12 QUESTIONS FOR ANOOP DESAI
Pop artist Anoop Desai has been on everybody’s radar ever since he became a finalist on the eighth season of “American Idol.” Although he was eliminated in the 7th week of the competition, his name became a buzz word for desis everywhere, and he appeared on shows from Live with Regis & Kelley to the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Now his first independently released EP ‘All is Fair’ has hit the airwaves. In it he mixes pop, R & B, and Indian influences. In his own unique style, Desai is walking the tightrope without the benefit of a major record label backing him – and he hopes to do it all with the help of his avid fans behind him, taking on a promotional tour for the debut of his first single, ‘My Name’.
The American Idol takes on the American Dream!
Although Desai tours a lot, home is always Chapel Hill, NC because that’s where his support network of family and friends is. He says, “I’ve been home for two weeks – we’ve had engagements around North Carolina. Next week I’ll be in L.A., and the week after that in New York – but I’m still based in North Carolina. This is where I hang my hat.”
Here Desai tackles a dozen questions to which we all want to know the answers.
1. You’ve been kind of a hero to Indian-Americans since American Idol – tell us about the experience.
I’d just graduated from college – I was about to start graduate school at the University of North Carolina and I really thought it was time to see if I was going to do something with music which had always been my passion but never something I’d really focused on. If I was going to do something with it, the time was now and so a friend of mine and I – we weren’t expecting anything – went to audition for Idol in Kansas City and from there everything just snowballed.
It was an amazing process and an amazing platform for me. I know I wouldn’t be in the position I am in right now without that show. For me it was a place where I could find myself artistically, beginning to be comfortable with the idea of being a singer. I began to really know who I was as a writer, as an artist and it was a formative experience for me definitely.
2. Growing up as a child of immigrants, which influences did you see around you and which did you retain in your music?
Really everything! Growing up, definitely I was affected by American pop music – later on I explored older American pop music; as you get older there’s a process where you go back – I thought it was cool and it was cool and it was part of my knowledge – going into the 60’s,70’s, 80’s, 90’s. But I was also affected by Indian music. Culturally, going to temples that’s what I heard, and going to school in the morning a lot of times my parents would have an old tape in and that’s what we’d listen to. So I have a very broad basis for what affected me musically.
3. Did you get influenced at all by music from Bollywood cinema?
I don’t count that as one of my main influences but what I love about Bollywood music and what speaks to me is the rhythmic and textural aspect and that’s what I’ve tried to include in the lead single of the album ‘All’s Fair’ – ‘My Name’. To me it’s a cultural thing but it’s also just something undeniably catchy. A part of that is because I’m hard wired to think that but everyone who I played the song for says it’s catchy -and that’s because the Indian texture is in it and it always spoke to me – so I just wanted to share that.
Growing up, when I would get together with my cousins that’s when we would watch Bollywood movies. I’m an only child and when I got the chance to choose whatever we did, I would always choose something American, that’s what I identified with. It’s weird – when I was growing up, in middle school, I didn’t really like Indian food, I was American and that was it. But in later high school as I got into college and as I moved away from home, I found myself craving that culture and the thing I was missing was my Indian culture. I was craving the food, craving the music. It was sort of strange to me but now I realize that is what makes me unique, those differences that sometimes I was very willing to overlook are now the things I think I draw strength from.
4. Tell us about your new album and what listeners can expect?
It’s a pop album – one of the thing people can look forward to in it is its ability to evoke different emotions – and evoke different musical feels too. One thing I feel proud is that you’re not going to get bored listening to it because each song has a different feel to it, a different message. Although each concentrates on a theme – all’s fair in love and war – they are different facets of that theme. Each person can find something that speaks to them in the album. We’re streaming all the music at www.anoopdesai.com. I’m putting my heart and soul into this and the hope is and what seems to be happening is people seem to be genuinely interested in the music and are buying the album.
5. What’s the inspiration behind the album?
My life experiences, people I know, and just things which never left me that I felt I needed to write about. That’s why the theme is love and war, the relationships, the good and the bad, and those experiences were really my inspiration. I wrote the songs with three groups of co-writers and they have really influenced the record and influenced my writing a lot. I’m looking to work with them on the next record as well.
6. How has the music world changed over the past few years?
Record labels have been losing money for years with the digital, iTune revolution and people were getting tired of the same cookie cutter stuff over and over again – and so this independent movement was really necessary for good artists to get their names out and to get their music sold. There’s no longer any artist development – either you have a hit or you’re gone. The development process is really on your own and the record label only comes in as a distribution network. So it was necessary – the label system was broken. There’s a backlash now. Like every other major industry which took their influence for granted, you’re seeing a backlash.
7. So you don’t have a big label behind you and are doing it independently?
Now the thing with big record labels is that you don’t need one. They are great for distribution but as a general rule, if you are making good music – you can produce it, you can write it. I started the label with my manager for the sole purpose of putting out this record – that’s money from our pocket. It debuted 14 on iTunes Pop Chart –so it’s not only possible, it’s being done. We’re touring in summer – building up through interviews and performances
Social media is a huge part of it. I’m on Twitter, I’m on Facebook, and the website is a huge portal. We are able to get things out, we are able to cultivate fans, and cultivate this project by ourselves.
8. What’s the thought behind ‘My Name’?
‘My Name’ is the lead single – it’s definitely pop, R & B, but it also has all those Indian textural influences – to me that’s what makes the song pop – and that’s what makes it unique, wants to make you dance to it. It was the song that we wrote as the lead single – so I wanted it to be very declarative – something that announced my presence to all the naysayers and haters and the people that would make fun of me, fun of my name. It’s sort of a message to them ‘Ok, now you feel stupid, don’t you?’ It’s about embracing who you are and being who you are to the best of your ability.
9. Growing up with a name like Anoop must have been difficult?
Kids made fun of it all the time, in the school bus, and I remember one time actually coming home from kindergarten and demanding that my mom change my name, because I wanted to be Bill or something like that. I cringe at that now because I am lucky to have my name, lucky to have my culture, I’m lucky to have what makes me unique because a lot of people don’t have that.
10. Any plans to go to India?
Definitely. It’s something I really want to do. My dad left India so that he could have a career and have his children able to do whatever they wanted to do and now I can do whatever I want to do – and I’m going back to India! So that’s a very cool thought for me.
11. Did you ever have pressure from your parents to take on a traditional career?
Not so much – My mom’s a biochemist and my dad is a software engineer – that was their craft and I was always more interested in history, English, anthropology and music, so those are my focuses.
My parents’ mantra has always been, ‘Be happy – do what you do, do it well and we’ll be happiest if you are happy,’ and I’ve been very lucky with that – my entire life has just been trying to do what I want to do except do it to the best level possible, and fortunately that’s what’s happened.
My academic pursuits were very important to me – I wouldn’t be the person I am right now and I wouldn’t have the drive that I have if I wasn’t focused on academics – but the pressure never came from my parents – that pressure came from myself.
12. Your 2-cents to others who might be planning a career which is regarded as offbeat by most?
Do everything you want to do but you have to be accountable for it at the end of the day. The main thing is to do whatever you’re focused on, develop every ounce of your effort into that. There is no way you can do two things at once – you can’t test the waters. I always say that most things worth doing are going to be uncomfortable at first – it’s that discomfort that really builds character, it’s that discomfort that makes you appreciate the comfort that comes later when you are successful, when all your work is paying off.
Anoop Desai – Zero Hero