I’ve been pretty crazy about Tara Priya since discovering her music on Facebook. She’s very active there and on Twitter and Youtube, where she was unbelievably responding to every user comment until her most recent video Who You Do hit a million views! Now there’s no going back…Tara is on a hot trajectory with her retro-soul feistiness and is busy as ever, but she still found some time to grant me an interview. Thank you, Tara, for sharing such a personal, candid side of you with your fans!
1. Tara, thank you so much for your time! I’ve been a fan since first listen! I love your rich voice, retro-soul sound and arresting lyrics. What are your biggest musical influences?
My earliest influences were The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Billie Holiday; those were my favorites of what my parents would play. Around age nine, my brother got me into Tupac and Biggie. Being raised on The Beatles burned pop song structure into my brain, while Dylan’s poetic lyricism and Billie’s phrasing and deep anguish really moved me. Tupac and Biggie were incredibly important, too; partly because of their storytelling and their rhythmic phrasing, partly because I discovered many great soul records through their beats’ samples.
By the time I was making my own music in the studio, though, I was going back to The Temptations, The Supremes, Bettye Swann, early Aretha Franklin, Mary Wells, Sam Cooke, young Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, and Wilson Pickett. Production-wise, they’re probably my greatest influences. And Phil Spector—I have everything he’s ever done.
2. How young were you when you began songwriting? Your songs are so catchy and full of attitude, honesty and defiance. Whether you’re singing of heartbreak or being wronged, you express an ultimate defiance in not giving into despair and being able to move forward with your head up high. Has that been a common theme in your life or am I reading too much into your lyrics?
I wrote silly little songs on the piano when I started playing it—about four years old—but nothing solid. My brother and I would play that our stuffed animals were in rival bands, and we’d write songs for them. Starting fourth grade, however, I was convincing my friends to form a girl group with me, and I’d write little pop songs for us to sing at the local ice skating rink, etc. Singing and performing were always on my mind.
There are two sides of every hardship: despair and determination. I feel each equally. My poetry comes from a place of despair, but when it’s time to write and sing the song, I do that from a place of scorn and attitude. It’s easier to be feisty than vulnerable, especially when you’re writing an up-tempo, driving song. I’ve written a lot of dark, raw ballads lately, though, which is probably a good thing. A sign of emotional growth!
3. I read your parents “in true Berkeley-hippie fashion” raised you on a steady diet of music and were always very supportive of your musical ambitions ever since you were very little. How was it like growing up in your household and how did losing your mother to cancer at the tender age of 11 affect you?
My parents definitely surrounded me with music and encouraged it as an activity, whether piano, drums, musical theater, opera, or jazz. However, I wouldn’t say that my music ambitions were supported. They had no desire for their daughter to be a musician or a singer; I was always gently reminded that music was a great extracurricular activity—one that I could do for the rest of my life as a lawyer or corporate executive, after getting, at the very least, some kind of graduate degree. They were immigrants who strongly believed in education and achievement. UC Berkeley hippies, let’s put it that way!
My dad did initially encourage me to pursue music when I finished Columbia, because I had graduated so early. One year later, though, no record deal in sight, he was adamant that I apply to law school (I refused, of course!). One year after that, when I got label deals in Japan and Germany, he was really excited. Now, one year after that, he’s a bit mellow but still tapping his foot. He’s that kind of parent—very proud, very worried. He just wants me to be stable and successful—emphasis on stable! I know it comes from a place of love and try not to get caught up in “proving myself” to him.
Losing my mom introduced me to sadness at a young age. It made me more sensitive, but also more emotionally intuitive and empathetic. Wiser, I think, because suffering espouses wisdom, if you pay attention. I became fiercely independent, too; my brother went to college shortly after, so it was just me and my dad, who works long hours. I lost myself in the arts—read a lot of poetry, listened to a lot of music, watched good film, wrote constantly, literally sang my heart out. I wanted to drown out the pain but also drown myself in it.
