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New York-based contemporary musician and composer Shubh Saran recently released the first single ‘postradition’ off his second full-length album – fourth overall release – titled inglish, which releases on October 29. The 10-track multilayered album explores new musical territory, as Saran incorporates predominantly Indian and Middle Eastern instruments for the first time, fusing sounds from modern jazz, neo-soul, and rock with classical and contemporary Indian music.
inglish as a body of work is as illustrative of Saran’s creative approach as it is of his background. Throughout his life, having to assimilate into different cultures has been a common theme for him, and inglish is a reflection of that progression and evolution. Managing changes in culture and language have been a repeat experience for the Indian artist, who has spent time living around the world in places like New Delhi, Dhaka, Cairo, Geneva, Toronto, Boston, and New York City.
In this exclusive interview, Saran talks to us among other things about the constant movement between countries and cultures in his life, his biggest musical influences, and his new podcast about Indian identity.
You have lived in seven different cities across the world. How have your musical sensibilities been shaped by this constant movement between countries and cultures?
I’ve spent most of my life assimilating, trying to fit into the predominant culture in whatever country I was in. As a working musician now I feel a bit like a chameleon, in both musical and social situations. It’s extremely helpful to be able to pull from a varied set of experiences and allow that to inform my music, but at the same time, it took many years for me to figure out what my own sound was and how I wanted my music to relate with people.
What or who are some of your biggest musical influences?
For this album, I was listening to a lot of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for their analog and modular synth production. For a while now, Bon Iver and the production of his last few records have also been a huge influence on the kind of soundscapes I want to create.
Over the last two years, I’ve also taken a deep dive into Rajasthani folk music, listening to one album in particular called Sound of Desert. That album informed a lot of the textures and ambiance of inglish.
Tell us about your new single ‘postradition’, and new album inglish. What thoughts did you have in mind in terms of the sound you wanted to explore?
‘postradition’ was the last song I wrote for the album, so to me it captures the essence of the whole record in one song. I wrote the song about my identity, as someone who grew up ethnically Indian but spent most of my life living outside of India in a few different countries. I wanted to explore the idea of tradition, questioning what my tradition was. The rest of the album, inglish, is an exploration of similar themes, embracing some of my Indianness that I had rejected while growing up.
I wanted this album to sound different from the rest of my work, signaling an exploration of questions about identity as well as different production and songwriting techniques. The record came together in late 2020 out of synth experiments and loose song ideas. I typically write with my band’s instrumentation in mind but because of the pandemic, no one knew when we’d be performing together again. So I decided to focus on the production side of things, putting live arrangements aside.
How would you explain inglish to someone who is new to your music?
This is the most overtly personal music I’ve made. I’ve been searching for ways to present ideas about my identity for a long time and with this album, I feel more comfortable articulating those themes.
I’d like for people to be able to enjoy it first as just music, separately from learning about the backstory. But if that adds to the experience of listening to the album, then I’d like for listeners to be able to relate to the themes regardless of their cultural backgrounds.
What are your future plans and what are you working on next?
Aside from the album release, we have a US East Coast tour coming up in November starting in NYC, Burlington, Syracuse, Cleveland, and D.C. I have also just released a new podcast, Offstage with Shubh Saran, where I dig into themes from my album and speak to 17 Indian-origin musicians from different parts of the world about their Indian identity. In 2022, we’re planning on more touring in the US, and a continuation of my podcast.
Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul, an e-book collection of short stories based on travel in different parts of the world.