What a Life shares eight songs that remind us to revisit memories and emotions that we tend to bury or choose to forget. Created by Aakash Mehta over a period of six years, the songs were brought to life during the pandemic in an attempt to deal with the confusion and trauma we continue to live in.
Stream (and read) the stories behind What a Life and step on your own make-shift stage to revisit forgotten memories and hopes.
PERSON IN PROGRESS
Stuff you would like people to read when they google you (assuming you probably want to replace this search result that is oversharing things like the color of your eyes :D).
Hahahaha, I can't believe that thing is still around. And that it's so high up on the list! Honestly, I don't even know. Should it be the music or the podcast? Or should it be the stand-up? My agent keeps telling me it would help my financial prospects if I had a "Clearly Designed Brand Identity" that we could SEO the hell out of, and she's absolutely correct, but it's weird. I want to be a whole person. And everyone wants me to narrow down who I am and what I do. Okay. How about 'Person in Progress' with a link to all the things I make. Yeah. That's perfect
Aakash Mehta is a stand-up comedian, producer and singer-songwriter.
You're singing Sister Superior on a terrace in one of the first videos you uploaded on your YouTube channel back in 2015. As we scrolled through, we found a few in which you are playing the Ukulele in front of a crowd too. How have these different forms of expression (stand-up, songwriting-singing) inspired each other over the years?
At first, all my skills were in this primordial soup of sorts. There was a lot of experimenting going around. Not that there isn't anymore. But when you're starting out, there's no pressure. Man, I miss that. But yeah, there was a bit of bouncing around in the funny music space. Nothing worth mentioning, to be honest. Anyway, with time I sort of kept music on the back burner because comedy opened up so many doors to incidental formats like sketches or writing work and whatnot. Music wasn't something I wanted to perform anyway, and so I was quite happy letting it ferment in its spot in my back pocket while comedy became my breadwinner and stayed on my sleeve. Podcasting has been a rather selfish pursuit. The idea has always been to gain new insight and explore people's lives. Honestly, all of this is just me, swinging from vine to vine. I have no idea what's next. I'm just a dog chasing cars.
How did What a Life come into being?
What a Life is arguably Shashwat's brainchild derived from the raw materials in my brain. There's a surrogacy joke there but never mind.
The songs have been around for a very long time. There was genuinely no motivation to record, although my Manager, Utkarsh, would constantly nudge me. Shashwat just took one of my songs that I'd recorded for myself (like the other old YT videos) and added strings and such to it. It really showed me that I could have a larger sonic vision for these songs, so I took that information and returned to life as a comic. Stand-up is inherently live and involves constant travel. So when the pandemic happened, there was this vacuum in my life. When I think about it, the album was just as much us trying to deal with the confusion and trauma of the first wave. But yeah, Shashwat nudged me all through the lockdown, and with his constant reminders of my mortality, I was convinced that I should give these their final sonic form just to see if it makes sense. What came out was absolutely nothing I could have imagined. And now here I am, wanting to do it again.
Shashwat Bulusu is a singer-songwriter, producer and visual artist from Baroda.
Your insights into the support network that exists within India's independent music community (for artists who would like to start recording and sharing their music).
Oh man, if everyone has had as good an experience as I have, this scene is amazing! While the barrier of entry can be daunting (it took me almost 10 years of doing stand up to feel financially comfortable in taking all this on), at no stage did anyone playing on the record, mixing or mastering, judge the work. It felt incredibly like home quickly. Maybe it's Shashwat's style of producing a record. He makes everything so easy.
A message you'd like to share with your listeners
My friend Suman once told me we don't pick the art we love. It draws us in. Because there's a little piece of us inside of it, so just give it a shot. Maybe there's a little piece of you inside this too.
We know from Bag Mein Speaker that funny things don't usually happen to you, but we'd love to hear about any funny things that happened while recording What a Life.
Oh wow, ending the first half on a funny note!
Well, I don't know if any of this is funny on text, but it was a whole adventure in the weirdest sense, from the drive to Baroda that took almost thrice as long as it needed to the lack of air-conditioning and prevalence of mosquitoes during our recording of What a Life. For the first 5 days or so, we hadn't figured out the water pump, so we got a distinct experience of having to cook, clean, wash, bathe and relieve ourselves with very limited water. It was a trip! Specially since I had my friend from comedy Rahul Pal with us during the recording as well. He was a regular supply of dark humour every time the dust settled from our general shenanigans.
