The personality and confidence that emanate from Aaradhna’s soulful singing had me thinking she’d be one sassy homegirl, but her speaking voice is far more restrained than I expected. By phone, waiting for a flight from Nelson to Wellington, she sounds a bit like a nervous teenager, not the pushing-30 diva on display in her snappy videos. Could be media-shyness, could be she’s a bit off her game – it’s her first time touring since 2006 and, yeah, she had a big night, she admits with a chuckle.
Girl has plenty to celebrate: her new album Treble & Reverb has been climbing up and down the NZ Top 40 Albums chart since its release last November. Her song, Wake Up, recently hit platinum sales with another, Lorena Bobbitt, creeping up behind it. She’s performing with 40 other artists at this weekend’s Homegrown Festival, and just got support billing for The Jacksons (the remnants of the iconic Jackson 5) when they tour here in March. Originally released by New Zealand label, Dawn Raid, she’s been hooked by US-based Republic Records (cue Amy Winehouse, Florence + The Machine) for a multi-album deal and heads stateside for a tour later this year.
“I’m still trying to get used to it,” she says of the success of her new album, which is also logging consistently rave reviews.
Unlike her 2006 R&B-heavy first release, I Love You, and her entirely competent 2008 album of covers, Sweet Soul Music, Treble & Reverb is a beautiful bird of a different feather, born of a long dark period and too much boredom living in Romania where her boyfriend, Leon Henry, was playing basketball. (He’s now a forward for the Breakers.)
“I’m always writing whatever I’m going through,” she says. Depression, anger, jealousy, fear, and love simmer beneath the bop of the music, produced by P-Money and Concord Dawn’s Evan Short. Though a couple of R&B flavoured tunes appear among the 17 tracks, doo-wop, Motown, and soul dominate, giving the listener the timeless sense of having danced to them before. But, lyrics riddled with contemporary slang and playful titles like Bob’s Your Uncle and Lorena Bobbitt signal that this is fresh stuff.
“This time around I didn’t want to put any limits to what I wrote about,” she says. “I wanted to write something I don’t usually write about. I’m interested in the Lorena Bobbitt story and I thought it would be interesting to add her personal story of cheating into the mix. I’ve been cheated on before.”
“I always have to write otherwise I’m going crazy. I’m writing heaps of new music and already working on the next album. It will have a similar sound to this,” she adds. Though old standards like Sam Cooke, Ruth Brown, and The Capris bubble out of her mouth when asked what she listened to for inspiration, nobody beats Amy Winehouse.
“She inspired me to embrace the old school sound a whole lot more. I loved it before, but when I heard Back to Black I was so inspired to take it on. I love how she puts her words together. She’s a big inspiration for Treble & Reverb. I’m just so gutted I never got to watch her live or meet her. To be on the same label as her, it’s unreal.”
As surreal as it sounds, she’s still rooted in New Zealand for the time being. The Auckland-based singer of Indian and Samoan descent says she’s looking forward to performing in Wellington for the first time in ages, as well as catching up with family. (Her parents live in the Hutt and her four siblings all live in and around Wellington.) On the bill besides Homegrown: celebrating her sister’s birthday and taking her dog for a walk. “I love being home. When I have a couple of days off I fly back down. I always need a good dose of family.”
Originally published February 27, 2013 in Capital Times.