In May, the electronic producer/singer/songwriter TALA released The Duchess, a stellar three-song debut EP that we haven’t been able to stop playing since. Here, the 25-year-old self-described “unsettled soul” shares her story so far.
I grew up in a town called Kingston in South London. It was green and quite chilled out — nothing ever really happened there. At my small, Catholic girls’ school, music was a big escape for me. I started classical training on piano when I was seven and would write songs and play music when I was bored.
My dad, who was Iranian and owned a Persian restaurant, was also a musician and the house was always a bit mad with sitars and drums all around. He’d be playing some Iranian or Arabic music in one room, while my mom, who’s English, would have cheesy pop music like Michael Ball playing in another. This was in the early to mid 2000s around the same time that the teenagers in my town were getting into UK garage. For me it was natural to start pulling all of those things together.
The first original music I wrote was a piano composition when I was 12 called something corny like “Dreams.” But when I was 13, a friend of mine gave me a music production software program called Reason. I was like, “Wow, I can do anything now!” That was the start of it.
I think my sound developed sort of naturally just by me making tunes in my bedroom for quite a while. Eventually, I just kind of found something that felt like it was working.
From 16-18 I went to the BRIT school. It’s a creative school partly funded by the British record industry. A lot of people go there for music and music theatre and art. But I didn’t realize how competitive it was to get into until I went to audition and there were hundreds of kids! I was coming from a tiny, convent girls’ school and just wanted to be around other creative people.
Going to BRIT was quite a shock. There were boys there so I was like, “Oh my God.” And you could wear your own clothes, which was amazing. There were so many talented people all around. The school has a lot of great alumni [Adele, Amy Winehouse, Katy B] and when I got there I just thought “Man, I’m not that good here.” It definitely made me feel like I needed to work really hard and step my game up. I really realized that music isn’t something you can just get into easily.
Music was always what I wanted to do but I didn’t really think that it was achievable. I remember going to visit my older brother in L.A. after graduating from BRIT and not being sure what I wanted to do. I was a little confused. I didn’t know if maybe I should study at uni[versity] or if I should do something else. But I knew that I would always be making music because I love doing it. Thankfully, things are going well at the moment. Fingers crossed!
I got signed based on an early beat tape that had a rough version of “The Dutchess,” the first half of “Serbia,” a song called “Gold” and another song called “Geviva” that I haven’t put out yet but will hopefully do something with it later. My manager gave one to Adam from the Aesop label and they really believed in me from day one. I needed that because I didn’t have a lot at the time, just a beat tape and some stray songs. It was really nice that someone saw my vision. And they’re really selective with the artists they sign.
I sing on all of my tracks. I wasn’t one of those kids who was singing at age 5, I’m not a natural-born singer. But ever since I learned piano I always kind of thought I should try singing to add another kind of instrument to it. When I started I wasn’t that confident, but I think my voice developed over the years and I’ve learned how to make it sound the way I want from a production standpoint.
There are a lot of amazing things happening in music in London right now. One of my favorite new artists from there is this guy called Mssingno, who has a song called “XE2” that I really love.
I’m also a big fan of FKA Twigs. Her videos are so bizarre and amazing. But I’m a bit of an unsettled soul. I never really feel like I’m a part of anywhere. I love traveling and there are so many other places I want to go and be inspired by. Going to Marrakech to shoot the video for “Serbia” had a big impact on me. I love all the food, sounds, music and cultures of different countries.
“On My Own in Hua Hin” is a song I made after going to a wedding there in Thailand. It was my first time traveling in Asia and it was amazing, one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. I filmed this traditional Thai procession band and used the audio for the basis of the song. Having a visual in my head, wherever it comes from and however weird it is, is really important when I’m making something.
A lot of my family is from Qatar. I recently went there and stayed with lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. I found the whole experience — the imagery, the cultural traditions — really interesting. I love the idea of lots of contrasts. In Qatar, you have all of this tradition but then you also have such wealth and modernity. The intersection between those two things is something that I think has sort of naturally influenced me without me realizing it.
Growing up in quite a diverse family and in such a melting pot I’ve always mixed cultures. That’s just a part of who I am and it’s a part of my music and imagery. We live in a time where certain imagery from the Middle East can be quite alien to Western culture and quite scary for people sometimes. If you can take the positive aspects of what is quite a beautiful culture than I think it’s great to throw that in the mix.
I actually get a lot of inspiration from YouTube. I’m a total junkie. I’ll spend hours late at night searching videos until I forget what time it is. My favorite videos to watch are animal wildlife montages and old Indian soundtracks. There’s this one I’m obsessed with by A R Rahman called “Urvasi, Urvasi.” You should watch it, it’s great.