Simrit Kaur’s music sound merges neo-psychedelic and world beat artistry in one phenomenal musical experience. Through the career of only seven years, her top-charting albums fuse her different musical influences. Growing up between Athens, Greece, and the American South, she is grounded in sacred musical traditions – Greek Orthodox Church and Kundalini Yoga. Her richly varied compositions are soundscapes that transcend genre, musical convention, and international borders. In the interview, Simrit discusses her Greek origins, tour fashion, and voice courses “The Supreme Sound”.
You come from the family of singers. How does that influence you?
Yes, I do come from a long line of matriarchal singers in Greece. Greek style of singing is more similar to Middle Eastern than Western style of music. It’s not like anything in Unites States, where I live. My great grandmother was a great Greek singer and actress. Also when I was in my mother’s womb she was touring and singing in Greece. Both these women had beautiful voices and I would say it influenced me to even be hearing those sounds and feeling the vibrations on physically, emotionally even energetically when being a baby. The first school of a person is inside the womb where we first learn about existence. So even then I think that I have learned a lot about the physical aspects of singing – tone, melody and pitch – as well as my mother’s singing style. People also comment that my voice is interesting, not typically Western and more similar to other cultures. I have a lot of different influences in my bloodline – nomadic, gypsy, Egyptian, Moroccan, etc. North African and Greek cultures have a lot of biological ties. I believe that it all comes out of me through my music.
Have you ever met your real family?
Yes, two years ago I met my birth mother and my grandmother and we keep in touch. They are really beautiful and kind people. The family that has adopted me in the United States, was also Greek, so I was blessed to grow in my own culture. But still I lived my life knowing very little about my birth family and I was always wondering where I come from. There were a lot of questions, so I was fortunate to meet them and get answers. And then meeting my family was a full circle experience.
Did you have a chance to listen to your family singing and learn from it?
I have never heard my birth family at all. But when I went to meet my family, I was able to sing together with my mother. Our voices are similar style vise, but hers is way lower. She has a really great voice and actually she smokes tones of cigarettes to keep her voice sound lower. It was a lot of fun and I had great time singing together.
How did you decided to become a singer as your family?
I started singing in Greek Orthodox Church choir. This music for me had a very mystical and ancient sound with Greek Middle Eastern style vocals. In school and university I was studying voice and piano with the same teacher. In university I also started studying Indian classical vocals. I always loved music and I was playing African drums, piano, and guitar. Although I was singing all the time, I was aspiring to become a natural medicine doctor and my main studies were medicine and science. It wasn’t until six years ago that I started my musician career. I created my first album just for my friends who wanted to hear me. Then in 2014, after the second album, I decided to do this as a career. At that time I felt that I have something people responds to. So in 2014 I put my first real album out – and I started touring.
What surprised you about this lifestyle as a musician?
It surprised me how quick it grew, but also how much time, energy, effort and money it took. You have to do everything yourself. If you want to have a very professional sound and image, it also takes a lot of growth as a person. Many times I didn’t know if I could continue the work that it took to put myself out there and tour. So the challenge was surprise. But also the reward – I really love what I do and I am so glad to travel and play for people. I can’t wait to get back to the road.
How did your sound evolved during that time?
I started my first amateur self-produced recording ten years ago, so the sound really started evolving from that time. Every artist has a sound that is unique to them. Now my sound is fully emerged, but you can hear the hints of Simrit sound in all of the albums. My band consists of the same people for years – so the more we play together, the better we get and the more we grow as a band. For first years I was still looking for my sound and identity as a musician. Everything was evolving. I feel that our sound is formed now and I am grateful, because I know it takes time, sound doesn’t just come overnight. And for that it is important for musician to let go of how their music should sound or what people think about them. The musician has to get out of the way to allow the sound to come through.
There are so many different elements in your music. It is difficult to define the genre or style of it – there are elements or classical music, African sound, Greek Church and philosophical texts. Do you consciously pick different elements or does it comes to you and puts by itself?
There are so many musical influences, because of what I was exposed to growing up. My band mates all come from different traditional backgrounds as well. We have a West African kora player; classical cellist that also plays guitar; drummer, who grew up in gospel church and also plays r&b, hip-hop and soul music; also we have a jazz musician. I bring to the mix my Greek orthodox roots, African drumming and reggae, psychedelic music that I was listening growing up. So when we all come together and play, we create a very eclectic and eccentric music. It becomes our unique sound and I love how organically it comes out.
How do you write music?
Up until now it has been mostly me writing the music, with exception of handful of songs that the band has written together. But this year all new singles were co-written by different bandmates. Moving forward we will continue to be writing together and separately as well. I like both writing styles equally.
When I write myself it usually happens late at night, because when other people are asleep, I have the space to just be with myself and it brings out my creativity. Usually writing process starts with melody and rhythm – words come later. But, of course, sometimes it is opposite, or in other times the whole song comes at once. Time also varies – I write some songs very quickly, in circa 20 minutes; and others can’t be finished for months! So I would have to say that every song is really unique in way how it is written.
I have heard that some of your lyrics come from Gurmukhi poetry. How do you combine them with the music?
