Ladies Compartment's Aditi Ramesh on the band's creative process, the need for women musicians to support each other
Aditi Ramesh, one of the women to start Ladies Compartment, speaks about the story behind the band's name, the woes of being an artist in the indie scene, and what the average jam session is like
Ladies Compartment is a total aural treat. Whether they are performing their upbeat track ‘Don't Waste Your Time’, or a cover of the Beatles’ classic ‘Blackbird’, there is a smooth coming-together of voices and music, which though it is a blend of different genres, has clarity – the kind that will make you want to groove minutes into a gig. Watching them live only adds to the experience, for this is a group of women who are focused on their craft, but also having fun with it.
This Mumbai-based four-piece, which is a year old, has performed at NH7 Weekender, a Sofar Bangalore session, and numerous gigs across the country. “Each of us has a different taste in music, so we don’t have one singular sound as a band. Like the ladies’ compartment of a local train, where women come from different walks of life,” says Aditi Ramesh, who formed the band with bassist Nandita V.
With Aditi on keys, Aarifah Rebello on the drums and Ramya Pothuri on the acoustic, their sound is made complete by the vocals, which all of them contribute to. “The idea was just to get girls to jam together, to have a safe space where we could develop our instrumentation without judgment, and collaborate with and encourage more female artists to make music,” says Aditi, about the motivation to start the band.
Because of the sheer number of genres they play (think RnB, jazz, funk, among others), there’s no one creative process. “In the earlier songs, I used to write the keys and the melody and the band would add to that, and now we sit together,” says Aditi. So no one jam session is the same? “No two songs are similar either,” she says. Notably, the band has been noticed and lauded for their harmony arrangements.
Her favourite song by the band is ‘It Gets Easier’. Aditi first came up with the chords for it on the piano, and a little bit of the melody. “Then I sat with Ramya (Pothuri), and we put lyrics to it. We took it to our drummer and bassist and they turned it into a proper song.”
Regardless of the specifics of the work they produce together, Aditi says it always feels like being with a group of friends. She attributes it to the chemistry they share. “It’s a very comfortable space… There could very easily be conflict because we are four songwriters with different tastes, but there is a lot of respect that we accord to each other.” Their own individual careers have also helped advance the band, considering how young it is, she says.
Like many other bands in the Indian indie music scene, the Ladies Compartment and Aditi have had to deal with issues like low pay, and putting out music whilst having a niche audience. “The scene is still growing, it hasn’t developed enough to accommodate for all the artists that are out there making music,” Aditi says. Survival seems to top the list of problems, since several artistes barely make ends meet with money earned from gigs.
There’s also the issue of the lack of good venues which can deliver on sound requirements, and cater to the kind of audience that follows indie music or to the kind of numbers artists are looking for. “Everyone in the indie scene is making original music. We are not competing with each other, everybody has their own sound. Beyond a point, if you want to grow and get to the next level, you find yourself getting stuck in one place,” Aditi explains.
The pressure to constantly record and put out music exists too – an endeavour that requires both time and money. Money earned from playing at gigs is invested into recording new material, resulting in a difficult, straining cycle, Aditi says.
She isn’t too pleased about the ‘girl-band’ tag that the outfit is associated with, but she says this perception is slowly changing. “Traditionally, there haven’t been as many female musicians… It will change if there are more all-female bands and it gets normalised,” she says, adding that Ladies Compartment’s music has been received well, tag or not.
Aditi speaks warmly of the support women musicians receive from each other, which often goes beyond craft. “It’s only when there are more collaborations and support that more people will be encouraged to take this up as a career. There is an understanding: As fair and considerate as a male musician may be, there are certain things you understand only because you have dealt with them as a woman,” she explains.
After having performed in different types of venues, Aditi concludes that Ladies Compartment does best in intimate settings. “The audience gets to see more of who we are as people, beyond just the performance,” she says.
We are chatting in the run-up to the band’s performance at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai (NCPA), on 26 April. (Since Nandita, the band’s bassist has moved to Bengaluru, Pooja Mazoomdar will be playing in her stead.) Aditi is excited about this show, because they have planned something special. “It’s a little different from our usual style where we talk in between. We want this show to be more like a musical, so there is a very continuous flow. And the theme of the performance is how storytelling can be collectively empowering – that’s the narrative throughout the show.”
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