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Please tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
Aditya Balani was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in economics in his native New Delhi when he approached his guitar teacher to tell him that he planned to discontinue his lessons. It was time, after all, to get serious. But in his teacher’s office, he found a Berklee catalog, and was shocked to learn that music could be a career, not just a hobby.
His parents encouraged him to complete his economics degree first. Balani followed their advice but transitioned to an online school to make more time for his musical aspirations—writing music, teaching guitar, and playing in bands. He was also exploring the vast musical landscape, finding connections between Indian philosophy and Indian classical music, and getting hooked on guitar virtuosos Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.
Balani’s dream to come to Berklee hadn’t waned; if anything, it grew stronger. With an economics degree and a good amount of professional music experience to his credit, he traveled halfway across the world to get serious about music. The following is an edited and condensed conversation with the professional music major.
How did you arrive at the unique sound you’ve cultivated?
I started studying film scoring and music synthesis. But I wasn’t really playing a lot of guitar; I was spending so much time in front of the computer. There was something that was missing, and then I discovered fretless guitar in my third year at Berklee. I could play the Indian stuff on it. More than anything, it’s the spiritual aspect of Indian classical music that draws you. That was always missing in any kind of music I was doing. That summer I went back to India and I studied with my friend who’s a sitar player. We figured out how I could work on the sound. I came back and started thinking about forming a band. It was almost like this latent thing building up, all the information I was taking in. All this music came out. I met with some friends and we started jamming and booked a recital.
For me, it’s always been about finding my voice, who I am as an artist. A lot of people are focused on their inspirations. They’re almost going in a direction where they’re sounding or writing like them, which is great. But for me, at every step, it’s been about reevaluating where I am as an artist.
Why did you choose to major in professional music?
I think pro music made total sense as a major for me because I’m a songwriter, I teach, and I arrange. I’m a performer who writes my own music. All the synth and film stuff, I still have that, and I’m still going to use that. As a professional musician in today’s world, you may be working in the studio during the day and playing gigs at night, and then teaching on the weekends. It makes sense for someone like me who’s wearing many hats and keeps changing gears to be able to find your way and design a program. You’re not going to do four years of composition, four years of performance, and four years of production. You need to kind of combine it.
What did you do for you final pro music project?
I took my band, the Aditya Balani Group, on tour in India. It was a lot more work for me than I expected, I was doing all the administrative management for the tour: I was booking, handling the band, talking to club owners, and handling the finances. It was a challenge to make sure everything was in place, and then get on stage and play a good show every night. The tour was an intense ten days, with eight shows all together in three cities: New Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore. It took me two months to put together. It was a huge learning experience for me and I was very happy with the response we got in India.
Our music is world-influenced jazz. Jazz itself is so harmonically rich that it can incorporate a lot of different styles. I bring in Indian stuff and I do a lot of microtones and some other kind of inflections, but at the end of the day, it’s just world sounds coming together. One of our songs is on the latest Jazz Revelation Records CD. Once I graduate, I can play out more professionally.
What professors have influenced you?
I am taking the Pat Martino Lab with Garrison Fewell. He stresses getting the rhythmic accents right. In this class we focused on the bebop vocabulary. I discovered a very strange thing, that even though all the students in the lab are playing the same melodic line, which part of the beat we accent is different. It’s almost a cultural thing, because a big part of the identity of each style of music is the rhythmic interpretation. I was stressing more on the downbeats, and Garrison showed me how, by accenting the upbeats, I could get the lines to swing more naturally.
I have taken some labs with Tim Miller, and a few private lessons. He has a way of teaching that is very inspiring. He pushes you to open up and discover your own sound as a writer and as a player.