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Rïa Mehta [Interview]

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Rïa Mehta is an international artist breaking traditional boundaries in electronic music. Now based in NYC, her multicultural influence takes its roots from growing up in Sri Lanka, London, Dubai & India. Since launching her project, she quickly knew she wanted to create her own sound and found solace in producing. Creating music purely by ear has her sound stemmed in deep euphonies filled with melodic structures. Her music style varies from melodic techno to deep house, with no intention of boxing herself into a specific genre. Her vision is to bring that same multifaceted groove to her music productions, and to interloop different musical boundaries with emotion. This week Ria returns to Inner Shah Recordings with a new and much anticipated two-track showcase, we had a chance to catch up with her for an interview leading up to the release and we hope you enjoy it.

Hi Ria, thanks for joining us. What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to? 

Thanks for having me! Current mood is excited; I just finished working on a new track inspired by the Netflix show “Stranger Things” that’s releasing this fall… so lots to look forward to, including the EP dropping this week! Last piece of music I heard: Origin by Artbat

What are your plans for the coming week?

Release day is Friday, so the week leading up to it usually consists of creating content, reaching out to other DJs with the new release, and preparing for a DJ set next week… you know, the usual pre-release stuff :)

Can you name five tracks that were important in your musical development and why they are so significant for you?

Lexer, Paji - Red Puddle

DJ Yellow, Flowers, Sea Creatures - No One Gets Left Behind (Konstantin Sibold Remix)

Cranes - Monkey Safari

Thievery Corporation - Indra

Bonobo - Cirrus / Kong

I realize that is a pretty diverse list, but I grew up listening to the likes of Michael Jackson, Deep Purple, AND Bollywood music all at the same time, so my taste in music as an adult has stayed pretty diverse too. These tracks above are of significance to me because they feel cross-genre; breaking the boundaries of the genre they’re supposed to be in, which inspired me to make music the same way.

Were you a DJ or producer first? And which do you enjoy more?

DJ! As soon as I played my first party in 2020, I knew I wanted to make music. Thanks to the world shutting down that year I got that chance sooner than expected. 

I enjoy both for different reasons. Producing is my escape from reality; DJ’ing is testing the labor of that escape with a crowd to see how they’ll react. I love playing ethnic music and seeing people of all colors/races/geography dancing to it; it gives me so much joy. But there’s nothing like seeing a crowd react to your track :)  I live for those moments. So yeah… I enjoy both.

You moved around a lot growing up, please tell us about that and how did you eventually end up living in New York?

My father owned a small business that allowed him to travel a bit, and often he would take us with him. It helped shape my view of the world; whether different religions or color of skin, my perspective broadened as I grew up. That had an impact on my music, but more on that later.

I came to the US for college and made my first trip to New York during Spring Break of freshman year. There was an air about the city I loved: its chaos, diversity, nightlife, and of course, the music scene. 7 years later, I was here (and I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else now :))

What is the current state of electronic music in the USA? And how has it changed since you’ve been there? 

The current state is interesting; everybody’s a DJ now so you have to work 10x harder to stand out. And while the electronic music scene has evolved since I’ve been here, it still has a long way to go in terms of diversity… At least, that’s how I’m feeling after traveling through Europe where I found the scene to be far more diverse; whether in terms of music or selection of artists on lineups. More women. More people of color. It was easier to find there than it is here. The US has made improvements compared to, say, 5 years ago, but not anywhere close to where it needs to be.

What are your favourite venues to play in New York and why?

In the summer I love playing at Bogart House in Brooklyn. It has a skyline view of Manhattan that looks amazing. In the winter I’d say Quantum; their sound system is one of the best in the city. Both venues aren’t huge, so you still feel that intimate vibe with your audience, which is why I like them.

When you were first getting started in production did you have someone help you or are you completely self-taught? And what would you recommend new producers do to help with the learning curve of production?

I have no background in music, so I’ll say most of what I know is self-taught. But I did take a couple of classes in the beginning.

The first one I took was an “intro to Ableton” class at 343 labs in April 2020. That’s what got me started, and my curiosity led the rest of the way. I spent anywhere from 3-6 hours a night in Ableton, YouTubing this and that. And then one of my favorite producers, Rinzen, was offering a 5-day course via IO academy in July 2020. As I look back now, I realize that that’s what helped shape my perspective on music production.

I learned from him the importance of attention to detail, sound selection, and then how to modify it so it’ll be more unique. I have such a long way to go, but a great teacher is always a good start :)

My two recommendations to new producers are: First, find a teacher whose music you like, and try to learn from them. Inspiration plays a big role in getting motivated. Second, keep making music, you’ll learn something new every day. There is no shortcut; practice makes perfect.

Your bio states you find solace in producing, please tell us why this activity is a place of peace for you.

