Born in Odisha and raised in Chicago, Lisa Mishra is one of the leading Indian-Americans in the world of music today. From breaking out with her reprise version of Tareefan in Veere Di Wedding (2018) to collaborating with superstars such as Kanye West, DJ Khaled, Divine and Badshah on Grammy and Emmy-nominated projects, Lisa has had quite the journey so far. With her new song Aa Mil (with Zaeden) dropping recently, Lisa chatted with The Telegraph Online about her music, upcoming projects and what she is grateful for.
What inspired you to create your latest song, Aa Mil, with Zaeden? How did this collaboration come about?
Lisa Mishra: Zaeden approached me for Aa Mil pretty much after it was already completed. I think he just thought my voice would go well on the track. I loved the song the first time I heard it. I could see it as a very sweet love song, a song that becomes a familiar favourite for everyone and is just so easy to listen to. It even gave me all the feels of being in the zone of a bridal entry song. So, I was on board from the very start.
You have often spoken about why women need to write their own music. Tell us more about why you believe this is important.
Lisa Mishra: As women, we need to claim our narratives emotionally. It’s strange to me that we don’t feel like we can be the agents of our own emotions. For me, it’s about agency and ownership. If I want to sing a song about heartbreak as a woman, I want women to hear it and feel a sense of themselves in my story. There’s a reason why Taylor Swift and Beyonce are who they are. When you attend their concerts, you feel like you’re emotionally safe. You feel like they’re just like you.
I don’t necessarily feel that connection when I hear male singers talk about emotions that a woman would be going through. In films, and especially in independent music, us women should be writing our own lyrics and composing our own songs because that’s where we have the most freedom and ability to express ourselves. Because that helps build this incredible community of women and girls who feel emotional support for each other through their art.
As an Indian-American, you have an outsider’s perspective to the music industry in India. What are some of the things you wish were different here?
Lisa Mishra: As an Indian-American, I’d just like to see more girls in the music industry writing their own music. I think it’s my biggest point of pride as an American. The vast majority of pop stars in the West are women. There are hundreds of bonafide artistes that are women who write their own music, do their own songs, do their own choreography and are the face of their own music videos. What America is doing right is empowering women to be the face and voice and words of their own emotions. I think we can really learn from that and create a community in India that better supports women in music.
What are the genres you want to explore next? Are there any particular artistes you are inspired by?
Lisa Mishra: I don’t believe in limitations when it comes to composing. My new album is about to release in January and we have trap music, R&B, drill, drum and bass — every genre is pretty much covered in my album. I don’t like putting a limit on my ability to create, so whatever my ear is leaning towards at that moment is probably what I’ll be inspired by and explore. As for artistes, I feel very inspired by SZA and Kehlani. I’m also incredibly inspired by the production styles of Kanye West and Travis Scott.
In a very short time in the industry, you have worked with artistes like Kanye West, DJ Khaled and Badshah. Who and what do you credit your success to?
Lisa Mishra: I credit my success to me. I want more girls to say thank you to themselves. I have worked with male composers and musicians and writers. I’m thankful for that experience, but the person I would thank most is myself. I have taught myself how to sing, how to play the guitar, how to be on stage, how to make my own videos, how to sound engineer my videos, how to edit both audio and visual, how to compose and how to write lyrics.
Most recently, I taught myself how to write lyrics in Hindi. So, I thank myself. I think we all need to be thankful to ourselves regularly because I think we get so lost in this industry always saying thanks to everyone else. I’m grateful for having parents who allowed me to be as creative as I wanted to and flourish in any direction I wanted to. Whether it was in school or in music or in acting, whatever I wanted to do, my parents have always supported me. I have my deepest gratitude towards my family.
We know you are a plant mom and have a cat. How do these simple elements of your life shape your music?
Lisa Mishra: I don’t think being a plant mom or having a cat shapes my music but it certainly keeps me mentally happy. I think just having that mental stability gives me the space to be creative. To be able to nurture something and look after them makes me feel very peaceful, which, in turn, nurtures a habitat for me to make good songs.
You travel to Paris frequently as is apparent on your Instagram. What is it about the city that makes you keep going back to it?
Lisa Mishra: Paris is my city of inspiration. It has this perfect mix of the old and the new world. It is one of the greatest cities of art in the world and for those who truly value the arts. I have a deep respect for Paris because it has a deep respect for the arts. And the city itself looks like a piece of art, which is a huge source of inspiration. Every time I go to Paris, I feel like I come out with a jolt of creativity that I can put back into my music.
What helps you stay grounded in spite of all the fandom you experience?
Lisa Mishra: I think what helps me stay grounded is the long list of failures I’ve had to experience in the last five years. Yes, Tareefan (reprise) was this unbelievable moment in my career and there have been a few hits after that. But, mostly, my humility comes from the fact that for many years it didn’t work out for me. It took me 11 years till Tareefan, and after that song I had a three-year drought in terms of releasing new music. It may look rosy from the outside, but it has been a very up-and-down career path for me, and that’s where my sense of gratitude and humility comes from. You can have these momentous highs but come the lows and you learn quickly that nobody is safe. You have to keep working hard, you have to keep believing in yourself and keep getting out of bed every single day and doing your job and doing it well.