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“My songs are emotional coordinates to a particular phase in my life” – In conversation with INGA

Taking her name from the Tamil word that loosely means ‘to be here,’ INGA aka Aishwarya Sridharan is a Mumbai/Bengaluru based artist whose music is anchored by her melodic voice and melodic riffs and thumping beats. The NEXA Music Season 2 winner artfully blends folk, pop, and jazz. In a conversation with us, talks to us fresh off a maiden India tour describing her journey so far.

1. Tell us a bit about your project. How did you begin your journey as a singer-songwriter?

INGA’s origins can be traced back to 2017, during my year at The True School of Music, where I wrote a few original songs for my showcase.

I’ve been a writer since the very young age of 9 or 10 years, poetry being my primary choice of format until I discovered I could ‘sing’ my writing later in post-grad! (at Symbiosis, Pune)

I’d bop around Bombay, drunkenly jamming with other musicians at parties for years until I decided to join a music school. Being around other musical talents at school helped immensely to bring my songs to life. Special shoutout to Rohit Chacko, who’s been my earliest collaborator and has arranged most of my songs so far.

Around this time I also discovered the ukulele. It’s such a tiny, non-threatening instrument that I didn’t feel pressured to be skilled at it and created whatever I felt like.

2. Which bands/artists were your first love and who is your biggest influence?

My closest friend growing up, Prerna, also had the coolest dad, Madhukar, who introduced me to The Doors. Morrison was a huge influence on my teenage self, his wildness & poetic lyricism spoke to the budding writer and closet hedonist in me.

Alongside, the eclectic tastes of my older brother, Mukund, also affected me very much. Jethro Tull and The Who would share space with Pt. Kumar Gandharva and Chitra Singh.

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Even today, I’m not a stickler for genre. All I look for is melody.

3. Tell us a bit about your latest single ‘Oooh Lady!’

Oooh lady! was written at a time I was very much possessed by my demons, specifically leaning on alcohol to self soothe.

Knee deep in self- loathing, I wrote it and realized much later it was actually a love song to myself, I was rooting for myself subconsciously!

It has been a long journey since and today I believe that I have inherent value as a human being. I’m worthy of love, respect & appreciation despite all I might’ve done wrong.

Ultimately, the validation I so deeply craved was my own.

 4. What is your music-making and recording process like?

With Oooh lady! it was quite an unusual creation process. I wrote the song on a bare bones ukulele I bought on a whim without knowing how to play any stringed instrument. Haha!

I then showed the song to my classmates at music school who added layers to it and soon, it turned into a largely collaborative project. After that, I performed with my then band and kept fine-tuning it over many years.

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Recording wise we did a multitrack recording and played right through to get the feel of the 70’s since by the time we were in the studio the band and I were pretty tight!

5. What are some of your memorable moments from your tour last month?

Oh man! The tour was insane on all levels. Personally it was one of the hardest times for me. I was in massive physical pain thanks to a negligent physiotherapist who screwed up my back right before the tour commenced!

I had to wear a back-belt and pop muscle relaxants before each show. Having said that, I realized how much energy the audience gave me because every time the adrenaline would kick in, I’d forget about the pain and we’d all end up dancing and singing together!

My most memorable moments for each city,

1. Goa – The Hideaway crew and the band doing a post-show celebratory shot as a toast to me! That place has such a vibe with the nicest staff!

2. Blr – An audience member singing the chorus with me to one of my songs ‘Bombay to Goa’ post show because he couldn’t get it out of his head! Haha!

3. Delhi – The Piano Man Eldeco show had this lovely elderly audience member who eventually hopped with a walking stick in hand alongside the rest who were jumping with me to the music!

4. Also Delhi – The Piano Man Safdarjung show had people clapping and stomping to the beat of the songs!

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5. Bombay – The audience singing back the lyrics to Days Go By – what a feeling!

 4. Tell us more about the music video for the single.

Well initially I did a plain studio video for it and it just didn’t vibe hard with the song so a director friend of mine, Shiv Parameswaran, advised me to get it animated to bring light psychedelia in.

Also, Oooh lady! is a trippy song and having done enough acid in my life (haha) I think I wanted it to look slightly off-kilter. Kshitij Mehra, the animator, did a fantastic job on it!

6. Why do you make music? What drives you as a musician and what are your songs about?

Honestly, I don’t know why I make music. I wish I’d chosen an easier profession which wasn’t so hard on morale!

But I’ve always written as a form of catharsis. Nothing gives me more joy in this world than making a song – the visual storytelling, the clever wordplay, the use of unusual sonic elements – I could live in a studio, writing and recording music forever!

My songs are emotional coordinates to a particular phase in my life.

Days Go By, Blown My Cover & Oooh lady! were written around the same time when I’d just moved into my house in Bandra, my first ever home that I lived in without my parents which I felt very cocooned by.

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It was also the place where my alcoholism bloomed but also where I nourished an unlikely partnership – an open relationship, a great friendship and a creative collaboration all rolled into one.

To be trite and quote Dickens – It was the best of times, it was the worst of times and I think the mood of these songs reflects that sentiment.

7. Which Indian bands or artists do you admire? And why?

I love Peter Cat Recording Co. for their artistry, Chaar Diwaari for his audacity & Gauley Bhai for their authenticity.

8. What’s your take on the independent music scene in India?

It’s definitely bigger and brighter than it’s ever been and I’m so here for it!

I only wish we had this while I was growing up so I could’ve chosen music sooner in life.

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