Exclusive: Ananya Birla talks about her journey and her new single “Circles”

For a long time, Indian music has found its place and significance in Bollywood but with streaming platforms like SoundCloud, musicians are breaking away from the mainstream industry to emerge as a global influence and build a global audience base.

One such artist is Ananya Birla. The singer and the social entrepreneur believes in taking risks. As a result, she has had the chance to collaborate with artists including Afrojack and the producers such as Mood Melodies.

Post success of her single “Meant to Be”, the Platinum certified artist is back with a new single. “Circles” is a beautiful track that talks about friendship and the significance of it in one’s life. The music video is definitely a tearjerker.

Fuzzable talked to the singer about her journey, her new single and her social initiative “MPower”. Check out the complete interview below:

1.For people who are yet to discover your music, please tell a bit about yourself.

I am a pop musician and mental health campaigner from India. Since signing with Universal Music in 2016, I have released four singles and worked with awesome people like Afrojack, Mood Melodies and Jim Beanz.

I just released my latest song “Circles” last month. It is a song which is very close to my heart because I wrote it for my closest friend. I wanted to say thank you to the person who had been with me through all the good times and supported me through the bad.

2.You have named Eminem as your inspiration. What draws you towards his music?

Eminem really puts himself out there with his music, he is so raw and honest which is why his music is so impactful. His lyrics are often complex but the emotions behind them are universally relatable and as a result his music connects with all sorts of people.

That is the ultimate aim with my music. My songs are based on my own experiences or stories I hear which resonate with me, but I try to deliver them in a way which people will connect with, no matter where they are or what their background is.  Nothing makes me happier than when I read messages from people saying one of my songs has helped them to feel better about something they are going through.

3.Congratulations on being a Platinum certified artist. While we have a thriving music industry, Indian representation on global music scene is quite limited. Why do you think is there such a disparity in terms of opportunities and representation?

The music industry in India has for a long time been synonymous with Bollywood which means that the market is much more song-driven than artist-driven. As a result, many artists have not had the necessary support to have sustainable, evolving careers.

I think that is beginning to change, labels are beginning to understand that audiences are hungry for global music and want to connect with artists for longer than just that one big hit. There has also been a huge rise in independent musicians going out on their own using the internet and streaming services to find their followers.

I was so excited when my last two tracks went platinum, I think that really underlines that audiences back home are more open than ever before to music that has a more international influence.

4. If you have to name one Indian artist with whom you’d love to collaborate, who would that be?

Would it be too predictable to say A.R Rahman? He oozes musical genius. Every time I listen to a new sound track or song he’s done, I am blown away. I don’t think any other musician has been able to deliver instantly catchy songs so consistently for such a long period of time. He also has a brilliant knowledge of both Western and Indian styles which he can combine seamlessly.

5. Your acts are supported by some of the biggest labels in the music industry. How do you see yourself placed in the industry and what’s your perception on your evolution as an artist?

Being backed by labels like Universal in India and Island Records in the UK has helped me reach a bigger, international audience and also connect with world-class producers. When you’re on their books you are in the company of other intimidatingly incredible musicians, which brings with it a bit of pressure! You either sink or swim in that situation. It has forced me to become more confident about expressing myself and the direction I want to take with each single.

At the moment, I am evolving every day as a musician and I think that the industry is in a sweet-spot because audiences are increasingly OK with that, they are embracing new sounds and identities with open arms and giving artists the space to experiment and grow along with their fans.

6. Readers of Fuzzable come from all walks of life. Even our writers community comprises of people who have been through the worst (in terms of mental health). We are quite intrigued about MPower. Please tell us about the initiative.

It’s an initiative I set up with my mom, the cause is very close to both of our hearts. I had my own struggles with mental health whilst at university in the UK – I felt incredibly alone and isolated at the time and I never want anyone else to have to go through that.

MPower is focused on India, but the message is a global one – we need to stamp out the stigma around mental health everywhere. In India, mental health is a topic that is rarely discussed and when it is, it is often trivialised. It’s important that people like me who have a public platform, and those in the media, speak out to challenge this.

At MPower we campaign and provide world-class care for people affected by mental health issues. Globally, depression and suicide rates are on the rise and people are scared to reach out for help because they are often judged and discriminated when they do.

We want people to consider mental illness on a par with physical illness – and be as comfortable seeking support for depression as they would for diabetes.

We need to get better at spotting the symptoms and developing diagnosis and treatment methods to deal with mental health issues. Sometimes the first and only ‘physical’ effect on mental health that we see is self-harm or suicide. In fact, right now in India, one student commits suicide every hour. It shouldn’t need to get to that point before people get support and help.

7. You are both an artist as well as an entrepreneur. What are some of the challenges that you face while working on both the aspects of your professional life?

