From waiting tables and singing in jazz bands back in Texas, to now recording solo albums and fronting her own band here in New York City, the half-Mexican, half-Indian solo artist is finally taking her future in her own hands.
Like many artists and musicians in the city, Bhushan moved here with very little belongings and not much of a plan other than to make music.
Today, she is still riding the wave from her second full-length solo album, “Something Out Of Nothing,” released last May.
I caught up with Bhushan last week at Dutch Kills Centraal on 29th St. to discuss the path that brought her to where she is today and her plans for the future.
Do you remember your first experiences with music?
I’ve been singing since I can remember really. When I was alone, when I was little, I would just absorb everything on the radio singing in the backseat of my dad’s car and learning all the songs.
I’m from Texas originally and Texas does a few things right, which is football and music programs. I was really nurtured in that environment and got exposure to a lot of different types of music. I was good at it and I also loved it. Since I got a lot of praise for it, it just inspired me to keep going.
Do you remember what kind of music got you going when you were riding around with your dad?
Anything soulful really. I listened to a lot of Michael Jackson when I was young, but it was pretty much anything catchy. I was a sponge to pop radio. My parents had an extensive record collection, but they weren’t snobs about music at all. They just played what they loved. The only things I never really loved was country music, and I know it seems totally weird since I’m from Texas.
Did that ever make you feel like an outcast growing up?
Well, my dad is from India and my mom is from Mexico and so by default I was already different than a lot of people that I grew up with. I don’t know that I necessarily felt like an outcast, but I had a different experience than my friends did. In terms of me and with music, they never encouraged me to be musical necessarily, but they didn’t discourage it. It was more that you’re number one goal is to make good grades and be a doctor (laughs), or something like that.
We moved to Dallas, which was a bit more conservative than where I was from in Houston. That’s when I got exposed to choir programs and I remember asking my dad to let me do this. That was my first time being exposed to written music. I took some piano lessons, but I had never been exposed to it in that way. That experience changed my musical life – I mean it changed my life period – but it was the first time that I realized that I was good at something. I always made decent grades, but I felt exceptional in that area.
How did you begin to make the music your own?
That actually took me a long time. I stuck with choirs for a long time until college when I went to the University of Texas in Austin. I was singing with some really great people, but I always loved pop and soul music. While I was in school I was working as a singing waitress, where I was singing art songs, arias and things, in addition to waiting tables. I was doing alright with the tips and then one day a bachelorette party came in and they wanted to hear “I Will Survive,” by Gloria Gaynor. I did that and I got really good tips and everybody went crazy.
That helped me get out of my body and become a more expressive performer. When you’re in choir, you’re usually standing on risers and you’re not really able to let yourself go.
What brought you to New York?
At the time when I decided to move, I thought, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” I wasn’t a West Coast person, I never thought I would go to Nashville or anything, and in terms of music places, I know Austin is one of those places, but I had already been there and done that. Austin is kind of a bubble where everybody’s brothers and cousins are in a band, but it didn’t feel like a real place to make a go at music. It may be different now, but at that time, that was how I felt. At this point you can make music anywhere now.
Where did you go when you came here?
When I first moved here I slept on my friend’s floor in Brooklyn. I didn’t have a place, I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have anything. I had $2,000 that I got from selling all my furniture and all my stuff, and cashing in my 401K that I had accrued for over a year. I didn’t really care where I moved at that point, and this girl I knew was subletting a place on 98th and Broadway, so I moved there first to a small studio.
I actually moved here to play with a soul rock band I found in an ad in the Village Voice. I flew up here to audition with these complete strangers (laughs) and sometimes I think about how that was so dumb. I auditioned and I got in, and it was original stuff. And you ask the question of how I found my voice, but that was when I was really starting to find my voice by singing original music.
But one day, the lead singer came in and said; “I don’t want to do this anymore.” We had a lot of tension in the band, with the power struggles there are in a band that you hear about, that happened to us. I remember just being heart broken, thinking “What am I going to do?” I moved here for this and I thought that we were so close.
So now that you were on your own, what was your next step?
I had this guitar that I gotten for Christmas many years ago. I never played it, maybe one chord. I just thought that I have to figure something out and thinking I had to write something. I remember sitting there with a tape recorder, strumming away. It was terrible, and I remember my fingers were hurting.
I was also tired of singing other people’s songs, and I just wanted to say what I wanted to say. I needed for myself to define who I was.
What was it like putting out your first album?
Well every time I release an album I go through extreme anxiety and pressure, because I’m like, “Oh my God it has to be perfect.” It’s scary, but it’s also awesome. You feel like you are able to express yourself in the best way possible. One thing I learned is the writing that I do really connects with other people.
I have a song on the new album called “Blinded,” which is about love and not necessarily being perfect – about you being flawed and your partner being flawed – and how it doesn’t matter because your blinded by all the things that other people find annoying. I remember playing this at the Rockwood, and later this woman came up to me and she was crying, and saying that this was how she felt about her husband. That made me feel really good because I found some insight.
Where does the title for your last album come from?
The track that inspired everything is the last track on the album called “Unrequited Love Song,” and it was originally called “New York.” I wrote it because I always had this theory about people who live in the city. New York either keeps you or kicks you out, and when he or she, if New York was a lover, was done with you, you would know. You wouldn’t be able to find another job or another home and you would be done.
I just thought of New York as that kind of lover, where he would leave you for someone younger and sweet at the drop of a hat. I basically anthropomorphized the city and that kind of opened me up to a new way of writing for this album. I was looking for different things and different experiences instead of it just being a superficial style.
So now you are working on your next album?
Yeah, I think so. It’s one of those things that once you’re done you just have to start working on something else. Maybe it’s just because I have idle hands or something. I’m not really sure how this next album is going to come together, but I am finding it interesting to what my inspiration is, and sometimes it’s been terrible. Sometimes one gem comes out of it, but I just hope that I can make something new and interesting and continue growing as a writer and performing.