Dynamic singer-songwriter Shalini Varghese joins us for delicious coffee and pastries at Amandine Partisserie in Gardena, CA to discuss her latest EP release Her Heart Speaks, the importance of showing support to others, and the rise in female empowerment in the music industry.
So to start us off, we are at one of your go-to coffeeshops, Amandine Patisserie here in Gardena. Care to share a little bit about why you love coming here and what to order?
Shalini Varghese: Yes of course! So I really like coming here because it’s not that far for me to travel to. *laughs* I have a major sweet tooth, and this place just has such a good array of pastries to choose from. Their coffee is great too! Anytime I have colleagues or friends in town, I always take them here. And the ambiance, as you can see, is just really nice and chill.
Yes! Our ideal place for sure! So you recently released your new EP Her Heart Speaks. Wanted to say congratulations!
Shalini: Thank you so much!
And for those who have yet to discover its awesomeness, would you care to share a little bit about what kind of themes and instrumentation elements that you decided to incorporate into the songs?
Shalini: Sure! So in terms of the themes, they would be life, love, relationships, and humanity. A lot of it is inspired by love itself, and that’s why I called it Her Heart Speaks. It’s partly about the whole dynamic between two people when they’re in a more casual relationship, and about the push and pull between them when one person is thinking a certain way but the other person is not quite on the same page. It’s about the passion that you feel and the overall complexities of relationships in general. But then I also have a song that’s about the world and humanity, which is a little bit separate from the other songs, but it also comes from the heart. For the instrumentation, it’s mainly an R&B type of sound. I like to say it’s more of, like, a throwback R&B vibe like Aaliyah and some of the elements that she would use in her albums. I love 90s R&B, so maybe that’s why we went with those types of sounds. We also incorporated a modern neo-soul kind of twist where it’s almost like what Erykah Badu does in her work. All of the instruments and the beats were created and produced by my collaborator Savvy. He did this all on his computer, so this was all his musical genius.
Whoo! Shout outs!
Shalini: Yeah! Shout out to Savvy!
Shout outs to the people that help us and bring us up in life!
And how was the recording process different than that of your past work?
Shalini: It was actually very different because it was a collaboration and was done in a very small space in a home studio. We should have documented that a little bit more, because it was literally standing in a corner of a room creating music. *laughs* But prior to that, I went into major studios and did all the cool instrumentation and the different types of technology they would use with the real instruments. This experience was totally different because it was organic, home-based, and low-cost. But it still worked out!
Yeah! And which song would you say was your favorite to write and record? And they can be two separate ones, we know the processes are a little bit different. *both laugh*
Shalini: So there actually were two songs that I wanted to bring up. The first would be “So Complicated,” which was co-written with Savvy. We wrote the melody and the lyrics together and it just happened very organically. We sat down together, and he already had the hook written so all he needed was the verses.
He needed the meat!
Shalini: Yeah! It needed the meat, exactly! I think we hashed it out in less than an hour. The song itself was based on experiences that we were both going through at the time, so I think that’s why there was a synergy about it while we were finishing it up. And the second one that I would like to mention is “What It Means To Be.” I think it’s a very universal song, in which it’s about bringing people together by being empathetic and tolerant and understanding.
I think we need a lot of that in the world. And I just love how musicians are more open to bringing up the theme of humanity in their music because it’s such a huge theme that we keep needing to revisit.
Shalini: Yeah. I mean, when I watch the news, I see that a lot of the problems that we have on a fundamental level probably could have been solved if we just had conversations with people rather than imposing our own judgements or stereotypes on them. That’s my opinion.
We all just need to talk to each other!
So if you had an infinite amount of money right now at this very moment in time, which song would you choose to do a music video for and what kind of concept would you choose?
Shalini: It’s funny, because Savvy and I just talked about doing another video and I’m like, ‘Ah! I don’t think we have the budget for it!’ *laughs* But if I had to choose, I would definitely want to do something for “Dance Tonight.” We have videos for “So Complicated” and “What It Means To Be,” but “Dance Tonight” is just such an uplifting and fun song that everyone would be able to groove to.
And you can have a lot of fun with it visually too!
Shalini: Yeah! I can have all my friends in it, and it would be really cool! The concept would definitely be more of a party scene that’s illustrating the story of the song. It’s about this girl who’s finally over this guy who’s just ready to have a good time. Maybe have some cool Hollywood nightclub scenes. It would be fun!
A musical rom-com!
Shalini: Yeah! A musical rom-com! I love that! *laughs*
Yes! *laughs* So going into the modern music industry, a lot of the listening experience has been focused more on streaming, singles-based releases, and even shorter EP style releases. Do you think that these types of releases are kind of going to be the norm? Or do you think that will eventually go back to full length releases again?
Shalini: It’s so hard to say because I’m not an expert, but it does seem to be that the singles and the EPs are the norm right now. I would love for it to go back to the full record because it’s part of the reason why I formed such a deep love for music and started working toward that dream of becoming a recording artist. It’s just a better way to get through the whole story of what someone is trying to tell you in their music. So much effort and production go into it, but unfortunately, society right now is in a state where they just want something quick that gratifies them instantly. I feel like this is where we are right now, and we just have to cater to it.
