Drummer, Data Scientist and recent Spotify hire, Kiran Gandhi is brilliant and talented. She did her undergrad at Georgetown University and recently graduated with an MBA from Harvard University while in the same time actively touring with MIA. We sat down with Kiran and talked about everything from Truth, the importance of being vulnerable and how music impacted her life.
Tell us about you:
I grew up in Manhattan, lived in Murray Hill until I was about 8 years old. I then moved out to India for 3 years. When I was in India I found the Spice Girls and that was building on when I was in New York when I listened to Z100. At that time, I loved music so much. I would enter all the music competitions; I would call in to the all the MTV VJs. Music just became a really important part of my life, dancing to it, inviting friends over to listen to it, watching music videos. It felt really scandalous because a lot of music videos were edgy, even the daft punk one with all the astronauts marching up those stairs, it felt like I was doing something wrong by watching it. It was so weird, nothing was bad about it but I liked that feeling. I liked that it felt like music gave me truth, and I liked that music made me feel like a grown up.
When I moved back to the US I remember I found the drums at a summer camp as a 7th grader. They were in a dusty corner at a camp in Maine. I remember I started playing it and there was a maintenance man in the room and he actually knew how to play. He came over to me and started showing me and that’s where it all started.
When we moved back to the US (we were living in Manhattan) my parents were very supportive and I just started playing. The coolest part of growing up in NYC is that you can be 15 and play in a real club. I was playing Otto's shrunken head in Alphabet City, playing real gigs and taking it seriously.
From there I went to Georgetown University, I was a Math major and I spent a lot of time playing drums in DC. I then went to LA where I worked for Interscope record's first digital analyst, did that for 2 years. Toured with MIA for 6 months, went to Harvard (MBA) and now I'm working with Spotify.
You Mentioned Truth earlier, what is the meaning of Truth:
When you are a kid, everything is shielded from you. Being able to open up MTV when my parents weren't in the room felt so cool, it felt like "oh this is what is really going on, this is reality." I felt like I was growing up faster by seeing all that stuff. I didn't feel sheltered in India, they just differentiated at the time foreign TV to local India TV so a lot of stuff that when I was in the States would have had a parental advisory which would have blocked me from watching it, I could watch in India. The Prodigy cursing on MTV or Rap videos with explicit content in it, I loved all that stuff. I think music, by its very ubiquitous nature, can get to a really far audience. If it has a good message to it (Like when Eminem was growing up in Detroit), you can create a really emotional reaction among people and get them feeling like they know your truth better than any other medium can.
What is your first song? Is it a Spice Girls song?
Tracy Chapman “Give Me One Reason”
I was a first grader and it was probably 1996. I went to a private school uptown called Chapin but me and only three other students in the class lived downtown which was a bit taboo. They used to send a bus to get us and the driver's name was Harrison. He would play classical music when he rolled up to pick us up with our parents and when we would leave we'd ask him to play Z100. Then he'd say yes and Tracy Chapman would always be playing on the radio. I told my dad I loved it and one day he came home with a Tower Records bag with a double Tracy Chapman record. Then my parents and I went to the living room and we listened to the record and found my track. We used to all sing it together; I have a great memory of that.
Is that one of your earliest memories of music?
A little earlier than that it would probably be Marvin Gaye, Sexual Healing. My parents would tell me that it was their song but then when they would play it and dance to it they would always go and put their hands on my ears on the word "sexual". It would make me feel really awkward. I think thought that its what turned me on to music, this notion that, oh, i'm not allowed to hear this, I want to hear more.
I liked that it gave my parents joy and they wanted to enjoy this moment. Even for me, I'll go in the subway, will be in a bad mood and it can create this instance of happiness just by playing a song. With the Truth element, I really believe that when you are making your way through the world and you feel that you want to be informed and empowered, because the music comes directly from who made it, then you trust it a little more.
Have you played anything other then the drums?
Yes, I was forced to take Piano till I was 10. I really hated it because it’s all about memorization. The best part about the drums is that I could learn one beat and be in 45 different bands.
What are some lessons that you'd pass on to a younger self?
Study rudimentary chops more seriously. I had a drum teacher who was really liberal, kind, cool and open. He would say "go listen to music you really like and learn those beats just because you vibe with them. Learn every song you love." That was my way of learning, finding music that was really cool, slowing down and trying to break down what that rhythm was and learning that. I think that some of the technical stuff that I started focusing on later in my career as a drummer served me a lot better though in terms of when I'm doing solos or shows, people love seeing stuff that’s difficult to play, rapid fire stuff with my fingers or sticks. I wish I had learned that when I was a kid because when you learn that when you are young and your muscles are still forming it just stays with you forever and you are better at it.
Is there song that defines your next stage in life?
It was The Eminem Show, the summer after I had learned the drums. That album came out and it was so aggressive, so angry. It was also so misogynistic, a word I choose intentionally because it was hatred against women. It was dark and yet I couldn't get enough because it was his story, each song tied together really well. I really felt like I could see him in Detroit, I could see him with his band mates, I could see his pain, his relationships. It was like a film. I loved how much aggression and passion there was and I felt like it was really human. And I loved that I could listen to every song on the album.
Where would you be today without Music?
I don't know how to answer that question because even before I was a drummer music was just a part of my life. I was dancing to it, I was dressing like the Spice Girls, I was signing all the songs. It energized me, made me feel cool, made me feel epic and connected to something global. When I was in India it connected me to what was going on in the US, I didn't feel far away from what I knew and loved.
Lets talk Music Education, What do you think music does in schools, how important is it and how does it effect their ability to learn?
The most important thing I get from it is confidence. I think to be able to be vulnerable, to perform and to just have it be comfortable for you to start singing or drumming or being on a stage...the experience of accepting vulnerability in that moment is something that can be applied to everything. It can be applied if you are starting a business and have a concept where no one believes in you. It can be that you have a gift and you wouldn't know how to be on that stage if you hadn't had that experience in music class where you supposed to sing at the Christmas show or they gave you the solo in the 2nd grade play.
I think for me the biggest thing I got from music is confidence. I believe it’s a learned skill. I don't think you are born with it. Its something that you learn when you are younger and when you get older and more insecure, that practice can be applied. Now I speak publicly but I will give the speech because I learned confidence. It allows you to be public and be comfortable occupying that space.
What is another song that has guided you in your life?
When I was a 7th grader I had a science teacher named Ms. Olsen and she was the coolest, young, super cool, let us have candy in class, talked about her boyfriend to everyone. I always wanted to befriend her and make her think I was cool so I made her a mix CD with the music I thought was cool and a year later she made me a mix CD. I remember feeling so cool. She taught me about Peter Gabriel, U2, Sting, the Dixie Chicks. It wasn't a particular album, just that mix.
When I was a 10th grader, my parents threw me a sweet 16 party. When I was going home and looked at my birthday gifts I found a CD. It didn't have any card or anything just a yellow jacket and a brown girl on the cover. I was like MIA, Arular, what is that? I played it and thought it was crazy, cacophony, Indian and the more I played it the more I liked it and that was my first exposure to MIA and I was 16. It was the coolest and to this day I still don't know who gave me that CD.
Also when I was an 11th grader a guy I was dating made me a CD that had Massive Attack, Thievery Corporation, Flaming Lips and Beck and that moved me more into electronic and lounge. That CD also changed me a lot.
Lastly, what do you like singing in the shower?
You know you like it, DJ Snake.
For more on Kiran visit her website and check out her TED talk below.