ISHAN: ‘Something Beyond What We Understand Guides the Artist through this Mess that Is Life’
Melbourne-based singer-songwriter ISHAN discovered a love for music at the age of 15 during rehabilitation for spinal fusion surgery. The emerging talent and compelling lyricist has been honing his skills ever since, marking his official entrance to the music scene in late 2022 with his debut single, “Go.” Like pages from a journal, ISHAN’s growing body of work invites audiences to process their deepest doubts, anxieties, and ultimately, yearning for the journey of life.
Join contributing writer Cynthia Gross, as she sits down with ISHAN to discuss his influences; how his diverse cultural background informs his worldview; why Baltimore is on his bucket list of places to visit; and the reason he has learned to co-exist with fear.
Early Beginnings and Promising Sports Career
ISHAN understood the power of music from an early age, noting that music is in his genes. Growing up, he was introduced to a “mixed bag” of artists by his parents, including Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Dire Straits, Metallica, and the “entire works of the Gipsy Kings.”
“Dad sings as well,” said ISHAN. “He is classically trained, was a sort of choirboy all through high school. He did the high school musicals and actually did write his own songs and record an album, which I think, if you beg him for about three days, he’ll show you one of the songs,” he said.
Long before he began to contemplate a music career of his own, ISHAN was a rising sports athlete. “I say athlete, not in the American sense,” he laughed. “I played cricket, which is a sport where you basically watch grass grow, but great for a small Indian kid whose got reflexes and doesn’t necessarily have to be the most muscular thing of all time.”
In the midst of his increasing success, there was one underlying problem: ISHAN did not enjoy the sport. “It was very much the thing of like, I’m very good at this, and since everyone is telling me I’m good, I think that was probably what was driving me to play more sport than me actually loving it. I actually love what you guys call soccer; I call football.”
Spinal Fusion Surgery and New Direction
The age of 15 was a turning point for ISHAN. He began to experience back pain, which increased in severity, prompting an MRI. The doctors determined that one of the big blocks in the vertebrae of ISHAN’s spine had started to slip forward, and immediate spinal fusion surgery was needed.
Thankfully, ISHAN’s surgery was a success and he has since recovered well. As a byproduct of his surgery, ISHAN was forced to step away from cricket for 8 months, which served as an impetus for reconnecting with music.
“I’m sure you can imagine, a 15-year-old guy, voice breaking, had the range of about six notes, so I couldn’t hit the high notes that Ed Sheeran was doing, and so I was frustrated and I was bored,” recalled ISHAN. “So, one day, without much forewarning, I just wrote a song that I felt like I could sing, and that’s kind of where it started.”
Take one listen to ISHAN’s recent singles, including “Go,” “Isabella,” “Bad Dream,” and one of my personal favorites, “This Blank Wall,” and you realize that he has found his sound. “I’m staring at a blank wall as a / Blank wall stares at me and says / Are you ready now / Three words, make a sound / I’m telling this blank wall I love it / But it don’t believe me, it just says rubbish / Are you serious / No, I can’t do this / Do this for real,” ISHAN sings.
Themes of longing, doubt, and insecurity are even more profound because of the emotive, stripped-down nature of the track, which features acoustic guitar, piano, and strings. “I really enjoy the rawness and sparseness of an individual sitting down with the guitar or the piano and just telling me a story,” said ISHAN. The authenticity and vulnerability in ISHAN’s writing moves audiences to feel something and want to linger in the tender moment long after the song ends.
'I Can't Imagine Ever Getting Over These Fears'
In terms of his public persona, ISHAN admits that he can be his biggest critic. The artist has been quite open about his struggles with mental health, including anxiety.
“I can’t imagine ever getting over these fears,” he said. “You can get over small fears, and then, they’re replaced by new ones. And then, sometimes you have things like fear of failure, which is not the kind of thing that goes away, especially when you have a neurotic personality, or you tend to overthink things, which is great as a lyricist, by the way.”
Rather than attempting to extinguish fear, ISHAN has adopted a more constructive approach: learning to live and co-exist with it. “Thoughts are like a menu. Fears are like a list of things you can choose to engage with or not. And so, not pushing them away, but saying, ‘Okay, that’s there. You’re really afraid of doing this thing right now. You’re really afraid of writing this song, or going on stage, or making this video.’ Not trying to push that away, but saying, ‘We’re going to keep that in perspective’ and gently move on after having acknowledged that.”
'There's Something That Happens When You Know You're Not the Same as Everyone Else'
ISHAN’s notes that his diverse Indian, Swiss, and Catalan roots shape his worldview, providing a foundation for greater awareness and understanding. “There’s something that happens when you know that you’re not the same as everyone else. Then you know that everyone else is not the same as you. Even at a basic level, I realize that the whole world is not my world.”
ISHAN, who attended the same high school as his father, shared how interesting it is to compare stories of his father’s experiences with his own as a brown person and a minority within a predominately white environment. While there remains much work to be done to foster equity and inclusion, ISHAN acknowledged, “The world has come a long way, and there’s a lot of understanding now that there wasn’t however many years ago.”
At the core of ISHAN’s music is a curiosity about the world and a search for inspiration in everyday life that is all at once affecting and inspiring. From falling in love on a date while drinking tea (“Isabella”) to questioning how to take a big leap without losing yourself (“Go”), ISHAN’s music reminds listeners that there is beauty in the unknown and in the possibility.
For ISHAN, music serves a greater purpose than providing a platform to share his art. “The truth is I have to write,” he said. “If you strip everything away. You strip away the fact that I love singing and performing. You strip away the fact that I believe in my songs. You strip away the fact that I don’t want to do anything else with my life. You strip all that away, and you’re still left with the fact that I have to write. I feel like if I don’t write songs, I will explode. Whether that’s a feeling of sadness that’s tearing me apart, or happiness that is too much to carry on my own.”
'Something Beyond What We Understand Guides the Artist through this Mess that Is Life'
And the process of discovery is where ISHAN finds the most healing. “I want to figure out the ‘why’ as I’m writing,” he explained. “I hope my audience tunes in because they want to figure it out with me. I hope they know that when they hear the next lyric, however many days, weeks, months ago, I was sitting on the couch, or sitting here, and I had the exact same moment, where I was mumbling gibberish, and then, boom, that lyric came out of nowhere, and I was just as surprised as they were to hear that.”
“That’s what makes art so beautiful is this idea that there is something beyond what we understand that guides the artist through this whole mess that is life and allows them to somehow arrive at conclusions that were beyond the sum of their parts, beyond what they could comprehend.”
Looking ahead, ISHAN is excited for his music to catch up with his life. “I’ve released stuff that I was writing when I was 16 and recording at 17. I’m 19, turning 20. This is the year where I start to release the whole backlog of things that have been piling up, and in a loose way, documenting where I’ve been for the last couple years.”
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, ISHAN became a Baltimore Ravens fan. In terms of future plans on the sports front, a visit to Baltimore is on his bucket list for the States.
Be sure to follow ISHAN for the latest on his forthcoming releases. If his impressive current body of work is any indication, this is a journey that will be well worth the taking.
Maryland-based singer-songwriter Cynthia Gross seeks to inspire an awakening to all we are and all we can become. With a passion for language in all of its forms and more than a decade of experience as a professional ghostwriter, she is a light seeker who understands the power of each individual’s voice to create positive, meaningful change.