Hopefully we’ll be able to make our way back to those full-lengths again. I prefer a little bit more than a few songs, but I mean, if you have an idea and it’s five songs long and it works really well, then who’s to stop you, right?
Shalini: Exactly! And even with my EP, I still feel like it was a complete project. It was cohesive, complete, and it told the story that we wanted to tell.
Yeah! Successfully accomplished! But why do you think there is such a small listener attention span window now? Do you think that it puts a pressure on artists to play into trying to break into that window?
Shalini: I think so. It’s something that I haven’t even come to terms with our have adapted to. I think the reason why it is the way that it is is because the music market is highly saturated. Anyone can ‘put out music’ whether it’s high quality or not, and so it creates a lot of competition and almost an overstimulation where people don’t know which direction to go in. We have our main mainstream artists who are on the radio and they own that space, so it’s very hard to crack into when you have the rest of the people in the world putting out stuff with the hope that they will get airplay. From a listener’s perspective, if they’re trying to search for something outside of the mainstream, it’s just hard to find a direction because there’s just so much out there. I’ve learned recently that it’s the most competitive business in the world because it’s the most saturated, and that’s why I think it plays into that.
And even with playlists nowadays, I feel like while they’re based on a genre, and genres are starting to kind of mush together. It’s awesome, and I love having all these different elements to music, but it’s also getting hard to pinpoint and put artists into specific categories.
Shalini: Exactly. People are finding it hard to have a direction, but there’s also a lot going on in social media as well. It’s just so much coming at people that is really is hard for them to choose. I mean, you open Facebook and you just immediately get lost through scrolling into the abyss of stuff. I feel like it’s just the same thing for music, so I don’t really blame the audience for being a little A.D.D. because I am too. *both laugh*
I feel like we all have a little bit of A.D.D. tendencies nowadays.
As a female singer-songwriter, do you feel that women in the music industry need to portray themselves in certain ways in order to be successful, whether it’s through their music, their appearance, or even through social media?
Shalini: You know, that’s such a great question. I have my own feelings about this, and other people have very different feelings about this same thing, but I think there’s a strong movement in the music industry for female empowerment. What I take that term to mean is, ‘to be authentic to who you are and how you want to present yourself.’ I think many years ago, women felt that they needed to conform to this kind of ‘standard,’ whether it was a look or a sound, but I do strongly believe that women are starting to take control over how they want their audience to view them. But you look at people like Nina Simone, like, she was such an exception to the rule back when she first started because she was totally unapologetic and completely herself.
Oh absolutely! I mean, the same thing happened when Adele stepped onto the scene. She doesn’t look or sound like your typical pop star, but she’s one of the most successful female pop acts in the modern era.
Shalini: Yeah! And she’s such a great example because as young as she is, she still has that ‘old soul’ kind of feel to her music and to her identity. She just does what she wants to do, not in an aggressive manner, she’s very nice from what I’ve seen of her, but she’s very strong in who she in and how she wants to portray herself. I admire that so much, and I’m so happy that women are going more towards that direction.
Yes! I feel like even the younger pop stars are starting to do that more too. Yeah, some of them are still opt for the scantily clad outfits. Ariana Grande for example, like, she loves those cute little outfits!
Shalini: And that’s totally her choice! That’s the thing too, like, no one is telling you that you can’t be sexy. If you want to dress all sexy and show off and that’s your choice, so be it, but don’t give into the pressure to do all that kind of stuff. That’s where the transition is happening and women are starting to realize that they don’t have to dress like that, but if they want to then they will.
We’re all supporting each other!
Shalini: Yes! Exactly!
We’ll take over eventually! *both laugh* So we met through working a few Planet LA Records events.
Shalini: Yeah girl!
Whoo! Shout out! *both laugh* How important do you think it is to support local events and venues, other artists, and companies?
Shalini: Oh totally important! I like to do them as much as I can. I do have a day job that takes up a lot of my life, and of course there’s other responsibilities, but the rest of my time is with music and with supporting other artists. If I could go to every one of my friends’ shows I would!
We just need to figure out how to clone ourselves! *laughs*
We’ll send our clone to go out and do the real work so we can have fun!
Shalini: That would be so amazing! Have you heard of NARIP?
I have! I’ve been to a few of their brunches since I’ve been out here.
Shalini: I just recently hosted an event at my home, and I’m hoping to be able to do more because they’re so fun. Even though we only have 24 hours in a day, I still think it’s important to show support to the local scene because it really is such a tough industry to be in. It’s very competitive, and I think in order to be successful, you do need the support. Even if it’s just someone sharing your song or liking something that you posted or even just coming to the events, we all really appreciate it and I try my best to pass it on.
Yes! Without support where would we be?
So living in L.A. means there is quite literally music in every nook and cranny. Do you feel like there’s kind of an unpublicized competition between all the acts in L.A.?
