Student Singer: Avanti Nagral

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          Avanti Nagral is one busy girl. She’s a sophomore in Adams concentrating in psychology, and pursuing a secondary in Global Health and Health Policy. She mentors, volunteers in hospitals and nursing homes, is active in multiple initiatives in global health, and enjoys baking and biking in her spare time. One might think that the list ends there, but there is something even more special about her. She is a professional singer, currently pursuing a dual degree at the Berklee College of Music, and has made the first Virtual Reality Music Video in Southeast Asia, "I Like." 

 

                                                                                                                                               Nagral, pictured singing in the studio (Courtesy: Avanti Nagral)

 

 

HC: Wow, you have a lot on your plate, how does your music and college life fit together? How do you balance your schedule?

 

AN: I think the best way, I mean, you’re gonna always do what you love to do, so I don’t really see it as two separate things. Um, like for example, all of last year I didn’t have Berklee, but I was still performing in all of Boston and Cambridge. I would fly back to Asian and India to do shows and things like that. So I think do what you love to do, and it will never feel like work. That being said, it’s important to manage your time. Otherwise, things can feel very, very overwhelming. This is going to sound super nerdy, but I use the… do you know what the Eisenhower Matrix is?

 

HC: No I do not.

 

AN: Okay. It’s basically, you’ve probably heard of it in a different way, but it’s splitting things into urgent, not important, important…yeah. It’s called the Eisenhower Matrix because it was conceived by president Eisenhower. So I definitely use that as a way to time manage. To figure out what’s really important, and things like that…I guess that’s the best way, and also what really helps is having a support system. So I have a very wonderful family, and wonderful friends.

 

HC: How do you like to relax, when you’re overwhelmed, or even when you’re not?

 

AN: Definitely for me, it’s spending time with people. I’m definitely a people person.  I love spending time with someone, or just biking or baking, and taking my mind off of things.

 

HC: Great. Um, this is sort of redundant, but how do you see music kind of impacting your future, or how does it fit into your vision of your future, after, let’s say college, or whatever.

 

AN: Sure. I don’t think that’s a redundant question, actually, that’s a very good question,

For me…two things that have always motivated me: passion and purpose. And for me, music has always been my passion. Until a few years ago I didn’t know that music was what I wanted to do, potentially as a career. I actually took a gap year between high school and college to pursue music and some other stuff: global health, and that really solidified for me that this is potentially a career option. Even more than that, you know music’s always been what drives me, and I’ve always cared about health and empowerment, you know, women’s issues, youth empowerment, and things like that.

And you know I realized that that’s mass impact/outreach. I was pre-med for a long time, presumably, and then I realized, of course, I love medical science and understanding things like that, but I felt the way I could be most helpful given my skills would be more public health, global health kind of a space. And then I realized that music is about moving people and impacting people in different ways, right, and as a musician, as a singer, spec you have a voice, as a singer and songwriter, and that’s a very different voice when your own voice comes out. But, if you become a successful singer then you are given another voice, which is that platform to actually affect change in a ways that many people don’t have an opportunity to. So the short answer to that question is to understand my many voices in the best way possible.

 

HC: And you were talking about that a few years ago you didn’t know that music was going to be a career pathway, was there like an epiphany, or a point where you were like, “wait, that’s something I want to do, or want to invest my time in because I love it?”

 

