A deep conversation/QnA with Aayushi Karnik ( Singer-Songwriter//Jazz-Blues Guitarist) as The Showrunners exclusive pick of the week
I would like to thank Facebook and that's where I found this absolute beast of a musician. Aayushi Karnik is one of those few female guitars players who are deeply inspiring and hardworking in a true sense. She’s been constantly putting up a compilation of her clips on her social media and all that hard work shows each time she plays. I’m really glad and honored to do this round of QnA with this amazing musician. Hope you’ll enjoy this conversation.
Q1 - Tell us about your early days of music? How did you start getting into music? Also, a little bit about your school life?
I think it all began with me begging for another toy when I was 12 to my grandma probably because my neighborhood dog friends branched out doing their own thing. I used to sit around the house watching Warner Bros. cartoons while I tried to figure single line melodies out on my small guitar. It was more of a chill space and I accidentally happened to start doing some songwriting for fun. I had a scooter, so I just wanted to hear music that went well with my bike rides in the evening around the old town parts of Surat.
But this was during the time I was studying architecture. My entire education was at a Convent school and I’m extremely proud of that. I was nowhere near playing any form of music seriously. I was a hyper kid who loved Math, Athletics and just playing around in and out with the school choir.
Q2 - Tell us about your experience and the hustle of being an established part of the music scene? What changes have you seen in the current music scene over the years?
I was never that hip to any kind of scene to be honest nor do I think that I am established yet. And I am thankful that I never got to be that and it would have only made me lazy, personally speaking. What kept me going and still does is that the music has always kept me as a sizzling piece of bacon on the pan. You know, never at rest. Always popping. Though I must say that I hear a lot more people studying hard and playing hard and that is truly inspiring.
Q3 - How did you learn music? Did you attempt any formal music education? What’s your take on the importance of music education and how it helps?
I always have and will always trust my ears first. I used to learn solos or songs that I loved by slowing down the YouTube links and trying to replicate it till I thought it was close enough. Stuff really lined up in terms of education was when I started studying under Floyd. What he focuses on is really important. A knowledge of how your instrument works and how the music functions in terms of theory and a soulful and intelligent use of it all.
Easier said than done. I feel like the truest form of education in any field would make you want to study harder and make you understand the infinity of it all.
Q4 - Being a Singer-Songwriter yourself, What do you promote through your music writing? Tell us about your influences and songwriters that have been inspiring initially till now?
I think the singer-songwriter side of me has always focused on providing someone with the feeling that you have felt in a way that is translatable to their own life experiences. Basically, giving the “I know! I’ve been exactly there in life” or just making someone smile when they live.
Initially, my first influence was The Beatles. Songs like ‘Julia’, ‘A day in life’ or ‘You’ve got to hide your love away’ really blew my mind. Then I happened to come across Simon and Garfunkel at a CD store in my town and I sacrificed a glorious meal of chicken momos to get their ‘Bridge over troubled water’. Soon I started looking their music up on YouTube and they eventually became some of the best friends I had just because of their music and the way they conveyed ideas. After that, I was just blasted into a totally new world of this stuff when I was introduced to John Mayer’s music by a friend. I didn’t really understand how someone could play, sing, and write equally well.
And I think now that you see the scene in the singer-songwriter zone, John Mayer is the trad stuff that most of us shed to understand the craft of writing/ playing songs. (I might be wrong or missing out on a lot of names). Recently Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Cat Stevens are my obsessions. James Tayler is so relaxed and precise with the melodies and his guitar work that it is a completely different approach to how you handle your voice and the guitar.
Q5 - Tell us about the shift from being a singer-songwriter to a remarkably good blues player and then advanced improvisational styles like jazz? Also, tell us how all the information comes together?
John Mayer! He was and still is my role model on how to approach different styles with equal command over each. John Mayer lead me to the human explosive Stevie Ray Vaughan. I am pretty sure I cried after trying to play like him and having my arm all cramped up after a minute of trying to do what he did so fluently.
Uncle Floyd later asked me to shed the blues by addressing the changes and I remember getting into Ray Charles and the old-time gospel stuff. There were ‘other chords’ in that music than the usual blues (nothing wrong with 3 chord blues as well. I’m still trying to play that better). But that is probably when I learnt that the Blues isn’t just 1 4 5. It is a dialect that should come through whatever I play, sing, and write. Uncle later pushed me to shed Autumn Leaves which took at least 2 years to play something valid. (Still working at it.)
How all the information comes together is simple and tricky at the same time. Simple version would be, ‘Its all music!’. Trickier version is the one in which I get to be an intellectual/philosopher (whatever that means). It is like learning languages and mixing them up. I know my instrument well enough (hopefully) in these things to be able to attempt to translate information between these approaches. It doesn’t always work but when it does, it is something.
Obviously, Jazz has deep roots in Blues so my current challenge is to make people feel what a singer songwriter makes someone feel with the knowledge that I accumulate over the years. And singer-songwriting and the blues go hand in hand. I might get some heat for saying this but Robert Johnson is the best singer-songwriter who told stories and sang the blues.