When I was 17, I founded my first company Svatantra, which provides loans to low-income, rural women to help them grow their businesses. These women are often held back from things like owning property and don’t even have access to a bank account – something many of us take for granted. I wanted to develop a vehicle which would address the huge gap between rich and poor which exists in India, and to empower people in a sustainable way.

I loved building Svatantra but the pressure – both external and internal – was immense.Sometimes it is easy when nurturing your passions to forget to look after yourself. The biggest challenge I have faced is striking the right work/ life balance – I always want to ensure that I am making time for friends, family and also for the other things I enjoy like football, art and spending time with my puppy. It would be a bit hypocritical as a mental health campaigner if I wasn’t taking care of my own mental health! As mentioned before, I’ve experienced the self-defeating results of putting myself under huge amounts of pressure and since then I have learned to protect my boundaries and look out for myself better, but it’s something you have to constantly work on.

8. Congratulations on “Circles”. Please tell our readers a bit about the single.

I released Circles a few weeks ago. It is a song I wrote to celebrate friendship, dedicated to my best friend who has been with me through all the good times and the bad. I have so much to thank her for.

As with all my music it is based on personal experience. I usually like to touch on the things that we all go through: love, heartbreak, isolation, friendship, trying to fit in. I want my music to be universally relatable and to show that at the end of the day none of us are that different – regardless of where you are from, your gender, age, sexuality,  background.

I wrote the song with Tom Mann, who is a brilliant musician and singer in his own right who has also written with Liam Payne and Pretty Much. He really helped me turn quite a personal feeling into something which hopefully lots of people can engage with. Anders Froen aka Mood Melodies produced it, who I worked with on my last two releases as well. Finding a producer can be really challenging, there needs to be a special chemistry because while you’re working on a track, you’re spending every day with that person and you need to be totally honest about the things which work and don’t. Anders and I vibe really well.

9. The song is dedicated to your best friends. Please tell us a bit about your relationship with your friends.

I was a really quiet kid. Apart from when I was on stage performing or behind an instrument, I didn’t have a lot of confidence. I am still a very shy person by nature which surprises people who have seen me perform live.

It means that I prefer the company of my closest confidantes to big groups. I really value these people, who in most cases have been friends since school.

I am so lucky that I get to travel to so many awesome places with my music. This year alone I have been recording in Oslo, LA, Atlanta, London and Dubai. I have met some amazing people who I have a lot of fun with, but nothing really compares to my friends back home who I miss when I am away. Whenever I’m back, my absolute favourite thing is having a cozy dinner and movie night at home with all the people I love the most.

10. Today, a lot of conversation happens online. Do you think that today people are losing out on valuable connections?

Social media is very powerful, like anything else it can be very positive as well as very negative at times.

It has helped me connect with my fans and build a strong relationship with them which I love. I see people using it to break down stigma and spread messages about mental health which is fantastic.

However, it can also be totally unrealistic and unhealthy. Some people use social media to show off their “perfect lives” (which is, of course, not the whole story but a carefully choreographed series of scenes) and you can’t help but compare yourself with them. This can push people to try to attain things which are impossible and unhealthy, the “perfect” body, relationship, job, wardrobe, whatever. This can be incredibly damaging for our emotional and sometimes physical health.

Everyone who uses social media has a responsibility to themselves to maintain a healthy and realistic perspective, and a duty to other people to remember that there is a real person on the other side of that screen with real feelings that you might be devastating with your comments.

Nothing can or should replace authenticity and real-life human connection. Social media has brought people together but it has also taken us further away from ourselves; people need to live for themselves, not for how their lives appear to other people.

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

I am heading off to Atlanta and LA next week to work on a load more music and hopefully by the end of August we will have enough material to work out what should make it to the EP, which I aim to release in November.

There will be a good mix on there, including some acoustic stuff and also some tracks which incorporate more Indian sounds. My first musical training was in Indian classical and I want to make the most of that.  There are some wonderful instruments in India like the tabla and the sitar which add a very interesting layer to my music that international audiences seem to love.

I am really excited to have a good body of work out there. The step after that is to use those songs to do more live performances around the world.

12. Lastly, what are your plans for rest of 2018?

I have a stripped-back acoustic version of Circles which I am putting out soon, then another single at the end of August before dropping the EP in October/November.

I am also doing a few talks in Europe and potentially the US about why it is more important than ever for young people to be looking after their mental health.

Ananya’s new single has already accumulated 8.5 Million views on YouTube. She is definitely an inspiration for people who wish to create their presence in the global music scene. What do you think about “Circles”? Share your thoughts via tweet @Fuzzable.

Written by ayushi

Hello! I am Ayushi from India. I love writing poetry, listening to K-POP and spending time alone. Writing is what defines me and I am on the journey to make the definition as good as possible.

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