A small, makeshift drum kit that includes a wooden tri-bongo, a wooden snare, and a tambourine sits in the basement of Kiran Gandhi’s childhood home on the Upper East Side, which also happens to be the former home of Eleanor Roosevelt. “Can you get service down here?” she asks. She needs to find a song that she heard in a club after her recent trip to Berlin for the Ableton Loop summit. She starts explaining a night of music that she experienced after giving a talk there, raving about Sarah Farina, a female DJ whose tastes “crushed it” and left her in awe of Berlin’s music scene. As the song begins to play off an iPhone, she drops into her zone, hands flying over drums—a live percussion remix. It immediately becomes clear that she has an intuitive appreciation for what technology can bring to music. “I want to be the artist that uses technology intelligently. Millennials are all experience based. What if the experience I build for my fans is to use technology in a way that makes them feel good? The goal is to make them feel special, and the technology would be integrated into that.”
She speaks with a certain kinetic excitement, using her voice to replicate sounds that she’s heard and moving her body when the beats start to get a little more sporadic and heavy. “I started playing the drums because I was trying to avoid swimming lessons. That’s not the reason I stayed with it, obviously, but I snuck off to the theater during swim lessons at summer camp, and started messing around with drums,” she says.
“I want to be the artist that uses technology intelligently.”
As a musician, Gandhi sees herself as more of a percussionist than a conventional drummer. “A drumset drummer is already a part of a band, but playing percussion gives me the flexibility to sit in on a band. When I play the perfect high bongo and bell pattern over electronic music, I’m also guiding the audience to how to enjoy and consume the music.” Here, she suggests, will give agency to the audience as well. “Let’s say that Jane doesn’t want to go to my show because she doesn’t really like that bass stuff. If we gave her Here, maybe she could actually enjoy my music and my show. Artist intentionality is only half the battle. We put it into the world and hope for the best.”
Gandhi recalls a psychic turning point. “When I was in school, I would say ‘I played the drums’ as an extracurricular activity. But then when I started playing gigs as a drummer, I went through a shift where I was like ‘Oh yeah! Okay, I’m a drummer.’ I stopped being modest and was like, ‘Yeah, I’m a drummer. Here are the dates I’m playing, here’s how much tickets are.’ I learned that if you take yourself seriously, then everyone else will take you seriously, too.” That’s part of how she landed a spot as M.I.A’s drummer.
“Artist intentionality is only half the battle. We put it into the world and hope for the best.”
While triple-majoring in political science, mathematics, and women’s studies at Georgetown, Gandhi became a part of Thievery Corporation, which was where she really started to develop a love for the drums and the community of musicians that she met through music. After graduating from Georgetown, she worked at Interscope Records in Los Angeles as the label’s first-ever digital analyst. “There was a homeless guy back at Georgetown who used to squat in the math department. He was a savant, and a veteran. He was so smart at math that I befriended him. He helped me build this system for Interscope that helped me track YouTube views for our artists, before any of this existed…I ran that platform for two years, then I did the M.I.A. tour, then went to Harvard.”
It’s clear music isn’t her only passion or expertise. At her core, she is a data lover, a feminist (see: Going With the Flow), and musical artist, and she thrives on combining these three pursuits. When she speaks about obtaining an MBA from Harvard, it was in service of making music her business. “I wanted my days to be about music! I didn’t want this to be only a night-time thing.” But when Spotify offered her a full-time position, “I walked away because these past four months have been life changing, traveling, speaking about gender equality, speaking about it in the music industry. My goal for Madame Gandhi in 2016 is to imagine, what would it be like to be a female artist with my own musical project that was commercially viable?”
“'What did I hear that made me feel really good when I was in the studio?’ Here can help me recreate that feeling for my audience.”
Gandhi sees technology as part of the answer. “Things like data, social media strategy ... I want to take all of these learnings and start implementing them and testing them and build a viable business model for an artist that artists could use.” Gandhi then meditates on the intersection of technology and music, specifically with regards to Here. “Here makes me think about how I’d like to have the audience feel. I’ll think to myself, ‘What did I hear that made me feel really good when I was in the studio?’ Here can help me recreate that feeling for my audience,” she says. She sees it as a way to push and elevate the live experience even further. “Give them something even better than some shitty phone photo. By telling people, ‘Oh yeah, you can listen to Kiran’s music all you want, but you have to go to the show because she passes out this technology that brings it to the next level!’ It’s an experience. That’s how I envision it.”