A conversation with Simrit, the World Music rebel known around the world
Patrick: What is Naad yoga, what does it have to do with music? What do we know about the healing power of music and of the human voice?
Simrit: Great question. We all know that music has immense healing benefits. There are studies being done of how music can stimulate the hypothalamus to command the endocrine system to release certain hormones. That is what Naad is about. It is about the tip of the tongue and the navel and the intention of the singer; it strengthen each of them. Naad uses the voice — which doesn’t have to be singing — to get those specific results of releasing hormones.
Patrick: You have produced 5 albums since 2013 and appeared on two other albums. The music is complex, layered and beautiful and often combines both modern and old instruments. In the song Prithvi Hai, you use a variety of instruments in that song and in your band in general. You use your voice, the kora, cello, tabla, a drum kit – others?
Simrit: Yes, the guitar in in there, of course. We tour with the kora, the cello and the bass and a drum kit. What you hear on this new album is the same as what you hear live.
Patrick: Do you play all of those instruments or write for all of them?
Simrit: I don’t play them all myself, although I do play a little bit of guitar. When we are live, I am usually not playing or I am playing the harmonium – a kind of pump organ. My bandmates are playing. Shannon Hayden is playing cello, or an electric cello when we are on tour – she is amazing Yale-trained musician who graduated at 18 or 19 with an MA in cello. On the album she is playing a vintage cello from the early 1800’s. I do play some percussion and I am a trained in classical piano.
Patrick: Your producer, Paul Mahern, has produced for Iggy Pop, John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson – not the music I associate with yoga. He is also known as an ardent yoga practitioner. did you two meet through yoga?
Patrick: How has his production technique and style affected your music?
Simrit: We are like brother and sister and we answer each other’s sentences musically. I have never had this kind of synergy with a producer before – and we had it as soon as we met. When we got into the studio it was easy; no stress, slick and easy, that is how we work together. Each album was easier than the last; and he has worked with Neal Young and Mellencamp and others in rock and folk yet our styles are so complementary. We are both edgy and we love beautiful music that provokes thought. We plan on doing the next album together
Patrick: The song Clandestine on your new album is a very complex, layered piece of music with a very interesting riff that overlays the snare beat – I am not sure if it percussive or a stringed instrument, but it is addictive and it scaffolds your voice perfectly. What is that?
Simrit: That is the kora; a 21-string gourd instrument and we have adapted it for this song.
Simrit: I was an orphan from the time I was born until my parents adopted me and later my brother – we are not related by blood. We were brought to the American South, but my parents were Greek and raised us in a strong Greek culture at home. We were fortunate to have that. Being an orphan, fending for myself, being raised in playpen, made me question things, especially when my parents told me about my being adopted. That pulled me deep into myself and that has a lot to do with the depth of my music.
Patrick: Your song Pravan Guru has a hook in it – not the kind of hook we think of in pop, but definitely a riff that grabs you and makes you want to sing it. Is there a similarity between a hook and a mantra and do you use mantras in your music?
Simrit: Mantra just means “projection of the mind.” You can put a hook in a mantra, like a hooky-melody or a rhythm, but a mantra is usually repeated. There is not necessarily a relationship, but they both hook you in. They do it differently, but a mantra hooks you in a level greater than your mind and it tunes you to a certain frequency. You know what you are going to get.
Patrick: Thank you. I know you are setting up for your concert tonight at Full Circle. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me.
Songs of Resilience. Available on iTunes