19 May 2019 (released)
19 May 2019
Following the release of her hotly-anticipated debut EP 'Fingerprint' via UMG and Island Records UK, we talk with Ananya Birla, the first home-grown artist in India to go platinum singing in English. She tells us about her new music, collaborations with international artists like Sean Kingston and Mood Melodies, her plans for the future and issues around mental illness in the music industry.
Tell us about your new EP. Why the title, ‘Fingerprint’?
I’m so so excited to finally release my EP (and also a bit nervous). I called it Fingerprint because it is really personal to me: it’s bound to my identity. It is all about love - the beauty of it but also the challenges and the darker side too.
It’s drawn from my personal experience, so putting it together has been painful at times, but totally cathartic. More than ever before, I think that authenticity is essential for making music. People really appreciate music, or any kind of art, that comes from the heart - it means audiences can connect with it on a deeper level. I always try to deliver my music in a way that will resonate with people, no matter where they are or what their background is.
DJ Buddha produced some of the tracks, can you tell us how you came to work with him?
We were introduced through some mutual friends. He’s great to work with: such a pure soul who is super passionate about what he does, and what I love about him is that he truly enjoys collaborating with the artist to achieve a joint vision of the song.
You have worked with some other amazing artists around the world, like Sean Kingston, Afrojack, Mood Melodies and Vector. What have you learned from working with them?
Working with musicians from around the world brings it home to me that music truly is a universal language. I feel so connected to each of my collaborators, and I’ve learned so much from them. With each partnership, there’s a different spark.
I have been working with Anders (Mood Melodies) for ages now. Vector and WurlD were great, I had always wanted to get out of my comfort zone and incorporate hip hop into one of my songs, and I don’t think I could have worked with two better people. We were introduced to each other via our label, Universal, who thought they would be a perfect fit on ‘Blackout’. When Vector and WurlD heard the track, they connected with the lyrics straight away. There was no looking back after that! Both of them were amazing to work with and we were so happy with the positive reaction to the track, particularly in Africa and back home.
You’ve been open about your former struggles with anxiety. Why do you believe there is such a prominence of mental illness in the music industry?
We’ve had so many tragic losses recently: Avicii, Mac Miller, Lil Peep... .It doesn’t help that we often spend a lot of time on the road and away from family and friends, or that quite often we’re writing about pretty heavy stuff emotionally, and then having to relive it all in the studio and on the stage. The pressure can be huge, emotionally as well as physically, and it becomes an environment in which mental health can spiral. If someone’s doing something they love and with a measure of success, it’s harder to come out and say “I’m struggling” because you compare yourself to people who have been through stuff which might be way worse….
I think we need to remember that our favourite artists are also just people who need patience and support like anyone else. It goes to show that problems with mental health can affect anyone, it doesn't matter whether or not you’re successful. Mental illness does not discriminate.
You work around the world, recently recording in Los Angeles, Atlanta and London. Where is your favourite place to be in the studio?
More than where I am physically, it’s about the mindset I’m in and who I am in studio with. It’s always nice to be in a studio with a café nearby so there’s easy access to coffee!
A lot of your success has been in India so far. You're the first star to go Platinum singing in English. How did that feel? How is the music scene changing out there?
It felt amazing – it still feels amazing! It goes to show how much more excited people back home are about embracing international sounds, and that independent, non-film music is really beginning to take off. I always believed that an Indian artist could be successful with an English-language record, and I think going Platinum five times proved that.
The launch of new streaming platforms like Spotify also gives people back home access to music they would never have heard before, as well as a platform for artists to reach huge audiences. We’re seeing all these emerging scenes cropping up – in pop, hip-hip, electro and rock too all over the country – the whole musical landscape is shifting.
But there is still so much undiscovered talent back home. I hope that the positive response I’ve been getting encourages other musicians there to be less afraid of taking chances and to think internationally when they’re working on new projects.