Shalini: Oh definitely! You notice it too when you’re meeting people and it’s like, they want to help you, but at the same time they don’t want to help you because they know that you’re the competition. I have such a different mentality where I just want to help everyone, regardless of if they’re the ‘competition,’ because I just love music *laughs* If I can add somebody to my act that would make sense to my show, I would be that person to do it. I think there are a lot of people that have that competitive mentality and feast for fame, but I almost think that it’s not real in a lot of cases. I do believe in synergy, and I do believe that supporting each other could actually lead to more success than if you don’t. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it! *laughs*
Yeah! And we were discussing the Planet L.A. Lovers & Angels event before we started and how it was cool to see a bunch of artists from different genres coming together.
Shalini: Yeah! And it was amazing right? Mark [Nguyen] just has this amazing superpower of bringing all these great acts that maybe typically wouldn’t come together onto one stage. It was truly magical, and he drew such in an amazing crowd! When you think about it, we were able to reach an audience that we probably wouldn’t be able to reach on our own, so that right there is the proof in the pudding!
And that’s what we try to do here on the blog too, because you just never know whose attention you’re going to catch. We’re open to everyone!
Shalini: Yeah! I love it! What you’re doing is so great!
Thank you! So speaking of thinking, if you could give your younger self advice in regards to what you’ve experienced so far in the music realm, what type of advice would you give her?
Shalini: I would tell her to enjoy the process a little bit more, to not take yourself to seriously, and to try to learn from each experience. I was really on my own when I first started doing this, and I think it made it harder because I didn’t have any friends or managers or anything like that. Trying to meet people to collaborate with was a little nerve-wracking because you’re pretty much working with strangers. I’ve had multiple experiences where it just didn’t pan out into something, and I really don’t like that. It’s such a pet peeve of mine to not be able to complete a project, but if the other person is just not on the same page as you are then maybe it’s better off that it’s not completed. But can you still learn from it? Yes. Can you still enjoy yourself throughout that process? Yes, you can. So that’s what I’d tell her.
Our experiences are what make us who we are. We wouldn’t be anywhere without them.
And if you could choose three artists to go on a world tour with, who would you choose an what would you tour be named?
Shalini: Oh gosh. *laughs* Umm, let’s see. I would go with Amy Winehouse as one, because I love her style of music and I really have a good time singing her songs. I think our voices would be complementary because she’s got that deep alto voice, whereas I’m a natural soprano and I can sing low if I have to. I just think we’d sing really well together, and I think we would be really good friends even though we’re polar opposites of each other. *laughs* And then another artist I would choose would be Michael Jackson. I don’t know what I would do with him specifically on a music aspect, but maybe he could teach me some of his dance moves and I’d make everyone laugh because I’d be bad at them.
Same girl, same! *both laugh*
Shalini: But he’s amazing and the reason why I started singing so of course I would want him on the tour. Another artist would be Tony Bennett, because he’s like that suave crooner, and I’m sure he would have a lot of great stories about that Rat Pack era. He’s just such an amazing vocalist that I would be able to learn a lot of things from. And I have no idea what I would name this tour but I’m sure it would be awesome! *both laugh*
What one word defines you as an artist?
Shalini: That’s a really hard one. *laughs*
You’re like, ‘Where’s the dictionary?’ *laughs*
Shalini: Seriously though! *laughs* I would choose ‘dynamic,’ because based on what people have told me, I can easily transition from a sweet and soft manner to something big and bold. It’ll really depend on my mood and the song, but the range of feeling and emotion that could come from this one little person impresses people. *laughs*
Just letting it all out! *laughs* And what do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?
Shalini: Whenever I write, I write from my heart, so I really want to be able to help them feel something or feel inspired in some way. Even if they’re feeling sad from one of my songs, as long as they’re able to get that feeling out then I think it could be a therapeutic experience. I also hope that my song about humanity has a positive effect on them too.
Of course! And a lot of times people become fans of artists because they were able to form an emotional connection.
Shalini: Oh yeah definitely!
And to end us off, apart from the recent release of your EP and riding the highs of that, what other big exciting things should we be looking forward to?
Shalini: Definitely more music and more shows. Last year I helped produce and performed in a couple shows in Chicago, so I’m hoping to be able to do the same thing again this year. Maybe dropping another song this year. I haven’t decided on what actually will be happening and when, so stay tuned you guys!
About Amandine Patisserie Gardena:
Much like wine and cheese, pastries and coffee are a pairing that is simply meant to be. Local café chain Amandine Patisserie (in this case, the new Gardena location) has swooped in to provide baked good lovers an assortment of delectable choices that bring joy to our bellies. Whether you’re in the mood for a croissant stuffed with your favorite filling (I got the Strawberry Nutella Croissant and I highly recommend), a decadent cake, a fruity tarte, or bite sized macarons (gluten-free for all to enjoy), you will find it hard not to want to take home the entire bakery display. Looking for a little bit more than a snack? Their food menu is stacked with anything that you could possibly want. From salads and wraps to pastas and burgers to all day breakfast, anytime of the day is a perfect time to head into Amandine. In terms of their coffee selection, their offerings are latte focused with a few espresso only drinks in the mix. I got their Rose Latte, and I must say, it gave me a very much needed extra jolt without being too sweet or too heavy on the espresso. Overall, the Gardena location was a delightful experience and they deserve the utmost love shown to them.