I started producing during the pandemic. When the world was in chaos it was a great distraction… and eventually, I started spending so much time doing it, that it became therapeutic because I’d end up zoning out (or in, ha) for hours at a time.  The fact that I had so much to learn was good too… I was told recently I’m a philomath; a lover of learning, so this never-ending field of music production has been a great way to satisfy my need to keep learning. \

You recently offered your remix of Billie Eilish's hit 'No Time To Die' to the public as a free download, and the response has been fantastic. Tell us what made you want to remix that particular track.

I was watching the movie “No Time To Die” last month (I’m a 007 fan; if only I could be a Bond girl IRL - or better yet, Bond herself :)). There’s a point early on in the movie when everything goes quiet and Billie’s voice comes on. It gave me goosebumps; her voice is so sensual and beautiful. As the credits rolled, I started looking for a remix for it to play in my sets, and couldn’t find anything that fit the vision I had in my head. That's when the idea came to make it myself.

I knew I wanted the remix to be the opposite of the original; dark and definitely for the dance floor. As I started working on it, I could imagine her voice echoing solo through a nightclub at some point in the song. So her vocal became the center of attention, and the whole track was built around it. The drums and main melody were intentionally left to sound a little old school, to make it feel like you were in one of those detective movies yourself while listening to it ;)

I wasn’t expecting such an overwhelming response to it! Feeling very grateful. And because I’ve been so lucky to have people support my music in the past, I ended up making it free to the public as a gesture of thanks :) 

Next you have a new EP in collaboration with Sean Ae out this week on Inner Shah Recordings, tell us a bit about the release and please walk us through the production process on one of the tracks.

This is the first release of a set of tracks Sean and I worked together on in the first half of 2022. They’re melodic, dreamy, and have Indian elements to them; Every Moment is a dancefloor track, and Miramar has more sunset vibes. Miramar started as a full breaks track (Sean is a total wizard with breaks) and he’d created this 30-second loop that I fell in love with. It eventually evolved into a 4x4 track with a breaks bit in the middle (cross-genre, keeping in line with our style :))

Every Moment, on the other hand, was something we worked on tirelessly on before we were happy with it. We knew we wanted a track that could be played in clubs, but other than that we were pretty open-minded. Originally it had vocals, but the Sitar sounded way better so we ended up swapping that out. Then Sean whipped up the bass on his Arturia minibrute and we ended up adding some organic percussions to it to give the track a groovy bounce. I started playing it in sets back in March and it had a brilliant reaction every time. I think this is a result of the cross-cultural influences giving it a fresh feeling.  And of course, every time I’ve played it, it’s had something new/different to it because we kept updating it. I’m relieved that it's being released now, lol, so we can finally stop making changes to it!

You have worked on quite a few projects with Sean thus far, how did you two meet and begin to work on music together?

Sean is one of the producers I met in the Rinzen class actually! There were 100+ people in that week-long course, but he and I bonded over our obsessive nature of making music. Quick, constructive, and we lucked out that we had similar tastes.

After sending each other a few tracks for feedback, we decided to collaborate on one: “Sacre”. It was cross-genre (like most of our tracks are), and it ended up being a Beatport chart-topper. Its success inspired us to collaborate more, and the rest is history.

I love working with Sean - he is the musical yin to my yang. We might be half a world apart (he’s based in Australia, myself in New York), but it's never been an issue. If anything, it helps because by the time I’m done with work he’s waking up, and then we get to produce simultaneously in entirely different time zones, often providing each other feedback as the ideas are generated. 

Personally, for me, our (sometimes brutal) honesty with each other is the icing on the cake. Over the last 18+ months of working together, we know we’re only saying what’s best for one another so the good and bad feedback comes from the right place. In my opinion, that’s what makes our music better. 

Inner Shah Recordings is a label you’ve released a lot with previously, what makes it a good home for your music?

Ha, yes. As I mentioned before, Sean and I make music that’s cross-genre, and finding a home for them can be quite a task. I came across Inner Shah last year and liked their catalog, so I reached out and they’ve been a great label to work with since. Not only do they treat us well, but they treat artists like us as partners, oftentimes giving feedback on tracks while they’re still in progress and introducing us to other artists in the community. It’s a win-win for us in every way.  

What does your set-up look like? Do you favor physical gear over digital? And what studio tools featured heavily in the writing of this EP?

Since I don’t have a background in music, everything I create is by ear on my computer. I do own a Push 2 and a small midi keyboard, but most of my music is created on my 13” MacBook Pro :)  I love the mobility if I’m being honest - I’m an avid traveler, so all I need are my headphones and my computer when I’m feeling inspired, and I can make my idea a reality no matter where I am. Hard to beat that over physical gear!

In this EP, the one hardware gear used was the Arturia Minibrute for the bass and arp.

 Where does your inspiration come from and was there anything that inspired these particular tracks?

My philosophy in music (and life) follows Apple’s original mantra from the 80s: Think Different. As a result, I draw my inspiration from classics but love twisting them with ethnic or unique sounds. 

