Zoe Siddharth on her new single Human and valuable lessons from The Stage
For Zoe Siddharth, it was the support of her parents that inspired her to become a musician. Turns out, she had a knack for singing for as long as she can remember. “I started singing at the age of five or so, especially during road trips, when dad played songs by Backstreet Boys or Craig David. I’d sing random words, and jam in the backseat, even before I could talk properly. That’s when mom recognised that I had a knack for singing and my parents encouraged my sister and me to perform for them” she says, reflecting on the good old days when home concerts with friends and family were the primary outlet for her talent.
Years went by, and as she grew older, she became a full-time musician. However, it wasn’t smooth sailing, as the 21-year-old had to overcome a major challenge — her introverted personality. “I was very shy and found it hard to talk to strangers, adults, and even musicians. Once, I was asked to perform in a concert as one of the acts in 2014; it was my first ever live gig. I went for the soundcheck but just stood in the back petrified because I didn’t want to talk to the coordinator, or even tell him that I was there,” she shares. “After two hours, when he found me, I was so embarrassed that I started putting effort into working on social skills because I realised it plays a huge role in a musician’s career,” she adds, as she reveals that she is working on a new single at the moment.
Since that day, Zoe has charted a path of success, one that was considerably catalysed by her stint in the third season of The Stage, the country’s first English singing reality show. With support and training by the judges — Vishal Dadlani, Monica Dogra, Ehsaan Noorani and Devraj Sanyal — Zoe ended up being one of the finalists of the show and has not looked back ever since. She is now a regular in major festivals, such as Vh1 Supersonic and Covelong Point Surf Yoga Music Festival, and has also done playback singing for shows like Four More Shots Please!. She also teaches music to kids online while being one half of a YouTube channel, created along with fellow The Stage performer, Urgen Yolmo. Post the release of her debut single Human late last month, we spoke with her about her biggest musical influences, in what ways Chennai shaped her as a person and an artiste, and how the pandemic has affected the indie music scene. Excerpts:
What’s Human all about? Do you have any underlying message that you want to portray through it?
Human is simply a song about appreciation and gratitude towards your friends and family — your support system. I asked myself: “When was the last time you appreciated your family for the small or big gestures that they’ve made?” It really made me think. We sometimes take important people for granted. Emotions, empathy, love, understanding, and kindness — these are the qualities that make us human. Sometimes in our lives, things take bad turns; harsh times have the ability to take so much from us till everything goes numb. These are the moments when we need those people to stay, reach their hands out into our darkness and pull us back up, to help us feel and be human again. Human is not from any upcoming album. However, I plan on releasing a lot more singles, and then possibly an EP.
How would you describe your musical style? Which artistes have been your biggest influences?
I think it is a mix of genres; I have songs for different moods. I am primarily a pop artist, with R&B/soul elements. Human is a perfect example of a mixed genre song — it has pop vibes with a strong ballad feel, while the production is very soundtrack-like, having a melancholic, uplifting and dramatic feel. My biggest influences are definitely Ariana Grande, Amy Winehouse and James Arthur. Also, the early 2000 music by Backstreet Boys, Christina Aguilera, Ne-Yo, Chris Brown and The Fray are some of the other artistes that made me fall in love with music.
Chasing perfection on The Stage
The Stage 3 was an incredible time for me, I learnt so much more than I’d expected. In those two months in 2017, my vocals and performance improved drastically. I came out of the show a more confident and improved artiste. My coach Jenny helped get my vocal technique into order. Monica Dogra taught me so much on performance, to mean the lyrics you sing, how to feel and then emote, while also engaging your body. Ehsaan and Vishal really kept me on my toes, made me watch my pitch and control my vocals while performing. I got some tough love but that’s what propelled me forward! Devraj has been so encouraging from the show till now, three years later. I’d always take his professional advice and put it into practice, on the stage and off. He’s been so supportive of my new single as well.
How much has Chennai contributed to your growth, both as a performer and a human being?
I was born and brought up in Chennai and it will always play a huge role. First off, I couldn’t have asked for a better place to be raised — I was surrounded by a diverse group of kind and lovely people. Chennai is the place where I went through a lot of my musical changes, phases of exploration etc. I did my first live show and first singing competition here. I started making content and home-music videos for YouTube here. Chennai is where my dreams bloomed. I would love to give back in any way I can honestly, and, hopefully, be able to bring the English/indie music scene into the limelight, because there are many talented musicians who deserve more recognition. What are your views on the pandemic and its effects? Honestly, this is a tough question. It has affected so many occupations terribly, including music. The live music scene is definitely suffering, and finding ways to earn money is stressful for sure. The pandemic is going to leave lasting effects. I am hopeful, however, for things to slowly get better. It may take some time but all we can do is keep making content, staying productive, and working on ourselves.
Who were the people who helped you the most in your journey so far?
So many people have helped me through this journey. First and foremost, my parents - they’ve supported me since the beginning and for that I am grateful. The judges on The Stage 3 and my coach Jenny, taught me so many valuable lessons in those two months. Then there's my vocal professor in college who basically made me re-learn how to sing from scratch, and then, definitely, some of my closest friends like Urgen Yolmo, who taught me so much and pushed me to be the singer I am today. Also, Shaurya Singh whose words helped inspire ‘Human’, Samara Sudhir, who gave illustrations for the lyric video, and Krishh Datta for his amazing production on the song. There are so many more, the list is endless.
Listen to Zoe on SoundCloud and YouTube.