Worldly pop songbird Vidya Vox joins us at Silverlake, CA gem Lamill Coffee Boutique to discuss the release of her latest EP Mad Dreams, weaving between doing original music and cover songs for YouTube, and the importance of representation in the entertainment industry.
So you’re riding the highs of your sophomore EP Mad Dreams, I wanted to say congratulations!
Vidya Vox: Thank you!
And I also wanted to ask, for those who have yet to discover how awesome it is, would you like to share a little about the lyrical themes and instrumental elements that you decided to include?
Vidya: Of course! I think it’s quite literal to the title. I tried to think of a dream world, like a city in-between Mumbai, here, and London, and how it would all be if I was there. It starts off with reclaiming all the things I was teased about growing up and things I was insecure about, like my skin color or having these dark elbows and knees or having darker eyes, because all the boys would have crushes on the blonde hair, blue-eyed girls. I always felt like I was never good enough, and kids would tease me about it. That was really hard for me to go through, so from the first track I wanted it to be like, ‘This is me, and I’m going to reclaim all of the things that you have said about me.’ And then it goes on from there like an honest, self-discovery exploration in “Look At The Lights.” There’s “Lose The Night,” which is about a specific memory that I had with my boyfriend Shankar Tucker, who also produced the album in Delhi. So honestly, it was just going through the past few years and drawing from those memories.
Yeah. I feel like the older you get, you realize, ‘Wow, maybe I shouldn’t have spent so much time crying over this one thing.’ And so many people can relate to your story of kids being mean. *raises hand*
Vidya: Oh of course! I feel like kids are just mean no matter what.
Especially when they’re in middle school when they’re assholes for literally no reason.
Vidya: Oh my God, seriously! No reason! They pick on you if you’re a little bit different, anything that kids want to pick on, they will, and that was really difficult for me at that time. But now I’m like, ‘Wait, that was not a big deal,’ you know what I mean? I feel like I’m comfortable with who I am and everything that I’ve done, and I’m really proud of it. I think that’s always been a general theme throughout my music because that’s I how I feel when I express myself, and I really want people relate to it. I realized when I’m touring that these young girls, young Indian or South-Asian girls, want to come and tell me that what I’m doing is really inspiring. It’s like, ‘Wow, this really is a thing! I was just putting music out there because I felt this way or that way,’ you know?
You just never know what impact your music will have. And that’s so great hearing that you’re inspiring girls going through the same things to get up and share their stories and relate to your experiences. That’s awesome!
Vidya: It’s absolutely wonderful! Especially when I get to see all of the little girls standing in the front. It really moves me.
And how was the songwriting and recording process for this EP similar or different than that of your past work. Or even in comparison to the cover songs that you do?
Vidya: Right, the covers are a whole different thing. I think with cover songs, they’re just easier. In the beginning, I was putting so much thought into it that I was making it so much more difficult than it needed to be. As it went on, it became so easy, and now I don’t even think twice about it because it’s already somebody else’s composition and story. But between the last EP, Kuthu Fire, and this one, there was so much that I wanted to say, and how I say things. You always tend to overthink things, like, ‘Am I saying what I want to say here? Is my message coming out clearly? Does my story make sense?’ So it definitely takes a long time. It took like a year to write this one and it’s only five songs. *laughs*
It’s still an accomplishment though! Some people can’t even get past one song. And there are people that write amazing music but are afraid to share it.
Vidya: Yeah, that’s true. It’s scary sometimes because you’re fully vulnerable, and you’re putting your heart on your sleeve, and in this era, everyone has an opinion that they’re entitled to, so it’s scary to put your music out there. I think music and the arts in general are like that. Everyone has an opinion that’s so subjective and so relative that it’s just to be expected. And like, for the first EP, we wrote fifteen songs and put six on the final release. I think one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is: if it doesn’t work in the first couple of hours that you’re writing, or if it doesn’t feel good immediately, then it’s not gonna feel good on day three.
It’s like putting a square peg in a round hole kind of thing.
Vidya: Yeah, it’s like a gut reaction. Does this feel good? Does this feel natural? Even if things are pushing you out of your comfort zone, does it still feel good when you hear it back? And if it doesn’t, then it’s time to scrap it and move on.
Which song would you say was your favorite to write and then record, if they’re two separate songs.
