Interview with Ishani
“I like conscious music and I like people who are talking about stuff that really means something in this world. I like songs that have a message and it keeps my art real. “
Ishani, a London-based singer, songwriter and producer, combines atmospheric down-tempo sounds, soulful vocals and introspective lyrics to create her original and eclectic style. While her music incorporates a range of influences, she considers herself to be a trip-hop artist, a musical genre which originated in Bristol in the 90s, and her musical influences include the likes of Massive Attack, Portishead, Morcheeba, DJ Shadow, and Hooverphonic.
Ishani creates music which is impactful and challenging. She is inspired by her observations of society and her own private inner world. Earlier tracks have dealt with sensitive and emotive subjects such as suicide, rape and anxiety. Her current EP, ‘Unkind Vibrations’, which she began creating earlier this year, explores what it means to be human in an increasingly digital world.
‘Ghosting My Soul’, the latest track from Ishani’s EP, explores the darker side of social media and the danger of losing yourself in a social media focused world. During lockdown, many of us have struggled with isolation – living indoors, inside our heads and on our phones. This track captures the experience of losing touch with ourselves through Ishani’s poetic lyrics, sultry vocals, glitch beats and immersive soundscape.
It was wonderful to chat to Ishani about the creation of her EP, her desire to create music that is honest and her feelings towards social media as an independent artist…
When did you first get into playing music and singing? Did you grow up in a musical family?
I actually come from a medical background and my parents would have wanted me to become a doctor like themselves. But, I think they also knew that they had a little bit of a wild child. I was always more inclined to the arts in school. I’m quite self-taught. I’ve never really formally learnt an instrument but it kind of came together. As a teenager I started writing poetry and my brother picked up the guitar and one day we were jamming and stuff and I started singing my poetry and I thought I might be onto something.
He was too cool for me and didn’t want to be in a band with me but I figured out how to use software and I started producing my own stuff. So, it has been a self-learning journey. The only kind of training that I had is in sound engineering. I want to be able to make the music and also be able to record it, produce it and put it out there without depending on anyone else.
You’ve split your life between India, the UK and Singapore. Have each of these places had an influence on you musically and do you feel more connected to one of those three places?
I think they’re all interconnected. I grew up in the UK so I was exposed to a lot of English music. Later on, I went to India and Bollywood is huge there and so I listened to that a lot on the radio and it just kind of became ingrained in my brain. Then, I moved to Singapore and Chinese music is very popular there and Japanese music as well. The influence of American music is also strong there. In my music and my production, I try to marry all of these influences.
I eventually moved back to the UK, because I decided that if I want to have a music career, I wanted to have it in the U.K. because that’s the music that I really relate to the most. I sing in English and I write in English but some of my melodies are Indian-inspired and I think that Singapore had a huge Japanese influence on me so I like to weave that into my writing and production as well. Even though I’ve never actually been to Japan, it is one of my dreams to visit!
Could you describe the musical genre trip-hop for people who might not have heard of it and explain what is it that drew you to this genre of music? So, there was a time in my life where I liked all these different bands and artists who were trip-hop artists but I hadn’t actually heard of the genre. I knew I liked downtempo music and anything with good beats, bass lines and flow so you could groove to it. Also, atmospheric instruments with a lovely female vocal.
I was looking through Google and found lots of communities online that love trip-hop and took up with this genre that started in the 90s and I think that it began in Bristol. It was kind of like the UKs reply to alternative hip-hop. The rap scene in England wasn’t as strong as it was in the U.S. and so UK artists started sampling stuff from the U.S. and started singing over these recordings. Afterwards, they run it through a lot of gear and make it sound trippy and that’s where it all started.
Trip-hop artists played a huge part in helping me find out who I am and what really struck a chord with me. And so hundreds of years from now, if people look back, I want to be lumped in with those artists. I love that genre and what I bring to it is my own flavour. I think my vocals are probably more pop so I guess you could say that I am more trip-pop.
What inspired your EP ‘Unkind Vibrations and the latest track from it ‘Ghosting My Soul’?
