“Waiting No Longer”: In conversation with Vaishàlini

Intervista di Francesca Mazzella

In the interview you gave, … you talked about your upbringing, you’ve been surrounded by music all your life. Your dad played in the house, and you were also very influenced by Jazz, Soul, Indian Classical music, and Synthwave. Could you talk a little more about your passion and influences?

I have been releasing music since I was 17. My first song came out then, and I am very much someone who has been surrounded by music all their life. When I was little my dad would play music around the house. And both my parents were not very traditional when it comes to things like this, they went for everything and anything. I know that unlike mine, some Indian parents are more strict in having their kids grow up with the music they listened to when they were children. But my dad played a lot of rock, jazz, and country. My singing is also influenced by Carnatic music and Indian sounds. I think my childhood is visible in the way I sing; I took vocal lessons in Carnatic music when I was younger and then I did musical theatre in high school and college. When I was around 16, I started to write my music and so my brother and I began this process.

You are heavily involved in the entire process, not only in the creative aspects of your music. You write, produce, and sing, so when does your brother come in?

The two of us produce all my music. Sometimes he’ll mix and master certain aspects, we go off each other. I do see it as a team effort but I do produce all my music, there is never a song that I have not sat for at my computer for hours and done everything for. We of course get into arguments, but I know we both have our strengths, I find it useful to have an extra person in the room so that when I am making a song or composing it, and need an opinion on it, he’ll just say “it is terrible” if that’s what he believes. Brothers won’t tell you “yes” -- they’re pretty brutally honest. Usually, composition comes first, whether that’s from my piano or my ukulele or guitar, or something it’ll be straight into electronic production. Then I write the vocal line and later on, I record everything. Recording is fun ‘cause I get to play with my voice, whether that be with the style or part of my voice I use or when I stack the vocals. Some-- actually most-- of my songs are really heavily stacked when it comes to harmonies; especially on the EP. Writing is probably one of my favorite aspects of creating music. I take the lyricism of it very seriously, I like metaphorical or double entendre lyricism, so I love creating that part of the process.

I believe it shows, it is clear that all the parts in your production stand on their own. Whether one focuses on the vocals the general sound, or the lyrics. Can I ask where all of this takes place? Do you have a studio you go to?

I have a home studio, we bought a bunch of equipment and built out a closet to be a booth and it is very useful. I am on my own time, and whenever I want to record something, I just go in.

More on writing your music: how do you get inspired? Do you focus on something you want to write about because it happens/you experience it in some capacity in your life or it is a subconscious process?

A lot of my music is mostly inspired by images I have in my mind more than events - even if there is a level of personal truth that influences it. I am inspired by scenes or images, especially production-wise. But I Lied, for example, is ocean-sounding. You feel underwater - almost drowning, and the lyrics bring that idea up. The whole song is supposed to evoke that sensation. Give Me All Your Lies came to me while driving to the airport at 5 AM and I remember there was a feeling you get: late all night, you’re barely awake, the wind is pushing past your car and the highway is empty. I wanted that to be a song, which you can feel in the lyrics, but my songs come from scenes in my mind. Lyrically, I might find a cool phrase, maybe a line from a book or movie or an idiom I’ve recently heard might encapsulate the feeling I am trying to convey. I try to create storylines with all of it, I think my music is me. You can see this in my music videos as well, you can tell because I make the end credits all me, and it's very very obnoxious (laughs).
I wouldn’t say it is. I went through your music videos and the translation from lyrics, songs, and images is very clear. You know what the essence of the song is before it is created. The viewer can see your input, your idea, even if interpretable and art, the plan you follow makes it easier for us to perceive your music as artistically complete. 

I try to make the music videos cinematic, and I use the end credits to make it feel like a movie as well. The reason why I like music videos is that they create the imagery for the song that I already have in my mind. I’ve gotten comments from people who do feel like they are in one, so I guess I am polishing that aspect more and more. Not to be cliche, but they are transported with the music, somewhere else. The cinematic part is what I love to explore as well, playing with what you see on top of what you hear.

Does the storytelling element in your music video relate to each other as well? In two videos you wear the same red outfit, and I was wondering if maybe that is a message to the spectator.

