Anoushka Maskey is one of the rare musicians whose songs feel like a warm embrace. With roots in folk music, this Sikkim and Mumbai-based singer-songwriter pours her heart into her work. From the first note, her music and poignant lyrics evoke a profound sense of emotion, with the environment deeply feeding into her euphonies.
In 2020, she created a stir with her debut EPs, “Things I Saw in a Dream” and “C.E.A.S.E”. Since then, she has delighted her listeners with a slew of soulful songs, with her latest release, ‘Most of the Days,’ having been released on the 31st of January 2024.
With no formal training in the field, Anoushka's journey is a testament to the raw authenticity that emanates from her work. Her lyrical prowess, a poetic expression of the highs and lows in her tumultuous life, reflects a deep connection with the ebbs and flows of the human experience.
With the promise of a new band, fresh arrangements, and an upcoming album, Anoushka Maskey stands at the brink of an exciting chapter in her career. We unravel the layers of her artistic identity, exploring the inspirations, challenges, and aspirations that define the remarkable trajectory of this musician.
Tell us about your early years. How were you drawn towards music?
My earliest memories of loving music are all attached to my brother. He was always blasting music on the speakers or playing the guitar and singing. Picture 90s/early 2000s home videos of kids performing for their families - except I wasn’t coerced into it! My brother, however, was always away at boarding school. So, we only had these tiny pockets of time, once or twice a year, where we would jam together. That’s where it all began, perhaps.
As a lyricist, are there some themes you always find yourself gravitating towards?
Themes, honestly, come in endlessly. Lately, however, it’s been a tumultuous time in my life, in both good and bad ways. The highs are really high, and the lows are really low. And so, that’s what I’ve been writing a lot about. My focus in life lately has been finding anchors, building a better relationship with myself, accepting things for what they are and the present for what it is. So, those are the themes you may find in my work this year.
While composing your songs, does thought precede feeling, or vice versa?
When it comes to the melodies, the chord progressions, or any part of the song that doesn’t involve writing, feeling always precedes thought. I am simply unable to make further progress with a song if it doesn’t feel “right,” for better or for worse. In fact, I believe my career in music would cease to exist if it weren’t for me trusting my gut and going by whether or not it feels good to me. I say so because I lack a lot of technical and theoretical knowledge, at the moment. So, as my technical and theoretical knowledge grows over time, I’m excited to observe how the thought and feeling dynamics shift.
Your songs are often melodiously inviting, with a comforting feel to them. Where do you turn to for inspiration?
More often than not, the process is - I sit down to write when something moves me, or I’m feeling deeply about something. So, I guess that is inspiration finding me. For a vice versa situation, where I’m trying to find inspiration, I make sure that I’m situated properly - “How is the lighting in the room?” “I need to get work done by 4pm so I can sit on the sofa before sunset and utilise the feelings at golden hour.” “Do I need to buy more cigarettes?” “Would the acoustic or the electric be better at translating the feeling I’m trying to write about?” The environment I’m in heavily feeds how inspired I am.
How would you describe your musical sensibility?
Not too long ago, I think I relied too heavily on what I considered my musical sensibility. It had reached a disastrous point where I failed to acknowledge my creative partner’s contradicting opinions and sensibility. And as a collaborator, that is a lack of maturity I do not want to bring to the table. That is the only time my musical sensibility has proved dangerous. Other than that, I think I fully trust myself. I’ve made some great music, for people and for myself, relying purely on where the feeling takes me.
Can you tell us about your latest release, ‘Most of the Days’?
My single ‘Most of the Days’ is a full circle moment because I feel like I’ve made something I grew up listening to. My early influences in music were the likes of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. But it never struck me to write a folk ballad myself. ‘Most of the Days’ was written in 10 minutes, in the heat of a moment where my burdening financial and emotional baggage was oppressing my life and spirit. As a person who had gone years without letting financial pressure or mental challenges become the center of my being, these new but consistent feelings of unrest were growing into an alarming cause for concern. It is for this reason that I involuntarily tread the direction of a folk ballad, perhaps. I’m curious to find out whether or not I lean more into this style of writing and composition this year.
On or off stage - what has been your most memorable moment as a musician?
Playing at the Hornbill Festival during my tour in the winter of 2023 has been a recent highlight. It was an incredibly frosty late evening in Kisama, Nagaland, and I was pulsating with the thrill of taking the stage with a band for the first time. The sun had just set, and the crowd had gathered in masses. I was a white fire-breathing dragon as I sang my ass off on stage. I had made the smart choice of wearing a mini skirt with stockings, and while my fingers froze playing the guitar, my heart was entirely full. I channeled all the stress and anxiety I had been living with and took it all out on stage. I flirted with my audience. Consciously took mental pictures. Made my audience and bandmates laugh. That one hour was such a beautiful release, I could’ve floated off the stage and landed atop the Kisama hill.
What lies ahead for you?
I’m deeply psyched to play with my new band this year. Anoushka Maskey has been a solo act for the past three years, but we’ve been spending the past few months breathing new life into my songs with new arrangements to take to the stage. My solo tour in the winter of 2023 was an experience for the books, and so I’m confident that traveling with my band and my manager (my favourite gal) will top that too. I’ve also got an album in the works for this year, which I’m so proud of. This bunch of songs is some of my most honest work, and I’m not even sure how I’m going to speak about some of the things I’ve written about. But I’m happy to figure that out along the way.
Words Devyani Verma