We had the good fortune of connecting with Aashray Harishankar and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Aashray, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
Pursuing an artistic career isn’t a popular option amongst first generation Indian-Americans like me. With immigrant parents and a large family, there is a lot of pressure to make something of yourself, to be able to support yourself and others around you. I understood that from a young age, and was a very diligent student who enjoyed learning. Although I had the same pressure many immigrant kids have, my parents were less forceful about pushing me into a specific career, being in unorthodox careers themselves. Though I had no idea at the time, the arts were a huge part of my childhood, and it was only in high school that I began to entertain the possibility of the music as a career. The main (and obvious) reason I chose to pursue a creative career is because it was extremely satisfying to write music and create sounds from nothing. The pleasure and beauty of synthesizing thoughts and emotions into stories of sound captured me from a young age and continues to fuel me now.
I think a large part of why I chose to pursue the arts and music as a career is because it all centers around the human experience, specifically reflecting on the old and creating new experiences. Thus, it is constantly renewed with each day that passes. Each person is their own artist, whether professional or otherwise, and I enjoy seeing art in creation, seeing how it connects disparate communities and makes life worth living.
Sound is a temporal sense, which is why it plays such a huge role in our daily lives. Whether at a concert, walking down the street, or playing a video game, sound and music plays an integral part of our experience. Since my childhood it has had a deep impact on my life and I’ve wanted to be a part of its impact on others as much as possible. I have always pursued knowledge and technical excellence, but thanks to music I’ve started to see creativity in everything, and have come to value that so much more. Many of my long-term goals involve understanding and working with those in different professions to find creative solutions to truly improve the lives of people who need it. I think being an artist is one of the best ways to make a direct impact on others’ lives, and I’m reminded every day of that connection.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My background in South Indian classical music is something that I took for granted for a long time as I was studying music. I grew up playing Carnatic music on the keyboard, but never truly incorporated it into my creative practice until recently. Only in the past few years did I realize how valuable it is to my identity as a musician and how important it is to continue building on that foundation whilst foraying into many different aspects of music and sound.
Studying Indian classical music helped me develop an ear for music and sound. It helped me understand and appreciate so many different styles and forms of music through immersive listening, and led me to continue pursuing and exploring music full-time. Growing up with this music, I was also part of a vibrant community and culture of arts in Southern California. Now that I am back in the LA area, I especially look to this community for support and motivation.
My recent works feature extensive exploration of my cultural roots as well as experimentation with sonic gestures created on the ROLI Seaboard. For example, last year I presented a series of works focusing on the aesthetic idea of “Navarasa” (nine emotions), and exploring the portrayal of those emotions through music by combining both Western and Indian influence. Like this, my other work also attempts to incorporate language used in many different forms of music and sound art. I constantly challenge myself to break down sonic barriers and find new ways of presenting familiar forms and gestures. This is what defines my musical pursuits and sets me on my own path.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I haven’t truly lived in Los Angeles and I haven’t been able to explore the city as much as I’d like, so I may not be the best guide to unique and interesting spots in the city! But I will say, one of my go-to spots in LA since my childhood has been the In-N-Out Burger right by the airport. Of course, if you are not from the west coast that place is a must, but for me the appeal was instead seeing these massive behemoths come flying in to land right above your head. The great food was merely a plus. For plane-enthusiasts, that spot is one of few in the world to appreciate the beauty of flight, and as someone who dreamed of being a pilot as a toddler, going to the airport was always exciting.
If you’re new to LA, I think the first *normal* things you might check out are Santa Monica pier, Griffith observatory, maybe LACMA or Malibu, and Hollywood. As a musician though, one of the places I’ve always enjoyed going to is The Hollywood Bowl. Seeing a performance (of any kind) in that venue is a special experience. The two things that I think most Angelinos take advantage of here is the many hikes and the many beaches that are here. Those are two things I enjoy as well (and also don’t take advantage of enough). Being from Orange County, I cannot recommend Laguna Beach or San Clemente beach enough. Those are two pristine places to spend a day or evening, and have nice restaurant options as well.
This past year of pandemic has also changed what I am spending free time on, so it’s hard to describe what a “normal” visit might be like. I know Echo Park has a lot of options for great food, and being a vegetarian you can find a lot of great options like Beelman’s in downtown or Au Lac. Monty’s Good Burger near Koreatown had a very good plant-based burger. I’m a very simple person, so a good walk, good food, and good company is enough to satisfy.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Other than my parents and grandmother who are eternally a part of my growth as a human being and as a musician and artist, one person who I truly want to give credit is my mentor and good friend Rusty Gillette. He has been around since I was a young kid and took on the mentor role at a significant juncture in my life. Back in high school I had begun taking music much more seriously, especially after performing my debut keyboard concert (called an Arangetram). I began to take piano lessons with Rusty and took several music classes at school. Although this time had sparked a fire in my passion for music, it was Rusty who really guided it and gave me the thirst for exploration that I have today. He would always have such keen insight into everything we discussed and brought a joy and curiosity to music that became essential to my growth by the time I attended college. He continues to fill me with joy to this day, and each piece I create is infused with that same passion and curiosity, which is why I want to recognize and highlight his impact in my life.
The Music Circle, Vijay Raman, Melanie Ernestina