Exclusive: Interview with Ananya Birla

When we last interviewed Ananya Birla, she had just released her single “Meant to Be”. Within a year, the singer has accomplished a lot of things including the Platinum certification. Representing India on the global music scene, Ananya has been making it big both in the musical as well as the social sphere.

She has recently released her new single “Circles” and till now, the music video has accumulated more than 8.5 million views on YouTube. CelebMix talked to her about the inspiration behind “Circles”, her social initiative “MPower” and her plans for the new EP. Check out the complete interview below:

When we interviewed you last time, you had just released “Meant to Be”. Now you are a Platinum certified artist with a strong fan base. How do you feel about it?

Thank you for having me back!

It’s been an amazing few months. I am thrilled that both Meant To Be and my last single Hold On went Platinum and that people are responding so well to my music both at home and around the world. I still haven’t quite got used to hearing my songs come on the radio, it’s surreal!

I always believed that an Indian artist could be successful with an English-language record, and I think going Platinum proved that. It also highlights how music is becoming so much more international, I think of it as this amazing universal language that can connect people anywhere regardless of nationality, gender, sexuality or background.

I hope that the positive response to my music encourages other young musicians in India to be less afraid of taking chances and think globally when they are creating songs. There is so much undiscovered talent back home that deserves to be heard.

Considering that you are now supported by two of the biggest music labels, how do you see yourself placed as an artist?

Universal Music have been amazing from day one. They opened the door for me to work with hugely talented people like Jim Beanz and Mood Melodies. It’s awesome to now have Island Records UK supporting me as well, they have such an amazing heritage of representing diverse and globally-influential musicians.

I am definitely still growing as an artist and would never want to pigeon-hole myself. I want to experiment with different genres, and collaborate with people from across the industry, whether it is in dance, hip hop, or local artists back in Mumbai.

I want my music to connect with people around the world, but I would never try to shake off my Indian roots. It is a huge part of who I am and I want to incorporate more elements of that in my music and my videos.

During our previous conversation, you told us about your beginnings as a Santoor player. Since your first song, how do you see your evolution as an artist as well as a performer?

I certainly have more confidence now. It took a while to find my sound when I was starting out, and I found myself being influenced in terms of what direction I should take – everyone has an opinion and it’s hard to stand your ground when you don’t have that experience under your belt. Now, I have a much better understanding of myself as an artist and I’m becoming more at-ease with expressing myself and standing by my opinions.

I used to get really nervous about putting music out but I’m becoming less scared about how it is received and learning to just enjoy the process of creating and taking every opportunity to grow and evolve as a person and a musician. I love that people are connecting with my music, but it generates a bit of pressure to live up to previous successes. I try to remind myself that I make music for me as well as other people! Each song is a part of me so it’s essential that I can love and be proud of what I put out.

In the future, what kinds of styles would you want to experiment and challenge yourself with?

My sound continues to develop every time I walk in to the studio or sit down with my guitar. For my upcoming music, I am playing with some different styles, some of it is more acoustic and on other tracks I have been experimenting with incorporating more of an Indian vibe which has been so fun. I also love hip hop so I definitely want to dabble there too!

Congratulations for “Circles”. We absolutely loved the track. Compared to “Meant to Be” and “Hold On”, “Circles” is quite different both in terms of theme and in terms of sound. Please tell our readers a bit about the single.

Thank you so much!

The sounds have evolved and I’m taking new risks, but authenticity is still central to everything that I make.  I mentioned last time we spoke that all my music comes from a very intimate space and my songs are generally based on personal experience.  That is truer than ever with ‘Circles’.

I wrote it for my oldest friend who has been with me through all the ups and downs in my life. I wanted to say thank you. True friendship is something which we should all take more time to celebrate and cherish. For this song, I went into studio knowing exactly what I wanted to write about and so it came together really naturally!

The music video is really touching and it has received 8.5M views which is quite a major achievement. How did the team come up with the video narrative?

I worked with Aya Tanimura in Los Angeles on the music video – she did Katy Perry’s music video for Chained To The Rhythm. I wanted to re-create touching and intimate moments from stories I have been told by people I’ve met along my travels. I wanted to show how powerful friendship is as a force and how it can overcome age or distance or time. So many songs out there right now are about romantic love and I wanted to show something different. Much like music, friendship is something which touches people the world over, from every walk of life.

The video begins with a dedication “To all my best friends, I O U”. Would you like to share with us your favourite moments with your best friends that might have inspired you to create this song for them?

The support I get from my friends is invaluable. My music takes me all around the world, so I am lucky that I have amazing people spread around who I know are there for me no matter what (just as I am for them).

I was quite shy growing up, and I had a tendency to retreat away from people and isolate myself when things got difficult or scary. It was my friends who gave me the courage to do what I do today. I’m also very lucky because I work with some of my best friends. In the entertainment industry, it’s so important to have people around you who can tell you right from wrong and push you to do your best!

Would you like to share with us your plans for your EP?

Right now, I am experimenting and working with amazing producers from around the world, some back in India as well as in Atlanta, London and LA.

I have an idea of the music I want on the EP, but it is a tough selection process. Sometimes you can be overly protective of a song because it is so personal that you struggle to look at it objectively. That is one of the reasons it is so important to collaborate, you need to have objective people around who can tell you when something is going to work on a bigger scale.

It’ll be out around Oct/Nov after  which I’ll be travelling around doing loads of performances!

Last time, we briefed our readers about your social initiatives. But today, we would like to talk about MPower. Please tell us about the initiative and what motivated you to work on it?

After I had my own struggles at university in the UK, the issues around mental health in India became even more evident. I was shocked at how difficult it was for people to get help.

I set up MPower to support people with mental health issues who are frequently ignored or discriminated against. We campaign and provide holistic care services for people and their families when they are going through a tough time. Currently, someone attempts suicide every 3 seconds in India. It is a shocking statistic which clearly shows the need for organisations like MPower.

The first step is to try to stamp out the stigma around mental health and normalise discussions about it by talking openly and shamelessly. People, especially in India, are scared to reach out for help because they don’t want to be judged. The taboo that exists is our biggest challenge at the moment. We need mental health to be considered just as important as physical health.

At such a young age, you have achieved quite a lot. What are some of the things that you wish to work on in the near future?

I want to continue to release music. I want to play more live music, and eventually tour around the world, and show that India can produce a successful, global musician. I am a big believer that everyone can, and should aim to, leave the world a better place than they find it. Music has given me a platform to connect with people and I want to use that in the best possible way.

Share your thoughts on Ananya’s new single via tweet @CelebMix.

Written by Ayushi

Hi! I am Ayushi from India. The only thing that is consistent about me is my passion for writing and reading. Weaving words to form a story is the best thing I know and the only thing I want to do.
"Writer by nature is a dreamer, a conscious dreamer."
-Carson McCullers

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