Fun fact, there was actually one more music video for the Guess You’ll Have to Wait era in that red suit, but I haven’t published it yet. Who know, maybe one day I will let it see the light of day! But yes, the suit is a thing, a part of an era of the EP I put out, the bolder aspect of it. I had some very water elements (But I Lied, Give Me All Your Lies), they are blue, and I wanted something red to represent the songs that are bolder (You Better Watch Your Step, Skip Your Turn, So You Need Me Now). Colors help me figure out my music. Images again are key for me. Another color that people picked up on was the purple that was an accent color in the Give Me All Your Lies video, and also in the Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn U music video. I think this EP plays with the spectrum from red to blue, including pinks in Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn U that represents that residual teenage angst, and the purples that represent the more mature, almost royal feeling. The original EP cover is also gold, which is plays on that royalty/fantasy feeling of all of the songs while also being the “ray of light” in the whole story.

I find it interesting that people think of these music videos as being movie-like because while watching it that is exactly how it makes you feel, and yet we are not necessarily seeing a big production, with particular effects or visuals. Above everything it feels yours. And once again, the essence of the product is what shines through first. What is also very impressive is that you edit, write, and compose all your music videos, what goes through your head when putting all of these aspects together?

Well, first of all, I am thinking of how I should have not done this (laughs). Maybe I should have picked something easier because it takes forever to edit a video. Every time I get super excited at the start, and then I realize I have to sit down and edit for three weeks, which can be a little tiring. But I think the excitement of getting it done and ready to show the world is what pushes me to do it in the first place. The effort takes a toll on you, but it feels like the idea I have in my head is coming to life, differently but even better than how I had pictured it. I’ve learned a lot production-wise throughout the process, every video is edited differently, and so it is just very fun - when I am not thinking of how much work I have left.

How do you find the right shot and how are you able to capture it? Even if not impossible, seeing your passion and talent, I wonder if there is any photographic/cinematic knowledge that explains it all. The lighting, and the camera work, feel thought out, and purposeful, which in a more professional light seems a given, but not the priority for a lot of artists.

Lighting and filming are crazy I know - and that is my dad. He was a photographer and had to deal with the craziest ideas I have. I am grateful I have a dad that will sit there and help me, or support me through the process. I know what I want, but sometimes I can’t see myself and need an extra set of eyes. Getting the right shot is all about storyboarding; I usually have what I envision laid out or written out before. The final product will always be different than what you envisioned, of course, but that’s part of the magic.

Very interesting, so it's just the two of you. Some could argue that the bigger you go (production-wise) the quicker you lose that thing that makes the video/music organic. The shot, the moment you felt like it was fundamental for us to see. I feel like it is clear how you are lifted from a music-industry responsibility of a project that needs to make sense commercially and is much more focused on the way things should be according to how your music feels in your mind.

Yes, I am very much in creative control of everything I release. And I think you can tell.

Speaking of creative control, can you share a little bit about your album covers? Which feels like another form of art you’re using to convey your music.

Every song (single) had a different cover art during that era, and usually, my dad would help shoot the image, and my brother and I would go edit it. With the EP cover, it was art, so my brother made it. And then we had this hourglass inside her stomach and it was a whole thing. We thought it would be sick to insert myself in the hourglass and so we did. The whole concept of the EP is about time, how it passes, and mortality. These are honestly my big fixations. Everything has a beginning and end. Especially as a female artist, we are given such a quick career before they decide a female artist isn’t young and fresh anymore. I wanted it to be a woman that is holding the hourglass within herself, her body is the hourglass. And I am in the hourglass as if I were chained to it and couldn’t get out. Also, because the whole EP is so movie-like, and fantastical, especially with the nonsingle songs, the EP tracks themselves feel like a fantasy in this sort of book-like situation.
A sprinkle of Alice in Wonderland…

Sort of! It is supposed to mess with your brain - I am glad you caught that.

You often do this thing where you juxtapose melodies and rhythms that almost feel independent from the words of the song. Karma will come get me, and yet I am dancing as if we had been partying all night. You are also very introspective and honest about emotions and feelings that the outcomes are on one hand easily accessible, but also vary in its interpretations. Finding universal reactions, and emotions to life and expressing them in a new way is commendable. The art feels fluid, although sometimes the things you describe are anything but.