I study the beautiful language of Gurmukhi, and I love reading different poetry books in it. It is considered to be a scientific technological language and it helps people to expand their minds and feel more peace in their bodies. When talking Gurmukhi your tongue moves in a particular way that stimulates the brain and causes a change process. The Gurmukhi language was created as a technology for people to empower themselves with their voice. So when I find a stanza that I resonate with, I put music to it. Since the language itself gives a rhythm to a song, I just need to add a melody.
Music has such an effect on person’s mood and emotions. How do you link the meaning of the text with sound?
I think my relationship with the Gurmukhi poetry inspires the mood for music, making it deep, eccentric and mystical. I create the melodies myself, going after specific rhythms I find in words. Sometimes I write lyrics in Gurmukhi and then voice has to find its way into the structure. So there are different approaches to the text. Usually there is a thinking process behind it, but sometimes lyrics comes instantly. For example, our latest single „Some may say“ started when our bass player played some chord progressions and hearing them I started to sing – words just spontaneously came out of my mouth. I love writing music like that.
Does music also manifest some healing powers to the listeners?
It does and that comes down to my relationship with music. Music is my spirituality – I feel the most present and connected with humanity when I sing. Performing for me is an expression of a very powerful energy that comes through music; it carries all the emotions in it. And as a listener you feel my presence and joy delivering songs on stage. I believe that this full presence is very uplifting and healing for everybody. An indescribable feeling that comes through my music helps people to exercise, meditate, dance, even give birth and die! When I hear some people share stories about the impact my music has on their lives, I feel profoundly touched.
I imagine that experience of using your own voice while singing has a powerful effect on you as well. How do you use your voice as a spiritual practice?
It is a power to be using human voice in intentional ways. I have a daily practice of Nah yoga when I direct the energy of my voice and put intention in every melody I sing. After such practice, on stage my body naturally allies in a certain way. Then I don’t even need to think about intentionality – I am in the present moment, in the music and my voice itself creates this powerful effect.
I know the power the voice has, so it is really upsetting to know that many people thinks that their voice is not worthy to be heard. I have a course called Supreme Sound 2.0, which is about empowering people with their own voice. Everybody has a unique sound that resonates with their bodies when they speak or sing. Science is now talking about how resonation of sound reinforces environment on a physical level. Our cells match the vibration of our feelings and replicate the picture we have in our minds. And those vibrations are habitual as programs that we have installed in our subconscious in childhood. Since our minds don’t function without programs, we have to rewrite destructive thought patterns ourselves. It is not enough for it to change from the intention or conscious effort. Since it is a subconscious pattern, we have to use elements that link directly to the infinite parts of our souls – such as sounds. Our voice has a deep and elevated energy of heeling and fundamentally changing us. There are plenty of musicians that use this power to change the world – Bob Marley is a prime example. Even though he sung about the injustice in the world, his intention was powerfully elevating and loving.
In my courses people use their own sound and voice – their own soul power – to send healing messages to the subconscious. To tell themselves that they can conquer their limitations, that they have all the courage and healing powers they need to deal with whatever life throws at them. It fundamentally changes people.
Do you have any personal moments, when singing helped you to go through?
It often helps me to transform the feeling by identifying it and understanding the meaning and message behind it. The animal in the wild decides whether or not to eat a certain plant based solely on his feeling. But human pushes the intuition nature gave him out by thinking and ego. The more we think, the less in touch we are with our bodies and subconscious which communicates through feelings.
For example, when you are around a person and you know it doesn’t feel right for you, your mind doesn’t allow to leave because it’s not logical, you don’t have enough information or you want to be accepted. Then you stay and it turns out to be an abusive relationship or it’s just that you two don’t fit together. So it is crucial to be in touch with the internal subconscious voice every of us has. It can be quiet as intuition or express itself through feelings. If your body says something, you have to listen to it. Otherwise there will be consequences.
All of your albums are about human condition – suffering, togetherness, family. What about your latest album „When We Return“?
The album is about returning to our inner voice and roots. I come from an ancient Greek culture and I am really proud of my heritage. Coming back to my cultural roots in the last few years was a very empowering and defining experience. Also we will all return to the same place we came from after death. So it is about the cycle between life and death. The cover of the album has cosmos instead from the face, because that’s where I come from, having my own face as merely an expression of my energy this time around.
What are the most inspiring figures as musicians and teachers to you?
My first inspiration was women singers of Greek folk tradition. They all have a powerful energy that commands respect. I grew up listening to them as well as reggae, classic rock, mow town and psychedelic music. So my inspiration is Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, The Bangles and The Grateful Dead.
How does your clothing style as a musician develop?
One thing I am really passionate about outside music is so-called slow fashion. This sustainable fashion uses no cheap labor and doesn’t pollute earth. Vintage clothes from 70s are my weakness.
I am very happy to have a couture look every time I tour when I wear dress made for me or I dress vintage clothes. Local women in my era in Northern California create the head-dresses for each concert. They have already become my signature look, based on my ancient Greek orthodox lineage. I always participate in design process and sometimes I do help them to build dresses and head-dresses.
This is such a powerful expression being on stage in these clothes. It reminds me where I come from and makes me feel beautiful and powerful while caring my lineage on stage. I believe such feeling is transmitted to the audience.
Thank you for a conversation!