Vidya: Ah! How do I choose? *laughs* I will say that “Appadi Podu Di” was my favorite song to write. It was just so fast when it came out! I did it with my friends Sam [Tsui] and Casey [Breves], who are phenomenal musicians, and Shankar as well, so the four of us wrote it. I had this phrase that my uncle used to tell me growing up, like, if you had a good comeback you would say “Appadi Podu Di,” which means ‘to give it back to them.’ I was like, ‘Hey guys, what if we used this phrase?’ and Shankar already had these big beats with these big South-Indian kind of drums as the intro on the track, so we just felt like, ‘Ok! This could be really fun!’ And it was just *snaps* so fast! We wrote it really fast, and it just felt right immediately. I didn’t have to re-record it. The demo vocals are the final vocals. So I think that one would have to be my favorite if I had to choose one. But also I think “Mad Dreams” is my other favorite because I did a lot of iterations of vocals for that one. It was the complete opposite experience than “Appadi Podu Di,” like, it didn’t feel good at first, but then after recording it I think four times it was finally starting to sound good. And then on the fifth time, I did it!
Fifth time’s the charm!
Vidya: Oh no! Fifth time’s the charm, months of re-recording vocals, and Shankar being like, ‘Oh my god, do not record more! It sounds good!’ *both laugh*
Sometimes you have to put in extra work for it to be perfect.
Vidya: Exactly! That’s how I tend to be. Maybe that’s just in my brain, like, other people don’t hear all the flaws and that sort of thing, but I felt like I needed to do my hundred percent and then put it put there. I didn’t want to release something that I wasn’t one hundred percent proud of, you know?
I think it’s always good to have that kind of morale. I mean, there are definitely some big artists that have put out whatever they felt like putting out at that moment in time, and sometimes it’s super obvious. It’s like, ‘You do you, but I also know that you’re better than this.’
Vidya: Oh totally! And maybe it’s also subjective, like, maybe for us it’s like ‘Maybe you could do better,’ but then also, maybe for that artist they saw that it was right for them to release that project or song or whatever.
That’s very true. So going into a little more about your original music, it’s been considered to be this cool blend of traditional Indian music, EDM, and modern pop. Why the choice to combine all of those different kinds of elements in your original work?
Vidya: I think that happened naturally. To be honest, it’s something that I would gravitate towards musically. I would be sitting there listening to other people’s music and I would think, ‘I would add this’ or ‘I would add that, and then it would basically become music that I would want to listen to. I’m like, ‘Just a little bit of dance right here, and a little bit of electronic there, and a pinch of world Indian classical,’ you know? That’s what I’m actually trained in. As a child, I grew up singing classical Indian music.
So it’s just a natural transition for you when it came time to do your own thing.
Vidya: Yeah! It was just kind of a natural thing for me, and I really wanted some elements to be included in my music. Shankar is really good with production, and intuitively we’re on the same page a lot, and it kind of just evolved from there. I know that it’s a conscious decision in terms of the specific elements of each arrangement of the song. So those kinds of decisions are very conscious, but it’s also a lot of trial and error. It’s just a combination of a lot of things.
Trial and error. The mantra of life.
Vidya: *laughs* That’s true!
So if you could choose three artists to go on a world tour with, who would you choose and what would you name your tour?
Vidya: Oh my gosh! Ok, I would say Drake, FKA Twigs, and Rosalía. Gosh, I wouldn’t even know what the name would be! Maybe it would be, like, ‘The Bot Makers’ or something like that. *laughs* I’ve liked them all for awhile now. Rosalía I just got into this year, but I think she’s phenomenal.
She’s so great!
Vidya: Oh my God, yes! And I’ve been a fan of Drake since my college days. And then FKA Twigs has always been phenomenal! I think going on tour with those artists would just be so amazing!
Yeah! I mean, all of them have got some interesting styles to them as well. Like, there’s a reason why they are such huge artists!
Vidya: Yeah, it’s true! And I think with them, they’re very unapologetic and very much like, ‘This is my art. This is who I am. Take it or leave it.’ That really comes through in their music and their messaging, so I feel like that’s why I naturally gravitated towards them. I mean, I love hip-hop and rap, that’s why Drake’s always been amazing. I think specifically with Rosalía, she does flamenco fusion, and we’re kind of similar in that I add Indian elements instead. It shows that I could be doing cool things like that too, and it feels very similar in terms of where I want to be as a musician with the variety of styles that she’s been singing with all of her collabs and also with her more traditional stuff. And then with FKA Twigs, like, lyrically, her vocal arrangements, even just the melodies that she does, she’s just so unique and I truly love all of them!
