As part of the Fortnight Journal music showcase last week at Southpaw in Brooklyn, Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers wowed us all. She plays the haromonium – similar to an accordion with a reed sound, used in Indian music– with her full body. Time Out New York has called her “the best lead singer who doubles as an air raid siren.” She was born in New Jersey to old world traditional parents and while she’s billed with “happy hookers,” in Brooklyn, I only spied this one “teddy bear” looking guitarist. You’ll find her playing round town at haunts like Mercury Lounge. And while this video shot for Hudson above says it all, I could not help but include these recent comments she made to New York Press, below. Rock on!
When did you realize that this instrument could be utilized for a more unique approach towards rock music?
When I was in high school, we moved to a more affluent town when I was 12 and I couldn’t compete with the other students. My grades started to drop and of course Nirvana happened. Nirvana was a big fucking deal and still is because that band twisted the nuts of American society. It sounds lame to talk about something that has already been talked about a great deal, but the early ’90s made a huge mark on me. By the time I hit the 8th grade, I was loud, obnoxious, cynical and tough. I made the rich chicks cry in the bathroom for messing with me, and made friends with the delinquents. I’m a scrawny, bizarre looking Indian chick, a total weirdo, but when I heard that music I felt powerful. I wanted to make music or be creative in some way because it was free of rules and societal limitations. The only problem was that I wasn’t allowed to play the guitar, so I had to find things in my house that I could play around with when my parents weren’t home.
As a child, were you strictly raised on traditional Indian music, or was there other types of sounds influencing your young mind?
The Western music ban started when I was 8 and lasted till I left for college. My sister and I were sneaky kids and would make the excuse of going to the library. Most public libraries have decent music collections and we would hide tapes and CDs in books when we’d borrow them. There was also the Princeton Record Exchange. I’d cut class a lot. I used to have friends transfer CDs to tape so I could listen to them since I didn’t have a CD player of my own till my senior year in high school. My sister brought in a lot of NWA, Public Enemy, Junior Mafia, Biggie, Mary J Blige, Eurythmics and Depeche Mode. I brought in the Doors, Velvet Underground, Smashing Pumpkins, The Cramps, New York Dolls, Joy Division, The Stooges, Patti Smith, Bauhaus, Sid Barrett and Pink Floyd, man this list can go on…
Oddly, when I read about your parents making you play harmonium as a kid instead of the desired guitar, I couldn’t help but think of the story of Weird Al and his accordion. Being the only one playing this instrument may initially make you feel less cool and on the outside, but in the end seems to give you an edge. Would you agree?
I will always have an edge regardless of what I play or do with my life. I’m that kind of asshole.