There are certain artists who are able to effortlessly blend soulful melodies with incisive lyricism that strikes at the heart of a myriad of emotions and pulls us into the worlds they inhabit in the moment of time that they were written. There's absolutely no question that Kamakshi Khanna fits this bill perfectly. We caught up with her to talk about her latest release and her plans for 2022.
Burnout is something that's becoming all the more prevalent in modern society. For artists, it's become about constantly creating to accommodate a world and a fanbase dominated by algorithms and reconciling this with the question of whether you're being creatively authentic. Could you talk about your own journey as an artist in this respect? How do you personally deal with the pressure of expectation? How do you strike that balance between being true to your own artistic vision but also remaining productive and consistent?
Being an artist is fulfilling but demanding. It requires you to completely focus and zone into the process which makes it all the more important to take breaks from it. Having a vision and working on music that you feel resonates with your soul is a journey that requires you to dig deeper every day and that can sometimes feel exhausting. ‘Breathe’ is about anxiety and I wrote it when I felt a massive burnout after releasing my album back in 2017 where I felt like I wasn’t feeling fulfilled with my work and had a lot to learn about my art, and myself and went into a cocoon phase. I saved up and watched some of my favourite artists perform around the world, set up a practice routine, moved to Mumbai to teach at TSM and wrote music only because I wanted and needed to without any pressure of expectation. It was also a frustrating time and I couldn’t help but feel like I was wasting my prime by not putting myself out there. People would often ask me why I quit music and why I haven’t been around and it was hard to explain but holding my ground through that journey of self-discovery was so important because it made me realize the real reason why I’ll always love music is how it makes me feel when it’s just me alone in my room when no one’s watching. That feeling of turning an experience or struggle into art is beyond anything I’ll ever feel and I can only hope that I’ll always have that. Releasing my music again in 2020 and the love that it received felt like a warm hug from an old friend at a reunion and I’ll hold the memory dear to my heart.
Just like any profession, there will always be aspects of your career that may not feed the soul but feed the stomach and there is no shame in pursuing them. Sometimes, social media feels like a lot of work. The pressure that we’re all feeling to suddenly become editors and content creators is challenging and there is way too much information which can make it increasingly hard to stand out and be noticed for your art. However, it’s also so unpredictable and discoverability can do wonders.
Experimenting with and developing different skillsets, doing all kinds of gigs, and not really adhering to a specific sound or genre might make my identity as an artist seem confusing but it helps me strike a balance and come back to my art with a stronger urge for release and authenticity. As artists, It can often feel tempting to make these grand plans in our head and do nothing about them but the exercise of putting them down on sheets, breaking down the mundane, boring tasks that are required to achieve them and setting hard deadlines for yourself as if you’re answerable to someone has helped me with productivity and consistency.
Did the songwriting process for this song differ from some of your previous releases? There's an emotional rawness it exudes that speaks to an inner angst in all creators. Was that intentional or did everything just sort of come together on the fly while putting it all together?
I wanted ‘Breathe’ to capture the journey of a mental breakdown and your mind spiralling into a loop of negative self-talk and the visuals by Anjali Kamath portray the same. The arrangement is a reflection of that journey with a consistent loop going on on the ukulele, growing into a cinematic and orchestral piece to represent the war-like battle with anxiety. I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with some of the finest musicians in the country on this one. Karun Kannampilly on drums, Tarana Marwah on Piano, Ajay Jayanthi on strings, Apurv Isaac on Guitars, Adil Kurwa on bass and Gaurav Rain, who mixed the track. The arrangement and production that you hear today is a product of playing it live over the years and captures a collective angst that we all feel when we perform it. It’s also a release with purely live instrumentation after a long time and I’m so proud of what we’ve created.
What sort of direction do you see your music going in the next few years? Can we expect any surprises or experiments with styles and genres or do you think you've found your niche?
This year I really want to put out the music that I’ve been wanting to share for a while. Songs from the Green Room Sessions, a series of unreleased songs that I started during the lockdown and some collaborations with artists that I’ve always wanted to work with. I think I’m still finding my niche and sound and I hope this year brings me closer to my vision and my audience.
You can follow Kamakshi here.