, represented all the women responsible for raising me. It was Phil’s idea to also express separation as a literal shattering of the women around the child.
How was the filming experience? The “Promise Me” video is a 3D animated video. So the filming experience was a 3D scan of my face at a facility where airplane parts are scanned for automotive design. I had to sit perfectly still meditatively for 30 minutes while lasers criss crossed my face. In fact we ended up using the face scan for the website www.aish.space. The rest was all modeling and rendering by the incredible animator Phil Rugo.
The single comes off your new album Mother – what’s the story behind the title? In September 2014, I had no idea I’d produce this album, that it’d sound the way it does, that I’d call it Mother. I was just thirsting for the next challenge. I didn’t want to make just another pretty song, I wanted to create three-minute musical landscapes. I wanted to make works of art bursting with feel that also worked as a pop songs. I didn’t know how I’d make this creative shift until I randomly found an 1890 Wilcox & White reed organ (still set to 432Hz tuning!) at a Bayview antique close-out sale. The collector just wanted to get rid of the organ and I just wanted a new medium for composition. So, for $600 I found myself precariously holding up the organ in the open back of the Chevy Silverado that my friend Jeff drove up steep 17th street.
I ended up writing 32 songs on this organ through 2015. Songs about identity, migration, separation and reuniting. Once we were done recording, my producer, Beau and I listened to the entire album to figure out final mixes and sequencing the songs. In those listens, I realised these songs were conversations with my mother about all the things we couldn’t talk about because we had been separated. The writing, composition, instrumentation and production are a massive departure from my previous musical work, and so I feel quite maternal towards this work. In the middle of this all, I remembered the collector at the antique shop telling me how the reed organ was passed down to him from his mother. So the title “Mother” for this album seemed fitting.
How was the recording and writing process? This project was a complete departure from my previous work on how I wrote, composed, produced and recorded music. This was the first time I’d worked with Beau or Patrick, the producers on Mother, so we learnt a lot about each other, just as I learnt about the production process for this project. It all starts with me recording a demo with 80% of the beat, top line vocal melody and string arrangements. Then I give it off to Beau who creates the groove pockets in the beat. I then record scratch vocals at the studio which gives the string players a reference of vocal phrasing. Then comes string recording day. It’s one of my favourite days where I get to close my eyes and just feel the string compositions I wrote, come alive with each player’s unique colour, tone and texture of sound. Then Beau mixes the strings and further shines up the beat, adds chopped up vocals to the beat. The last thing I record are the final vocals, over the landscape of the mix. And then we let the song temper for a couple of months, finishing off with a final mix before sending off for mastering.
What was it like to work with Beau Sorenson and how did that relationship develop? Actually, “Promise Me” was produced by Patrick Brown. I was introduced to Patrick by my friend Charlie aka Matrixxman. Working with Patrick was a great learning experience and we ended up working on 3 pieces that ended up on Mother. I met Beau through my friend John Vanderslice. Beau had just moved to San Francisco from Portland. The first question I remember Beau asking me was why I like succulents so much. I told him succulents are resilient and moody. They have great sculpture and striking colours. They bloom rarely, but when they do, it’s dramatic fountains of colour shooting all over. And Beau said, that’s the album we’ll make, sculptural and striking. Beau and Patrick have very different working styles. Patrick is very instinctual and opinionated. He inspires a lot of discipline in the artist. Beau on the other hand, is cerebral some days and other days he’s all feel. Beau is always in explore mode which encouraged me to take risks and really enabled me to put art in the Art Pop work we ended up producing.
How much did he get to influence the album? Patrick helped me sort through the ingredients of production. Beau helped me challenge orthodoxies and enabled me to develop a solid form for the sound of “Mother”.
How has your upbringing influenced your music?
Nina Simone, Abida Parveen, Bjork, Joni Mitchell and Missy Elliott are staples on my playlist. I listened to a lot of Hindustani classical music and Western Classical string music growing up. These influences show up in the tonality and glissandos of how I sing. It shows up in the string arrangements that I’ve written for Mother, inspired by Haydn, Dvořák. Having grown up listening to such different forms, I naturally lean towards combining forms, like electronics with acoustics, modern pop with established classical form, pop art with high art. My mother played the sitar and I watched my sisters learn to dance. So feminine harmonic movements play out in my work all over the place.
How did your travels and different cultures you have had the pleasure to meet and live among has influence you as an artist? Growing up on different continents and through my migrations, I’ve learnt, while there’s a vast difference in what people listen for in music, why they value music, there is a common, universal set of feelings a piece of music can inspire. This perspective gives me agency and freedom to make very deliberate, unorthodox choices on how I shape my work, because ultimately my work is meant to inspire a universal feeling that cuts through genre and unifies culture.
Any plans to hit the road? Yes! We currently planning on live performances early 2017 in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles to line up with the release of “Mother”
What else is happening next in Aish’s world? We’re currently working on visual representations for the next two singles “Migrant” and “Orcas” in collaboration with the incredible Rashaad Newsome.