Finds her footing as an R&B/Pop artist in New York City.
By Deepak Chitnis
WASHINGTON, DC: For decades now, Indian Americans have been making a name for themselves in the fields of medicine, law, business, and philanthropy. Over the past 10 years, several second-generation desis have also begun breaking into television and film arena. But until very recently, they had not really made a splash in the world of American music, despite coming from a very musically inclined culture and several American artists, such as Timbaland, using Indian instrumentations in their music.
Enter Shilpa Narayan, the latest Indian-origin debutante to enter the American music scene. Brought up all over the American south, but currently living in the Big Apple, Narayan is making waves with her latest single, “Renegade,” released last year. With a video on YouTube and available on iTunes, Narayan is developing a passionate fan following and is gearing up to take the next step in her career: releasing a full album.
In an interview to The American Bazaar, Narayan talks about her background, evaluates her career thus far, and discusses where she plans to go from here.
Excerpts from the interview:
Can you talk about your background, where you’re from, where you grew up, your family background, and other details about your personal life outside of your career as a singer?
I actually moved around a ton so am never 100% sure what to claim as my hometown! I was born in North Carolina, moved to Texas, then moved to India, then back to Texas, then to Georgia, and now I live in New York City – where I’ve been for the past four years. My dad works in engineering/sales and his job required us to move a lot. My mom works as a journalist and has been with CNN for the past almost 15 years.
How did you first get into singing? How did that passion develop and when did you know that you wanted to do it at a professional level? How did your family and friends react to that, especially since as an Indian American, most expect their kids to go into technical fields for work?
My introduction into singing was pretty non-traditional. For me I’ve always loved music and gravitated towards different styles and different melodies, but I was more of a listener. It was only about six years ago where I finally bought myself a guitar, posted some YouTube videos, and finally got the courage to really go for singing. I was very lucky that all of my friends and especially my family have been so supportive throughout this journey. The other day I even saw that my mom had been tweeting my Renegade Video link to a ton of different journalists and producers! I am just so grateful to be given the chance and opportunity to put my music out there.
Talk about some of the obstacles, both personally and professionally, you have faced on your journey to becoming a professional singer. How have you overcome these?
Personally for me it was really hard to find a balance between work, music and just life in general. I moved to New York City to work in finance and really chose that field so I could fund my own music project on the side. It was a lot of sleepless nights and it was also hard to go from playing a show and being on this crazy high, to then going in to the office and working at something I wasn’t passionate about. But I did learn a ton about business while I was in finance and it gave me some great material for writing lyrics. My song “Crash” from the album ‘Stand Alone’ was about that struggle. There wasn’t really a way to overcome this other than to realize that this is part of the grind of being an artist, and it’s going to take one hundred percent dedication to get out there. And being able to hear my own original songs, and get the support from my friends and also people I don’t know online has made everything completely worth it.
Professionally, first of all I didn’t realize how expensive music was! Buying beats, getting studio time, paying for photo-shoots and music videos has definitely made my wallet a little lighter. It was also hard to know who to trust in the industry. I moved over here, this wide-eyed girl from the South, and I think I trusted too easily at first. I believed everybody was who they said they were, whether it was a “producer”, or an “A&R” and I really thought everyone was trying to help me. I think anyone going for music should always have their guard up and do their homework before agreeing to meet people. It’s also hard being a single female R&B/Pop artist because there are always people trying to take advantage of that. The industry is a really beautiful place but there’s also a lot of corruption that happens and it took me experiencing it first hand to realize that. I’m way more wary now and make sure that I know exactly what I’m getting myself into before saying yes to anything!
Although Indians come from a very music-oriented culture, there aren’t a lot of Indian Americans in the US music industry – why do you think that is, and what do you think sets you apart from all the other young Indian Americans trying to make a name for themselves?
It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more Indians who have become mainstream! But I have been seeing a change in the past couple years. There are artists and producers like Rishi Rich, Jay Sean, Sid Sriram that are opening the door for us and I couldn’t be more proud of this
Talk about some of the accomplishments you’ve already had as an artist; what are you most proud of?
I think I’m most proud of the ‘Stand Alone’ album that I put out in May 2012 and also the single ‘Renegade’ which I did my very first video for this past December. Both projects were really exciting because they started as an idea I had in my head, which sprouted into lyrics and a melody and then a final product which I could share with the world.
Now that your career is taking off, where do you see yourself in the next year? Five years? What goals have you set for yourself, and how do you plan to accomplish them?
Only time will tell. I’d love to have more videos out, more originals, and to have my second full album out in the next couple months. I also want to do a lot more live shows and to play internationally at some point – that would be the dream. Right now I’m just doing a lot of writing to hope that something will stick and make a good follow up to Renegade.
What do you hope to accomplish with your music? What kind of message does your music send?
I just want the music to be heard, more than anything else. I’ve worked extremely hard to get to the point I’m at now, and I just hope that people can relate to the songs I put out there. The message throughout Stand Alone and also with Renegade is to stay strong, no matter what, to go for your dreams, and to create your own destiny.
Do you have any idols or role models you look up to? Someone whose style your influenced by or someone whose career you’d like to model yours after?
I’m really obsessed with Adele, Alex Clare and Emeli Sande. I just love that they’ve brought real music, real voices, and real songwriting back and I could only dream of having a career anywhere close to theirs.
What can fans expect to hear from you next? Can you give us a sneak peek on anything you’re currently working on?
This second album is going to be very different than Stand Alone. It’ll have a lot more of a real instrument-type sound and the material is going to be a bit more mature as well. I’m super pumped to put more songs out there! Still working on narrowing down what the second single will be, but you’ll be the first to hear when I do!
Watch Narayan’s single ‘Renegade’ on YouTube here:
To contact the author, email to firstname.lastname@example.org