Tag Archives: #songwriter

Producer and Songwriter, Jeff Bhasker

Behind Pop Music: You Should Know Jeff Bhasker’s Name

Jeff Bhasker, A.K.A. Billy Kraven, is a music producer and songwriter. Born to an Indian father and Caucasian mother, he was raised in Socorro, New Mexico where his father is a doctor and the town’s mayor. Bhasker left Socorro to pursue music studies at Berklee School of Music, then moved to New York for three years before beginning his career in Los Angeles.

Famous artists he has worked with include Kanye West, Jay-Z, Kid Cudi, Bruno Mars, The Game, Rolling Stones, Beyonce, and Alicia Keys. He has won Grammy awards for the songs “Run This Town,” by Jay-Z (Best Rap Song), “All of the Lights” by Kanye West (Best Rap Song), “We Are Young” by FUN (Song of the Year), “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson (Record of the Year), and Bhasker, himself, won Producer of the Year.

In this exclusive interview with India Currents, Jeff Bhasker opens up about his music and experience in the industry.

IC: Did growing up in Socorro have any impact on your getting into music?

JF: Not in a typical way, because there were not many resources around. However, the lack of distractions and outside influences allowed me to do a lot of soul searching, during which I discovered my music passion.

I wanted to find a place where I belonged. My home life was not great due to my parents being divorced, and the challenge of having a blended family. I wanted to be around people who, like me, were into Jazz and enjoyed playing music together. I eventually found it at the Berklee School of Music

IC: We are all aware of the Indian stereotype of parents wanting their children to become doctors and engineers. How did your family feel about your pursuit of music?

JF: It definitely confused my family of doctors. No one in our family had become a musician. However, they were relieved once I became more successful. Now, of course, they are very proud of the work I have done.

IC: What was your focus at the Berklee College of Music?

JF: I, initially, wanted to be a jazz musician and composer, but I drifted into recording and production. Technology and computer recording began to take a bigger role, hence making recording more accessible. You could record music on a laptop instead of paying a big fee to use a studio. Eventually, songwriting and recording became my specialty.

IC: You produce music across all genres- rap/hip-hop, rock, pop, R&B, and Bhangra. What are your thoughts regarding the term “genre”?

JF: Genres are only marketing devices to appeal to a certain demographic. I try to be genre-less and, instead, utilize the best aspects of each genre. Ultimately, we are all humans that bleed, love, and hurt. In any genre, the best song appeals to people on a human rather than on a genre level.

IC: How did you initially connect with famous musicians?

JF: My first song was the title track on The Game’s Documentary album. After that, there was a lull until I worked with Kanye. My work with Kanye became my calling card. In 2009, my song with Alicia Keys, “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart”, made me known for my sound. Once I had a hit song, I slowly built up my reputation and became connected with more people.

IC: I assume that each musician you work with has a unique style. How have these different musicians inspired you?

JF: I learn a lot from everyone I work with. However, I consider Kanye my biggest mentor. Kanye is a huge influence regarding how hard he works on his projects, whether in fashion, music, or whatever else.  He has largely helped shape my concept of being an artist, which is to create music on an intensely personal and honest level. In other words, he has taught me to be driven by the need to express instead of success.

IC: You have produced three songs on Jasbir Jassi’s “Back with a Bang” (2014) album. How did working with Jassi help you reconnect with Indian roots?

JF: Meeting Jasbir Jassi and his family has been such a great and organic part of my life. In 2017, I traveled with him to India to participate in MTV India.

Being in India was a culture shock and my head was spinning. I did not know where I fit in.  Navigating Indian society and the music business was like being on another planet. By the end, I had two harmoniums and was sitting on the plane in my kurta and I did not want to leave. I had a close connection with the people I met. The sights, smells of India really felt like home. It was a great experience.

IC: Many people dream of becoming successful musicians. However, very few actually make that dream a reality. What has been the key to your success in the industry?

JF: The best advertising and PR is making the best music. People, nowadays, over-focus on connections and social media. While these are important, you ultimately just need to deliver a great product. A song is a product. How meaningful and life-changing it is, is what matters. That is what I focus on: How to make what I am working on undeniable. 

IC: What are you currently working on?

JF: I have an independent record label called Kravenworks. We are currently releasing the latest material from a Swedish act called Vacation Forever. It’s been fun to curate content and develop marketing campaigns for amazing artists such as Angelique Kidjo and Cam, with whom we had a hit single!

IC: Any lessons to inspire young Indians?

JF: As we develop a more global perspective, it’s about being a human being. Whether you are Indian, American, British, or a Martian you need to find what is inside you that you need to express and tell your story.

My message is to believe in yourself. Find the people who believe in you and work hard. Knowing your place on the timeline of history and where you are going is important for helping you grow in the right direction. You should always be growing, challenging, changing, and trying to better yourself. That will lead you to the most impactful result. Staying true to yourself is what I mean.


Nikhil Misra-Bhambri is a freelance journalist in Los Angeles. He is a graduate from the University of Southern California (USC) with a degree in history and will begin his Masters in Social Work at USC in Fall 2021. 


 

Amanda Sodhi traveling (Images from her Instagram @amandasodhi)

12 Months. 12 Cities. 1 Suitcase: An Indian American Travels to India to Find Her Home

Amanda Sodhi is a DC native and was previously an LA-based screenwriter, songwriter, filmmaker, and writer. This year she has launched a program titled Twelve Steps to Home to travel across twelve cities in India. Amanda Sodhi has taken an unconventional path, following her passion and encouraging women to do the same. She has built on her versatile talents and uses them to questions the ways in which women are bogged down by society. In this interview, she expands on her new project and what it means to be a woman on the road less traveled.

