“Making music is like putting on sanity glasses for me”
She makes very melodic music, with her vocals gliding over layers of synths and percussion. Her new album Lavender is out this Friday (27th April) and she’s about to embark on a huge U.S tour! We chatted to Nandi about the true meaning of friendship, her love of Joni Mitchell, gratitude and much more…
You’ve previously stated that when you made music your career, you faced a lot of challenges that you didn’t quite anticipate. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge I faced was having to live my life on the road so much. There are many aspects of touring that I love, that are a gift – namely, getting to perform for new audiences every night in new cities and countries.
It’s a condensed experience of connection. But it’s also a condensed experience of discomfort: sleeping in strange places, eating unpredictable foods, being so exhausted yet having to protect your energy and your health in order to perform your best every night. Beyond that, it made me feel like a bad friend, because I’m always coming and going.
But what I’ve come to realise is, true friendships will pick up where they left off, no matter the distance or time passed. And the challenges and discomforts of touring are something I tolerate because it is such a huge privilege to be able to make a living out of music. Everyone has aspects of their job that they don’t love.
Being a musician is no exception.
Your mum is Indian and your father is of Irish and Swiss descent, have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in because of that? Has it had any impact on your mental health?
I actually felt the opposite growing up! I wore my background like a badge of honour, because it was something that made me stand out in my community.
I think I actually emphasized it – wearing bindis to school, inviting my mom into class in 2nd grade to talk about Diwali, writing a musical in 4th grade about the Taj Mahal. It’s kind of cute to think back on that. I fiercely promoted my own difference.
What’s one record that really means a lot to you?
Joni Mitchell’s Blue. That album fell into my lap when I was around 15, which was the period when I really began calling myself a songwriter.
I had never heard anything like it before. The songs were so complex yet catchy, full of emotion, displaying a wide vocal range. It was everything I wanted to do with my own songs.
What has been your biggest life challenge and what did you do to overcome it?
I think the biggest trauma in my life thus far has been my parent’s divorce. They separated when I was 14. There’s never a good age for it to happen, but I think middle school was a particularly hard time.
that we’re all doing our best to understand ourselves and love ourselves and others in this life, and we can’t control each other.
Also, I recognize that I am very loved and supported by my family. How can I ask for more?
How important has music been to your mental health?
Making music is like putting on sanity glasses for me. When my brain is insane, when I’m moody or lashing out, I know I need to write – even if it’s something silly or small, even if I spend only thirty minutes doing it. It returns a sense of focus to my life.
What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?
Being in bed the whole day! I like doing everything in bed because I like being cozy, and I’m cold all the time. So if I could stay under the covers, read something inspiring, write, eat a big bowl of pasta and then a bar of milk chocolate for dessert, I’d be happy. I am such a homebody.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
The people closest to me. If everything evaporated – my ability to make music, my health, my career, etc – they would still be there. They are the foundation, and I think the secret to a good life is having good people to share it with. It’s as simple as that. We are here to experience the miracle of meaningful connection. The rest is extra.
Complete this sentence: “Ace mental health for me means…”
Who was your best friend at school? What was the funniest thing they did?
My best friend since childhood is Tess McHugh. We are true goofs together. In high school, our group of theatre nerd friends started a monthly Potluck Jubilee, where we’d dress up and bring food for lunch and eat it together in a classroom instead of the cafeteria. We all had food nicknames. Mine was Baba Ganoush, her’s was Steak.
What advice do you offer to friends when they are feeling overwhelmed?
I would share something my dad (who’s a therapist) tells me: “The definition of good mental health is knowing there are options”. So I would help them take a look at what’s working in their life and what’s not, help them acknowledge that they are not stuck and that they have options, and then talk through ways to be proactive about managing their stress and shaping their life in the way that feels healthiest and most fulfilling for them.
What three songs lift your spirits?
Most of the music I listen to is sad! That’s usually my go-to, channeling my melancholy and wallowing in it rather than lifting myself out of it. But here are some songs that I’ll throw on when I’m with other people so we can dance together:
Do you have any routines that help you through stressful situations, such as right before a live performance?
I tend to need space and quiet. I don’t like to be around people right before a show, I don’t want to feel any pressure to talk or entertain. At home when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I like to read a book while soaking in a hot bath.
What do you eat to stay healthy?
I’ve been a vegetarian for 17 years (wow that feels crazy to say) so I’m generally pretty healthy, though I do love to eat cheese, fries, cheese fries, etc. But on the road, when I’m trying to stay healthy, I eat a lot of sushi and beet salads.
Do you have a daily routine of exercise or do you make it up as you go along?
I used to do a lot of yoga. That’s become harder with being on the road. I did keep up my practice in hotel rooms for a while, but it’s tough to get motivated when you’re in a dark, closed space. Lifting gear is my only regular exercise right now.