“I think the sense of community is really important, not only just for growth, but as an artist to know that you’re not alone in your journey”
I had the pleasure of meeting Simran Sultana on a zoom songwriting camp in the early days of the COVID crisis, and I’ve been following her releases and influence ever since. I wanted to chat with her about her inspirations and experiences in music, and what better time to do that than in yet another lockdown for Sydney and Melbourne! We sat over zoom, tea in hand, and dreamed about cocktails in the sun in dreamy overseas location
It is so nice to connect with you again after so long!
I know it’s been ages!
‘I’m Sorry’ is a song that I have listened to so much since the first Lockdown, can you tell me a bit about that track?
I like telling the story of ‘I’m Sorry’ at live performances because it’s a fun song and it’s a bit sassy and savage! Basically, I was supposed to be in Italy for 2020, but I was only there for a month before COVID, and when I came back I was going through a breakup. I was pretty upset about the breakup, but mostly I was upset that I wasn’t in Italy! There wasn’t much to do in lockdown so I was doing a lot of writing, and I wrote ‘I’m Sorry’ after being inspired by that Lizzo lyric in ‘Good As Hell’,
If he don’t love you anymore
Then walk your fine ass out the door
During the breakup, I was of course super upset, but I heard that lyric in my head and it made me feel so good for a few minutes; it made me laugh! I really wanted to create a song that would make people laugh about a bad situation or a break up, and empower them. I want my music to make people feel good and see the best out of the worst situations. I started manifesting everything that I wanted, like I want him to think that he has forgotten all about me, but when he turns on the radio he’s going to hear me! I put all of my energy into the music after coming back from Italy, and ‘I’m Sorry’ is one of my favourite songs that I’ve written. I feel like I credit a lot of my progress in music with directing energy, like if I put my energy into a specific goal, I get that outcome and result. I started getting on the radio, and this being my first song felt really great! I hadn’t really done much in the music industry before this.
This song is so sassy, and I like that you wanted to make something that was really fun, did it always start as something that was going to feel really sarcastic?
I think it started off with this idea where I felt like I held myself accountable for certain actions where I knew he didn’t, and I was feeling bad and sorry for the wrong reasons. I wanted to write a song about what I should feel sorry for, and that’s you! Because you get to miss out on all this Simran!
I love that! Did you feel like after releasing this song that this darker sort of tone was what you wanted your sound to become?
I wouldn’t say darker, I really love Latin inspired and African inspired beats, I try to couple that with a lot of Arabian scales. I try to culturally influence my music because I’m a culturally diverse person. I love traveling and I want to marry different parts of different genres that I love and create something that has meaning and is something that people can still relate to. It’s definitely still evolving and all the songs that I’ve released are all very different. ‘Misbehavin’’ is much more R&B and hip hop, which is a different vibe to ‘I’m Sorry’, but I feel like they all have a certain ‘Simran-ness’ to them. I’m still trying to perfect what ‘Simran’ is, and I think the best artists have that distinct sound. You could hear a song and know it’s Ed Sheeran because his lyrics are so distinct. That’s something I’m trying to perfect
I think it’s great that your music is an amalgamation of all these different and diverse styles. That Latin backbone is super clear too.
I thought as well that ‘Hold Me Back’ had some of those Arabian scales which was really cool, that was your first release right?
Yeah that was with Mango Machine
What was the development like of that song? And tell me a little bit about what it’s about.
I knew the guys from Mango Machine at Uni, and they had been sitting on that track for ages actually. We’d always be at the studio just chillin’, and I would always crash people’s sessions and sit around and make friends and stuff like that. They were showing me some of their tracks and then showed me the instrumental of ‘Hold Me Back’, and I just laid down this rap I had written. The part at the beginning stayed the same, but the rap felt a bit too intense for the track and we wanted to keep it more chill. To me this song feels like a real snippet of who I was at that time, it holds a lot of resemblance to what I was doing, and reminds me of breaking through to that next phase of music and not wanting to be held back. The rap was originally about being held back from society and family, about bettering yourself in the music industry, and feeling like people don’t believe in me, and when I make it everyone’s going to want a piece of who I am. That was what the song was about, and then it transformed into being about a person and their love not being enough, and I had to cut them off so I could actually grow and become the person that I wanted to be. I think the song really captured my confusion and where I was at the time.
I love the instrumental of this one, it’s so much fun I think that your melodies really sit nicely on it. Were you very involved in the instrumental side of the track?
