The Audiophile Society's Label Manager Matt Rose sat down with Aayushi Karnik to discuss her roots, move to New York, and debut album Troublemaker.
MR: So you're originally from Surat in India. What was it like growing up there?
AK: I am from a city called Surat in the state of Gujarat in India. That is where I was born and raised. I had a very normal childhood while growing up. It was simple and humble. I went to a Convent for all of my schooling in Surat and I was a hyper-active kid who strived to do well in her studies and athletics.
Given the nature of the music business in my country, I, by default had assumed for a while that one cannot make a living playing non-commercial music and I was fine with that because I was all set towards the path of being an Architect just like my father. My life in India was all about scooter rides, street food and obsessively practicing guitar after I decided to not pursue Architecture after getting a Diploma in the field and thankfully my parents were extremely supportive of that despite me being unsure of my trajectory. I was stubborn and wasn’t ready to sell out into Indian Commercial music. My music education was solely on YouTube and chatting on the phone with my teacher Floyd Fernandes who lives in Mumbai.
MR: So beyond that Youtube exposure, were you around a lot of music growing up?
AK: I would say no primarily. My friend had a music school in my hometown so I used to hang out at his class and hear them play Pink Floyd, Dire Straits etc. My hometown was a textile and diamond polishing town so Blues and Jazz guitar wasn’t really their priority.
MR: That being the case, what were you originally planning on doing professional and what made you change your trajectory toward music? You mentioned an architecture degree.
AK: Originally my plan was to be an Architect just like my parents. I got my diploma in the field but I had a year off before I went into my Undergraduate studies and I used all my free time aggressively practicing guitar and it was simply an intuitive decision to pursue music despite seeing mostly dead ends around. Eventually I auditioned for some music schools because I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone if I wanted to get better and got into Juilliard and I am currently finishing my 4th year of Undergraduate studies in Jazz Guitar there.
MR: Well Julliard is no small feat! Now that you're in New York, what do you like most about the music scene here? How does it compare to India?
AK: New York has a certain kind of energy that I never experienced before. I have this romantic gesture of walking around the city with the music that was created here playing on my headphones and just being thankful that I get to be a part of this ecosystem. Above all, the musicians here are simply amazing, be it performers or teachers. There is always good stuff happening whether it's Jazz or Folk or Pop.
To be honest, I was not really a part of any sort of a scene in India. I was living in a dry state, sort of secluded from all the action that was happening in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. Sure, I would travel to play in these cities and have a lot of friends who play there but I never was there to stay. And I consider that as a blessing because I got time to work on my craft as a player and a songwriter in my hometown. My life was shedding, spending time with my dog, scooter rides and hitting up local kebab joints.
MR: So you of course must listen to a lot of different artists while walking around the city with your headphones on. Who are some of favorite artists? And who are some that were the most influential to you?
AK: That is a long list! Stevie Ray Vaughan, Derek Trucks, John Mayer, Simon and Garfunkel, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Wallis Bird, John Coltrane, Tony Rice, The Punch Brothers, Chris Thile, Jimmy Hendrix, T-Bone Walker, Allan Holdsworth, Scott Henderson and it goes on and on.
Though, my life philosophy would be being able to play all the information I know
with the conviction of Stevie Ray Vaughan and the story telling aspect of Robert Johnson, and Paul Simon.
MR: That's quite the diverse group, but also explains so much about your music. Tell me a bit about the writing process for some of the songs on Troublemaker. What comes first? A guitar idea? Harmonic content? Melody? Lyrics?
AK: To be very honest, I had less than a month to put together a record’s worth of music for this record. I was in the middle of my Juilliard finals at the same time. I had some ideas together already for a couple of songs and all I had to do was sit at the desk and aggressively write and have faith that it all was going to make sense. I had never really written music this fast and quite honestly I surprised myself.
I had to write with a slightly different approach for this record because when I usually write songs, it is because I feel like I should write one because of my default vent out mechanism. For this, I started with chord progressions and riffs and then for the words, I just had to start mumbling out words without any filter to the existing material.
In a way, if one is writing this fast and wants honesty in the writing, they have to exploit their souls a little to force the subconscious truth out. I remember calming myself down and telling myself “It’s ok. Be aware of what is happening around you in your life and write about it.”
MR: And it came out great so obviously you did something right! You've got such an interesting blend of rock, jazz, and the blues on this record. What do you think makes your sound so unique?
AK: I never thought of playing with the intention of having a unique sound. I think I have the most fun playing when I am going through a trial and error process and sometimes things work and that eventually becomes a part of someone’s sound. I was raised from the beginning to be an information hoarder and was pushed to use anything I learn in a very practical way be it Mathematics, Architecture, Cooking or Music. I guess, I am just trying to cook and experiment without burning the kitchen down when I play and write music.
MR: That makes total sense and the cooking analogy reminds me of a quote we got from you during the recording session about the band coming together like the crust of a cheesecake. What was the recording session like? As you mentioned, this came together quite fast, including the time between the rehearsal and the session.
AK: Todd and Gregory are such amazing musicians and all I had to do was show up with my stuff together and I didn’t have to say much. The entire process was very intuitive! I met them a day before the recording and we had like an hour and half to rehearse and go through the songs. I had a lot of fun recording but above all, it was an educational experience for me to just play with those guys!
MR: We talked about the writing process a bit, but there are a few covers on the record. How did you choose those?
AK: I just chose the songs that I end up singing in my kitchen or while walking on the streets. I did not consciously go online to look for songs to cover. Spoonful and On Broadway were the songs that I had an idea about how I should play them if I ever played in a Blues/Rock trio.
MR: I think your cover of On Broadway might be the most unique interpretation of the song I've ever heard. Can you talk about that?
AK: First of all I love that song! My roommate and I sing it all the time and I just started messing around with it with the chord substitutions and stuff. My general idea was to make the vamp section sound like John Mayer Trio and the bridge like an 80s fusion band.
MR: We touched on so much about this record, but what's next for you?
AK: For the nearer future, I just want to get a band on the road and play a lot while keeping the adventurous nature of Jazz and Fusion music as the vital element of this project. I write for a Folk group as well so eventually I would like to get that music out too. But for now, I just want to play!