Shubhangi Joshi sings about unusual things and wants to write short stories
Posted on 20 October, 2016 by Team Wishberry
I have been hearing about Shubhangi Joshi and her music for over a year now. Her music will appeal to all your senses, and take you on a ride - sometimes smooth, sometimes jazzy, sometimes weird, and sometimes, it will just feel like the most dangerous roller coaster ride ever. But, all of this happens with such grace, you will never know what exactly hits you. All that will last is the ballet dancer like gracefulness of the whole thing. And that is the same for her poetry, which is equally hauntingly beautiful.
We decided to meet at the beautiful Leaping Windows Cafe in Andheri. A perfect setting for the kind of conversation that transpired. I was overwhelmed and nervous, to be honest. But, just like her music, Shubhangi herself is very nice, and hospitable; and yes, graceful. She just took the heat right off, and well, I went into a curious fan mode first, and then a listener. She has some wise stuff to share, as you will read in these excerpts.
First of all, let me tell you that Talking Away The Night is a kickass EP! I have been hooked to the two songs, Talking Away The Night and On My Toes. I had heard your songs before, but when I heard it together, it was just wow.
Shubhangi: Thanks, man. Thanks!
That EP, I think was done in late 2014. So now when I look back at it I kind of feel that my music has changed a lot than before. But, of course, that was done in a different space. So, that kind of… it was a chronicle of how my sound was back then.
It changes with time, yes.
I have always been curious about what happened first - the music or the poetry?
Shubhangi: Actually, both of them were happening simultaneously. So when I was 12, I started playing the guitar. I did not compose back then, I just used to figure stuff out. And I used to write very rudimentary kind of poetry. So, it all went on in parallel. I did not think of creating songs.
And there was some kind of a mental block as to how do I put rhythm to my poetry or sound to my poem.
When I was 19 or 20, I was like what the hell, and I thought let me just start with something. So I started to, you know, mend the two.
So, both of them kind of started off together. But, the kind of things I used to write about was very different, and the music I just, kind of, composed on the guitar.
In fact, earlier I wasn’t really too much into singing. I wanted to show off my guitar skills more. But, slowly over time that changed as well.
And I am so glad you did.
Shubhangi: Thank you.
I mean, obviously, when you write something when you are young, it begins to sound different over time. Sometimes, it even sounds naïve.
But, what is the difference between the new stuff that you are working on and the EP?
Shubhangi: Umm, so I was curious about writing about a variety of topics. And that curiosity is still there. It’s not like I used to write about love back then and now I write about something different. It’s not that. I am exploring the topics that I write about. That is still going on.
But the sound is a little different. In the sense that I was not too sure about the direction I wanted to take. If you listen to the songs on my EP, each of them sounds absolutely different - one is like a big beat, pop kind of a thing for On My Toes; Talking Away (the Night) is lazy; Jazzy (Little Weird Number) is very different; and Holiday Song is very acoustic-y.
But now, I am little surer about the kind of space I want to be in. Of course, I still want my songs to add something different to the listener. But, the general thing is a little more unified, I would say. Umm, how do I put it? Well, a lot of major 7s, minor 7s kind of stuff, the acoustics, that kind of stuff.
I will never get that, but I believe that is something good.
Shubhangi: *laughs* I thought so.
What are the kind of influences that you have?
Shubhangi: When it comes to guitar, I will say… I have heard a lot of different stuff – Steve Vai, Satriani, (Piero) Marco de Lucia, Tomatito; these kind of guitarists. When it comes to bands, of course Nick Drake, then Norah Jones, Corinne Bailey Rae, John Mayer; and then you have Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, that kind of stuff. So, it’s a mish-mash of different kind of sounds.
Though, when it comes to songwriting, I love Nick Drake. I just…I love that musician. His mind, the things he writes about. Everything is just… so beautiful, you know. The kind of things he writes about is really beautiful. So, he is pretty much one of my main influences, I would say.
But, I do listen to a lot of instrumental guitarists as well. Vocalists – Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, I have dabbled into Miles Davis… I wouldn’t say I am a hardcore Miles Davis fanatic, but I have heard a lot of, you know, different kind of sounds in the jazz space as well.
So, you know, all of that has sort of comes together.
Yes, it sounds like that. I mean, your voice reminded me of Ella Fitzgerald and it went into the Heart space also. And that was crazy. There is also that Norah Jones-y feel which creeps in…
Shubhangi: Yes, that breathy, jazzy thing. That is there as well.
One of my favourite things that you ever did was the Rain Song cover.
Shubhangi: Oh, ya. I love that song.
My music teacher told me about it when I was in 9th. He said ‘you have to listen to this song. It is a journey in itself’. And I think that is the best thing he told me. I heard that, and it really opened up my mind as well, because that is such an unusual song.
Shubhangi: I mean, the tuning is… It was very unlike anything I had heard before.
I remember my college days, when I listened to that song. And actually it used to rain like crazy, if you just put that song on your headphones.
That, I think, is the beauty of Zeppelin. Every song of theirs is a different journey in itself.
Shubhangi: Yes, they are. Rain Song has a soft corner in my heart. And I normally don’t like to do too many covers, but if I do have to cover something, I want it be something special and something close to my heart. And I would want to do justice to it. That’s why I wanted to do it.
