Meet Amanda and Malvika. Soul sisters. Driven by music. Amanda sings and Malvika strums her guitar to her songs. Say hello to the ‘The Acoustic Girls.’ Friends to band partners, their journey is inspirational and serendipitous. The two ended up jamming at a common friend’s birthday party. They hit the floor. And rocked the evening.
Ria Das catches up with the two on what drives her music, what inspires their songs, and how they connect at a philosophical level.
Amanda and Malvika, how did the two of you meet and take a chance on a band?
Amanda: I was born and brought up in Washington DC and spent about one and a half years in Los Angeles before taking the plunge to move to Mumbai 3 years ago. While in the US, I was juggling work at various ad and PR agencies alongside with journalism assignments. A lot of people wondered why I chose to move to Mumbai. I was always clear that I wanted to sing and write in both Hindi and English, since both languages are essential ingredients of my identity. And I was also always clear that I wanted to juggle music alongside films and other creative projects such as theatre. I started to write and direct short films in Los Angeles and had co-written an award-winning feature film prior to that in DC. However, I realized right before my 25th birthday, that if I didn’t take the decision of moving to Mumbai at that moment I’d have lot of regret later on and that it would become more and more complicated to relocate as the years went by and responsibilities increased.
And, so, without really knowing anyone or even having an accommodation sorted out I just landed up in Mumbai and, well, over the course of the past three years Mumbai has definitely become home (smiles). The first year in Mumbai I was trying to figure out whether I wanted to focus on writing and directing films or to focus on music. I fronted a pop-rock band called TCAD during the first year I had shifted here and learned a lot through trial-and-error. Though that band disbanded in May 2014, in December of 2015, Malvika and I ended up jamming by sheer chance at a friend’s birthday party and suddenly it hit us that we should try forming a project together. It’s been a happy journey since then, and I’ve found a soul sister in Malvika, though we’ve seen our share of ups and downs as a duo.
The Acoustic Girls was formed the day after over a discussion at Krispy Kreme in Juhu
Malvika: I’m from Mumbai. My parents shifted to Belgaum in 2012. I was there, too, for a year trying something in music. I had seen a post Amanda had put up about music on Facebook. I immediately messaged her. But, we had hardly exchanged one message. Later on, as destiny would have it I ended up marrying one of her friends and we finally met in person when I came to Mumbai in mid-2013. We became good friends. But, I never knew we both could do something together. Then, one fine day, I somehow had my guitar with me, and it was a common friend’s birthday. She asked us to sing for her on December 7th, 2014. That was the first time Amanda and I jammed. We thought of doing something together and The Acoustic Girls was formed the day after over a discussion at Krispy Kreme in Juhu!
Forming an all female band? What was that like – did you face any resistance within the music community or with the audiences?
Amanda: Well, initially I think most people had doubts if I was really going to stay in Mumbai or if it was all “time-pass” for me. Also, I had no idea how things really worked in the industry, whether it is the indie space or Bollywood playback scene and made the mistake of sending out really amateur demos, initially. I also learned that I needed to undergo a lot of training as a vocalist.
Forming a band wasn’t very easy, either, and I’ve had a lot of crazy experiences when initially trying to setup a stable line-up, and have had unfortunate experiences with several music producers, too. In fact, The Acoustic Girls was supposed to release its debut album in October but due to very unfortunate circumstances we’re starting all over from scratch.
Music is a collaborative process and finding the right people to team-up with who won’t take you for a ride is challenging. But, I also feel very blessed that there have been some very genuine people I’ve crossed paths with and they have really stood by my side and picked me up when I’ve nearly hit rock bottom.
Malvika: It was my childhood dream to be a music director. But, I never really found the right path. I knew I would do something in this field, I’d start somewhere. And, when The Acoustic Girls happened I knew this was just the beginning, I was on the right track now. And, there are lots more to come. We have had our share of challenges and we have faced them. Amanda and I are soul sisters and we understand each other well. So whatever the challenges are, we stand by each other.
So was someone at home the inspiration?
Amanda: Nope, I’m the odd one out in my family when it comes to pursuing a creative career!
Malvika: Yes. My mom is a singer. My elder sister, too, sings and is a choreographer. Dad is a great music critic. Mom has her own music group called “Swaramala,” and they perform in different cities. Of course, it has helped me grow in this field, because since my childhood I was under a musical influence. That’s how I started playing the keyboard and guitar by ear. It is because of my parents that I could believe in myself. They have always been very encouraging.
Mom has her own music group called “Swaramala,” and they perform in different cities.
Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?
Amanda: I really admire AR Rahman and feel very blessed to have met him in mid-2015. He’s extremely down to earth and supremely talented. I also love Mohammad Rafi Saahib, Rekha Bhardwaj and Mithoon Sharma as well as various Indian and Pakistani bands including Mekaal Hasan Band, Kanchan Daniel & the Beards, Spud in the Box, Indian Ocean, and more. I also adore Lana Del Rey, Melody Gardot and Adele.
