Exclusive: Tamil-American musician Bhi Bhiman talks upcoming album “I’ll Sleep When I’m Famous”

Recently The Knockturnal got the exclusive chance to speak to Tamil-American musician Bhi Bhiman. Bhi has been called, “One of America’s best kept secrets” by The Times UK, and “first rate and undeniably unique” by the Washington Post. His music has been praised by the Wall Street Journal, NPR, Billboard and the New York Times. Bhiman’s upcoming album I’ll Sleep When I’m Famous, releasing June 24, 2022, is his most personal release to date. Co-produced by Sam Kassirer (who worked on the critically acclaimed BHIMAN and Rhythm & Reason albums), the nine-song album sports a world-weary, but wide-eyed positivity.  Recorded entirely at his home studio, these songs were inspired by the pop sensibility of the rock music Bhi grew up on in the 90s, and is a call back to the more acoustic sound found on his debut. His new music comes off the heels of his recent political concept podcast album “Peace of Mind”, which was featured in the Wall Street JournalBillboard and American Songwriter.  Bhi will also be releasing his song “Helpless” on Friday May 20th. Over the course of his career, the St. Louis native has collaborated with a diverse list of creatives including comedian/actor Keegan-Michael Key, author Dave Eggers, singer/songwriter Rhiannon Giddens, rapper/director Boots Riley, and late iconic singer Chris Cornell. “These songs deal with the ever-increasing presence of death in our lives,” Bhiman explains, connecting to both the Covid pandemic and personal loss. “I hope that it can be cathartic to those who’ve experienced loss, not as a downer but as a reality check. The reason we create art to begin with, is that we don’t see enough beauty in the world. And his record is meant to replace some of the beauty that’s been taken from us.”

Why don’t we start with you just telling me a little bit about how you started working in music. 

It comes from a love of playing guitar which is my first instrument that I picked up when I was really little about 7 years old,  and I played very consistently through childhood. In terms of singing, I only stared doing when I was about 19. It’s always been about guitar for me which really sparked my love for music. A lot of different things influenced me, but it started from humble beginnings.

What would you say is your greatest inspiration behind your sound?  

I definitely like to listen to all kinds of stuff, and I bring a lot of different genres and international music into something I know a lot better like rock and roll stuff or folk stuff, and try to combine them through my lens which I think is kind of unique.

I know your upcoming studio album I’ll Sleep When I’m Famous is coming out this summer, so could you just tell me a little bit about why now felt like the right time to release this? 

Ir’s been about two years of seeds of ideas and stuff I had been working on when I finally sat down and was like “okay, I need to go through my hard drive and figure out what is what”. I had hundreds of unfinished ideas some that were worth exploring and some that were just not good. I came down to about 40 songs, down to 20 songs, down to about 15, and finally down to 10 where I am now. In terms of thematically, the pandemic definitely played a big role because the whole pandemic is based around the fear of death. Everyone suddenly had a lot of time to sit and think or read about it, so the album does deal with death, but in the way of “how do the living deal with losing another loved one?”. My family has dealt with a lot of death these past few years and each death is quite different depending on each relationship you have. Losing an elder is one thing, but we’ve lost some younger relatives, and there’s almost a double tragedy there.  One specifically was my nephew who we had just lost after graduating high school three years ago who was on his way to doing really great things and was so incredibly bright and that’s what I mean by that “double grief” because it’s such a shame to have someone not even be able to live their life before being able to do everything they are capable of. So, a lot of this album was kind of spurred by that moment that happened in 2018 before the pandemic. I got to know some of his classmates who were all about 17 and 18 around that time and I wrote a number of songs that were kind of written to them but also for him even though he would never hear them. Unfortunately I know there are a lot of people in that position, assumingly even more since the pandemic,  that are struggling with their own mental health problems so I wrote a couple of songs one of which is “Helpless”.

You talked a little bit about your writing process, so would you say that some songs were harder to write than others? 

For sure. Not necessarily for any type of writers block or I couldn’t come up with ideas, but its more of a perfectionist kind of thing. With my songs it’s either right or wrong and I kind of. keep working on it until it’s just right.  In the case of my song “Up All Night”, I wrote that when a relative was dying and family was staying up through the night to take care of him, talking to him, having conversations and that was why I wrote that song which came very quickly like within one day I had written it all. Some of the other songs on the album took almost a year or more.

As a fellow Desi American, I’m really curious to know what it was like for you when you decided to pursue a career in music especially in an industry where we don’t usually see a lot of representation of ourselves.

Everyone usually goes straight to the parents, and I had pretty cool parents who were pretty encouraging of me playing music even when I had to pretty much beg them to get me a guitar. I was really into rock and electric guitar growing up so I’m sure that was pretty annoying for them, but they were always supportive and had no problem with me practicing as long as I had done my homework. Now I don’t think they thought I would take it as serious I did, in fact it became the most serious thing in my life.  Overall, my parents were supportive then and they’re supportive now and I think they would say that they are pretty proud even when they might be a little worried about the financial security of it. In terms of the industry, yes you are totally right there is not a lot of representation especially in America. In the music industry here, there is not a lot of front facing musicians that look like us. Behind the scenes there are definitely some writers, producers, and stuff like that but in terms of lead singers or prominent artists there is little to none. That said, it’s not something you can dwell too long on. I get funny looks all the time when I show up to a show and then I have to prove myself every night but in terms of struggles it is definitely a minor one, but it is real and a thing. I have hope that it is going to turn a corner soon though, and I’ve seen younger people already doing that but there’s still some barriers to be broken in that regard especially in this field of rock or instrument playing singers.

And my final question would be, if you could give one piece of advice to your younger self about pursuing a career in music what would you say?

I would say anything is possible the only limitation is what you tell yourself.

Check out the single and video for HELPLESS releasing May 20, 2022 and album I’ll Sleep When I’m Famous releasing June 24, 2022. 

 

 

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