Soul Searching with Columbia’s Latest Singing Sensation: Tara Priya, CC ’08
Written by Bwog Staff
For those seeking a soulful September jam, Columbia’s latest singing sensation, Tara Priya, CC ’08, offers a nostalgic escape from the autotune avalanche. Her sound is a throwback to the likes of Billie Holiday and Etta James, but never anachronistic. With influences ranging from Tupac to opera, Tara has developed a powerful voice of her own. We’ll be posting a few stories about enterprising alums this week and next. If you know an alum doing something worth writing about, tell us at [email protected] Carolyn Ruvkun writes.
“I struggle a lot with the genre question,” Priya said, “it’s tough to characterize my style, because I don’t fit into the musical categories of my influences. My contemporary inspirations are retrosoul artists—Amy Winehouse [though Bwog hopes Tara doesn’t share all of Amy’s influences …], Duffy, Nicole Willis—as well as bluesy pop artists, like Gavin Degraw, John Legend, and Adele. I grew up listening to Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke, Etta James, Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding—so folk, pop, jazz, blues, funk.”
Priya is remarkably thoughtful about each of her musical inspirations, acknowledging that some influences aren’t necessarily heard directly in her music. “ I often wish I could write songs that adhered to the styles of any of these artists, but instead, I borrowed certain aspects of each. Dylan made me value lyrics, The Beatles made me value a clean and simple song structure, jazz teaches you melodic richness and diversity, the blues teach you the importance of emotion, and funk taught me to have fun with/in a song. I grew up listening to lots of rap, thanks to my older brother, and I always want to sing slightly percussively.” She lands on the genre of “lyrical retropop” but claims the classification still “may be incorrect.”
As a young diva, Priya was scolded by her kindergarten teacher for disrupting class by constantly singing. Her music was better received at Columbia, where jazz and classical coaches “shaped” her voice and supported her singing career. Priya credits a certain Hartley security guard with a taste for 70s soul for giving her excellent recommendations. “Lyrically speaking,” she adds, “a lot of my songs are based off of experiences I had in college: Romance! Drama! Philosophy!” The Core, in real life!
Encouraged by her professors and peers, including a Columbia-Juilliard exchange student with whom she now writes songs, Priya decided to pursue a singing career not by dropping out like a few of her successful Columbia contemporaries, but speeding through school. In 2 ½ years, Priya graduated as an Economics major.
“I didn’t set out to graduate in 2.5 years,” she said, “but from day one at Columbia, I always felt antsy, like I wasn’t supposed to be there, which is strange, because all through high school, I dreamed of going to Columbia. I really wanted to be ‘out in the world’ doing things; I especially wanted to spend more time performing in the city.”
It was hard leaving her friends, but “it had been even tougher pretending that I liked college for two years.”
What’s next? Having just released her EP, Priya is performing in California. She even has a slot at the Miami Music Festival in November. “Basically, I’m working on getting my music to people, finding out what people think, and building a fanbase,” she explains, “The industry has changed a lot, and record labels don’t want to invest in artist development anymore. Getting signed to a label would be great, at some point…until then, I’m managing myself, recording myself, promoting myself…oh yes, and singing!”