We had the good fortune of connecting with Adi Rao and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Adi, what’s one piece of conventional advice that you disagree with?
“Go with the flow.” I almost get an allergic reaction when I’m given that advice. I’ve been blessed to be presented with out of the box opportunities that most first-generation immigrant parents & family members would turn away from, pretty immediately.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
“Wouldn’t it be nice if I could breathe some of yours, but most of mine?” This is a line from my song “Onebee,” part of my upcoming debut album as an Indian-born, American-raised Singer/Songwriter. It took a few years to really understand, accept, embrace and celebrate my identity, because it was so dual-natured at every minute of each day. When I was 8, my parents and I moved from India to the East Coast, not really knowing how different things would be. The people, the cultures, the language, and the way of life. I quickly adapted to the new way of life. I enjoyed learning new things, like how the word “rubber” has a very different connotation over here (I was asking someone for an eraser, but we called it “rubber” back in India). I was one of the lucky ones to get the privilege to spend my summers through grade school back in India, where I continued to train in Indian Classical music, stayed in touch with my family and culture, and knew how to get around town like a local, and not stick out like a tourist. I owe everything to my parents. They saw that music was clearly my thing, and made sure they exposed me to both worlds equally, giving me the opportunity to develop my sound: 100% American, and 100% Indian. Hence the above lyric. Becoming a musician full-time wasn’t as chronological for me as you might have expected. As a kid, I watched and read about many celebrities who suddenly became famous for their talents, but didn’t know how to manage the finances or business dealings that were so inseparably woven into their new found spotlight. I didn’t want to be one of those people. So, I studied Finance for my Bachelor’s degree, and got a Master’s degree in Entertainment Industry Management from Carnegie Mellon University. Because… music. I worked for 7 years at a leading public relations agency in Los Angeles, feeling so close to the creative and artistic world, but no cake just yet. I did my best to hone in my music during these years, and got the opportunity to collaborate with some amazing established and fringe musicians along the way. Singing for Indian and Hollywood film soundtracks with multi Grammy and Oscar-winning music director, A.R. Rahman, being a background singer for a joint performance with Carlos Santana, and performing for the Indian Prime Minister and the President of the United States were some of the highlights. But through the journey, I made some mistakes. No, let’s flip that. Through the journey, I experienced some “key learnings” (this is when you know you’ve lived a corporate life for a few years). The songs I wrote, the collaborations I joined, and the faith I had in myself were all about how everyone else would feel about it. I forgot to take the time to dig deep and create music that was true to who I am – something my parents sacrificed so much to provide for me. I forgot who I was. I shied away from celebrating both cultures. I became complacent. That’s when I had enough. I jolted myself out of making powerpoint presentations and music that was just average, and began my journey as a full-time musician in 2019. But I couldn’t have done this alone. Special shout out to my wife who has been my pillar, my sounding board, my co-writer, and my beacon who continues to instill confidence in me to stay true to who I am. The journey has been achingly scary. This was (ostensibly) the first time where I allowed my brain the free space it needed to clean out all the junk, and really begin to understand who I am, and how that transpires into lyrics and sonic frequencies. 12-thousand hours later, I sit here, writing this article for you to read about me, feeling incredibly proud and excited to have you listen to the album in the very near future. This first album is a reflection on the last 30 years, and highlights all of my musical influences growing up, ranging from Indian Classical, Rock, R&B, Hip Hop, Jazz and a little bit of Soul. It’s 100% American, and 100% Indian. Maybe that’s what the album should be titled!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
WHERE I’D GO: Perfect Weekend Getaway: Chilao Campground – Angeles National Forest. So close to LA, but amazing getaway if you want to look up at the stars, reconnect with nature, or just enjoy the company of your friends/loved ones over a campfire. Bring firewood, food & liquid sustenance, and lots of S’mores Perfect Sunset: Mount Wilson – Angeles National Forest. Not far from Chilao Campground, you can catch the sunset while seeing ALL of LA, sometimes all they way to the shoreline on a clear/non-smoggy day Sun, Waves, and Sand Volleyball: Hermosa Beach Tourists basically stop touristing after Venice Beach. Feel like a local and head to Hermosa to actually enjoy beach vibes Walk of cool – Abbott Kinney Blvd – Venice Infinite opportunities to feel “so LA.” I love walking up and down Abbott Kinney, enjoying the food trucks, art, and very positive vibes. The Venice Canals aren’t far away too, if you want to take your date on a very romantic walk WHERE I’D EAT: Breakfast: Eggs Benny at King’s Road Cafe on Beverly Blvd Mid-morning Snack: Belle’s Bagels in Eagle Rock Coffee/Juice/Pastries (and Pies): Republic of Pie in North Hollywood Lunch: Araya Thai (THE BEST VEGAN THAI…and I’m not even vegan) Afternoon pick-me-up/Ice Cream: Connal’s in Pasadena (fantastic soft-serves, delicious foods) Dinner: Robata Jinya on 3rd Street Late Night Grub: Leo’s Taco Truck on Sunset Blvd
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Biggest shoutout to my wife. It’s not everyday that you find someone who not only supports a decision to dive into music full time, but so be a partner throughout the entire creative process. She is my manager, my lyricist, my producer, and my rock. Equally huge shoutout to my parents and immediate family. While they’re concerned for the best reasons and know that I’ve entered a tough arena, they’re still my biggest cheerleaders and can’t wait to see what’s next. Musical return-shoutout to Anna Beatriz who gave me a shoutout to VoyageLA!
Varun Suresh (www.varunsuresh.com)