EXCL: 'I turn my pain into songs,' says Ankur Tewari as he talks about his new album, Akela

In an exclusive chat, the singer-composer reveals how the year has been driven by creativity and lots of self-introspection
In Frame: Ankur Tewari
In Frame: Ankur Tewari

Just as we sat down to chat with singer-songwriter Ankur Tewari, we realised that he talks just like he sings. There are thoughtful pauses and emphasis on words that can make you feel more than one thing and every answer ends on a rather rhetorical note.

The Mumbai-based artiste, who rose to overnight fame after he supervised the tracks for his frequent collaborator Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy and later wrote the lyrics for Kabeer Kathpalia’s atmospheric soundscape in Gehraiyaan, often stays away from the public eye to focus on his craft.

The times you actually do hear from him is when he is set to launch his new song or on-board a new project. His recent stint with Ballantine’s Glassware True Music campaign where he’s mentoring independent and indie artistes, such as himself holds proof.

He also recently released his first album since 2017 titled Akela. The eight-track album, unveiled under Zoya and Reema Kagti’s Tiger Baby Records, a label he co-founded alongside, recounts his bittersweet experiences during the pandemic and he’s been promoting the same actively.

<em>Ankur in his element </em>
Ankur in his element 

Thankfully, we catch him at the right time and speak to him about his latest track, his mentorship program and his passionate love affair with spoken word poetry.

Excerpts from the interview:

You usually deal with emotional themes like romance and separation. Is it safe to say these themes appeal to you the most?

I do find romance, loneliness, and separation to be recurring themes in my work. I wonder why they appeal to me but it comes naturally to me and the songs that come out naturally, one must not question why.

Tell us about the title of your latest release, Akela

Akela speaks about being alone and it juxtaposes against loneliness and kind of investigates how you can get comfortable with being alone. I feel if you can be comfortable being alone then it can affect your other relationships positively. This is a pandemic-inspired album.

Tell us a little about your time in the lockdown. 

The pandemic did sneak up on me. I wasn’t prepared to face it. It brought you back to the basics in terms of understanding who you are and what you’re doing and made you introspect. I asked myself basic questions like, ‘What’s my purpose? What am I doing?’ I prioritised some things and un-prioritised others. I got into a regimented schedule in the first lockdown. I was cooking more. I spent more time with the plants. And just connecting with nature in a way, trying to understand myself. It kind of gave everyone, including myself, the time and space to think and at the same time, it enveloped us in this thick air of sadness and loneliness. There was such bad news coming out every day. There was this air of paranoia and fear of living. It definitely wasn’t an easy time to live through.

You said the pandemic brought you up close with loneliness. How did you deal with it other than curating music? 

Loneliness can be bittersweet. I usually try to turn my pain into songs. So, when it takes a physical form like a song, it makes you feel good. It makes you smile.

You suggested that Akela is quite different from the work you have created in the past. 

My sound is usually more acoustic, more minimalist and intimate. Akela has a broader soundscape, more cinematic. I felt like a speck of dust suspended in the universe through the pandemic. So, the idea was to make music that made you feel smaller in space; and try and investigate different soundscapes.

What has been the reaction to this new release?

The reaction to the album has been overwhelming. I was a little nervous because it’s a new sound for me and it has been received well, people have loved it. I have received such warm messages. It feels amazing. Let’s shift gears a bit.

Tell us what your creative process looks like. 

To put it in a nutshell, my creative process is about expressing what I am feeling which essentially means that I have to be open to feeling things. We live in a world where we kind of mask our feelings and become numb to things by putting on a brave front. But I believe when you’re writing as an artiste and you are creating, you need to open yourself to the idea that you can express what you feel and then try and build a story from there. You need to put yourself in a subconscious state where you can give a form to what you’re feeling.

And what about your early music influences? 

It’s not just musical influences. My influences as an artist range from writers to movie stars, dancers and composers. Basically, all of them. Just the idea that you could express yourself freely is a very liberating and exciting idea for me.

Ankur, you have this vocal love affair with spoken word poetry. Where does the inspiration to write come from?

Very early in my life, I realised that it’s kind of liberating to express myself through spoken word poetry or even songs. And it’s kind of become second nature for me. It’s almost like a best friend that you have with whom you can speak whenever you want, whatever you want.

The music you have composed so far resonates with your personality in a way. How about stepping out of the comfort zone? 

I mean, to be honest, expressing what you’re feeling and expressing your personality in words is very uncomfortable. Somewhere you express a side of you that’s not perfect and you reveal your flaws to the universe, to the world. So, I don’t consider it a comfort zone at all.

With the advent of social media, music has become very fast-paced. How do you deal with the pressure to stay relevant in such a time? 

That’s not a pressure for me to take it at all. I feel as an artiste, the only way to stay relevant is just to keep interacting with people and not be afraid to fail. For me, it’s about meeting new people, meeting new artistes and working with them exactly and understanding what stories they are telling.

Speaking of your mentorship, what message would you want to give budding artistes? 

I am usually not a big one in giving messages. In fact, I’m a big one receiving messages. So, I would say that, keep expressing and keep sharing your stories so that everyone feels inspired.

Akela is now streaming on all major audio platforms.

Mail: muskankhullar@newindianexpress.com
Twitter: @Muskankhullar03

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