Picture by Shoeb Mashadi
Monica Dogra arrived in India in 2005-06 not to become a cookie-cutter singer. And she hasn’t. Whether her work with Randolph Correia (as part of the duo Shaa’ir+Func) or her choice of films (Dhobi Ghat and David), the Maryland-born singer has done things her way. The 31-year-old is currently working on her solo album, another S+F project and a film starring former swimmer Casey Legler, who from time to time explores androgyny in fashion.
Currently in the US, she found time to take on a few questions from t2 over email…
How goes your trip of the US? The news is that you met James Blake!
My trip has been fantastic. I was first in LA shooting a short film titled Relapse, written and directed by Rosie Haber, produced by Jeff Roy, co-starring Casey Legler, in association with Film Independent. It was a fantastic experience that left me reeling. I literally wrote five songs after those five days. I don’t think I have ever opened myself up so wide for a project. I suppose it was a result of the people I was working with.
While I was out in LA, I randomly ended up having lunch with a girlfriend who is a dancer on a hit VH1 series. James Blake literally just plopped down next to us. I quickly introduced myself and we hit it off and became mates. We are still in touch. He’s knee-deep in the writing of his new album, and is out in LA writing it on sabbatical from his UK life and hectic tour schedule.
Since then, I’ve been between New York and Bombay. Last week I shot a music video in New York for S+F’s upcoming fifth album. It was an incredible experience for me to be in a position to cast, conceive, and produce my own video from start to finish. I worked with some supremely talented people –– Raeshem Nijhon, who used to work for MTV and now owns her own Production House called LotusFire Productions, and Shruti Ganguly, who currently produces online content for Conde Nast US. They co-directed the video, and this is my newest and most exciting baby.
Your debut solo album has a September release date. Share the idea behind it.
It most likely will be released in August. S+F’s album is set to release in September. There is no real concept behind the album, besides the fact that I wanted to get rooted in the ground about who I am as an artiste... after spending the last few years collaborating on so many other people’s projects. These are my stories, and my artistic voice is the loudest... and that feels really nice.
Musically, how is it different from a Shaa’ir+Func project?
S+F is very much an even split between Randolph and myself. Stylistically, musically, even personally, Randolph and I are extremely different people, which is why ours is such an eclectic sound. My solo album is entirely me… unadulterated... uncensored.... Just purely my melodies, my musical style and my stories. That’s the biggest difference.
After Suspended, you are all set to shoot another concept-based music video in Leh for your solo album. How have you planned this one?
This is very much due to a personal relationship I have developed with a woman named Shilpi Gupta at Red Bull. I shared with her my vision for my solo album, and she resonated with it. At the moment, the location is not solidified, and I really shouldn’t speak about it until it develops further. I can say that the song has a very strong message, and I’m interested in upping the bar in all that I do... I am also interested in exploring movements in this video, specifically contemporary... basically storytelling through movements and the body.
Glastonbury. You have been there before but anything special this year?
S+F have performed there before and ever since they have been trying to bring us back. This year we are taking the entire band and I’m really looking forward to it. We have also booked the dance arena this year, through a man named Martin Elbourne who helped create the NH7 festival and also is one of the creators of Glastonbury.
Which are the acts you are looking forward to at Glastonbury?
I’m most excited about the Black Keys, Dolly Parton and Robert Plant. I cannot believe I am in the same line-up as them!
Relapse, it’s a film in the news. How did the project come about?
I met the producer of Relapse, a man named Jeff Roy, in India, while he was on a fellowship shooting a film called Mohammed to Maya, at an art event hosted by Engendered. I was a living art installation, posing, or rather crying, on an ornate chair, between an altar, and a giant carcass. We hit it off and kept in touch on Facebook. He was casting for Relapse and thought of me for the lead role, Tamar. I Skype-auditioned for them, and I guess they felt confident in my ability to pull off such a role.
You play the role of a lesbian. How do you get into a space that doesn’t define you?
For me, it was not a difficult decision at all. I suppose I see things for what they could be, and not what they are. In my mind, love is love, people are people... I don’t see gay, straight, lesbian, queer, Indian, white, black, yellow as exclusive qualifiers. We are moving towards a world where these words will become less and less valid, and inadequate in describing what things actually are. I think beauty lies in freedom and worlds colliding... diversity... expression... I’m so many things that don’t “belong” together, all at the same time. For me, it was an incredible opportunity to make a film with an amazing script –– an incredibly powerful story, and that was all that mattered.
The experience of working with Casey Legler in Relapse…
Casey Legler is a force of nature, and after meeting her I felt I would never be the same. I’d venture to say I’ve never met an artiste so militant and fragile all at the same time. I can’t wait for India to meet Casey. That’ll be a wonderful day.
Besides acting, did the two of you discuss fashion?
Not really. Neither of us is from that world, but we engage in it regularly!
Besides the fifth album, what’s up with Shaa’ir+Func?
We have two new music videos coming out. We are performing at Glastonbury this summer, at Pride in Camden, and two shows in Berlin. We are also shooting a music video in Cologne, Germany. Basically, we are up to SO MUCH!
Quick-fire with Monica
Best joke you have heard about yourself…
It’s not a joke… but someone told me that they were told that I once shoved two girls in a loo and tried to take advantage of them. Not true, by the way, and totally random. I know people make fun of my accent and how I tend to be mystical at the drop of a hat. I don’t find that funny either. But, you know, whatever.
What turns you off?
Can you handle yourself in a fight?
I am better at it today than I was yesterday. My aim is for prevention...
Favourite sing-in-the-shower song…
Mariah Carey’s Always Be My Baby.
Craziest thing a fan has done to get your attention…
Proposed to me on bended knee in front of the mic stand.
Favourite curse word?
The eff word! But, I’m trying to get off it. It’s an addiction.
What’s your favourite sing-in-the-shower song? Tell[email protected]