AN: I think it had always been, so, there are multiple factors at play here. One is I come from an Asian family, and um, my parents are some of the most supportive parents I’ve ever seen—obviously I’m biased. [laughs] It was an Asian family: you were a doctor, lawyer or engineer, that was [sic] your three understandings of the world. And your other options were based in education being very highly valued, which is part of the reason I was so motivated, as many of us were, to get into a good college and you know, those types of things. But music had always been a creative outlet at that point for me, and I started performing professionally in high school actually. I used to do a lot of theater, and was a featured singer in a bunch of productions. And then I had the opportunity to play the lead role in a Broadway show production called “Agnes of God.” So I played Agnes, and that was an amazing opportunity. So I got that as soon as I graduated high school, and I had that and I had a research fellowship at Harvard Medical School. And I’m like, you know what, I can do both of these things, and I want to see where it takes me, and I told my parents, “Look, I want to take a year off to pursue my music.” I didn’t know what that meant, and they were very supportive; I literally didn’t know what it meant: I knew I would be busy, but I didn’t know what I was doing the next day. It was an interesting time, because I got to spend a lot of time with myself to see what I really value, so I spent the year doing, um, performing at music festivals, concerts, I recorded a promotional English and Sanskrit fusion album, some very interesting and random things along the way. Of course, this Broadway show was playing all over, and the interesting thing with the Broadway show was uh, we were nearly arrested.

 

HC: Wow. I want to hear this story.

 

AN: [Laughs.] Of course, four days before opening night, we get a call. We were at the directors home, and someone called, literally saying, “Somebody wants to arrest you.” We thought it was a prank call, like who in the right mind says that? Turns out, it was real. You know, the four days you were supposed to be preparing we spent at police stations and lawyer’s offices, so “Agnes of God” is an amazing Broadway show; it’s been converted into a movie, which won the Oscars. It’s a story about, um, faith versus logic, and that kind of debate, but touches upon a couple of religious things as well. So the issue was taken up by you know, like a religious fringe element in India, who had objections ranging from “You’re committing blasphemy” to “None of the actors are Catholic, hence you cannot stage this production.” So this ended up becoming national news and this whole huge matter to the point that our opening night we had eighty policemen in the audience, just trying to make sure that no riots broke out, you know, but, it was such an amazing learning experience, but it also showed me the power of art in so many different ways, the power of art to make a statement, and how art plays such an important role in various aspects of people’s lives. So I wouldn't say that that’s the singular experience, but as I went through the year, and that was a very uncertain year, I hadn’t planned out what I was doing; I didn’t know, but I loved that I was making music and getting responses. I think the most important thing for me was that I found my voice during that year, and by that I mean my writing voice. I started writing that year, and things just started falling in place. I’m a big believer in “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne. I believe that if you put something, like an idea, out into the universe, it will manifest itself in some way. A lot of doors opened and closed, and kind of showed me that this could be a potential possibility. Which isn’t to say it’s easy, of course. Music, as with many other forms of entertainment, like sports, is a very feast or famine kind of industry, where either you make it or you don’t. So you always feel like there’s so much more to do, but that’s life, so all the things I’m learning form this are always transferrable to anything else.

 

HC: So, by “doors open and close” can you elaborate on what you mean?

 

AN: Sure, um, so for example, I knew for a fact that if this was what I wanted to do, there was no way I could be premed, right? There was no way I could, like, in a realistic situation, if I was committing to something, I would have to “parallel track” so to speak, but there was no way I could do things in as intense a way as I wanted to do it before. Um, I also knew I had to prioritize certain things: I couldn’t come into college and say, “Oh, I want to explore everything,” you know? I had to be very set in everything, which isn’t to say that I didn’t make friends, but I was very cautious about the way I spent my time. And as a singer you have to be very disciplined in your lifestyle in many ways: so you have to eat healthy, you have to work out, you have to do all types of those things; I haven’t had ice in twelve years, I don’t do oily, spicy, like there’s a lot of restrictions that I have to certain ways I live, so those are choices you make.

And doors opening was just me just writing songs, and then finally sending something to somebody else, and somebody seeing value in that, and all these things falling strangely into place. I think that the biggest example of doors opening was when I got into Harvard, I emailed Berklee, because I knew they were close by, saying, “hey, I’m a Harvard student, and I wanted to explore if there were any ways for me to do stuff, and blah blah blah.” I met a couple people there, and as it turns out, they were considering doing a dual degree program around the same time, and just a week after I’d spoken to them is when they made it unofficially official; I’d been in talks two years before they’d announced it properly, before you could even apply, and it almost felt like the universe was conspiring to make certain doors, or certain resources available. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that anything is going to happen from there, but at least I had access to those opportunities, to those resources.

