I would feel lost without a sense of purpose: singer-songwriter Avanti Nagral | Mirchi Play Profiles

The Bombay and Boston based singer-songwriter Avanti Nagral released a new single today, The Long Way. In this, she challenges societal definitions of romance. This mid-tempo track is dedicated to staying in love despite all challenges; long distance, societal expectations, and interracial. The climactic beat pattern and lyrics convey longing and celebration of all the small and big moments in a relationship. It’s the perfect dose of nostalgia for the moments when you miss your special someone, but you know that you’ll make it The Long Way. The music video features dancers, creative directors and LGBTQIA+ advocates Amit and Aditya Shah, frontline worker and long distance couple Kerryanne and Mike Gordon as well as Avanti and her long distance partner, Stephen. Check it out here:

We spoke to Avanti about her latest single, her background in music, the roles and responsibility of being an artist today, and what she has lined up.

Excerpts from the interview below:

MIRCHI PLAY: You released a new single today, The Long Way. How do you feel? Would today have been different if there was no lockdown?

AVANTI NAGRAL: It feels really…I’m extremely nervous because this really was a labour of love for everybody involved. I’m nervous about how this will be received. The numbers aren’t in your control and the exposure isn’t in your control, really, but hopefully it reaches as many people as it can. At the same time, I also feel a sense of calm because this is something that I’m extremely proud of putting out. I hope that it resonates with people. It’s weird – I’m very nervous but also very calm. And that’s a strange place to be in. Because I’m not reacting (laughs). If it were not corona, let’s assume it disappeared or whatever, it would have been fun to do this as some sort of a launch. In a way that you could have people there to have meaningful conversations with about this space and engage with partners and people. I would have likely performed at a show next week and see people’s real reactions to it.

MP: Tell me about the story behind this song. How did it come about?

AN: I wrote The Long Way during lockdown/quarantine, and it’s a very personal story. I’ve been in a relationship for the past 4 years, two years of which we’ve been long distance. And before corona hit, I found that long distance was not necessarily a relatable narrative to a lot of people, because it’s a very active choice, usually. Now, unfortunately it’s all too relatable for everybody. We’re all at a distance from someone we love — a partner, a family member, friends, whatever — so it was important for me to channel that emotion that I found a lot of people having, and myself. In terms of the writing process itself, I collaborated with Natania [Lalwani]. She’s an incredible songwriter, she’s worked with Armaan Mallik, she wrote the songs for 4 More Shots Please, and she’s really cool. We connected via the internet and turns out we have a ton in common. We really enjoyed working together. The producer is Austin Armstrong based in LA, a friend of Natania’s. He was able to bring the track to life and balanced the pop/contemporary sound I was going for, as well as the nostalgic elements. To me it’s important to bring in the flair of Indian music, given that my background is in Indian classical music, so I used all these alaaps and taans as ad-libs, which [Austin] was able to incorporate really well. Basically, we wrote the song over 3 cities. I wrote the song in Bombay, Natania and Austin were in LA and my mix&mastering engineer was in New York.

MP: And the video is so lovely as well. What was the thought behind creating those stories for this song?

AN: (laughs) I was channeling my own relationship while writing it and it’s cool to see how that actually manifested on screen. What I was thinking of, while writing it, was that [long distance]  just…sucks. To be very honest. But there’s also a strange beauty in it, when you commit to somebody in that way. And the song isn’t moping; it’s rather a celebration of the nostalgia. When I was conceptualising what I wanted to show visually, I wanted to show distance as one form of going the long way for love, because that is our framing. But there’s often not enough inclusivity and representation in showing those narratives. So what was really important to me from day one, was to have those narratives that I feel aren’t represented as much on screen, particularly in India.

It was quite a task to cast this. It’s important to me to show an honest narrative. I didn’t want to cast actors. When we were finally able to cast Adi and Amit, who are one of the couples in it, I was so happy because they are literally the cutest couple ever. They’ve never been long distance; they moved in practically a month after meeting, but their narrative has been going the long way in terms of coming out to their families, their wedding of course went viral a couple of years ago. And so to them, this was a really cool moment to celebrate that in a way that was also authentically representing their story. For the third couple, Mike and Kerryanne, I found out about them because their wedding went viral at a BLM protest, and it was really cool that it was a solidarity show of love during a time of fighting for justice. Mike is a navy veteran and Kerryanne is currently a frontline worker. It’s now come to a situation where you live in the same house and you have to distance yourself from one another. And going the long way for someone you love is fighting that large fight. Often you cannot see them; you have to be there for them and understand that. Being able to represent that story too was really meaningful.