So you basically pressurise yourself into it.
Shubhangi: Yes. Like, ‘Oh, I have to figure this song out’, you know. It was kind of a challenge to me, as well.
To be honest, even your songs have a journey-like feel to them. I mean, for example, On My Toes starts off real nice, not very aggressive, but it has that spark of aggression, you know…
Shubhangi: Yes yes. It is a little forthright.
And then the chorus sort of just comes and hits you in the face hard, yet so softly.
But, I saw that you have changed it for live performances.
Shubhangi: Yes, I have. So the recording is just one way to look at it. But, when I got my band together, I wanted to explore a different sound and what all I can do with it. So these guys came up with something different, and made it a little groovy.
So that’s what we are doing right now. We also keep reinventing the songs, to see how it sounds live.
And even lyrically, when I write I would want… I don’t want to write about a lot of common thoughts. You know, people write about love, about loss, and that’s great because a lot of people can connect with it, because everyone experiences those things. So when you talk about challenging yourself, I want to challenge myself in the way that I talk about something unusual things and kind of bring the audience’s interest to it. You know, they’d think ‘oh, I did not think about that before’ or ‘I didn’t look at it in that light’. So, I have written about things like...like Jazzy Little Weird Number. The title is completely different from what the song is about. The song is about this person who has gotten so obsessed with the afterlife that they are not present in the now. They have no idea what they are doing right now, they are just preparing for the after-life. They are just like ‘Achha, I will do this, so that my after-life is beautiful’. But, you are wasting all the time that you have in the present.
So, before I give in to talking about things that are universal, I would want to talk about unusual or offbeat things, and try to get the audience’s attention to that.
Some of your songs also talk about particular moments. Talking Away The Night, for example, is a temporary feeling. It isn’t a long lasting feeling as such.
Shubhangi: Yes yes. Even the Holiday Song.
That is probably the only similarity between your writing and mine. In the sense, even I like talking about those moments, but I do it in prose. I can’t do poetry.
Have you tried your hand at prose?
Shubhangi: Actually, these days, I have started taking courses on Coursera for short stories. You know writing them, drafting the plot...because I have been writing poetry for so long that every time I try to write a thought down, it squeezes itself into a poem rather than expand into a short story. So, I want to learn how to expand an idea into a short story.
Wow. So, Shubhangi Joshi will soon come out with a short story collection?
Shubhangi: I really want to do that! But, you know, I have put a lot of filters into my writing. Initially, I used to be like, ‘hey, this looks great, let me just publish it’.
Now, I kind of self censor myself a little, and I would want it to be something better than I have done before. So, I will take a little more time. Once I know I have done justice to the idea that is when I will think about publishing it.
God, what are you woman? You do poetry, you do music, and now this... you are going to take away all our jobs.
Shubhangi: *laughs* No way!
There are so many of us, yaar. And everyone looks at everything so differently.
How do you write? In the sense, do you decide to sit and write, or does it just happen?
Shubhangi: That doesn’t really work with me – dedicating a particular time. But then I might get an idea, and I will just record it, and write the essence of the idea on my phone. So sometimes when I am sitting around or when I am travelling, because you know, Mumbai always surprises you and you have a lot of travel time.
Sometimes, the melody comes to me first, before the writing does. So I create the melody on the guitar. And then according to the feel of the melody, I decide on a topic and write about it.
You know, every writer at some point has felt that he would rather have been a musician.
Yeah because music has that kind of reach. There are people who don’t read, but everyone listens to music.
And you have achieved both.
Shubhangi: Music can almost be like a background score for your life. And Joe Satriani actually said that - ‘My aim with my music is to make the background music for someone’s life’. Like, if you are walking and it is a sunny day, you will think of Rubina’s Blue Sky Happiness; or when you are introspective, you will think of Flying in a Blue Dream.
So, that’s every musician’s dream to make your songs so relatable to the audience that they instantly think of it when they are in a certain situation.
Oh ya, that happens a lot but you never really think of it that way.
Shubhangi: I know. You listen to a song and you instantly get transported to that era. Like, 5 years back, I was sitting there and talking to my friends about that.
It is like a filing process in your brain, you know, you colour-board it that way. So, music has the power to do that.
Even the bad moments; like, I remember this lousy... there’s a song which I associate with this break up I had, like a childhood heartbreak I had when I was very very young. And, even though it is so far back, and it is not relatable at all now, but the moment I listen to that song, I am in that moment. I get that heavy feeling, you know.
Music does that. It is very powerful.
I think we live that time with that piece of music, which then sort of becomes a thing together for us.
Shubhangi: Yeah, of course.
A friend of mine, when she had jaundice for the first time in her life, she discovered Coldplay’s Yellow. And now she associates the song with jaundice.
Yeah. That happens.
It is funny how certain events don’t leave a certain song.
Shubhangi: It is.
That’s why it is the most powerful medium.
Shubhangi: It is, it is very powerful.
In the time that I spent with Shubhangi that day, I realised she is not only a phenomenal singer/songwriter, but an equally driven learner. She is a dreamer, a thinker, a philosopher, and a whole lot of other things which probably even she hasn’t discovered yet. When she does, we can be assured that she will only make good of it.