 

HC: What’s your favorite song or favorite artist?

 

AN: that’s really hard. Um, in general, you can say that I have a propensity for strong female voices. And I love, if there were such a genre: empowering pop, or like, pop/soul. If I had a favorite artist, it would definitely be Tori Kelly.

 

HC: Great, and um, obviously you talked about having a fusion album. What are some of the things that influence your music or inspire you when you’re writing songs.

 

AN: Sure. So my um, musical background is kind of interesting/all over the place. I Trained in Indian Classical Music for many, many years, and that’s a kind of rigorous, um, art form. And I grew up doing a lot of devotional music, so my grounding was very different, and very culturally based. But as years went on, I did a lot of Broadway music, popular music…I went to a Christian high school, so I did a lot of church music too. So there were a lot of faith based music that influenced it, but I’ve always had the ability to see in different languages, um, so you know, [I] combined various different styles together, and so it was never like, this is what I want to do. I didn’t even know that pop music was what I wanted to do, but that was what drew me the most and what I identified with. But I definitely draw from all these experiences. I also believe that as a musician, you are a storyteller, so I think it’s incredibly important to listen both to different types of music and different types of experiences, of other people, and to be able to convey that in a way that’s important to you…

 

                                                                                                              Nagral’s new single, “I Like.” (Courtesy: Avanti Nagral)

 

HC: I was wondering, where did you get the idea of doing, or why did you decide to do a virtual reality (VR) music video?

 

AN: Yeah, of course. So, um…this was my first kind of foray into my original music being put out, even though I’d been preforming for many, many years. I wanted it to be something different, or unique. So, when I met with the filmmaker, when I was connected with him, I kind of mentioned my vision about the song, and what it meant to me, and he’s like, and I literally used the word “immersive,” and the second I used the word “immersive,” he was like, “We have to do VR!” And to me, at that point, I didn’t even know, I mean I knew VR in the gaming industry, but I didn’t know how it could be applied. He sent me a couple references and both of us really loved the idea and the concept. It was really important, because obviously, a huge part of my market is Asia and Southeast Asia, and it’d never been done before, so it definitely added that X factor before, but more than that it helped bring technology to the part of the world that doesn’t have that access…

 

HC: Had you not done virtual reality, do you have an idea of what the music video would have looked like otherwise?

 

AN: That’s an interesting question; I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me that. I think it still would have featured people just doing what they like, but it would have been…okay, so the cool thing about the VR video was that it was not at all choreographed. We showed up, like one day, and all my singing takes, they’re all one takes.

 

HC: Wow!

 

AN: [laughs] The way that the camera works, it’s like this little robot standing in the center of the room, and it captures everything in like a 360 sphere, so nobody, including the director, could be inside the room. So he tried connecting a virtual walkie-talkie via Bluetooth. And then he was like, “I can’t see you, so there’s no point in doing this, so just do whatever you want to do.” So that’s what it was. But that’s exactly what the song was about…the beauty of it was that it was not at all planned, I feel like if we did another music video it would have been planned to a ‘T,’ but that’s what made it cool and kind of spontaneous.

 

HC: And last question, what is your guilty pleasure?

 

AN: Does it have to be food?

 

HC: No, anything will do. Like, bad TV is a guilty pleasure.

 

AN: Peanut Butter.

 

HC: Great. Thank you, that is the end of the interview.

 

(Courtesy: Avanti Nagral)

 

Check out Avanti’s Website and Social Media:

 

 

Website: www.avantinagral.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/avantinagral

Instagram: www.instagram.com/avantinagral

Twitter: www.twitter.com/avantinagral

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnU9c8lf6Cvfz8VkD4fxbVQ

 

I Like (Official VR Music Video)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mce9hCkfSxQ

 

Avanti will be releasing another single, “Treated,” at the end of September.

 

 

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