I didn’t produce it, and they basically had the track nearly at the finish line when they showed it to me. Nicky is a bass player and what he made was just groovy as hell! They were sitting on the track for a few months before they found the right vocalist, and after the vocals were done- it always takes a couple of months to release anything, you can set as many deadlines as you want, but it’s always going to take a couple of months! After I joined it really wasn’t long before we finished the track.
It’s a really cool first release for your project as well because it’s got such an interesting flavor to it. Your voice really stands out as a powerful central part to it, and I also like the piano so much! Your third song, ‘Misbehavin’’ came out recently right?
Yes it did!
Tell me a little bit about that and what you’re writing about for this song
I wrote the track about a foreign love affair that you might have. I was thinking about the time that I was supposed to be spending abroad, and putting myself in a place where it’s really hot and it’s 10 a.m, but I’m already drinking a cocktail and it’s fine, that’s allowed! And you see someone and you’re like, oh I want to get to know you later on today! I think that really inspired all the instruments of the track as well, like the guitar and the Latin inspired beat. I was producing this song with a guy who is really into hip hop and trap, so it was a cool mix because we stripped back some of the heaviness of hip hop, and marrying it with Latin R&B/Pop. We went a bit crazy with the trumpets and the reverse guitars, and he wrote the 808 bass in the chorus which made it more R&B/hip hop, which is really cool. It was very much inspired by that overseas experience, having no responsibilities and just relaxing and having a good time!
Yeah, do you feel like that overseas vibe is romanticized a little bit now that we haven’t been able to leave Australia for so long?
Absolutely! I think that’s why I wanted the song to transport me to that other place, especially now since we can’t travel. I’m going to turn the song on and just imagine myself relaxing on a beach!
I’ll join you!
Do you feel quite an emotional connection when you’re writing music or is it a bit more formulaic?
I think it’s always emotional, I think the best music is emotional. Earlier on this year I was producing with one of my mates, Ethan after thinking I was in love with some guy for four days (laughs), and in those four days we had a writing session, I’m in love with the song and it was just so powerful and emotional at the time. We wrote all of it in one day, and I was like, how did we do this? I feel like when you emotionally have something to say and you have a great connection with the producer, you’re able to really deliver something that’s very wholesome and real. I always struggle when I’m not emotionally driven because then I’m thinking too much about what I’m saying and being very self-critical. Whereas, if I’m emotional, I just let it all out, the words just write themselves.
Do you feel like when you have that approach to writing that it makes you vulnerable or scared to release songs that are honest and personal?
Surprisingly not! I like the vulnerability because the song isn’t just about me. When a song is released, when you hear music on the radio, people who aren’t even a part of the music industry- people who don’t even know how music works- connect to song for a reason, and it gets attached to everyone’s individual experiences. I feel like when I put out a song that’s very emotionally driven I know people aren’t going to be thinking about what I’m going through, they’re going to be applying it to themselves. You’re making it a safe space to think about these feelings. And this song I wrote with Ethan is specifically about wanting love and being a strong, independent woman, but it’s okay to want love and ask for it! That’s what the song is about and it still has a message of wanting to make people feel good and empowered, but also emotional and vulnerable.
Yeah, for sure, so do you feel like those are the kinds of emotions you’re hoping people walk away with when they listen to your music?
Absolutely, I want listeners to know that emotions are great, and you can’t beat yourself up for having them. We all have emotions, and I hope to give people a new perspective on how to look at them
Well, how about you tell me a little bit about how you got started in music and what your journey’s been like.
Well, I’ve been doing music my entire life as an amateur, and I’ve always had this big dream of being as big as Beyoncé, like that’s the end game goal! I think I was probably three when I started singing, and I told my mum I was going to be a singer when I grew up; she probably thought it was a phase but it just stuck! I never wanted to be anything else, I used to love reading and writing, and I think music was always a coping mechanism for me when I was younger and I used to write silly songs about my feelings; it’s just something I’ve always done, not even thinking about it as a career, I was just doing it because I enjoyed it. I learned the piano and the trumpet, and I was a part of the Australian Youth Choir, which all felt like this one side to the music industry, and it wasn’t until getting into university and doing more music production that I got introduced to this other side of the industry, the music making process. I procrastinated a lot until 2020 because I knew I was going to be abroad for a year, and I saw that as my last year of freedom before I took the music thing seriously. I was going to go gallivanting around the world and then come back and sell my soul to the music industry! That didn’t happen, but in the middle of 2020 is when I started pushing and putting a lot of energy into music and releasing, and also going to a lot of gigs which was something I didn’t do so much before. I also got to be a part of this program by ‘X-Change’ Music, and they facilitated this six month long songwriting program where we write songs with each other and record them. We had a big showcase and we got to perform at Oxford Art Factory which was just huge! I think being more and more involved in the music community was so wholesome and supportive, and it was really beneficial for me. I got offered a slot for a headline show at The Vanguard and I only had two weeks to plan everything, and I was like,
That’s one way to get organized!