Beyond the fact that we have representation on the face of it, we just wanted to celebrate the small moments in love and show what that looks like. (Smiles) So I was very, very pleased with how it came together, if I do say so myself. The director is a friend of mine, Altamash Jaleel. He went to NYU Tisch and he was really invested in the story, constructing that and holding onto that vision. It was produced by my production house, called Golden Milk Media. The whole team was incredible. I hope it connects with people in representing,quite literally, real stories and that people can see themselves on screen, in some capacity.

Source: Avanti Nagral

MP: There’s so much happening in the world right now: pandemic-wise, politically, personally. A song like The Long Way is out at a poignant time. What do you think your role as a musician is currently?

AN: I take that role very seriously, even pre-corona. One reason is that for the longest time, since most of my family is in the medical field, I was exposed to that and I thought I’d do something in global health, professionally, and combine my passion for the arts with it. And then a lot of experiences happened in my late teens — professional theatre, writing and releasing original music — that showed me that as an artist, you do have a voice. Quite literally. You have a platform, no matter how large or small. It was important to me that that platform was meaningful. I would like to be an educated voice with substance, which is why higher education was really important to me. The other thing is, you have the ability to touch people’s hearts, to make them feel, feel any emotion whatsoever. And when you can touch someone’s heart or someone’s soul, I truly believe you can reach their mind. Especially you are trying to make a statement about something in the world. It can be about how someone or something makes you feel, about gender equality, about whatever it is. To me, my responsibility as a musician, something that I dedicate my path and my life to, is feeling passion about being an artist, performing, singing on stage — I love that. But I would feel lost without a sense of purpose. Especially for me, that purpose comes from helping younger women and younger girls. To help reclaim the way they see themselves, and the narratives that surround them. And a big way to do that is to combine societal norms with my music.

MP: How does your varied musical background come together in your original music?

AN: I was born in the US and moved to Bombay when I was 8. Growing up there, I was exposed to heritage and culture through music. I was doing a lot of devotional music at that age, then when I moved to Bombay, I started training in classical music under my guruji, Dr Prabha, and she is incredible. She understood pretty early on that I wasn’t going to go down the classical path, but use that as a toolkit to explore, and she allowed me to as well. Having that foundation in classical music, and with my dad playing the tabla, I feel really grateful because I have that strong support as a musician growing up. Moving on, I did inter-school competitions, did a lot of choir singing at my Christian high school, which is where I learnt harmony. I learnt how to sing in falsetto, and a lot of my musical journey is piecing together things that I know. With my theatre experience, Broadway reproductions, I found projections in my voice, adding drama and theatrics to it. Of course when I went to Berklee, I learnt from incredible mentors there, which was an incredible toolkit that I could draw from.

Source: Avanti Nagral

MP: What’s next for Avanti, music-wise? Anything more to look forward to?

AN: I have a new song coming out next month, which already has a music video that we shot several months ago. I’m really excited for this one. I have a bunch of stuff coming out in multiple languages now. A ton of things coming out in the English space, and I have some stuff in Hindi which I’m very very excited about as well — both original and collaborations, duets, things of that nature. It’s been a beautiful time right now, both in a great way and in an overwhelming way, because there are so many moving parts. But I’m just excited to see where that journey goes and also engage meaningfully in a few different projects in the female empowerment space and all of that, and I hope to combine that with my music too.

Source: Avanti Nagral

MP: Avanti, what are you listening to right now? Any recommendations?

AN: What genre?

MP: Anything.

AN: Ooh. Okay, so my guilty pleasure listening has always been country music, for some reason, and gospel music. One of the songs that is really meaningful to me right now is a song called “You Say” by Lauren Daigle. In the Hindi space, I think there’s such beautiful stuff being put out by indie artists. I really recommend people check out Anuv Jain’s work, his voice is incredible. Jasleen Royal, of course. One thing I really enjoyed in pop culture is Katy Perry’s new album, Smile. It’s signature Katy, she maintained her style over the years, and she’s an example of somebody who’s been really able to transcend pop culture in so many ways. Her songs have a lot of music videos, but also other kinds of visual projects. She’s been promoting graphic designers, animators and it’s cool to see that being given more light. One of the problems with me listening to music, unless I count it as a guilty pleasure, is that I’m always studying it. (laughs) I can tell you what I’m studying to learn something!

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