Name: Gowri Jayakumar aka Pulpy Shilpy
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, producer
Recent release: Pulpy Shilpy is one of the artists – alongside Shantam, Himay, and Nigel Perera – featured on Swarm Intel Vol 1, the inaugural compilation release launching Goa-based Orbs Cure Labs.
Recommendations: I’ll just name two books I read recently: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (reading still), and The Metamorphosis (novella by Kafka). I know very little about paintings, but recently I came upon a reference to this piece called View of Toledo by El Greco. Somehow, this piece really intrigues me.
[Read our Himay interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Pulpy Shilpy and would like to find out more, visit her on Soundcloud, Facebook, and bandcamp.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/ or sound that drew you to it?
I’ve been playing guitar since I was 15. I am 36 now.
Grew up on a steady diet of rock n roll and songwriters - Tom Waits, Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, Led Zepp, Guns n Roses, Aerosmith.
I was an awkward kid, music gave me something to focus on, to divert and channel all that restless awkward energy, it helped me stay grounded.
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
I’m a sucker for story. I get invested in the journey of sounds, harmonies, melodies, lyrics if any. It helps my blood flow better, that’s the feeling I get when I listen to music.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
From being unhinged and absolutely free in making bizarre creative choices in my 20s, I now try to work with limitations. Self-created limitations or boundaries, so I can see how to develop within a scaffolding.
Earlier, I did as I pleased, and that was fun. But now, I want to deepen my understanding of the tools I have to play with. So in a sense, I am a bit more conservative now, in how I choose to express. Also, age has diluted some of my convictions, which was key to a lot of lyrical storytelling.
Nowadays I find myself in greys, and I feel more at home in sonic details versus traditional songwriting expression.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
From the age of 22 to 32, I wrote many songs, anecdotal, went crazy with guitar harmony - absolutely loved experimenting with chord voicings and lyrical scansion. That medium had become such an integral part of how I thought, that I could write a song about anything, and any experience could be fodder for a new song.
Now, I feel I am much less certain about who I am, or what my beliefs are, but more sure of how I wish to live. I am a bit detached, and that surely reflects in the music. I am more concerned with an efficient creative process than the product. Processes that help me lose the clutter and noise, and helps me be present.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Honesty at a philosophical level, experimentation, challenging my own idea of what I know, saying the things that are hard to say … art is our only way out. It’s sad when we have the opportunity to use art to change things, but we don’t …
As a technical goal, I also try to reference these days, because I never used to be able to concentrate and see it through. I find that I learn a lot when I reference, especially in electronic music, it really helps me understand sounds better.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I believe honesty, originality and innovation makes for perfection and timelessness. Music of the future will soon be tradition, so it doesn’t really matter.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
Guitar, voice, Ableton. This year we launched our label, and that has taken up most of my time. Else I would say practice makes perfect, and working with goals and limitations. If my purpose were to understand a synth plugin, I would set a target of writing 20 minutes of music using no other synth other than the said plugin.
I begin with laying down a whole structure and decide how many sections I want in this journey. And then I slowly build up layers, slowly add variations, punctuations, motifs, and try and be gradual and gentle in how I treat this experience. I get easily carried away with the infinite pathways a sound opens up, but these are the kind of self-imposed limitations I spoke of earlier. I wish to prolong my stay in a particular experience, and I am trying to achieve that.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Organising late night parties and concerts has turned my body clock upside down. I now sleep at 4 am, wake up by 12. I used to do yoga regularly, but after I got Covid, that practice took a hit. My routine is all kinds of chaos right now. The time I compose the most is when I go to my mother’s house. Her presence is reassuring, and I find that I automatically focus and create when at home.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
The first song I produced was a hiphop tune called “Kaadal Mannan”.
I’m kind of singing rapping on it, and the lyrics are inspired by this old-time Tamil actor Gemini Ganesan, whose nickname was Kaadal Mannan - a kind of Romeo. I sampled the hell out of my own vocals, which is something I used to do back then, used Melodyne harmonies for ad libs and backing vocals, and since I was very very fresh at production, I used whatever drums and synths that showed up first thing.
It was really simple and effortless, and my lack of knowledge really helped me a lot.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I’m very private. In everything. If there is another person in the room, I can’t even imagine making a peep. Funnily, I used to have a band, but I mostly wrote everything beforehand, and made parts where others could improvise. I would seldom improvise.
I find that I am free and express better alone, though I miss being able to communicate with my co-creators spontaneously. Producing electronic music alone in my room suits me best though.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
As a songwriter, I always felt someone has to say the hard things. The ugly bits you see in yourself, you’ve got to present it. I grew up listening to others being honest about themselves. And it helped me. And I always tried to do it with whatever tools I had.
Moving into electronic music was more an attempt at self-empowerment. However, soundscapes have the power to transport beyond words, and there’s a place for different kinds of music for different states of being one might be in. I see it as a powerful tool to bring people together, amplify collective sensations, align, address and heal as one big organism without othering or excluding.
In times like these, in my country, with all the communal hatred and politics, it is refreshing to see music be a safe space where all kinds of people can just be.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
I see music as a way to meditate and observe. For someone else, it could be cooking or driving or gardening or anything. But in that focus and purpose, everything else quietens, and you have clarity on the thing you need to be clear about the most. Or one would like it to be so.
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
I believe intent is everything. You could have all that musical knowledge, or technology, permutations, generative art, but all of it has any meat only if there is intent behind it.
In such a case, I believe science is just one of many tools or instruments that belong in the world of creation and problem solving - which is one of many things art is to me - a method to solve problems.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I absolutely believe this to be true. Art can be found in the way you fold your clothes, park your car, or dust your house. Art is to be present, to live. Music happens to be my chosen way of meditation, a craft I’ve been honing since I was a kid, but it could have just as well been farming.
I don’t think artists are unique, everyone who ever lives is an artist, because they are alive and designing their life. Few of us realize this, or get an opportunity to pay bills via this medium. That’s all.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
I’m drawing a blank as I’m nearing the end of this interview. (laughs).
Human beings look for communication in everything. A powerful medium like curated sounds or music, something universally accepted and relished, only serves as an undisputed catalyst for these expressions and interpretations to manifest in the listener.
Like any drug, or substance, or trigger, it amplifies what already is within. Yet, if I did want to educate or be educated, sound is a pure and honest medium to do it through.