Pop Artist Avanti talks about her latest single ‘The Long Way’

By Anurag Tagat

One of India’s latest pop voices on the rise, Mumbai/Boston-based artist Avanti Nagral has been an actor, content creator as well as musician in the last three years. While she made her first moves into the music world with a shimmering, exuberant pop single called “I Like” in 2017, her latest song “The Long Way” shows Avanti as a more nuanced, matured and openhearted musician.

In the video and song, she opens up about her long-distance relationship with her partner Stephen and how they’ve lived across three countries – India, U.S. and Vietnam – and sustained their feelings for each other. The music video also shows us evocative stories of The Gordons, the household of a frontline worker as well as queer couple Amit and Aditya, exploring a range of human love over easygoing electronic-pop.

She says about the new song, “I’d been pretty private about my relationship before this release, so this was special to me in a number of ways. I was motivated to write something tapping into my own feelings, and wanting to extol its beauty as well.” Well aware that there are plenty of songs about long-distance relationships already released during the pandemic, Avanti enlisted singer-songwriter Natania (who’s worked with the likes of Armaan Malik and for Amazon Prime series Made In Heaven) for a new spin. “It was important to me to convey the beauty of distance, and not simply the longing, especially with all the little moments that are constructed. We wrote it at a distance too - with Natania and Austin (producer) in LA, Bhushan (mixing/mastering engineer) in New York, and me in Bombay,” Avanti notes.

Check out the video below and read excerpts from our interview in which Avanti talks about her story so far, writing and thinking cinematically and her Indo-American identity.

In terms of managing this Indo-American identity, what can you tell me about how the way you think about that has changed, if it has? 

I’ve lived exactly half my life between both countries, so it’s all I’ve known. That being said, since I spent my preteen and teen years primarily in India, I think I had a different sense of grounding. I’ve always said I’m grateful for having spent the first few years of my childhood in the U.S. and the later years in India, instead of vice versa, because I think it actually helped me ground more to my roots, as opposed to trying to conform and potentially whitewash myself.

For the past few years I’ve been based more out of the US as I was finishing up my higher education, but would travel back to India for recordings and shows every few months as well. I think it’s definitely shaped my music, with my background in classical music alongside more soul/gospel influences. It’s also shaped me as a person whereby I feel incredibly connected to being Indian, yet still slightly on the outside, which hopefully gives me a bit of an objective perspective. Either way, I’m grateful for the global perspective, and recognize the huge opportunities that exist here in India, both in terms of the industry and the potential impact, particularly for young women.

What kind of challenges came with focusing on music but also making sure you put yourself out there as a content creator? 

For me, music has always been my primary passion, but it’s also I think the line between the two is starting to blur more and more across the board. Gen Z in particular is interested in knowing the person behind the craft, or behind the image, and I think creating other types of content is one way to do that. I’ve always been of mind that as an artist you have a quite literal (singing) voice, and the ability to express your stories and others’, but with that also comes the beauty of a platform, no matter how big or small. I feel a certain sense of responsibility to use that voice in its multiplicity of ways. 

How does being an actor influence you as a musician? Do you think in terms of cinematic styles of music? Or is it sometimes just about a good hook, like you did with "I Like"? 

I’ve always thought of myself as artist first, actor second, but the experience of acting and performing theatre has definitely taught me a lot about expression, performativity and more technically, projection. I think instead of thinking in terms of cinematic styles of music, I certainly think in terms of visualizing a music video right after I’ve written a song, which can be both awesome and a bit of a curse. I’m so glad you enjoyed the hook for I Like! I think some of those come from my eclectic musical background. For example, that hook in particular was born out of me practicing some Indian Classical music, and realizing the similarity between “aa” and “I”. At the end of me singing this particular note pattern, I literally said to myself, “I like it”, and that’s how I Like was born!

What was it like shooting the video for “The Long Way”?

It was definitely a huge task coordinating three couples across three countries, with crew spread all across the world as well. It took quite a while to cast the right couples, but I’m so happy that we put in the effort to find the right fits. Adi and Amit are literally the cutest, and the Gordons are so inspirational, especially with Kerryanne being on the front lines during this crazy time.

We shot everything on our phones, with the video team directing and framing the shots via Zoom. My younger brother was my videographer, and my house was my set. It took a lot of work, but I’m genuinely really proud of the end product, particularly in how it was able to capture the 3 stories all together. The director, Altamash Jaleel, is a friend of mine. My manager Jashima also acted as executive producer on the project. It was produced by my production house, Golden Milk Media, in association with Jellyfish. 

What else is coming up through 2020 for you and 2021? 

Lots more content, across verticals! A new release in October, and several more in the next few months as well, in both English and Hindi. I’m also excited for a few collaborations and duets that are upcoming!