If we had to sum up our conversation with Nirmika Singh, we would call it to both fun and light-hearted. And these are words that resonate with her personality. The singer/songwriter made a move from Delhi to Mumbai to pursue her music career and never looked back since. Working as the Executive Editor of Rolling Stone India as well as paving her own path in music, Nirmika balances both her work and passion for music like a #GirlBoss. Her staggering willpower to be versatile is what made her follow the musical path and that’s where she finds solace. How did she start off? By fronting her first band Nirmika & A Few Good Men. And now she’s writing songs for acclaimed names from the music industry such as Clinton Cerejo. Chatting up at her jam pad over a cuppa tea, the extremely edgy Nirmika Singh talks to us about what made her take the path less chosen, everything that goes into living her life, and how her style makes heads turn.
1. When did you first realise your inclination towards music?
If I really have to go far back in time I would say when I was 13. I was part of a hobby club in school where they’d teach guitar. At this time that I was listening to English bands like Roxette and Guns N’ Roses. I remember putting in a cassette and playing music at full volume when there was no one at home. And then I’d cuff my skirt to turn it into a mini, pretending I’m a rock star. This was a time when I’d watch MTV with my sister. I think all this made me realise I like singing.
On my 14th birthday, I asked my dad for a guitar. Back in 2001, it cost him Rs 2,200 and that was a lot of money. I started learning songs on the guitar, then I started singing in the school choir. Later on, I was surrounded by musicians and that’s how I got my first call from a club in Noida; the singer had fallen ill and they wanted me to take over. I was 18 or 19 maybe; I performed there for 10-15 days and liked it.
2. When did you realise that being a lyricist was your calling?
I grew up watching my parents reciting poetry (both my parents are poets) on DD India. I started writing poetry too, and that too when I was 9. When I was about 13 or 14, I was writing poetry without any melody in mind. I think it was only when I went to college that I composed my own songs in English.
3. You are an editor at Rolling Stone India and also a singer, how do you maintain a balance between both?
To be honest I never think about it. It is natural for me to come back home and either write or jam. I have been doing it since I was in college. I studied journalism at Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi and also worked as a musician. Both these things have become such intrinsic parts of my being. I am compulsively creative and I feel very miserable when I’m doing only one thing at a given time. The days that I’m not writing, singing or practising I’m either cooking or knitting. I also love embroidery. This keeps me going and I ensure I don’t have any time to sit idle.
4. Belonging to a generation that’s influenced by Pop and EDM, how did you decide to follow the path of indie music?
It wasn’t a conscious decision but one that you have when you’ve listened to a lot of music. From 13 or 14 I was listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, the likes. I was influenced by jazz improvisation and that kind of music builds you for life. I was always around older people who listened to refined music. And for me, genres like jazz and funk happened before rock. That also worked to my advantage because I understood the nuances better. Once I absorbed that kind of music, I started listening to rock. I also had an electronica phase, but it was intelligent electronica music and not EDM. Most of my idols are women such as Carole King, Ella (Fitzgerald), Alynda Lee Segarra from Hurray for the Riff Raff; their work has so much more meaning, substance, and story. That’s also how the Indie route happened. I wanted to be somebody who tells a story…somebody whose lyrics resonate with people.
5. Now to your style…how do you portray your personal style when you’re performing on stage?
I’m a total riot on stage. And my style is fun, comfortable, unique and punk. Knowing your style is also a trial and error thing right? The more you do it the more you realise what’s working for you and what’s not. I am realising of late that there is a consistent style that I have, that’s only evolved over the years. Previously I liked wearing a lot of colours so all my outfits were extremely colourful. Now I love wearing short dresses because I can jump around in it. I also love sarees and team it with a bustier, halter or bikini top. I flip between these two looks. Also, I’m not a jewellery person, but I accessorise when I’m on stage.
6. How about your off-stage style; what’s it like?
My work calls for power dressing (that I’ve been doing a lot lately) as I often meet influencers, brand heads etc. But I don’t want to be just another business suit-wearing person. I want to be myself and dress my age, which is why I have fun with my looks. I would probably wear a rugged jacket with pencil trousers and stilettoes. I am monochrome oriented and I also tend to wear a lot of leather. Honestly, my hairstyle (an edgy buzz cut) does most of the work.
7. Your personal style comes across as very edgy as compared to your music which is more subdued. That’s rare…how did that happen?
I believe there are three to four sides to me as an artist. People tend to be similar performers but my stage identity is different. If you listen to my EP and then watch me on stage, you will never figure that it is the same person. The EP is usually mellow but when I’m on stage, I am absolutely different. I don’t see a sort of dissonance in both things because I feel a record captures a time in your life and how you felt in that phase. I want it to be that way.
8. Internationally, musicians usually go all out to showcase their style on stage. Do Indian musicians also have that kind of pressure?
Indian musicians aren’t as privileged as their western counterparts; we don’t have an entourage behind us. Here, musicians hardly get paid at Indie gigs. Style requires money, effort, and time. That said, fashion has always been a very big part of music as well as performing arts. But now I feel there is a certain pressure or maybe it’s just expectations. Previously, if you sang well it didn’t matter what you were wearing. But now people are looking for an edge or a USP. And of course, image is key.
9. Is travelling a medium for you to cut off from city life so you can derive inspiration for your music? Also, what’s your favourite travel destination?
10. Are there any current fashion trends that you are loving?
Makeup & Hair by Laxmikanta Vaishnav