By: Shayla Lee
“I think this past year has marked a turning point in the music and entertainment industry, it’s not enough to ‘just’ make cool music, young people in the industry are motivated to make a positive change.”
Using her ever-growing platform to create positive change by raising awareness and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health, Ananya Birla is the perfect example of a musician working towards making the world a better place. Ananya has gone from starting her career at open-mic nights in London to having her latest three tracks go platinum. Upbeat with great hooks, Ananya’s music is the perfect addition to any pop music enthusiast’s collection. We caught up with Ananya and chatted about mental health awareness, her latest single “Circles,” and what else she has in store for us this year.
Femme Riot: How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before? Who would you cite as some of your musical influences?
Ananya Birla: I have a wild array of influences, from Eminem to Kurt Cobain, which don’t necessarily reflect the tone of my music! But what most of my musical influences have in common is that they speak from personal experience, they are totally in tune with their emotions and their art reflects their life.
I try to create music that people can connect to regardless of their background, nationality, gender, sexuality. I channel universal experiences and relatable emotions, and sing about experiences that we all go through. My songs usually sit in the pop/dance space, but I am also having a lot of fun playing with different genres on my upcoming EP.
You were born in Mumbai and studied in the UK. How has living in these places impacted your music?
Mumbai is such an intense feast for your senses that it’s hard not to be inspired by it. The sights, sounds and smells are totally unique and sometimes overwhelming. Whether you love it or hate it, you can’t argue that it’s alive and authentic, and I always knew I wanted my music to reflect that.
I think Mumbai has that in common with London: both are unapologetically real, filled with contrast and contradiction, both cities wear their heart on their sleeve, and both are booming with young people finding their way.
I got my start in the grungy little music venues of London and it was there that I discovered that it didn’t really matter how many people were in the audience, creating and performing music was what made me truly happy. I would often escape the quiet, historic streets of Oxford, where I studied, and get the train to London. I felt much more at home in the buzz of the big city, with music venues on every corner.
A few months ago you released your fourth single – ‘Circles.’ I love it! Can you tell us more about the track and the inspiration behind it?
Thank you so much.
All my music comes from a very personal place and my songs are generally based on my own experiences. I wrote Circles for my best friend, to say thank you to her for always being there for me. A lot of music out there is about romantic love and romance, but I wanted to honour the other most important relationship in our lives: the one we have with our friends. I’m usually all about experimenting and seeing where a studio session takes me but this time I walked in to the studio that day knowing exactly what I wanted to do. It flowed out seamlessly because it came straight from the heart.
I’ve been experimenting with a new sound and different influences so I’m keen to see what my fans think of it. The new acoustic version features an Indian drum called a Tabla, which gives the song a sense of the place where my love of music started, and adds a gorgeous warmth to it.
My mission with this song was to simply put a smile on the faces of my fans wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. It’s pure feel-good music.
From Afrojack to Jim Beanz, you have worked with some of the biggest names in music. What is the most rewarding aspect of collaborating with other artists?
It helps you turn an idea from something very personal in to a message that a lot of people can relate to.
It’s also the most amazing learning opportunity. You get exposure to their processes and methods, and you get better at what you do as a result. They make you step-up your game.
You are a huge advocate for mental health awareness, particularly in India. I have anxiety and have experienced other mental health issues and it’s always great to see people with large platforms spreading awareness. Unfortunately, in the music industry it’s extremely common to see the mental health of artists getting placed on the backburner. As a busy musician, how do you ensure you stay healthy? Do you have any tips for others going through a difficult time?
The music industry has a dark history with the tragic loss of too many amazing people, from Avicii to Chester Bennington. It goes to show that mental health issues can affect anyone, it doesn’t matter whether you have success or money.
I think it doesn’t help that we often spend a lot of time on the road and away from family and friends. And in many cases, easy access to alcohol and drugs plays a part. The pressure can be huge, emotionally as well as physically, and it becomes an environment in which mental health can spiral.
I think record labels and audiences need to give musicians some space and understanding, especially these days when people on the internet can so easily tear you down and dispose of you like you don’t even matter. Putting yourself out there is a very scary thing and at the end of the day, your favourite popstars are also just people who need patience and support like anyone else. Universal has been incredibly supportive with me since I released my first song back in 2016, and guided me through some of the difficult aspects of the job.
Exercise helps me stay mentally healthy. There is so much evidence that proves even a bit of exercise can encourage your body to release mood-enhancing chemicals, improves your self-esteem and reduces anxiety.
I definitely feel better about myself when I am exercising regularly – happier, more confident and energized. Exercise is also a great escape from whatever is happening at work. I find taking an hour to focus on fitness during stressful or challenging times is a great way to clear your head. I like Kickboxing at the moment, 30 minutes punching and kicking a bag is a great emotional release that leaves me feeling like I can conquer anything afterwards.
Of course, being mentally healthy is not as easy as just working out, we all have different and complex needs, I believe that everyone should have access to the help and support that works best for them.
If someone who was experiencing a mental health issue came to you for advice, what would you tell them?
Firstly, I would tell them that it’s okay not to be okay sometimes. There is no shame and it doesn’t reflect on their value as a person. It’s common and completely human to experience a mental health issue. Then I would remind them that there are people out there who want to help. Sometimes they are difficult to find or access (and organizations like MpowerMinds are working on making that easier) but you and your mental health are worth fighting for.
Have you faced any challenges being a woman in the music industry? If so, how did you overcome the adversity and do you have any advice for other women facing similar challenges in their own lives?
I see fellow female musicians like Kesha, who have achieved so much professionally, speaking up against the harassment and discrimination that too many women in the music industry face.
In a world where everyone wants to belong, it is a risk to stick your neck out especially with so many people looking up to them. It is a reminder of the incredible power of speaking out. The more we talk about these big issues the more likely we are to solve them.
I think this past year has marked a turning point in the music and entertainment industry, it’s not enough to ‘just’ make cool music, young people in the industry are motivated to make a positive change. We want our fans to thrive, to be inspired and excited on the dance floor and in life as well.
For me, music has always been about this. It’s not just about manufacturing a product, it’s about connecting with people and creating experiences that can change and uplift them.
I think this past year has marked a turning point in the music and entertainment industry, it’s not enough to ‘just’ make cool music, young people in the industry are motivated to make a positive change.
What can fans expect from your upcoming music?
I am about to head to LA to work on my next single which is due in November. It will have more of a dance vibe so you’ll probably be hearing it in the clubs. Then I’m planning to release my EP at the beginning of next year.
Anything we haven’t asked that you want to add?
I’d like to remind people to check out my Vevo, and stay tuned to my Instagram @ananya_birla to be the first to hear about more music coming soon.
Stay up-to-date with Ananya by following her on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Ananya recently released an acoustic version of “Circles” which you can listen to below along with her collection of other music!