Argh. I'd make a terrible comedy column writer. Slice of life, maybe. But all in all, it was a weird, homely experience. How could it not be? When my blanket doubled as the vocal booth damper?
STORIES FROM A LIFE
Whenever I'm on tour, sometimes this realization hits me. Because of how much I travel, my experience of locations and people is very skewed. Instead of seeing a place or a person change over a period of time, I get snippets from time to time. Just like people get a snippet of who I am and what I'm like, and where my craft is at the point when the video is recorded or when they last saw me live. And it's a very humbling feeling when you're on tour, and you're reminded that everyone's life goes on once you're gone. And you have this very special privilege of experiencing this place and time and these people right then. Because after this, you'll be gone. And it'll all go on and not just skip to the next time you're here. And despite that, I have friends everywhere who I meet and pick up with from wherever I left off. Maybe I'm looking for gratitude too hard. But it makes me feel nice. Snapshots of a time and place, all for myself until I decide to make art about it.
Over to You
Singing in the studio is very different from singing to yourself or your friends. For starters, you can hear every single mistake you make while playing an instrument. And it's being recorded. It'll be there forever. Every song doesn't benefit from this. And now I'm standing here just singing. There is no instrument to sing along to (except in the headphones, of course), and suddenly you remember how much you need the vibrations coming off of the guitar to guide you in your vocal pursuits. Once you've reminded yourself to sing, you realise the mic is much closer to you than your friends would be, and you don't have to scream to be heard. You learn how to sing with the instruments instead of just over them. It's a conversation. It was really fitting for all of this to happen over the course of Over to You because that's the song too. I realised at some point that I take up too much space in relationships if left unchecked. I am a drama queen by every count, and it can weigh on one's partner. The song comes from the idea of giving someone that space to let out whatever they're feeling, rationally or otherwise, and being player two and not player one.
Love of You
Love of You took a lot longer to sing than it took to write. As someone who mostly learned how to sing in my bedroom, the idea of singing that high did not include the part where I could get loud and sing. It was more a mental block than one of ability. I just didn't want anyone to hear me too clearly.
And I suppose I was in love when I wrote it, the rising and fleeting kind. But it's not about a person. Just about using love as an excuse to be a better person. And about drowning yourself in the feeling without concern for how badly it'll hurt once it's over.
The original diagnosis I got for my mental state was that I had Bipolar. The diagnoses made sense, considering the fact that I'd have really happy, productive periods followed by long depressive swings. The doctor thought I had bipolar and not that I was just a really motivated person with bouts of depression.
Anyway. Being in a relationship when you have an illness you barely understand is terrifying. You're constantly afraid and insecure on so many more levels than usual. That's where Yellow Dress was born.
I wanted to write a song that felt like no sentences ended. Like it was one endless thought. A song where I could say what it was like to feel this constant up and down in life. I think this is the best song, lyrically, on the album. This was also the first song that Shashwat added strings to for kicks. This is where the album started from a scared 19-year-old kid who didn't know if anyone would and could love him when all he wanted to do was love everyone back.
What a Life
So when we were contemplating the sonic identity of this song, I told the band and Shashwat that it had to be in space. It's all happening in space. These two objects are Orbiting one another until they collide, and it's ridiculous because space is infinite and time is infinite, and the fact that these things found each other anyway must be celebrated.
And then I asked people for their voice notes with no mention of this at all. And if you listen to the one my mom sent, she's having lunch as she says it. I'll leave the experience to you.
Sister Superior is a song I wrote to my cousin after she passed away in 2012. She was never one to care much for verses. She liked songs with good hooks. And so when I used to sing this, I'd change the verse every time, even after I put it on YouTube. Recording it was tough. I think I was more exacting of that song because I had this idea that it had to reach into the heaven's, y'know? That pressure got passed on to everyone in the band as well. I told Uday his solo was of paramount importance. Really it's the arm reaching out. He got so stressed he had a tough time recording! But I'm glad he took his time with it. It really does reach out into the heavens. I hope she listens up there on the great Spotify in the sky.
So this was the last song we recorded, and it really ended up being a party. I finished my parts and rushed off to a call, and returned to a room full of people. Every band member and even some girlfriends were all doing the parts together. It's such a fun, family vibe of a song! We ended up keeping little mistakes and jokes throughout. It amazes me because this song was originally written with each line as a reference to my friend Ishita and our friendship. Isn't it great that everyone just got into it? Man, I love music.