Yeah! I feel like there’s a lot of musicians that are incorporating all of these different genres and blending them together. Even some that you wouldn’t even have thought about.
Vidya: Yeah! That’s a really cool thing that’s happening right now. I mean, Latin music has always been around, but I think it’s really taken over here in mainstream pop. Now you have artists like J Balvin, and everyone knows them even if you don’t understand Spanish. It doesn’t even really matter what language it’s in, because music transcends all borders of language. I think a lot of people are interested in that global thing now, like, take K-pop, it’s huge here! BTS just did a full sold-out stadium tour a few months ago! And I think that’s a very positive thing to see that younger people in our generation are looking towards global trends and are setting that kind of precedent.
Absolutely! New music trends for the win!
So kind of going into a little bit about who you are. You’ve made a name for yourself doing YouTube cover songs, which are all amazing!
Vidya: Thank you!
Do you feel that YouTube and social media are huge power players in how artists are discovered nowadays?
Vidya: I definitely think so. I mean, if you think about some of the biggest artists today and how they got discovered, like Justin Bieber, and Dua Lipa, and Troye Sivan, all of them have been discovered via YouTube, and it’s really gone on from there. I think social media can be a good thing and a bad thing. The good part is that as an artist and as a musician, you don’t have to wait for anybody else to give you a chance or to give you a track to do. You can do it yourself and you can put it up for people around the world to see. I think that’s a really unique thing, and it’s amazing! It’s definitely a big part of discovery, and I think people can really live in their own niches within YouTube, which is great. You don’t have to do whatever is trending, you can do your own thing. If you want to get into nu-metal, or classical-pop, or other random genres like that, there’s space for all of that.
Yes! If someone is actively looking, they will find you!
Vidya: They will find you! Exactly! And I think that’s so cool because if you’re doing it authentically then it’s definitely possible for someone to find you. So I do think that it is an amazing platform for artist discovery.
And it’s kind of like what you we’re saying about doing everything authentically, I feel like with music listeners, that’s really what we’re looking for. We want to be able to see you as a real person.
Vidya: Oh totally! And I think it’s important to give credit to the audience!
We’re smarter than we look! *laughs*
Vidya: They’re smarter than they make themselves out to be on YouTube comments. *laughs*
Don’t read the comments!
Vidya: Do NOT read the comments! That is a YouTube 101! *both laugh* But yeah, I do think that a lot of consumers are listening critically, and that’s a great thing, because you can present elevated art and music and people will get it. And if they don’t, that’s fine too, because there will be pockets of people that will understand it, and get where you’re coming from. That’s definitely been the transition between the covers and my original music, because covers are easy to listen to since you already know the song, but with original music, it’s like ‘How do you get it out there without a label? Without a manager? Without ad-supported views that do help get it out there?’ So I think that it’s a good idea to start with covers, and then eventually go into original music. It’s a good way your audience as well. They get to discover you, but you can discover your audience.
And kind of going into what you were saying about the differences between putting out a cover song that people know while also trying to market your own stuff. Have you ever run into any difficulties with the marketing side while doing your own thing?
Vidya: I think that expectations are set in a way that cover songs are gonna automatically have traction because are searching for them and are actively looking for renditions of that song. With original music, it’s a little bit difficult because people don’t know it, and they’re going to be like, ‘What is this?’ And the views are going to obviously differ, but maybe sometimes it can be cool and surprising at the same time. I’ve definitely been surprised! Like, for example, with “Be Free,” which is an original song, its video did so well on my channel. It was insane! And I didn’t really realize that was happening because I don’t really check numbers and things like that too often. I think doing it too much can mess with your mind a little bit. But that was a very gratifying experience for me, and I thought, ‘Ok, maybe this is something I can do. I can do original music and hope that the people will like it. And if they don’t, that’s ok.’
The ones that matter will get it!
Do you do anything different in terms of how you promote your original music as opposed to promoting a cover through social media and marketing and stuff like that?
Vidya: No, but I probably should. *both laugh* I’ll put out a regular post saying, ‘Hey, listen to my EP!’ or ‘Listen to this new song I did!’ I do little Instagram snippets of the song playing in the back since not all of my songs have videos yet. And then I’ll do little videos to direct you to my Spotify page that’ll be like, ‘Go listen to the song on Spotify!’ So they’re kind of the same, but not really at the same time. The only thing with covers is that I never promote them as much because it would automatically get traction since they’re covers. But with original music, I do find that every week or so I’ll be like, ‘Hey, here’s my new music!’ but then people be like, ‘Hey! Where’s your new music?’ *facepalms* I think marketing my own music definitely differs in the fact that I’m spamming people more. *laughs*
It’s a whole new way to spam!