IC: You have a background in writing and music, what urged you to fuse them together and create your project Twelve Steps to Home, and what does it mean to you?

AS: I was born and brought up in Washington, DC. I’ve lived and worked in Los Angeles, too. I moved to Mumbai when I was 25. At 29, I moved to Kolkata, shuttling between there and Delhi. However, I kept outgrowing each city after a point, and it really felt quite isolating. I felt like I belonged both everywhere and nowhere. I couldn’t identify any one place as “home,” as a place to return to. 

Often, people define home as where their family is. Since I am estranged from my family, the definition of “home” is especially blurry for me. 

The lease of my Kolkata flat was anyhow expiring in December. So, I sold all my furniture, downsized to one suitcase, and began a brand new journey of uprooting myself consciously month-after-month – 12 months, 1 month per city. I will be documenting this journey in the form of a book. And, I intend to release my next song with a music video that draws from footage from all 12 places. 

I have no idea what the outcome is going to be at the end of this path, if I will discover what “home” and “belonging” means or not. But, at the moment, I feel like I’m living my best life, indulging in all these new experiences and meeting so many new people.

IC: As an Indian, there are often challenges that urge us to take a ‘safe’ path in our career due to family or societal pressure. What brought you to find success in your passion and how do you cope in that environment?

AS: It was difficult. My family was neither able to accept that I wanted to pursue a creative career, nor were they were able to wrap their head around the fact I was going to move to India. Eventually, I reached a breaking point where I felt it was high time I lived my life fully, without any guilt. Therapy also helped. Sometimes it takes years of something building up slowly to make a person finally snap, not care about what society thinks and muster the courage to live life on their own terms. 

IC: As a woman traveling in India, how is your artistic process impacted through challenges or obstacles you may face that other genders don’t? What has changed in your journey?

AS: It is challenging – often, people try to discourage women from traveling solo by instilling fear in them. Sometimes people feel resentful that you’re traveling freely when they have succumbed to societal pressure and are conforming to certain expectations of how life should be structured by XYZ age. Some people show sympathy that, “Oh, you don’t have a boyfriend or husband to travel with?” as if that’s even a prerequisite! A few people, however, feel inspired to also travel. It’s a mixed bag.

I remember when I was in Port Blair, one of the hotels I stayed at created random rules just for me because I was the only solo female traveler at their property. It was suffocating. Also, in many cities, I have faced eve-teasing. It can be really upsetting. But, I don’t let it discourage me. Why should a few assholes ruin my plans? My life has been enriched through all the travel experiences I’ve been blessed to have – I’ve learned so much about different places, different people, different cultures, different viewpoints, different lifestyle choices. So many stories to tell!

Regarding my artistic process, there are a lot of men with very fragile egos one comes into contact with; some of them do try to jeopardize your project(s). This is why I like to work alone as much as possible. And, this is why I don’t rely on artistic projects to pay my bills. I freelance as a social media consultant, content writer, and VO artist. This decision has enabled me to create art on my own terms.

IC: In the same manner, how has the pandemic impacted your journey?

AS: The travel guidelines for each state in India keep changing, so I have to pick places accordingly. And, I have to be mentally prepared that flights may get canceled last minute. Because not as many tourists are flocking to each city, I get to experience the best of the local vibe. With this crisis occurring in India right now, it seems I’ll stay put in Kashmir for another month. I will proceed with caution and be sure to monitor the situations carefully. 

IC: What do you want to say to women, who also want to strongly pursue their dreams but are afraid to for different reasons? 

AS: We are all going to die sooner or later…Marne se pehle, please thodda jee lo.

The fact we are all mortal should be the biggest motivation to pursue one’s dreams unapologetically. Better to try and fail in the process rather than be resentful or blame others for stopping you. Yes, everything comes with consequences. But, in the end, I firmly believe the only person stopping you is you. 

IC: As a woman who has taken an unconventional path in life, is there a lot of emphasis on mental health? In India, where there is a strong barrier for women, and where mental health is a taboo, how do you cope with facing such challenges? 

AS: I’ve been in and out of therapy for nearly a decade. I’ve also reached out to shrinks and life coaches, as and when I’ve felt it was required. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Mixed Anxiety Depressive Disorder. Instability, for prolonged periods, is usually a trigger point for me, which mainly stems from a lack of a sense of what “family” is. Sometimes being open about your own mental health journey – especially if you seem high-functioning – inspires others to also seek help. It is best to lead by example.

I conduct writing therapy workshops through my startup Pen Paper Dreams and try my best to counter the stigma surrounding mental health at a smaller level. For example, one of the books I had my reading group explore is Maybe You Should Talk To Someone. It helped bust a lot of myths. 

IC: You have traveled and lived in places that are on opposite ends of the world, adapting to cultures that may be completely alien to you. What is your support system in this process and how do you thrive in each city and culture to fully experience it?

AS: Indeed, every city is unique. But, at the same time, humans are also very similar, irrespective of their surface-level differences. When you are mentally prepared that you have to make the most of any place, any situation, it helps you adapt quickly. I’ve been lucky to make friends and acquaintances everywhere I go – they have all been an extremely important part of my support system. Humans are social creatures – we need interaction in healthy doses to thrive; that’s definitely one thing this pandemic has made crystal clear. 

IC: How important is it to have an identity as a person separate from being a daughter, mother, sister, etc and in Indian society, how do women tackle that?

AS: Before being a daughter or a mother or a sister or a spouse, you are first and foremost an individual. A person is much more than just the role they play within a family. One’s identity is a mix of different elements at a personal level, family level, and social level. Do not let one role define your entire being.

Check out Amanda Sodhi’s music here:


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person.