4. You’re not just a pretty diva — you finished your Economics degree at Columbia University in just 2 years in order to pursue your music full-time! How was that period of your life juggling your studies and music on the opposite coast?
Hard! I was doing a lot of music at that time, studying and performing vocal jazz and opera, and it was difficult to balance that and school. Those two years were extremely intense, and dark, too. I learned that if I can do something, I will, no matter how hard I have to push myself. But I’m really glad I went to school. I did love my classes at Columbia.
5. After college, you moved back to California to pursue your music career, winning major songwriting contests and first releasing your music in Japan and Europe, where you’ve done very well. Was that a conscious decision to start there first instead of here in the US?
Definitely not. It’s kind of crazy how it happened…I put my first EP up on Bandcamp only. A tiny record store in Kobe, Japan, heard it online and asked me for physical copies of the EP, which I then manufactured and sent over. An A&R for a Tokyo-based indie label happened to be in Kobe, saw my EP, and asked me for a full-length. In Germany, the owner of a heavy-metal indie label heard my music online, as well, and reached out to me about manufacturing and distributing my EP in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
Even though the events seem random, it’s not too surprising. Japan and Europe absolutely love retro-soul, my style of music, so their labels are excited to find and support it.
6. When can we expect an album release and live performances here in the US? I’m dying to know when you’ll be performing here in LA!
Right now, I’m just writing and recording excessively, building my catalog and amassing material. I’ve been collaborating with some awesome producers and have absolutely loved it. I don’t plan on releasing any more music independently: my next album will be a label release. I am putting out another record in Japan through my label there, though, and I might be convinced to put out a single here, too…I’ll keep you posted!
7. I love the recurring symbol of the big paper-mache heart you and your love interests drag around in your music videos…Was that your idea? And I love all your outfits…your style is so fierce! What inspires your fashion?
That was the director’s idea. Paul (de Lumen) is crazy talented and so creative! I immediately loved the idea—it reminded me of Michel Gondry, one of my favorite directors. The heart was really, really heavy, though!
There’s no other way to put it: I’m a nostalgia-whore. Throwback is my main squeeze, and fashion is no exception. Edie Sedgwick, Twiggy, Brigitte Bardot are huge inspirations.
8. You just performed at SXSW, your latest music video Who You Do released 2 months ago has already gotten over 1 million views, and you’ve been spotlighted as one of 5 emerging icons by the Huffington Post. To say the growing buzz surrounding you is huge is an understatement — how do you feel right now about where you are as an artist and the positive critical recognition you’re garnering?
You definitely get the warm and fuzzies. I’m really grateful for the positive feedback. Actually, I’m grateful for any feedback! I’m just happy people are listening.
9. What 3 artists are you listening to right now and are there any artists you’d love to work with in the future?
Jake Bugg, Fiona Apple, and Willy Moon. I had heard about Jake and Willy but only just got their records. I’m enjoying them for different reasons: Jake for his voice and guitar, Willy for his production. Last week, I dove back into “The Idler Wheel”, and now I can’t stop listening. Fiona…I’m in awe.
I’d love to work with Bruno Mars. He and The Smeezingtons are fabulous songwriters and producers. It doesn’t hurt that they do pop-soul really well. Kanye West, of course; who doesn’t want to work with him? And Jessie J. She’s fantastic. A powerhouse writer.
10. I notice you’re very active on social media and really good about replying to fan comments on Twitter and YouTube. That takes a lot of time and dedication. How important is it for you to be able to interact directly with your fans out there?
Incredibly important. Art is self-expression, but if you’re not touching anyone, what’s the point? I want people to hear my music, and if they hear it, I want them to know that’s appreciated. Fan-love is a two way street!
11. Lastly, I have to admit my instant crush with your sultry, timeless voice, intense beauty and sassy attitude. What’s the one thing you want all your fans & admirers out there to know about you?
That I write and sing from the heart and am truly grateful to have their ears. I am as raw as I can be, and I put it all out there in hopes that other people feel something, too. That’s healing, to me, and the catharsis isn’t complete without a receiving end. So thanks for making all this possible.