Ananya Birla opens up about her musical career, fear of failure, online criticism and more
Sidhantha Jain · May 22, 2019 · 8 Minute Read
Ananya Birla’s discography is already studded with platinum selling singles and recently, she added Fingerprint, her debut EP to the exquisite mix of releases via Universal Music India and Island Records UK.
All four tracks are a rendition of her personal experiences with love in different forms and boast Ananya’s sonic versatility as she dabbles into different genres, making each of them sound fresh.
Thanks for taking some time out to speak with us. What have you been up to lately?
My new EP Fingerprint, which came out a week ago, has been the main focus in the last few months. I’ve been working with some amazing people who I have connected with through my labels Universal and Island Records UK. We really wanted to try and develop something which people can vibe with all over the world.
My business Svatantra, which empowers women in rural areas by giving them access to financial services, is doing really well and has now hit over 700,000 clients. Because of the amazing teams we have put together there, I’ve been able to take on more of a strategic role which allows me to spend a bit more time in the studio.
It can be stressful to find the right balance, but I really enjoy everything I do, so none feel traditionally like “work,” I consider myself really lucky to have so many different projects which all mean so much to me. I’ve always believed that life is too short for people not to follow the thing that sparks a fire in their soul.
We heard your new EP and it sounds banging! Tell us about the thought behind the whole concept?
Thank you so much for your kind words! It’s called “Fingerprint” because experiences create who you are, and the songs are a culmination of my experiences. So, it is like I’m sharing a part of my identity with the world. It’s mostly about love – the beautiful bits and the challenges too.
Each song explores love from a different perspective and looks at the diversity of emotions that we experience in relationships, in good times and bad. Like all my music, it has its roots in personal experience so putting it together has been tough at times, but really liberating.
What motivated you to step out of your comfort zone and experiment with different sounds?
I don’t know if it is too different from my other stuff, but there’s definitely been a natural progression. As an artist, I believe it is very important to be authentic. As we keep evolving and changing as individuals, so does our music as it is a reflection of us as individuals.
Even though it is very much in the pop space, this EP does dabble a bit into hip hop with “Blackout,” and alternative forms with “Love Suicide.” I’ve always wanted to experiment with genres and I’m so happy with the result on the EP.
I was very apprehensive while writing “Blackout,” whether I would be able to do justice to the song. I guess it is true what they say that getting out of your comfort zone does make you grow and find parts of yourself you didn’t know existed. While one might say the tracks are varied in feel and sound, what connects it all is that it is authentic and emotionally driven.
Would it be possible for you to talk us through the story behind all the four tracks and help us get a better understand the emotions of each one of them?
For “Blackout,” I collaborated with Vector and WurlD who are two of the biggest hip-hop artists in Nigeria. The song is all about taking a step back from the stresses of everyday life and learning to enjoy the journey as opposed to always focusing on the destination.
I wrote “Disappear” with Angela Hunte who wrote one of my favorite songs of all time, Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” It questions how far we push ourselves for love to make something work, even when it doesn’t feel right.
“All Night Long” is the most upbeat track on the EP, it is a celebration of the fundamental attraction we feel when we are in love.
“Love Suicide” is very close to my heart. It is all about toxic love, that kind of intense love that can feel amazing but isn’t good for you. Last year, I fell in love and it was full of great moments and some not so great moments. It didn’t last, and I knew that it was not going to go down well but I definitely saw that love wasn’t as straightforward or easy and perfect as we are led to believe. Working on the track had me reliving a lot of painful memories, but it was kind of cathartic to get it all out there.
Is it true that you write your own songs? What’s your approach of songwriting when you’re starting out a new song?
I either write or co-write all my songs. I absolutely love writing! Songwriting is something I’ve always done, it’s just that when I was a kid it was more in the form of poetry. I find writing in general to be an amazing form of self-expression and it definitely helped me through some rough times in my life. My music is very personal to me but it’s about stuff we all go through – love, heartbreak, isolation, angst. I think people really appreciate that authenticity because they can connect with a song so much better. It is what makes artists like Eminem and Adele so special.
We see a lot of different producers with whom you’ve worked with on your EP, tell us about the challenges of working with a talent pool with different backgrounds and reach conclusions collectively?
It’s so important to surround yourself with the right collaborators. A creative partnership has to be exactly that: you have to share a common vision and you have to learn to compromise. Luckily, I have this relationship with my producers – I couldn’t have made this EP otherwise!