Exactly! I was an anxious wreck for two weeks, I had no idea how to organize anything like this. I’d only just started getting to know people that have done headlines, so I was asking for all this advice, but that time in my life was all about throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks. It forced me to take action, and I made a bunch of mistakes, but it was such a wholesome and supportive experience. Everyone in that room was so lovely, it was one of my favourite nights of my life. I think it regenerated why I’m doing this, to see the support of everyone was such a great motivator. Now I have a good management team to really push me further.
I think that sense of community and support is really important especially when we’re going through lockdown because sometimes that support feels really distant and silent. When you’re doing a show and there are people there to support you, that’s a real tangible and visual reminder that there are people who care about what you’re doing and that it’s worth doing.
One hundred percent, and it was such a strange gig because it was all seated too! It wasn’t the “best gig experience”, but it was cool to be able to do a gig at all! And seated gigs were such a new thing at the time, so it was interesting to try something kind of new
Yeah, and even though this whole pandemic process has been really terrible in so many ways, it’s interesting the new experiences that we get as musicians. Things like zoom songwriting sessions!
I think online writing sessions are so interesting, and like, why hadn’t I done them before! It’s been such a cool way to connect with people that are in other states in Australia and actually learning how to collaborate with them. Sometimes it feels like we only know the people directly around us, so it’s been cool to get to know people in other circles.
Yeah, and I think that people who have a diverse background and diverse experiences can bring something out in the music that otherwise you might not have been able to do, which is really fun when you can meet people that elevate what you’re doing in that way. What are some of the musicians that have inspired your music and continue to inspire you?
Well obviously Beyoncé! She was everything to me when I was young. Currently I listen to a lot of R&B, soul-funk kind of stuff, people like Ari Lennox, Jorja Smith, Anderson .Paak, Brent Faiyaz, real groovy stuff which I like to incorporate into my music. I also like to mix it up with people like Rihanna and Dua Lipa. It’s always a blend and I love all of these artists so much, but as I produce I like certain artists because of their production styles and some artists for their songwriting, some because of the melodies or the tone of their voice and how they control their voice. So it changes but I just love the energy they bring.
I feel like energy is an important factor with the people that you enjoy the music of
Yeah, and emotional connection too. There’s this really cool artist called Naïka and she has really cool songs with these African beats and R&B that she marries really well. I think she’s just insanely good! More locally, I think Milan Ring is just epic, her vibe and her energy, especially when she’s performing is just so cool.
It’s nice when you can see someone live and they have like a different essence to their performance that you don’t get from just hearing it through a streaming service.
Oh a hundred percent.
Do you feel like your music changes much when you’re doing it live?
It does when I want it to but I’ve only done a few gigs when there were less restrictions. At the Oxford Art Factory I had a drummer and a bassist and I didn’t realize how much live drums change the whole entire vibe of the song! It added so much character and so much of a surprise too! It’s definitely something that I want to play around with for future gigs as well, and I want to change up the compositions and the arrangements of songs and give them more interest, because I feel like just having instrumentals and me singing can lack that energy. Playing live is a great opportunity to give your music a different character and make it more interesting and more engaging.
I think especially now that we’re in and out of Lockdown’s, it’s nice when you can play live and have something extra that really makes it worth it
Is there an ideal setting you need for writing?
Not really, sometimes I’m just doing normal household things or walking or something like that. I think ideas can come to you at any time, but when I’m really focusing on finishing a song it’s very important for me to hone down onto the one idea or the one story I’m trying to tell. I get really picky about it because I want all my lyrics to be relevant and that takes time and pressure.
Do you feel like there’s something specifically that you’ve learned as an emerging artist that you would want to pass on to someone else?
Community is everything! Connect with people as much as you can. I feel like one reason as to why I’ve grown so much as an independent artist in such a short amount of time is because I just started talking to people and wanting to collaborate with them and going to gigs with them. Being a part of programs and meeting cool artists that put you in a space to grow really helps. I think the sense of community is really important, not only just for growth, but as an artist to know that you’re not alone in your journey. Going to jam sessions is another great way to meet people, it’s all about putting yourself out there!
Listen to Simran Sultana on Spotify and connect with her on Instagram