Ambili: ‘We All Have That Juxtaposition in Us: A Dr. Jekyll, a Mr. Hyde’
The singer discusses the duality that inspired her first original single “Behti Paaniyan” and her future projects
Mumbai-based musician Ambili Menon first garnered fame when she won ‘Sunsilk Gang of Girls’, a music reality show that documented our women in their journey towards becoming musicians. While the show took place in 2009 and appearances in several other shows and live performances followed, it was only in 2017 when she finally got the chance to highlight her skills as a songwriter.
“Covering a song is relatively easy. The original composition, the lyrics are served to you in a platter,” says the singer-songwriter about being a cover artist versus her experience writing her own material. “There is no frame of reference with an original, nothing to compare it to. That’s scary and exciting all at once.”
“Behti Paaniyan,” which came out in November 2017, is Menon’s first original release and explores themes of duality within relationships and personalities. The oscillates between slow ballad versus and aggressive rap. The video mirrors the theme, switching between shots of Menon looking melancholic in a bathtub and scenes of her performing energetically with a band.
In this interview with Rolling Stone India, Menon opens up about what inspired the song, making the transition from a cover artist to an an ‘original artist,’ future projects and more.
When did you first start working on “Behti Paaniyan”?
The song was a work in progress for almost a year before its release. It started as a small seed of thought – of wanting to write a heartbroken power ballad. A year of writing and rewriting led to something completely unexpected. It led to a contrast of expressions, two diametrically opposite clash of emotions – all in one song. You know when your heart does that “Aha,” you’ve got something right. And that’s when I knew this song was going to be my debut.
The song and video both clearly explore themes of duality; can you tell us a little bit about that? How did the concept for the video come about?
We all have that juxtaposition in us. A Dr Jekyll, a Mr Hyde. That girl who breaks down and cries in her shower versus the girl who roars. I knew when I was writing the song that I didn’t want to ‘Bollywood-ize’ it—I wanted it to be me. I wanted it to be as honest as possible. So even lyrically, “Behti Paaniyan” is grammatically incorrect. But when we speak, we often say things like, ‘this is my favoritest thing in the world,’ which isn’t really correct English, is it? The song and the video is just me, my soul out in the open and my alter egos in complete contrast.
“Behti Paaniyan” features a ballad-esque feel as well as rap—are there any more genres you’re keen to combine and explore?
Interesting question. When I write music, I don’t necessarily tie myself down to specific genres. It’s more organic a process. I do love electronic dance music and the next song I’m working on has a more peppy, euphoric vibe. I can’t wait to see how it shapes up.
How has the switch been from being a cover artist and a songwriter, what have been the biggest challenges?
To be honest, there is no comparison. One does reinterpret a cover song through their own rendition, but there’s a world of a difference when you’re working on an original. I wrote and composed “Behti Paaniyan” so that was exciting. Producing an original right from scratch, giving it shape and structure, figuring out what sounds to give it, right to the mix and master process—all of it was such a learning experience! There is no frame of reference with an original, nothing to compare it to. That’s scary and exciting all at once. With an original, you set your own scale!
Can you tell us a little bit about your plans for 2018? Do you have any new projects we can look forward to?
Work on my next single has already started. Hopefully I should have it ready by April this year. After singing the title track of Yash Raj Films’ Bank Chor (2017) with Kailash Kher recently, I’ve to confess, I’m bitten by the Bollywood bug. So definitely some “filmy” music is also in the pipeline for me.
Watch Ambili Menon’s video for “Behti Paaniyan” below: