“People call me ‘unoffensive’. They say I don’t piss people off and I always say the right thing. But I do say what I mean in my head…and with my music.”
Young singer-songwriter Ramya Pothuri has spent the day in PORT collaborating with Ankur Johar [Enkore], singing with fellow band-mate and best friend Aarifah Rebello and finally performing solo. Helping with sound and instrument set-up, cheering people on and generally being her kind and helpful self, she infused the space with her own energy. But her soulful voice was what made us really sit up and take notice.
A self-taught musician, Ramya grew up in St. Louis, USA, in an environment without TV and cell phones, and so started teaching herself how to play the guitar at age 11. When she moved to Hyderabad, India, she took a gap year and sang 4 days a week at a hotel. Since then, she has performed at the NCPA, Blue Frog, Cafe Zoe, New Wave Asia, Control Alt Delete 10, The Lil Flea and more. With us, she chats about her songs, herself, and some of her favourite things, proving to be far more experienced than her 21 years.
Speaking about her song ‘By the Sea’ and her process of writing it, she says it was one of the first songs she ever wrote on her ukulele at the age of 16. “It was super cheesy and happy and then I forgot about it. Years later, I had put out my EP, and I was working on new songs – and I played this chord regression that I found really beautiful. That melody came back from the song and I put it onto that chord regression and it just became this whole other thing and that’s how everything fell into place. This doesn’t usually happen but it’s a special thing that took place with ‘By the Sea’.”
Her earliest influences were Bonnie Ver and The Paper Kites – Indie folk, ethereal music that really influenced her song-writing. A few years ago, she started listening to Daniel Caesar and hip hop / R&B stuff and feels a bit of that too in her music. “Vocally I’ve always been more into runs and other vocal techniques, and I realised that when I was singing folk music, I was holding back on what I could do with my vocals, because all those runs were too much for the music I was writing. I decided to change things up a bit and think about my voice and write songs according to it. Now I’ve still got that Indie folk sound but a lot more Dream Pop and R&B.”
Ramya, along with Ronit Sarkar and Rishi Bradoo organised The Living Room tour, the ethos of which fits with that of G5A and PORT as well, a space where Ramya did one of her first ever gigs. “It is a rare thing these days [sadly] to get an audience that is just sitting and listening to you – especially with my kind of music which is pretty mellow. I remember people were quietly listening to my music here [gestures to the seats around the Black Box] and it was just beautiful. I did a few more gigs after that which were also fun in their own way, but they were noisy and I didn’t feel like I was able to make people feel how I wanted them to. And so, when I was releasing my EP I thought I want to create an environment that’s perfect for my music and message and I thought what better than little living spaces to do that?” The Living Room tour organises gigs in different places in Mumbai. Each one usually has multiple artists performing, with Ramya closing the night. “It’s beautiful…seeing people connecting with and listening to music in that way – we put fairy lights everywhere, it was so comfy. It was really important for artists who played there too, because they said they just don’t get these engaged audiences enough.”
What Ramya thinks of herself is very different from what others think of her. “At one level I’m shy, at another level I want everyone’s attention at the same time. I’m definitely hardworking, restless, hopefully nice enough.” What she expresses through her music however is everything she wants to say but doesn’t get to. “There are so many things I say in my head but never to the person – whether I’m angry or pissed off or even really like the person. People call me ‘unoffensive’ – they say I don’t tend to piss people off and I always say the right thing. But I do say it in my head. I have opinions, I could be really snarky. I take all of that energy that I’m not letting out and put it into my music.”
For Ramya, the person she’s performing with is the most important. She’s very picky about the musicians she collaborates with because if she plays with someone who she knows doesn’t want to be there, she gets agitated – while if she’s with someone who’s enjoying themselves as much as she is, she’s very comfortable. “Even if we’re off time and someone’s singing out of tune – I don’t care because it’s fun. At the end it’s supposed to be fun!”
Words by Shaista Vaishnav