These particular tracks were inspired by my Indian roots. Both tracks originated while I was visiting my family in India last winter. Every Moment, while a dancefloor track, has a really pretty Sitar…  and Miramar’s vocal sample is something you’d hear in Bollywood music :)

What is the task you enjoy the most when producing and what would you prefer someone else to do?

I thrive on the creative aspect. Finding new sounds. I also love the arranging part. What I could be better at is the mixdown aspect; so I leave the mixing to someone else if I can. I’m learning that too now… but it’s my least favorite part about producing.

What would be a musical extravagance for your studio you would pay for, if you were very wealthy?

I would hire an audio engineer to mix my tracks, ha! In terms of equipment: I love the Moog and Sub 37, but unfortunately, my New York City apartment doesn’t allow for a studio set up :)

Do you find it more difficult to come up with original tracks than remixing a track from another artist?

I find it more difficult when working on a remix because I have to work hard not to let the track sound too similar to the original. Especially if I love the original, and it’s within the house and techno realm. Then it’s a real struggle!

Looking back over your discography which release are you most proud of and why?

That’s a tough one because I love all my tracks (yes, even the older bad ones haha). Every track has a story, and I remember the mindset I was in when I made it, so each track feels special to me. 

If I had to pick favorites, they would be my remix of “Sex, Drugs and Militant Veganism”, “Sacre”, and “Arcane”. They’re all very different from one another (deep house to melodic techno) and show the skills I’ve learned over the years. 

How much road testing or friend feedback is done before you’re ready to say a track is finished? And who is someone you share your new music with first for feedback?

A LOT. I don’t think I’ve ever released a track with less than 10+ people giving feedback. Sean is usually the first one to get my tracks.. but you probably guessed that by now :) Sometimes I’ll also send my music to bigger artists, to finesse the track as best as I can.

Something I do a little differently is that I like to get non-producers/non-DJs to give feedback too. I find their reactions to be very telling because they’re only reacting to what they hear and don’t care for the technical aspect. Ultimately they’re the ones on the dancefloor so… if they’re listening and not reacting, that can’t be good!

In your opinion, what’s the biggest risk you’ve taken and what made you do it?

“Biggest” is relative, but I’ll speak in terms of music: when I started producing, everyone told me I had to pick a genre and stick with it. I didn’t listen to them (thankfully). My philosophy was simple: just make what sounds good. Fast forward 2 years, and I have no regrets. Music is so subjective, and the risk has paid off!

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice, who would you book and what set times would you ascribe to the artists?

Is this a trick question?! That’s hard! 5 is a short list. I assume I’m not one of the 5? So I’ll exclude myself from this line up although it sounds epic and I would love to play with any one of them.

Rinzen, Innellea, Township Rebellion, Yotto, Artbat. In that order :) 2-3 hour set time for each, because it’s really hard to tell a story with anything less. If I could add a 6th it’d be Joris Voorn or Nox Vahn; I love their sound too.

What’s a superpower you wish you had and how would you use it?

Maybe time travel? Go back in time and live through epic historical (and musical) moments, or forward to skip the hard parts of life! I’d also say flying, but since we have planes I thought maybe time traveling would be more clutch.

What’s a book you’ve read or film you watched that has left an impact on you, and why?

Probably “The Dark Knight”. I love the darkness of it and the movie score is amazing. So much of a story can be told just by the soundtrack of really great movies. Another that comes to mind is “Interstellar” - that movie's soundtrack gives me goosebumps all the time. So yeah, I’ll say movies with good music leave a pretty big impact on me.

Current five favourite tracks?

Solee - Bariel

Township Rebellion - About A Tribe Remastered

Christian Nielsen - So Deep

Warung - Shrine

Saint Evo - Tuhan

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Traveling. Before the pandemic, I was doing 7-9 new countries a year. Meeting new people, engrossing myself in new cultures... It makes me happy. I got to combine my love for travel and music earlier this summer while playing a couple of shows in Europe and I finally know what it feels like to “do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life”.

What does 2022 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

Yes! In terms of DJing, I’m heading back to Europe this fall for a couple more events. 

On the producing front, while the first half of 2022 was pretty quiet with just 1 EP on Desert Hearts Black, the 2nd half will be flowing with new music. I’m so excited for the world to hear it. 

Outside of ‘Every Moment’ EP dropping this week, Sean and I have another EP releasing on the female-owned label Modern Agenda. I also have a couple of singles releasing on other labels, and a remix releasing on my favorite Swedish label, House Music With Love. 

Sean and my collabs will sound cohesive to those paying attention - that’s because they were all made to be released together initially… but life had different plans. Super grateful to some serious believers in me and my music: From Sean to my father, Somatic Records, Inner Shah, and Anden; if it wasn’t for them none of these tracks would be seeing the light of day. But thanks to them, I’m looking forward to having new music out again!

'Every Moment' is out now via Inner Shah Recordings: https://bit.ly/3P0zvH4

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