Malvika: I really admire AR Rahman. I love the way he puts his heart and soul into each song. His compositions are soulful and one cannot really predict his music each time there is a release. Every song has a different and unique flavour. I also love Mithoon Sharma’s compositions.
So music is your passion. But what makes your bread and butter…?
Amanda: Okay, this is gonna be a long answer (laughs). I have a day job as Senior Creative Manager/Content Producer at IDrream Motion Pictures Private Limited, and freelance as a journalist, content writer, and social media and PR consultant, as well as a VO artist. I also run a food blog called The Mumbai Veggie. I’m currently in post-production for a feature-length documentary I co-directed along with National and Filmfare award winning KJ Singh, called Attention Please – our documentary is about the indie music scene in India and we are looking at screening it at film festivals around the globe next year.
Malvika: To be successful, one has to be determined. You have to be ready for challenges
I recently also got involved in theatre, and was stage manager for the very talented Kaizaad Kotwal’s production of Agnes of God. And, of course, music keeps me busy and definitely is my main passion, so I always enjoy my weekend rehearsals with Malvika for The Acoustic Girls!
Malvika: I was previously working in a domain parking company, working 5 days a week. But, I finally decided to quit my job to focus on my real passion, music. And, I have been really fortunate I have my family and soul sister encouraging me to do so.
What’s holding you from turning full time musicians?
Amanda: Well, I look forward to the day when I can rely completely on music to pay my bills. But, honestly, I don’t have any real issues with how things are unfolding. All good things take time, and I’m sure, in the end, my hard work and persistence will pay off. In the meantime, my day job allows me to also straddle something creative and branch out. Having another source of income through a day job and freelance work allows me to juggle music, films and theatre without relying on these three things as a primary source of income.
Malvika: I love everything about music, and since I have recently quit my job to focus on music I need to figure out how to focus on figuring out how to balance my passion with the daily challenges we face (smiles).
It’s not easy to succeed without some challenges. But having overcome a lot of them, what would you say are key values that take you through the crests and troughs of having your own band. In one sense you both are entrepreneurial!
Amanda: I think you have to be extremely persistent, thick-skinned, optimistic, motivated and focused to be successful and also know how to market yourself to stand out amongst the crowd.
Malvika: To be successful, one has to be determined. You have to be ready for challenges, and not give up. Most importantly, you have to be very optimistic come what may and believe that the universe will conspire in helping you to achieve your goals.
What training is required for a career like yours?
Amanda: I think having formal training definitely helps, even though most people in India who are singers or musicians are self-taught. I hate that I was never able to learn music formally, though, after moving to Mumbai I have been trained under Samantha Edwards who is a brilliant vocal coach and has truly helped me improve as a vocalist. I enrolled in a summer workshop at Swarnabhoomi, and am planning on going for a summer workshop at KM Music Conservatory since I fell in love with their campus when I visited Chennai! There is True School of Music in Mumbai, too.
Malvika: Musical training is required, be it vocals, instruments, etc. But, I don’t feel it is a written rule that one has to be trained to be a musician. Some people have an inborn talent. Later on, if they feel the need to hone their skills, there are a lot of music academies around. I would recommend AR Rahman’s ‘KM music conservatory’. It has been my dream to go there someday.
How do you get people to take you seriously as a musician?
Amanda: You have to be visible. It’s showbiz and quite frankly “jo dikhta hai wohi bikta hai,” so if you just stay home sulking in a corner instead of being out there networking, performing and collaborating then how is anyone going to know you even exist? You have to put yourself out there, constantly engage in creative projects and just be persistent and hustle.
Malvika: Once you have taken the plunge into music, you have to be there. Do live shows whenever possible, record music albums, perform at top venues all over the world.
Do men and women generally get the same opportunities and equal pay in the music industry?
Amanda: To my knowledge there isn’t any pay inequality when it comes to the indie scene. Not too sure how payment differs based on gender in Bollywood – I’m pretty sure payment is based on the number of hit songs a person has to their credit in Bollywood, regardless of their gender. In terms of opportunities, unfortunately, there are very few female musicians, very few female-fronted bands, and definitely extremely few all-female acts. We hope The Acoustic Girls can make it in the scene and that more and more women decide to pursue music professionally, not just as vocalists but as musicians, producers and sound engineers.
What advice would you give to beginners who are shy to take the plunge?
Amanda: Practice a lot. Perform at Open Mic gigs where not much is at stake to build your skill sets, gain confidence on stage and see how audiences respond to various materials. Also, have a clear plan and set goals for yourself. Be motivated and persistent. Things are not going to be easy, so if you are lazy and scared of being outgoing and persistently following-up with others, then the challenges will just multiply!
Malvika: I had read this lovely quote somewhere – “every artist was an amateur in the beginning.” So, it’s all about following your passion and starting somewhere, without being worried about anything else. Just give it your best, focus, be positive and nothing can stop you.