Behind the Scenes with Sonia Rao

I was first introduced to singer-songwriter Sonia Rao at BMI’s Acoustic Lounge at the legendary Genghis Cohen in December. After her emotional performance, I knew there was something special about this young artist. Today, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Rao one on one, to discuss her journey, challenges, and goals within the Los Angeles music industry.

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When did this journey start for you? Did you always know you wanted to be a professional musician? 

I definitely didn’t know I wanted to be a professional musician at first. Looking back, I think the journey started when I was very little. My mom had my brothers and I learn three instruments each. I played violin, piano, and flute, so there were lots of lessons, orchestra rehearsals, and practicing, but I never thought of myself as creative because I was just studying what was on the page. The actual songwriting happened after college.

How has your life changed since deciding to pursue a career in music?

Everything is so different. Life changes logistically, of course, in my day to day, but more internally it changes how I interact with the world. I just wrote this song about coming into songwriting: growing up I didn’t really speak out at all, I would never participate in school, etc, and once I started songwriting I started finding that I had all these opinions and ideas of things. It changed my life in that way, and I like that. It changes everything – you’re going after a thing you love, so I think that you have to face yourself, you have to be really honest with yourself, what you want, whether this is worth it, the battles you come up against. You face your family, and expectations. I’ve battled my own inner self – Do I think I can do this? Can I make a living out of it? But for me I feel like those are the good questions to ask in general.

What have been some of your biggest challenges?

I guess one challenge after graduating college was realizing that my parents and family had certain hopes for me that were different from the hopes I had for myself. I surprised myself with this music career, so a big challenge for me is continuing to stay at it when everything and many people close to me were not wanting me to do it because they were worried. Facing doubt in general from others and from myself, and still sticking with it has been a challenge. As you know, LA is kind of a beast of its own, and deciding you’re going to stay here, no many how many inner demons arise, no matter how many doubts you have in yourself. I’ve been in LA 3.5 years, and with each year that passes, I’m so glad I stayed.

What is your inspiration?

Books that I’m reading. Relationships – beginnings, endings, songs follow the arch of a relationship. I’ve written a little bit about my family. The last album is called Los Angeles – so I’ve written about moving here, my experience with reality TV (Rao was a finalist on the 1st season of The Voice), all that. Everything is inspiration, as for me songwriting is a way to process how I think about things.

Can you tell us about your songwriting process?

I think there’s two kinds that happen for me – one is when I really feel like writing, but a lot of the time, I don’t feel like writing, but I decide I’m going to sit here from this time to this time and I’m going to write no matter what. One song comes out first, then a song that makes it to an album comes after that first song. It’s like when you meet up with your girlfriends and you talk about whatever for a minute and then the real stuff comes out – that’s what songwriting is like for me.

You’ve placed a lot of your music on several television networks. What can you tell us about that process?

That is all because of my publisher, he does all that, he’s awesome. I met him when I first came to LA and got very lucky with that. That’s just been so helpful for my music and for having my career here. It’s funny though, because when I write these songs, I’m thinking “this is about my ex boyfriend” and then it’s used with Snookie and someone are making up after a fight, which is totally opposite from what I wrote about. They use my songs mostly for the emotional scenes.

Your website mentions that you’ve spoken and performed at TEDxWomen, can you tell us about that experience?

That was an amazing day. All day you’re listening to these really inspiring speakers. It was so great to perform after all that inspiration, the audience was so hyper-present. I performed four songs and spoke in between about my experience with my family and pursuing music. One song I wrote about patriarchy, so I discussed that and the importance women’s equality in our society.

What are some of your short term goals?

I’m going to Nashville in two weeks to finish my next album – we’re so close! Then I’m looking at artwork and planning the release and the tour.

How do you hope to impact the industry? What would you like to see change?

I’m working on an interview series called “Conversations”, where I speak with artists more about their inner experience -how they experience jealousy, what was the hardest thing for them about their career that they didn’t expect, when have they experienced contentedness… questions like this. I feel like a lot of the video interviews out there are more promo based, and while there’s a place for that and it serves artists, I do think that there is a desire for people to hear more than promotional material from artists. I really want to make sure that I stay in that same space when I’m writing, in the self-expression mode instead of thinking about what the product is. I’d like to see more of that in the industry. Sometime after this album, I would also like to have an all women’s project, where the writers, producers, engineers, are all women. I realized all the people I’m working with, who I love, have been men. I’d like to see what could happen and what would be different when we get a bunch of talented women together to work on a project.

You just performed in Bali for New Year’s Eve, what can you tell us about that experience?

Bali was beautiful, it was awesome to play the countdown show at Ayana on New Year’s Eve. It’s such a lucky thing to travel and get to travel for work, and then I travelled around afterwards. It was a nice way to end and start a year.

