Ramya Pothuri gets candid; “It’s a good time to be a musician in India”
It’s a big day for Mumbai-based singer/songwriter Ramya Pothuri who has given up other dreams to realise the one, most important dream of making music and taking it to people. After a lot of work, she has finally released her debut EP ‘We Never Left’ and we decided to congratulate her and get to know more about her music, and other things. Here’s our interview with Pothuri.
You recently released your EP ‘We Never Left’. Can you walk us through the process of its production, from the point of an idea to the point of a full-blown, four-track EP?
I think the idea of putting out an EP came to me when I discovered my identity as a writer.I’ve been writing songs since I was around 13 years old, but it was only at the age of 17 that I started to see a constant vibe in my songs, or you could even say a single personality. It’s not even exactly my personality (laughs), but together they have an identity of their own.This happened when I already had 3 and a half songs written only in guitar parts and vocal melodies, so I knew I would need help in the production of the EP, which is where Rishi Bradoo (Blek) and Ronit Sarkar (Awkward Bong) came in.From there the songs just came alive.Their production ideas took my songs to places I didn’t know the songs could go. The cool part is I started creating the EP only being able to think about the guitar part and the melody, but by the time we were on the last song, St. Louis, I was coming up with almost all the ideas for the production. So just as the songs grew and evolved during the making of the EP, I grew so much as a songwriter and a producer.
When did you decide to pursue music as a career? Was this a difficult choice to make?
I took a gap year after I finished a strenuous two years of high school in Hyderabad because after school I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life (laughs).I knew one thing though; I wanted to go home. I moved to India around four years ago from St. Louis, MO in America, and all I wanted was to go back. So I knew the only way was to go to college there, and I was ready to pick a random degree I didn’t care about, marine biology in my case.My parents caught onto to this luckily, and they ended up forcing me to take a gap year. I was pissed at them then, but that gap year ended up changing my life. I started putting my skills in music to work; gigging around the city, and eventually landing a job at the Trident Hotel as a singer in their bar. I fell in love with that job. I had a three-hour slot, and I would take no breaks. People would come in sometimes just to listen to me, and I became aware that I was able to make some of them happy and relaxed after a long day of work, which was really cool. As the gap year came to an end, I knew that this was what I wanted to do, so I took the money I earned and used it to move to Mumbai and begin a career.And yes, it meant I couldn’t go home, so it was a hard decision, but I know now that blindly choosing a profession just for that reason was going to end horribly. I can just hope that my music will take me home one day.
We understand the perception that persists about music not being a viable career, and to some extent, it is true. Do you find it difficult to convince people, family included, that it is perfectly alright to pursue your passion for music?
It was definitely hard. Luckily, my parents, my sister, and my friends were always super supportive from the very beginning, but the rest of my family were hell bent on me becoming a doctor. Honestly, I never bothered explaining myself. I’ve realized the only way you can really show people is by doing. So Hustling every day and working hard for what you want.
You have collaborated with several artists for your covers, and I see a collaboration on the EP as well with Awkward Bong. If given a chance, which musicians from the Bollywood fraternity would you like to collaborate with?
That’s a great question. I don’t know too much about the Bollywood industry. I started learning Hindustani music in the past year, so I know a bit now. These vocalists blow my mind. I have no specific singers in mind, but just the level of talent and vocal ability they have. To collaborate with any vocalist in Bollywood would be amazing.
With music so readily available for streaming online for free, how do you think we can push the listeners to buy the music/support the musicians?
I think the only way we can do that is by putting out that quality of music. I think at the end of the day; people want high quality, honest music. We can’t put out average music and expect people to buy it. I think we have to stick to a standard, and put the time in, and write honestly. People can hear this, and automatically want to buy our music and support us.
What is your take on the music industry in Bollywood? With a new singer joining the league almost every second day, do you think this a good time for musicians, or contradictorily, easy for them to get lost in the field?
From what I know, a lot of it comes down to pairing the right singer with a great song.But yes there are so many Hindi singers that are insanely talented and have spent years honing their skills, so the competition is stiff. That’s why the growth of this “independent scene” here is so exciting; it’s not as saturated yet.But I think its always a good time for singers because people are always looking for a new voice.
What has been the greatest influence in your life, musicians and otherwise?
This may be cheesy, but my greatest influence has probably been my dad. He always told me that you just have to keep hustling, and never fails to remind me that I could and should be doing more. He also taught me to be open-minded which really helped me with the move here and has led me to learn so many things I may have otherwise closed my mind to.
What are the short-term and long-term goals for you?
Short term, I really want to be financially independent and be making a living through my music. Long-term, I see my music being listened to by people all over the world. Enough so that I, or my music, are not bound to any place. I could be living in Mumbai, but spending my time performing all over the world.
You have been performing live at some of the biggest venues in India, like blueFROG. After making an EP, which one do you prefer? Singing in front of a live audience or the studio?
Singing in front of an audience for sure. When I perform my song in front of an audience, I naturally pour my feelings into the song, but in the studio, it’s a lot harder for me. When we were doing the vocal takes for Conversation, my producer had to literally get me depressed before we started tracking, so the pain I felt when I wrote the song would translate in the recording. That’s another reason why for 3 of the 4 songs on the EP, we tracked the guitar and vocal performance live together. That’s the way I deliver my songs the most naturally.
Would you like to give a piece of advice to the upcoming musicians trying to make it in the industry?
HAVE A SPECIFIC GOAL TO CHANNEL YOUR ENERGY TOWARDS.When I first moved to Mumbai, I was just practicing all day, every day. It took a panic attack one day for me to realize I had no clue what I was even practicing for. It’s important that you have an aim when you’re practicing or working towards anything. That’s when I started focusing on the writing bit, which as I explained before, led to the EP. For some people, it’s the other way around. They know what they want to do, and they’re writing and promoting themselves, but they’re not working on elevating and honing their skills every day, which will show up. It always helps to choose an end goal and then take all the steps necessary to reach it.