But you do it very nicely! It’s like ‘Hey guys! In case you forgot! I write my own stuff!’
Vidya: ‘Please go check out these new songs that I really worked hard on! *both laugh*
Speaking of covers, if you could do a five song EP of covers that either that you’ve already done or songs that you would want to do in the future, which songs would you choose?
Vidya: Oh gosh, I don’t even know! *laughs* I feel like I haven’t thought about covers for so long. I’ve really only been doing music for two years, so I don’t know if I would ever do that. I might do it just for fun! Maybe I could do some FKA Twigs, or some Beyoncé. I also feel like it would be cool to do a mix with some Indian folk songs because each region of India has a different folk tradition, so that would be a cool EP. It’s not technically with covers because they’re in the public domain, but it would be kind of cool to remix them and do a full folk album or EP.
That would be so cool!
Do you feel that social media puts on a pressure on artists to have something constantly going on? Or even having to portray yourself in a certain way to your audience?
Vidya: I think, yes. I sometimes used to feel a little out of sight, out of mind, but now I just realized that I don’t care. Well, not that I don’t care, but I realized that I can’t be wrapped up in all of that because it really affects my mental health and it affects how I write music. I feel like I lose myself and lose my authenticity in being able to do that when writing songs. I do think that it’s important to stay present, but I don’t know how I feel about posting every day, or even vlogging my entire day to day life. I don’t feel like I need to do that anymore. I was in a place where I felt like I needed to do two Instagram posts a day, I never did that by the way, but I tried so hard to be consistent with that and I then would always forget. I would always forget the second one. I used to do one every day at least, but now it’s been like one every three weeks. *laughs* And it’s not because I don’t want to, it’s just because everything revolves around music for me! I just try to stay away from my phone for the most part.
And social media takes a lot of time out of your day! Just to do like one post a day it’s like, ‘What do I post about? What did I do today? Nothing! I went to work, ate some food, watched some tv, and that’s about it.’
Vidya: Exactly! It’s like,’ ‘Here I am in some new shorts I got,’ or ‘Here I am recording.’ That’s just it. How much do people wanna see, you know? I don’t think that people wanna see that over and over again. You have to have interesting content to put out, and I just don’t because it takes so long to make music. I can’t have interesting content every day!
You’re a real person! You’ve got other shit to do!
Vidya: Yeah! While I appreciate how supportive my fanbase is and I feel honored that they want to hear from me, I just try not to focus on all of that. I feel like there’s so much pressure, especially as a woman, like, there are different standards that I’m held to, and I find that, especially with clothing, that there’s definitely a double standard. If I’m in a bathing suit, versus when a guy is in a bathing suit, I get all of the hate comments yet they never get any. That happened to me once last year where I posted a photo with me, my dancers, and my sister all laughing on the beach. I thought it was a fun innocent thing, and it was so cute! It was sunrise and we were there at 7AM, it was beautiful, just absolutely stunning! It was supposed to be for fun, but oh my God! The amount of hate I got for it that was insane! It was crazy! All because I was just in a bathing suit! I was scrolling down my feed, and I saw this guy in a bathing suit on a beach somewhere else with zero hate! They were just like, ‘Oh my God!’ ‘Heart eyes!’ ‘You look so hot!’ things like that. I feel like, unfortunately for me, it’s like, ‘Why are you, as an Indian girl, dressed that way?’ or ‘Why are you showing your skin? I feel like I’ve always been a little bit scared by that, and in a way, that’s one of the reasons why I don’t wanna interact with social media that much.
I’ve actually seen a lot of celebrities have their comments off now, which I think is a beneficial trait to maintain your mental health.
Vidya: Maybe I should try that! That’s a good idea! But in general though, I think that women should be able to wear whatever they want. If you want to go and walk around nude, you should be able to do that. If you want to wear head to toe fully covered clothing, that’s up to you. I think that the freedom of choice is empowering. And it’s not all about showing your skin or not showing your skin, that’s something people get twisted a lot. They think that if you show your skin you’re a whore, or if you don’t show your skin you’re a prude. That’s such a polarizing thing, and I it’s still happening even now. I think we’re making some progress, but especially as a woman online, it’s ten times harder because people would say things that they would normally never say to your face.