What advice would you give fellow aspiring musicians?

If you ever lose sight of yourself or what you are doing here or why you’re doing it, just come back to what is it you want to say, what is important to you – come back to self-expression, as that will always guide you back to why you wanted to do this in the first place. The other thing is don’t dismiss yourself just because there’s so many people doing what you’re doing. It doesn’t make it less important that you’re doing it.

What’s next for Sonia Rao?

Finishing this album, figuring what the name of it is. Releasing it and touring. We’re thinking Midwest, NY, Nashville, San Fran, and LA.

 

 

To learn more about Sonia Rao and to keep up with the release of her upcoming album, and to follow her on social media, head to www.soniarao.com.

Drea Dorman is a singer-songwriter and music enthusiast living in Los Angeles, CA. Learn more about Drea and her music at www.dreaofficialmusic.com.

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ASTR Live at The Troubadour

It is always a pleasure to be asked to cover a sold out show: the energy is guaranteed to be high, and in a place like The Troubadour in West Hollywood, the night will undoubtedly be a success. The Troubadour is known as one of the rare venues who truly makes a point to honor the musicians it headlines as well as the audience it draws. Subsequently, loyal music fans from across the metro and even out of state flock to the historic venue to see some of the best shows in LA, set on a small, intimate stage that makes the experience all the more memorable.

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Saturday night’s show was started off by DJ Grant Owens, most  popularly known as the producer and host of We Found New Music, a  radio show on Laguna’s KX 93.5 which tackles the important  task of bringing those new and promising acts to the forefront of  its listeners’ radar. Owens, who also works at major record label  Universal Music Group, began the night playing alternative,  electro-pop favorites from bands like The Knocks, and nodded  to upcoming act ASTR by playing their ever popular cover of  Drake’s “Hold On We’re Going Home”. The DJ’s debut at Troubadour was a hit, and the perfect primer  to the next act, The Black and The White.

The three man show, made up of frontman and lead guitarist Juilio Tavarez, bassist Mario Gonzalez, and longtime drummer Cliff Sarcona, stormed the stage with their incredibly playful and exuberant presence. Tavarez matched his impossibly tight pants with even tighter vocals, dancing easily between his passionate baritone and a surprisingly powerful falsetto. The band carried the energy of ensembles much larger, and louder, proving that three was all that was needed to bring an already eager audience to their feet. Backed by a psychedelic video display and surrounded by an increasingly enthusiastic audience, The Black and The White doled out a welcome overdose of music that can only be created by those who still remember and respect the art form that is musical expression. Between the three band members and the brilliant addition of backtracks towards the middle of the set, The Black and The White reminded Troubadour goers why they flock to the venue in the first place: to hear unique, powerful, and eclectic music from seasoned performers who are hungry to share their craft and create an experience with their audience.

Up next came the headlining duo from New York City, ASTR. The crowd went wild as stunning redhead and lead vocalist Zoe Silverman and producer, percussionist, and keyboardist Adam Pallin hit the stage. From the bass drop of their first song “Razor”, the crowd was screaming their appreciation and singing along. Silverman kept the crowd moving as she demonstrated her theatrical dance and performance skills, as Pallin kept the show going by captaining his production machines and electronic drum set. A dramatic duo to be sure, ASTR filled the stage with their explosive presence and heart-pumping music that bled lyrical finesse. Their visuals emphasized the retro foundation of their music, which, paired with galactic production, makes for an irresistible and addictive combination. ASTR premiered a new song at Troubadour that night, which could easily catapult the duo into mainstream success. With its catchy lyrics, use of pop and hip hop beats, and something that is undeniably ASTR, the song has all the makings of a hit. The band finished their set with their lead single “Operate”, off their debut 2014 EP “Varsity”. The crowd, already whistling and screaming at the end of every song, including a performance of the Drake cover already teased by DJ Grant Owens earlier that night, offered an uproar of applause when the duo closed on “Operate”. As DJ Pleasure Principle ascended the stairs to bring the night to a close, there was no doubt the audience had witnessed performance greatness that night.

From DJs Grant Owen and Pleasure Principle, to three-man band The Black and The White, to powerhouse duo ASTR, this night at the Troubadour proved that it doesn’t take large numbers to make a wave: a few can accomplish much when they have the passion and vision to do what the majority would never dare to do. Here’s to the few, with big dreams and bigger voices, and to the venues and organizations like Troubadour and We Found New Music who support them along their way.

Drea Dorman is a singer-songwriter and music enthusiast living in Los Angeles, CA. Learn more about Drea and her music at www.dreaofficialmusic.com.