Ones to watch, twin sisters Shantini and Shalina Sandran from Auckland have recently delivered a stunning debut EP, self titled TAL. Channeling Lapsley and London Grammar, their velvet vocal arrangement ties in with deep melodic tones and ambient notes of the east to tell an authentic story. We spoke with them both upon their release to find out more about its inception, and their travels across Europe while producing the album.
Introduce us to TAL
L: We know each other because we’ve literally been together since before birth. We’re identical twins, and have been playing music together since we were small. We started learning the violin when we were seven, and gradually accumulated other instruments since. Writing music together is something that’s come more recently, over the past five or six years. After a name change, TAL was officially born in winter 2017, just before we embarked on a five month trip to Europe.
T: At the end of high school we were in a band, and this is when we both started singing (in public). Some time after that, Shalina and I started learning the sitar and tabla, exposing us to the world of Indian classical music. This affected us greatly and our sound gradually began to change, so we made the decision to emerge as a duo, incorporating Indian music into our repertoire. When we started making music, you could say our sound was very folk. We’ve always had an interest in a wide array of genres, but during this time I think folk was definitely up there and influenced our writing significantly. Indian classical music became such a part of us that naturally it began to make itself present in what we wrote. During this time I was listening to a lot of artists like James Blake and Mount Kimbie, and we became interested in integrating synthetic sounds into our music. We invested in producing software, and gradually taught ourselves how to use it.
Describe the process of making your new EP
T: After high school, I went to architecture school and Shalina went on to study graphic design. Studying made it near impossible to find the time and energy to both sit down and work on something together. Being creative all the time can be draining, and at the end of a long day, sometimes the last thing you want to do is sit down and do more. During our second year of studying, we wrote and recorded ‘What You Are’ and released it as a single. Our grandfather passed away a few weeks after that. The plan all along was to record an EP, but our grandfather’s death started a fire in us that really pushed us to begin. We inherited our musical ability from our grandfather and we wanted to write the EP for him. Grief, uni and work slowed us down, but we worked on it when we could. Writing became a way to deal with his death, as it was more cathartic to compose than to converse. Fast Forward approx. two years, we had both graduated from uni and the EP was near complete. We flew to Europe (where we would spend the next five months), and took it with us. Lisbon, London, Drebber and Berlin were some of the places we worked on it, with beautiful friends contributing their speakers, headphones and feedback along the way. We felt a lot and saw a lot and the EP grew in time with us.
Tell us about your journey overseas and how that inspired your EP?
L: TAL EP had been under construction while we were both at uni, so to have all this time where we could work on it without distractions was liberating. Because we had recorded everything at home, we made sure we were equipped with all the material we needed (fond memories of Tini recording vocals hours before our flight lol) to take away with us. All the countries we visited - England, Portugal, Spain, Croatia, Italy, Germany, Scotland, France, Denmark - we were seeing for the first time, and everything was new to us. We mixed and mastered the EP ourselves on various modes of public transport, sunlit mornings and cold evenings, and when I think of the EP, I think of all of this. We made friends with the loveliest people in the most bizarre circumstances, and we danced a lot. Our beautiful friends became really invested in the EP, and it almost became as much for them as it was for us. One of my favourite memories from the trip is when we stayed with some close friends in a village called Drebber in rural Germany; one of them has his own music studio that he’s converted in the top floor of an old army base camp, and I remember us playing the EP for him for the first time there, sharing this strange moment in the middle of nowhere.
T: Our journey overseas definitely enhanced everything we had already written. It sort of gave everything new meaning.
What is your favourite song on the EP and why?
T: ‘What You Are’ sparked the beginning of this journey and I will always hold it close to me. But if I had to pick, my favourite would be the final track ‘Again.’ TAL EP narrates the cycle of grief through its course, and ‘Again’ is synonymous with time and moving on. It’s about going through things and finding yourself on the other side.
L: I’d say my favourite track is A-Part. There are a lot of hidden messages in that one, and the tabla that plays throughout takes on an almost vocal quality. I enjoy the tonal chatter.
You have a very authentic sound combining industrial electronic with undertones of your cultural background. How has this developed ?
L: Thank you, we appreciate that. Our introduction to Indian music started when we were young. I remember being at the temple with everyone facing the action while the prayers were happening. Tini and I were always looking elsewhere, fixated on the men playing the most enchanting wind instruments (nadaswaram) and drums (thavil). 20 years on and we’re still obsessed. We started learning the sitar and tabla five years ago because we wanted to broaden our understandings on the ancient music tradition. When you write something, it ideally becomes an extension of yourself, so naturally it was important for this part of ourselves to be expressed in our music.
It is refreshing to hear an EP that feels like an extension of your identity, why do you feel this is an important part of your creative process?
T: Thank you so much. I think any person of dual ethnicity will understand the feeling of equal belonging to both cultures. We are as much Kiwi as we are Indian, and it just makes perfect sense to us to incorporate both western and eastern undertones in the music we make. We know that not many people have a knowledge in classical Indian music, so it feels like a privilege to be able to share these sounds with a wider audience.
Being talented instrumentalists and song-writers, what are the dynamics between yourselves in the production process ?
L: In terms of writing, our process is quite fluid. I usually come up with a melody, chord progression, a few lines and an idea of the theme. I’ll then show it to Shantini, and if she likes it, she’ll provide her input, we’ll write the lyrics together and try to map out how the song should sound/look like. After recording, we’ll start the production phase, where we’ll piece together the tracks on the computer. We either take turns with this or work on it together, depending on what the focus is. Shantini will further add in beats, synthetic riffs and vocal layering.
You are both creative in other fields such as graphic design and architecture, in contrast, what way does music allow you to express yourself?
T: I have always drawn and painted, and architecture is an extension of this. But music is a gift that allows you express feelings and thoughts that you simply cannot portray in any other way. Aside from taste and smell, music is the only thing that can transport me to a certain memory, or remind me of my family and our childhood in Malaysia.
L: I love design and music equally, they’re just different. Design allows me to play around with words, imagery, and relationships in the more tangible sense. I can hold a book in my hands, but I can’t touch the music I create. In design, there’s a maker and a viewer. In music, there’s a listener. Music gives me a deeper understanding of what’s going on around me, but it’s an internal sense. I think because of this, my music is a more honest, direct expression of myself that can be easier translated.
Now that the EP is out in the world, how do you feel about it upon reflection and what kind of reaction have you had?
L: We’ve been so overwhelmed with the response. This work is incredibly important to us, and to see it on the internet after such a process is utterly surreal. When I think about our studio built of mattresses, and the long nights we’ve spent navigating our way around the software, I’m really proud of what we’ve done. We’ve had the kindest strangers reach out to us on social media and share how the EP has made them feel, and we still can’t believe it. When you write music that’s so personal, and release it on a platform where people take the time to listen and respond? Amazing.
What’s next for TAL and can we expect any live performances of the new EP?
T: At the moment we’re just working on spreading it as far as we can, to expose to it as many ears as possible. We haven't planned any gigs as of current but we will possibly do one in the near future. Making music together is our dream career, so we’re just working on making that possible.
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