Yeah, people think they’re so much stronger on the internet.
Vidya: Exactly. Just because you can hide behind an anonymous username on the internet doesn’t mean you can just say what you want!
That’s why cyberbullying is still such a huge thing, unfortunately.
Vidya: Yeah, it’s awful. And most of it is for stupid things too. Sometimes I care too much about what other people think or say, but the other half of me is like, ‘Screw them all! I’m gonna be me!’ That’s day to day life! I have to be who I am and I can’t just hide my real self just to please other people. You’ll never please everybody!
Vidya: You literally can’t! You just have to please yourself.
Staying on the topic of standards placed on women, do you feel that women in the music industry need to portray themselves in certain ways to find success?
Vidya: I don’t think so anymore. I think there was a thing where the popstars needed to be super fit or had to wear certain kinds of clothing. And maybe that was by choice, but maybe it was also kind of a bit of the trends. I think it’s like that anymore. I think you can do whatever you want. Like, you have people like Billie Eilish, and the reason why she wears larger fitting clothes is because she doesn’t want to get dragged for how she looks. And I think that’s cool! That’s amazing! I feel like if you wanna wear crop tops and tutus on stage, good for you! If you wanna wear an over-sized sweat suit on stage, good for you! You know what I mean? I think as women, we need to be taking charge and setting that kind of example for our audience. And I also think that men should try to help us in setting that path. They should speak up in places they think that we’re getting bullied in, or it becomes a double standard. Anyway, I think that there are pressures in general with the entertainment industry to just look a certain way, but I think more and more, with people being more body positive and freedom of expression and all of that stuff, it’s getting better.
Thanks God! *both laugh* And what advice would you give your younger self in regards to what you’ve experienced in music and YouTube, or just life in general?
Vidya: Number one I would say…
Don’t read the comments?
Vidya: Yeah! Don’t read the comments! *laughs* But I would say ‘feel free to speak up.’ I think that there’s been situations, like specific shoot situations, that were not under my control and I felt like I couldn’t speak up because it was in a gentleman’s club or because it felt like if I did speak up or if I did put my foot down about something that I didn’t like, people would see me as aggressive or they’d see me as a bitch, even though it was our shoot. I don’t think that matters, and I think the end as long as you’re respectful about it you can put your foot down, because ultimately, it’s your name on the line. So I would say, ‘Don’t sit back and take all the shit’ basically.
I feel like a lot of women are starting to not put up with that kind of crap anymore, which is awesome that they’re being vocal and open about it.
Vidya: It’s awesome and it’s amazing! It takes a lot of courage to speak up because you technically have your “reputation” on the line. As women, if you speak up, you’re seen as aggressive or you’re seen as you’re bossy, but if a man speaks up, you’re seen as assertive and you’re seen as powerful. But why isn’t it the same? I think having more and more women are not afraid to speak up and having the courage to break their silence is amazing, especially with men supporting.
And what do you hope that your audience will take away from your music?
Vidya: I just hope that they get a look into who I am a little bit. I hope that they could relate with some of the songs that I’m singing and some of the stories that I’m trying to tell. I don’t particularly think that there’s one thing for people to take away. I think whatever it is for each person, they’ll be able to take away something different from it. At least, I hope that they enjoy it and find something interesting.
I mean, how could they not find anything to love about you and your music!
Vidya: *laughs* Thank you!
To end us off, what other big, exciting things should we be expecting from you in the near future?
Vidya: Ooh! That Drake tour for sure! *both laugh* Just kidding! That would be amazing though. Just manifesting it into the world. Why not?
Wish fulfillment is a thing! That’s why I haven’t grown since I was ten. *laughs*
Vidya: Oh my gosh! *laughs* I think my next step is to do a full-length album. I wanna do some more videos for the EP and more musical things of course, but I’m already writing some songs and working on a new record. So hopefully just more badass music coming your way!
Well we’re definitely excited for all of the new music that we get to see!
Vidya: Yeah! So excited! It’s going to be great!
Check out Vidya Vox on her Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Spotify!
About Lamill Coffee Boutique:
East L.A. is chock full of adorable cafes and Lamill Coffee Boutique is by far one of the most spacious and versatile in terms of menu offerings. To start off on the visual aspects of the shop, Lamill commands attention from the moment you set eyes on its bright red exterior, and only exceeds your eye’s expectations with grand lighting fixtures, decadent golds mixed with rustic neutrals and pops of blue, and gorgeous black and white scenes along the walls.
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