Yes, I sometimes wonder if the lyrics match the background. One thing is that I do love Karma. As in Karma will get me too, it is fair. I believe it to be an equal opportunity evil. Time, Karma, we all end up in the same place whether one likes it or not. This concept is stressed especially in the last song of the EP, where the only lyric repeated multiple times is “and when you reach the end, you’ll see”. Because we are stuck, in the end, it doesn’t matter - but on the other hand it is also a happy feeling. I am glad it doesn’t matter. And do I like that nothing matters in the end?

This reminds me how your music has felt very elastic - melodically and lyrically. And on top of it all, elastic in your journey as an artist and in the way you’ve been able to explore and match themes and genres. Back to In Between Girl, to Feel the Shame, it feels like you’ve found new and deeper meanings to throw in your pieces and demanded the audience make sense of them. An evolution that I see in the imagery, in the production, in the search (then somewhat found) of your genre.

I see what you are saying and I really appreciate it; Unlike how I used to do when I first started writing and producing music, where I would be working on 100 different songs, and I cut a lot on music. Now the music that I am making today usually makes it to the final cut. I am just very excited about everything that comes out and that is probably why.

Shifting the focus on the songs themselves: you have a very strong intro. Which could seem like a given but it isn’t. I truly believe the introduction, the first 5 seconds of a song is essential in the split decision the listener makes to keep listening or forward it. And, even if not every song might be for everyone, they catch your attention. Could you tell me a little bit more about that?

I am very glad to hear this, my brother and I always wonder. The first seven seconds are what catches people so yes, I’m very deliberate about try to milk those seven seconds for all they’ve got.

A lot of my songs, especially the ones on the EP started in one direction, and then I didn’t like it anymore so I will just delete everything, which my brother gets so mad at me for (laughs). For example, But I Lied started as a different song, and had the same first verse, but did not have any of the ocean stuff I mentioned before. So I scrapped it. Restarted it completely. I really wanted it to sound like drowning, so the introduction is almost yanking you down. It’s a very slow introduction, but I think it is effective. I wrote it, and I believe it to be one of the more autobiographical I have written - all the other songs are a part of me but are a little bit removed. This song is very blunt, it’s about me lying. Nothing else. It’s a moment of truth (about lying). The outro had its moment on TikTok because it sounds a little mermaidy, that is what people have said. I wanted it to be just vocals, so there are no lyrics. The vocals, to me, feel like mourning something. The outro of the song represents the end when you’ve left a tumultuous journey and all you’re left with is the melancholic emotion of missing the moment or struggle that impacted you and made you grow, but also knowing you are better off without it.

As an artist your genre constantly shifts from pop, to jazz-R&B-like, with Indian influences and other more niche ones you might be interested in explaining at the time, what is your position on artistic experimentation in an age in which the categorization of music genres is so formalized? Even as the audience, we tend to perceive negatively or differently singers and songwriters negatively when they try new things.

Sticking to one thing forever sounds boring to me. People expect artists to reinvent themselves constantly, especially female artists. But as an artist, writing music, I cannot write the same thing over and over again. I make one song, and that is the song - you won’t get the same song again from me. The sounds might be similar but never the same. I am proud of my songs because they have layers, the instrumental tracks go from a minimum of 20 playing at the same time, which is not so common in music today. Each song has its elements and it is quite literally impossible for me to recreate them. I know that my signature will probably be my outro because I usually switch up halfway through, I like changing it up. Give Me All Your Lies has three parts: sunset (guitar), different mood (electric guitar), and smooth airy situation. I don’t make a lot of songs that even within themselves follow just one direction unless it is a pop song.

Siteraman Studios is your own Record Label, can you say a little more about how that came about?

So as an artist, you either put out your music being signed to a label, or put it out through a distributor, but having seen the impact that has on artists and the ownership of their craft, labels stealing artists’ music, etc. I always knew that no matter what, even if I don’t make it by any chance, I want to own my music 100% and I don’t want anyone else touching it. So that’s where all my music is. The industry is certainly different from what it once was, and it is different for artists that are not songwriters, but because so much of my own life into my music, this makes the most sense.

Do you have any plans to perform live soon?

I did one last year opening for an artist in Arizona. I have a couple of performances in the next few months. Which I want to do more than anything, I love performing, I have been doing it all my life. I want to be on stage, I don’t get stage fright, it feels like that is where I am supposed to be. When I was younger I grew up on stage as I was a dancer, so to me being on stage feels like coming home.

Liberty Club wishes Vaishàlini all the best and thanks her for her time