Thanya Iyer – The WL Interview

Purveyors of: Magic-forest dream-pop

File next to: Bernice, Common Holly, Emilie Kahn

Playing: Wavelength Monthly Music Series, Saturday April 13, 2019 @ Brothers Dressler (11pm set). Get your tickets here!

Like some mythical creature emerging wide-eyed from a magical forest, Thanya Iyer’s sparkling experimental pop intrigues the listener, coaxing you to explore another plane of reality. The Montreal singer/songwriter and keyboardist/violinist has been steadily releasing recordings with an ever-growing cast of collaborators over the last few years, starting with her 2016 full-length masterpiece, Do You Dream? San Diego’s Topshelf Records followed that up with a similarly titled “mixtape” in 2018 (the mystery is explained below). Now a trio live and on record, with bassist Alex Kasirer-Smibert and drummer Daniel Gelinas, Thanya Iyer is set to make a memorable appearance at the Wavelength Monthly show at Brothers Dressler studio this Saturday. Jonny Dovercourt chatted with Thanya about dreams, magic, Montreal and more.

Hi Thanya! To get started, can you tell me a bit about yourself, what first drew you to music and how you got started as a singer/songwriter?

I had always played piano and violin as a young one and grew up submerged in the art of Indian Carnatic vocals, violin and dance. An amazing thing about the Indian community which I grew up in is that they always brought artists from India to perform regularly. It was a great thing to see as I was growing up. Songwriting happened a bit later, but really organically, while I was in CEGEP (Quebec has a post-highschool, pre-university program where you can specialize in a field and I chose a double major, Music and Science). That’s where I met so many amazing people and friends and musicians who are still part of my community today. I started songwriting with my friend Emilie Kahn, and we formed the TEA band together, along with Ali Levy (Ada Lea). It was a really beautiful co-writing experience and intro into all the ins and outs of the music world. Songwriting and collaboration are something really therapeutic for me and act as a lens that helps me heal, learn and grow along this crazy life journey!

Your music seems preoccupied with the supernatural or inexplicable: Dreams, daydreams, magic, and the interconnectedness of all things. Why do you think these are important phenomena to consider?

I had actually never really thought of it as supernatural elements of the music. But something I do think a lot about is the journey of the self and the changes that happen along the path which life takes you on. I have always been caught up with the uncertainty of where life is heading and what I’ll do with my life! So far, my experience has been trusting in the universe to let things happen while opening yourself up to new opportunities and ideas. I think that’s where the healing and the interconnectedness of all things comes into play. My music and writing explores this life journey, the relationships we grow in it, where we come from, where we are going and who we are.

Can you explain your theory of “songmentation” or “saugmentation”?

When I bring a song to the band (Pompey and Daniel!), I like letting it be free and in the hands of whatever we throw at it, letting it be malleable and open to change. I think this is what songmentation means to me. Letting a song flourish and augment until it reaches its true self. A lot of this songmentation and improvisation happens on tour. We enjoy letting the song structure be loose and if were improvising in between a song and a new groove starts to happen, we like to let the song take on new shapes and colours and forms.

How is the creation of your forthcoming new album KIND coming along, and how did it compare to the making of its predecessor?

KIND has been a more thought-out and collaborative process, compared to Do You Dream?, which kind of just happened! We were in the studio in 2015 and we just started recording bed tracks for all of the songs I had ever written, not being too sure which would end up on the album. Our sound changed and grew and flourished drastically that year, with the addition of more experimental and electronic elements. Our drummer Daniel Gélinas had been recording all of our jams and rehearsals and used all sorts of this material along with elements from nature to create a collage style across the album, tying each song together. With KIND, we’ve really grown into a natural sound, and have a narrative as well as musical vision for the album as a whole. For some songs on KIND, we’ve recorded bed tracks but for others we have worked with layering different instruments form the bottom up. It’s been really fun and a true group effort. We have also been so lucky to bring in so many of our improvising friends on this album on brass and choir and all sorts of instruments! All of the guests on this album have their own projects as bandleaders and it’s amazing to have their voice in the project.

For wind and brass instruments, this includes our close collaborator Devin Brahja Waldman (Brahja Waldman, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Patti Smith, Malcolm Mooney, Sam Shalabi), an accomplished saxophonist and jazz musician spanning the Montreal and New York scenes; Felix Del Tredici (ensemble signal, No Hay Banda, Musikfabrik), a versatile bass trombonist whose work centers around improvisation and performs internationally; improviser Anh Phung (Omhouse, Hairbrain, Kalmunity and so much more) on flute; and finally, our close collaborator, Simon Millerd (Emma Frank, Pablo Held, Kalmunity, Shapes, Emilio Reynas) on trumpet. We also had an all-female choir filled with some of my favourite songwriters in the Montreal community: Emilie Kahn (voice and harp), Tamara Sandor, Corey Gulkin, Brigitte Naggar (Common Holly), Shelby Cohen, Sarah Rossy and Frédérique Roy (Lune Tres Belle). Scott Bevins (No Cosmos, Busty and the Bass) also played trumpet on a tune.

How does the Do You Dream? Mixtape connect to the original album?

The Do You Dream? Mixtape was born from improvisation, collaboration, and our exploration. Playing shows every night, our performance grew to be more spontaneous and improvisational in spirit. We created atmospheric soundscapes and began to improvise through each song. We realized that this evolution honestly reflected a “collage style” found on our debut album. The mixtape is a collection of five songs, recorded live and collaged through, which features MAWMZ choir, a collective of female songwriters in the Montreal community. We wanted record a snapshot of our live set and the evolution of our sound and this is what we came up with!

How does the Montreal creative community support and sustain you?

We LOVE the Montreal artist community and all of the amazing art and friends and people that are a part of it. It is extremely wonderful to be able to share your work as well as your struggles with people around you and help each other in different ways that pertain to being an artist. I live across the street from Café Resonance, a hub for creative music and vegan food in the Montreal community. You can walk in and find friends and smiles and great music happening all at once. There are always so many initiatives happening to learn and grow together, and people help each other, whether it’s on how to book your tour or write grants or anything at all! It’s extremely nourishing to be a part of such a supportive community of people who are there for each other and also create awesome music! I have also found that through touring, one of the most rewarding things is connecting with other artists who are a part of other musical communities as well, which eventually grows this big collective of wonderful people and artists who are connected all over the world.

What we can expect from your live show at Brothers Dressler coming up on Saturday in Toronto for Wavelength?

There will be lots of new music from our new album (some of which you can listen to on our Audiotree Session!) and even some newer tunes which we’re really excited to share! Our sets are also full of improvisation, sometimes within but usually in between songs, collaging them together. If you listen to the Do You Dream? Mixtape, it’s quite similar to how we play things live!