“Exposure, that’s not going to pay my bills”- In Conversation With Swati Bhatt

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Delhi based Swati Bhatt is a Delhi based singer, composer originally from Raipur. With a journey that started off with learning Indian classical meandering into a keen interest of Western contemporary music, Swati is now on the cusp of releasing her debut EP, a single off of which is already out. “Veiled” is a story of a woman’s journey of self-conflict, of how she breaks away from her loveless marriage while feeling lonely, betrayed and helpless and how she finally finds her voice and her strength, for herself and for the ones she loves.

We got in touch with Swati to find out more about her journey as a musician, her music-making process and more. Read below.

Q1. Tell us about your childhood. How did you get involved in making music?

Growing up in Raipur, one of my favorite memory was my mother playing a cassette for me every night till I fall asleep which now I think was a great ear training exercise too. While in school I started learning Indian classical music and participating in competitions. After a while, I picked up learning guitar where I was exposed to the music of Pink Floyd and The Beatles, which opened a whole new world to me and I started exploring more western contemporary styles. At that time, composing music for me was just writing simple melodies while playing basic chords on my guitar. I wrote my first song when I was 14 years old which then I recorded with a friend and uploaded it on YouTube, you can still find it there. After shifting to Delhi for grad studies, I joined the western music society and got introduced to the world of Acappella singing. I hassled my way through college and society and became an active part of the music circuit simultaneously. I worked as a Teaching Artist in ‘Music Basti’ which is an NPO that enables music education to the at-risk children all over India. I was also a vocalist in an 8 piece Acappella group named ‘Vocal Rasta’ and an art production involving orchestra and live choir named ‘House of Symphony’. Listening, transcribing and making acapella arrangements of existing film scores and themes from my favorite movies like ‘Lily’s theme’ and ‘Hedwig’s theme’ from Harry Potter gave me further insight and boosted my interest in learning the know-how of making music. This curiosity also led me to arrange and produce an acappella version of the famous ‘Interstellar’s theme’. In order to learn professionally, I joined ‘Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music’ in 2017 where I trained and practiced multiple forms and styles of music. Further, I also composed, arranged and produced a song ‘Land of Gold’ using orchestral elements keeping a cinematic outlook in mind to try and learn about some of the skills used in film scoring.

Q2. Tell us about your upcoming debut EP.

Its an EP of four songs out of which I recently released the first single called ‘Veiled’ which talks about a woman who is in a loveless relationship, and how she finds her voice and fights all that she had to endure, while gaining strength from the singer and resolving to ‘break the chains and throw down the veil’. I wrote these songs last year and put together a band of some amazing musicians and dear friends who resonated with my music. Working with them, studio felt like home and we finished tracking all the songs within 4 days. They all showed me an aspect of myself and brought in their own beautiful elements to the arrangement and it was so surreal how everything just flowed.

Q3. What do you want to say through your music?

Whenever I’m making music I feel the state of my presence, it feels like the tunes are embracing me and telling me things like “go and dare, dare to be yourself and be free” and then things just flow naturally. I have a strong connection with the musicians that I admire because at a certain time with a certain song they have literally changed my life and have helped me heal myself. To be able to do that for someone else is really the goal for me. It’s about conveying important messages drawn from my personal life through something beautifully creative.

Q4. What is your music-making process?  

I don’t have a precise pattern and I don’t think I’ll ever have one. I usually try to connect with different elements. Sometimes I can start from ideas that come from my sessions of vocal and piano improvisation over how I’m feeling at that moment, or I can start with a drum groove or a bass line that’s been playing in my head. Then there is a more intense work on those ingredients to arrange them and make them functional to the composition and lyrics. I usually work on the lyrics and composition simultaneously but only if its happening naturally. It took me some time to unlearn my controlling/micromanaging tendencies to bring out my most honest and vulnerable self. 

Q5. What views do you have about the society that we live in?  

I feel that we are living in a society where most of the people only really care about their own conveniences and find it very easy to ignore the many issues that plague us. We are destroying ourselves and the environment for the sake of comfort. We are in great need of people being able to stand in somebody else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes.

Q6. Which Indian bands/artists do you admire?  

Some of my favourite Indian acts are Advaita, Chayan and Smiti, Prateek Kuhad, Shadow and Light and Ditty.   

Q7. What do you think about the music scene in India, especially for your genre?

The Independent music scene has been rising for the past decade. I have certainly seen more awareness and support as people have become more receptive to the indie artists. And now we have platforms to reach a much wider audience, even internationally. There are also lots of opportunities to branch out as a musician like teaching, taking workshops, private gigs, music festivals, training music societies, touring with original music etc. But there’s still a large part of India who’s not ready to financially support the artists and seek for statements like “In return we’ll give you exposure”. That’s not going to pay my bills. Saying no to free work was something I started doing very early on in my career.

Q8. What are your plans for 2020?  

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m releasing my debut EP which will be followed by an EP tour with my collective. I’m also coming up with my solo act with live looping and a few duo acts featuring more original music. Apart from this I’m planning to do a series of workshops across India, based on Acappella/ Songwriting/ Composition and Arrangement/ Contemporary Harmony/ Music Appreciation.