Q6 - What challenges have you faced initially as a musician in India? How difficult has it become for an indie musician to pursue music in this country? Also, what was the reason behind choosing The Juilliard School and pursuing a formal music education program?
Initially it was just to figure out the legitimacy of the information that was given out in the name of music education. Eventually I learnt that the any sort of information would make me more independent depending on the extent to which I study it. Pursuing indie music is difficult for several reasons. First is, not having enough funds to sustain by myself primarily because of limited venues and personally speaking, my geographical location. Second was not being aware of the amount of work that goes into actually sounding good. Third, the stigma of getting a ‘real job’ eventually which is completely understood if you see from the parents’ point of view.
We haven’t been exposed to a culture of musicians that study hard, invent and make a reasonable living (in case of upcoming indie musician scene). People see you differently when you say that you are an Architect as compared to a Musician. It is hilarious to see worried looks on people’s faces when I say that I am practicing music. But I guess it becomes easy when you love what you are doing. You build a resilience against the odds presented to you.
Honestly, I didn’t really expect to get accepted at Juilliard. I wasn’t going to apply here because I assumed my chances as I am a realistic moron. But as literally as I could say it, my mom forced me to send my audition tapes. Though, I knew I had to get out and go where people were born and brought up in a culture of playing this music to be able to push myself further.
After a point I was stuck in a rut in Surat. I had to move into an ecosystem of artists that lived this stuff. Technically speaking, I needed the formal atmosphere to push the discipline further and start working within deadlines. The Programme also focuses on arranging for different groups be it a small ensemble or big band music. Also, I have missed out on the chronology of this music so History classes are always eye opening and inspiring.
Q7 - Tell us about your daily practice routine and your day to day goals? How would you describe an ideal mindset of a musician to reach his/her desired goals? Also, what kept your boat sailing in these trying times?
First, its technique. In the morning. Relentless scale work, etudes, picking, and hand coordination. I don’t want to choke when I try to express myself. Then it is just having fun with the fretboard and exploring different things I can do. Clusters, two-note things that I kind of picked up from Bach’s music. I am not fluent at counterpoint at all and thankfully the school is providing me with a class the coming year that would help me with that. (of course, after that I must shed A LOT). Then in the evening, I might transcribe some or work on my single line things. Or sometimes I just have fun and play depending on my self-esteem levels.
I still haven’t found the ideal mindset. Honestly, I am the last person you want to ask that question to. What has worked for me over time is obsessive practicing and being critical of my playing, but it sometimes gets in the way when I am just supposed to let go and play. It is a weird balance. It’s the arts. Nothing is definite.
What keeps my boat sailing is, my friends shedding and sharing what they are working on online and it makes me want to work. One thought, “I have the gift of time and I better make use of it. Because if I am not, someone somewhere is”. Also, it’s fun!
Q8 - What’s on your playlist these days? Tell us about your current influences and Any top 10 albums you would like to recommend?
Oh man! John Mayer to begin with. Then, Gavin DeGraw, Megadeth, Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Black Sabbath, James Taylor, Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith.. Basically, most of everything!
- Joe Pass — Virtuoso
- Ahmad Jamal — Live at the Blackhawk
- John Mayer — Where the light is Concert
- Stevie Ray Vaughan — Texas Flood
- Allan Holdsworth — Atavachron
- Bill Evans & Jim Hall — Undercurrent
- Pat Metheny & John Scofield — I can see your house from here
- Wes Montgomery — Smokin’ at the Half note
- Kurt Rosenwinkel — Reflections
- Simon and Garfunkel — Bookends
- John Coltrane — Coltrane plays the Blues
Q9 - If you have a chance to change or improve a few things about musicians in India, what would you like to improve/change?
I’d rather talk about the culture. Music education should be taken seriously for the profession to be taken seriously by the majority.
Q10 - Any message would you like to give to the musicians before signing off on this interview?
Just a quote from the movie Ratatouille. “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”
Aayushi Karnik is a Jazz-Blues Guitarist/Singer-Songwriter from Surat, Gujarat, who found her true calling in the Blues. Aayushi started playing guitar at the age of 12. Fascinated as a kid by the background score of Warner Bros. cartoons, she would try to transcribe the horn sections played in series on her guitar. A huge inspiration has been Soulmate, a Shillong based Blues band, that motivated her to stick to the Blues despite the odds of living in Gujarat — and the cathartic experience of watching performances by Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, Robert Randolph, Soulmate and BlackstratBlues, at the annual Mahindra Blues Festival, Mumbai.
Aayushi has fronted an acoustic blues band called ‘Red Blues’ in the recent past and is currently working on her own music, and planning to go solo as a musician and songwriter.
Aayushi’s principle musical influences are: Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King, Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton, John Mayer, Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins, Simon and Garfunkel, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, Derek Trucks, Jon Cleary, Django Reinhardt, Bonnie Raitt, Dave Matthews Band, Ray Charles etc.
It was my pleasure to do a round of such an informative and insightful QnA session. I hope it helps and inspires every musician in any aspect of music.
You can follow Aayushi Karnik on Social media —
That’s it for today. See you soon with another amazing musician in our next edition of The Showrunners exclusive pick of the week.