Before lockdown, I was feeling this pressure and felt like so many of us weren’t communicating anymore as people and how being on social media all the time means that you are living out a very different world online and living a very different world in real life. I was working towards an EP about social media and the unkindness online and how people are consuming it without questioning it and how toxic it is for your mental health. And then suddenly lockdown happened. My latest track ‘Ghosting My Soul’ deals with lockdown and the feeling of being disconnected and how not seeing your friends and not seeing your family can make you forget who you are in a way. I think a lot of us lost ourselves and kind of ghosted ourselves. I felt like I wasn’t responding to my own messages.
‘Unkind Vibrations’ is the title track of my EP. It was my take on the opposite of The Beach Boys song, ‘Good Vibrations‘. It is about how people have become so used to and comfortable with being unkind online. There’s just so much hate online and we’ve become so reliant on our devices and we can become glued to them.
I find it very interesting that we are giving ourselves unhealthy minds by not being careful about what we consume online so, all the songs for my EP stemmed from these thought patterns. For example, ‘Twin Flames’ is another track which deals with the anxiety of meeting people online and getting to know them through apps and having to be vulnerable in a new way. Then ‘The Perfect Life’, which will be released next month, is about people who are trying to project a perfect version of themselves online.
Do you feel like there has been more kindness online since lockdown?
I think it was a breath of fresh air that everyone was kind of putting out content that wasn’t perfectly produced. But, I personally still chose to start detoxing from social media and from my devices a lot during lockdown because I knew I would feel happier if I kept busy and stopped spending time online watching what other people are doing instead of focusing on what I wanted to do. As a musician, I have a lot of musicians who I follow so I could constantly see what they are doing and I think comparison is the thief of joy. You feel under pressure to be creating and moving ahead. I’m still anti-social social media to a certain extent but I understand that as an independent artist I don’t really have a huge choice in the matter because using social media is the only way I have to get my music out there.
What inspired the artwork for your EP?
For the album art, I actually collaborated with another girl who is based in the US and works for DC comics. We had both watched the Joker film and that movie really inspired me. We were talking about the scene where he’s dancing in the bathroom and how amazing that was. So, the original idea was actually me doing a dance with my phone attached to me so that it was like an IV drip – something that you depend on and can’t live without. But, in the end the image was of me on the ground being overwhelmed and surrounded by phones.
Do you feel strongly about being honest with your music and the image that you present online?
I’m very honest with my music and I think I express myself the best through my music because even though I’m actually quite a fun and happy go lucky person, there is a side of me that I can’t express and I use music for that. I’ve also always wanted to make music that had a social impact because I like listening to artists that do that. I like conscious music and I like people who are talking about stuff that really means something in this world. I like songs that have a message and it keeps my art real.
In terms of social media, I personally struggle with it. My Instagram is based around my music and branding but I do also have a personal account that I can just be myself on. I also don’t want to engage too much either because there are some weird people out there so I’d like to maintain my privacy. But in many ways you are kind of like a slave to the system. I think that especially as an upcoming artist so many people focus on how many followers you have and as a musician, you start to question whether you should focus on the art, focus on the music, focus on yourself or focus on getting likes. It can be very difficult to manage.
Have you missed gigging and performing over lockdown?
I really have. This year was supposed to be all about that so it’s very frustrating. I have a studio now in Hackney and it’s at this venue called The Others and the studios are kind of behind the stage. That is where I do my production and my plan for 2020 was to hold events and get interesting bands to perform maybe once every two weeks. I wanted to do a lot of gigging and really get out there as well. I definitely feel out of practice now because of lockdown so it would be good to get into a rehearsal room again.
What do you have planned musically over the next few months?
I think it’s a combination of recording and writing. I think the plan is to write and record for shows and hopefully record some visuals as it gets darker and more interesting out there. For my next single, I had a session earlier this week and then I’ve got to get it mastered and then hopefully I can release it next month. I’m very excited. I just want to keep the momentum going.
I also actually just featured on a friend’s track called ‘Doom‘ that did quite well. We just released the vinyl a few weeks ago. He actually used to be the frontman of Foreign Beggars but he has now come out with his new artist persona and it was really fun to be part of that project because he really went all out with the visuals and I ended up shooting my part of the video in my flat with my green screen. To see that come to life was so rewarding.
By Eveline Vouillemin