Meet Srisha, the Sydney musician turning Tamil culture and poetry into powerful art
On her new single Without You, Srisha introduces herself through the combination of flourishing R&B and her rich, Tamil ancestry.
Raised in a Western Sydney household indebted to their Tamil ancestry, Australian-born musician Srisha is someone that's seemingly been long surrounded by art. As she remembers, music was a constant presence in her home - "music was often spoken about as the language of love, pain, suffering and peace," she explains - and the culture that seeped through Kollywood entertainment (a.k.a. movies and television in the Tamil language) stirred a fascination with art and creativity that flourishes now, informing everything she does as a multi-disciplinary artist years later.
Originally, that artistry began through spoken poetry. Within the last few years, Srisha has become a prevalent force within slam poetry and spoken word, performing at many Sydney institutions - Sydney Writers' Festival, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Sydney Opera House - throughout her career. Soon, her poetry backings fused with music, and after using hip-hop to reinforce her performances as a poet, she eventually branched out into songwriting herself, making a debut with her single Euphoria back in 2019.
Now, Srisha is a dynamic and multi-faceted force within Sydney's music scene that continues to blossom with everything she does, and after returning with a second single titled Lie To Me in June this year, she's continuing to evolve with the release of a third single titled Without You. Without You is a single that moves her art forwards, combining her roots in poetry with the hip-hop that stemmed from it, and now, the further evolution of a butter-y R&B edge, as she experiments with her voice and pushes her music into new textures and flavours.
The end result is this rich and eclectic blend of sounds, built from the cultures and influences that stand tall throughout Srisha's journey thus far; a journey still continuing to grow as she releases more music and blossoms into a reckoning presence within Sydney hip-hop and R&B. "Sometimes, we know that we are destined for certain things, destined to be with certain people, or destined to experience certain emotions," she says on the single, which like her past work, thrives with the poetic intimacy that stems from intensive and often-inwards-facing songwriting style.
"Without You is about existing without those things, people or experiences," she continues. "We end up accepting our realities for what they currently are, whilst pining for something we may possibly never attain."
As we move towards the end of 2021, it's become apparent that Srisha is an incredibly exciting force, and with no doubts that there's plenty more to come, it seems like a good time to introduce yourself to Srisha below, and take a dive into Without You while you're at it:
Tell us about yourself?
I grew up in Baulkham Hills, NSW in a Tamil household where music was often spoken about as the language of love, pain, suffering and peace. Often finding myself lost between my Australian identity and Eela Tamil roots, music became a river between the banks of my dual cultures. We listened to a lot of 90’s Kollywood growing up, and we’d spend Saturdays watching cassette tapes of South Indian actors miming lyrics whilst dancing in these nostalgic music videos.
I never took singing too seriously when I was growing up - I’d sing in local talent shows and school choirs but would shy away from any serious exposure. In hindsight, I think I was unsure of how to authentically communicate my sound in an honest way - but I’m learning that I don’t have to know, and I can just figure it out as I go - as long as I try.
What’s your music like? What does it sound like? What kind of themes does it usually cover?
To me, my music sounds like what my mind looks like. I like to use psychedelic synths, a shruti box and/or layers and layers of vocals to bring out the feeling that I’m feeling, in the listener’s mind. I like to take the listener on a journey throughout the song, and I’d like to think that they are discovering themselves by navigating my music, just as I navigate myself by creating my music.
When I began writing music, I had just come out of the slam poetry scene so most of my music was rap. It was a lot easier to storytell whilst rapping, and my themes usually ranged from my identity and self-discovery to dissing the local scene (no shade, haha). Now that I’ve begun singing more, it’s a lot more difficult to communicate those themes - plus, I’ve grown since my rapping days so my content has grown with me. My latest single, Without You is about pining for someone, or something, that might not even truly exist. You feel like you’re on the cusp of knowing, but you don’t really know for sure.
What are your production and writing processes usually like?
I wrote Without You in my bedroom in my parents’ house on my Notes app. I remember the exact moment that I wrote the hook. I was so excited because it was the first hook I’d ever written, and I immediately knew that that’s what it was. I’m super new to learning the traditional structure and rules of songwriting, so a lot of my early work didn’t follow any of those rules.
I’ve worked with Ariel Blum in the past and since he’s based in Melbourne and I’m in Sydney, there tends to be a lot of back-and-forth with early versions of the songs that we collaborate on. I spent a weekend in Brunswick, Melbourne between lockdowns, recording a couple of songs in Ariel’s studio, and Without You was one of them. A good chunk of our collaborative music is unplanned, and we ride off the energy that we create in the studio together. Collaboration is easily my favourite part of the creating process. I love seeing other creatives bounce off of what I’ve conjured up, and vice versa. It’s like a beautiful snowball effect, and it’s so tangible and so pure.
I usually listen to beats every day - in the car, in the shower, on the way to work, on the bus back home. Sometimes I’ll go for months listening to the same beat every single day and I won’t write anything good. And then randomly, six months into listening to it daily, it just hits me and I end up writing a few lines, and sometimes a whole song if I’m on the right frequency. I’m big on frequencies and accepting when the sequence of moon cycles allows me to be creative, and when I need to be still. I try to keep a healthy balance between pushing myself and just chilling out and doing nothing.
Can you tell us about your new single, Without You?
Yeah, it’s a fun bop! I usually hate listening to my own music, but I actually really like this one. It just feels super light and groovy. I wrote the song after a breakup, and it was the right type of energy that I needed to lift myself out of my own misery and push myself forward. It makes me feel optimistic and a little cheeky.
The cover art is by a Tamil artist based in Dortmund, Germany, @panaianbu on Instagram. I’ve been a fan of his work for ages and we became sort of pen pals, sending each other Whatsapp voice messages and navigating lockdowns together, but apart. The strange thing about being Eela Tamil is that most of the diaspora are flung into random corners of the world as a result of the Sri Lankan civil war, so it’s a really heartwarming feeling to collaborate with other Tamil artists - like finding a long-lost cousin who speaks a completely different language to you. It’s hectic.
I love how the cover art reflects the expanse that I feel Without You explores, especially the line "Never feels the right way up, when I’m without you". As a diaspora with no geographical common ground, I’ve always wanted to connect with other Tamil creatives, and I feel that @panaianbu and I landed on a concept that is both reflective of our cheeky personalities and a deeper yearning for compassion and reconciliation.
What do you have planned for the rest of 2021 and beyond?
I’m always writing to new beats, and constantly finding inspiration in the moments that propel me forward. I’m keen to start gigging again once restrictions ease, and I’d love to perform with a band for my upcoming sets. I’ve always been a one man show (or accompanied by a DJ when I rap), but I’d love to expand my live production to provide audiences with a holistic experience.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
I don’t expect, or have any intention for other people to take anything from my work. It’s a mad bonus if they do, but it’s not the objective of my work.
Where can we find more of your music?
Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, YouTube, sometimes I post random clips on Instagram just for lols.