Songs for Rainy Days
An interview with the upcoming New Zealand based electro-folk duo, Tāl*
There’s something about the music of Tāl that reminds you of the Danish word, 'hygge'. It would be the perfect accompaniment to a rainy day by the the window, cold toes within warm socks in winter, lazy Sunday afternoons or just anything pleasant and comforting, really.
The duo coming from a multicultural background, are an Auckland based band and create most of their music using instruments like the sitar and the tabla. Their music is serene and has the power to gently transport you to somewhere soft and breezy.
We spoke to the 22 year old twins about their new EP, their inspiration and their plans for the future.
(The twins took turns answering the questions. SH - Shantini and S - Shalina)
How were you introduced to Indian classical music?
Shantini: My first memory has to be from when I was around 4 years old, watching men playing the thavil and nadaswaram at the temple. Everyone would be facing the same direction praying, whereas we would be captivated by the musicians. As our father’s side is South-Indian, our introduction to Indian classical music was naturally of the Carnatic tradition. Exposure to Hindustani instruments came soon after, and we decided on learning the sitar and tabla at 17.
What is your favorite memory of learning music?
Shantini: When we were probably around four or five, my favourite thing to do was play the guitar with our dad. My hands were too small so he would hold the chords and I would strum. Our parents played a big part in our musical development, as we grew up always being around guitars and harmonicas and records and CDs. Music was always in the house.
You make music that has very unique influences, so where do you peg yourself and what ideology if any do you have?
Shalina: Our main goal is for our music to reach as many people as it possibly can. We wish for our music to be acknowledged alongside all the other popular music that’s out there, rather than being classed as ‘World’ since it involves eastern influences. We really want to make our sound accessible to those who may be unfamiliar, or perhaps intimidated by Indian classical music - it would be cool to eventually hear people saying things like “...Oh I like the tabla in that” rather than “...are they those Indian drums?”
Do you have a role model who is a classical musician?
S: In terms of sitar, I’d say Anoushka Shankar. She is an exceptionally skillful musician in both her performance and compositional work, and she’s done an incredible job of continuing her father Ravi Shankar’s legacy, all while simultaneously creating one for herself. We watched her play here in Auckland recently, and had the pleasure of meeting her afterwards. I cried my eyes out, she’s on another level.
Ustad Shahid Parvez is someone else I admire, he is an extremely technical player, and performs at such speed without fault.
What has been your inspiration for Tāl EP?
SH: We wrote the EP upon the passing of our grandfather, and a lot was happening around us at this time. We wrote the tracks based on these experiences, which are based on the changeable nature of the bonds that people share.
When do you know that a song is ready to be out there in the world?
S: When we start a song, we usually have a vision of what we ideally want it to look/sound/feel like, so I think we tend to finish working on something when we feel it’s sounding as close to that as possible. Sometimes it can be hard to know when to draw that line; there’s a thin film that sits between overdoing something and not doing enough.
Any independent musicians from India that you admire?
SH: We really like Talvin Singh, Raveena and Chrms.
Who writes the songs? What is the entire process like?
SH: Our writing process is very much a team effort, it’s very methodic and our ability to bounce ideas off each other really comes in handy. Shalina will usually come up with the melodic framework and mood of a song, starting out on the guitar or keys.
If I think it’s suitable, I’ll ponder on how we can expand it further, writing lyrical phrases, as well as additional vocals and beats. From this point, we’ll work on it together, but we always take the time to reflect on a track separately to ensure it’s sounding like the most exact representation of what we’re trying to convey.
What is the music space like for new bands and independent music in Auckland?
S: It's interesting. It’s cool that it’s a very tight-knit community and everyone generally knows everyone, but it’s very much a who-you-know situation that can land you gigs and get your name out there. We’ve been fortunate to have many wonderful friends and contacts in the industry who have really shown their support, so we’ve been lucky that way.
In terms of media coverage, it’s not that great to be honest. Many mainstream platforms are only able to review or feature your work if you’re signed or have a large social media following, which makes things impossible if you’re new on the scene.
When did you know that Tāl had to be a full-time duo?
S: We’ve known that we wanted to pursue music together as a career since the end of high-school - we competed in a nationwide, secondary school music competition and ended up placing among the top 10 solo/duo acts in the country. It wasn’t until then that we realised we could potentially make a career out of this if we worked hard enough.
We went to university for two reasons; one being that we would have degrees to fall back on if the music thing didn’t work out, and two, there is no such thing as not going to university if you have at least one Indian parent.
Now we’ve graduated, we’re making sure that Tāl is our main focus. Since releasing our debut EP, the journey has been more than we could’ve hoped. We’ve been fortunate enough to be featured on many inspiring and important platforms and have made really meaningful connections with people around the world. The internet is a very powerful thing. We’re hoping for our music to reach more people as time goes on.
What do you do when you are not working on your music?
S: Shantini is really dedicated to bread-making at the moment, she has her own sourdough starter that she’s crafted from scratch and looks after on the daily. I’m currently working on a design project with a local art gallery here in Auckland and have been gradually chipping away at expanding my South Indian cooking repertoire.
Interview by Aparna Varma
*Read as Ta-al