Any project is a culmination of efforts of a lot of people. How do you manage to communicate your line of thought to producers, video directors and everyone else, to make sure the final product is what you had in mind?
It’s a lot of hours in the studio, just hanging out having fun, playing each other’s musical ideas. Some people may not know this but it is actually about having deep conversations too. Sometimes, the idea evolves and then one of us will totally change our minds – which is exactly what happened when we were in LA making “All Night Long.” Because of jetlag, wisdom teeth issues and lack of sleep, it got rewritten multiple times in just a couple of days and then finally we agreed to go back to the original! Thankfully, Anders, my producer was super, super-cool and patient about it.
How do you deal with times when a project doesn’t pan out the way you envisioned it?
It’s tough, without a doubt. You just have to accept that it didn’t work out, learn and move on. It’s obviously way easier said than done, and given that I am a paranoid perfectionist (which isn’t good at all) it doesn’t make it easier. However, with time I am learning and getting better at this.
Who do you walk up to for help and musical advice?
Of course, I bounce ideas off other musicians I trust. However, people I love and who know me, give honest insights – my parents and siblings for example. Even though it isn’t technical advice, it helps massively. One of the best ways to test a track is to make a child listen to it and ask them what they think! After all this at the end of the day, I follow my gut and intuition.
Even if everyone is against a track but if I love it, I will be pushing for it as much as I can. I am very open minded but if I feel strongly about something, especially with my music, then I can be stubborn!
Does the fear of failure ever bother you?
It used to! In fact, I nearly didn’t become a musician because of it. But when I started playing, my mother gave me a piece of advice that has always stuck with me – “try your best and leave the rest to God.” It’s something I’ve applied not just to my music, but to everything I do. I even have those words on the wall in my office. It’s a wonderfully freeing notion to live by.
For someone who puts a lot of pressure on themselves, it’s important to maintain that sense of perspective. Accepting that you simply cannot control everything is an important part of dealing with both successes and challenges. You can’t do any more than trying your best and hope that things work out. Often, they do, but if they don’t maybe, it’s because they weren’t meant to and there is something bigger and better waiting for you around the corner.
How do you react to online trollers who criticize your choice of delving into music or your life in general?
I am totally okay if someone hates on my music, however, if someone gets personal and attacks my character or undermines my achievements because of my surname, that’s something I am not okay with and I do tend to speak up. No one should be judged for their background.
It was tough at first, but I knew what I was getting into when I ventured into music and put myself out there. Making anything creative, whether it is music, art or films, means making yourself vulnerable to the world, which can be overwhelming. You need to learn quickly that dealing with criticism comes with the industry and not let it derail your motivation. I have learned that the best way to manage it is to remind yourself that music is subjective, not everyone is going to like what I am doing, but everyone is entitled to their opinion. I acknowledge it all but don’t dwell on it, you have to move forward in a positive way and stay true to yourself.
There is a big difference between destructive criticism and constructive criticism. The internet and social media give people anonymity which some take advantage of to say awful things. Some people just want to tear you down and you have to learn to distinguish between authentic opinions and people just being nasty.
I’ve learned a lot and become very unapologetic over time. This has helped me cope a lot better. I have also started focusing on all the positive comments and love – which overweighs all the negativity.
What describes you better, “Ananya the singer” or “Ananya the entrepreneur” or something else altogether? And, why?
People have been trying to label me all my life, I guess because it is more convenient – the entrepreneur vs the musician or just because of my surname. But now more than ever, people shouldn’t feel forced into a box. We all have a range of skill sets and ambitions and should be able to do whatever makes us happy and allows us to express ourselves as individuals.
My sole intention in everything I do is to do what I love and hopefully make a positive impact while I’m at it. Let’s put it this way – people can tag me as whatever they may think best, that won’t stop me from doing what I want or being who I am.
Before you sign off, we would like to know, what are some of the milestones that you’ve set out for yourself in 2019 and what’s next for Ananya Birla?
If you had told me 18 months ago that by now, I would have gone platinum five times, signed with Island Records UK and performed at gigs like Global Citizen Festival and Sunburn, I don’t think I would have believed you. It’s been epic!
I want to build on that and will be working with my labels on more music, more collaborations, more shows here and around the world – I am so excited. Next up is a track with Sean Kingston in July – so stay tuned for that!