Kiran Gandhi, Drummer & Feminist
Kiran Gandhi is a Los Angeles-based musician, feminist activist and music industry thinker with an MBA from Harvard that we just can't get enough of. She drums for M.I.A and Thievery Corporation and makes her own electronic music as Madame Gandhi. Her insights and integrity are jaw-dropping and she has one hell of a way with words - we're so proud to feature her on Make Nice!
You do a lot of different things, all seemingly at once. Can you run us through what they are and how they co-exist?
Absolutely, I think often about how each of us have different passions and talents and for me I love to speak, sing, drum and write. And my long term mission and goal is to elevate and celebrate the female voice. And so I just think about how I can use any one of my talents and passions to be able to do this. So sometimes it’s my business skills, that I got when I was doing my MBA at Harvard, other times it’s the ability to number crunch and study analytics and Spotify to then plan our tour. Other times it’s to write a blog post about, you know, the Women’s March that I was recently at in DC. And most of the time it’s playing drums and writing music that I think can inspire others to live their purpose.
Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?
Absolutely. It’s Atomic Living. It’s about using spontaneity productively, it’s about knowing your main focuses and passions, which in my case are music, feminism, fitness and family and to then say, OK, any potential opportunities that come my way, if it fits any of those, if there’s potential to nourish any of those passions the answer is yes I’m going to do it. And if it doesn’t have the potential to nourish, and even worse it has the potential to harm any of those passions I immediately say no. This is the concept of atomic living.
I also say that the future is female; I believe that we have so much to learn from women’s contributions around the world that we constantly underestimate and it’s only hurting us. And so when we say the future is female, we mean that that we want to live in a world that is more collaborative, a world that is emotionally intelligent and a world where we are linked and not ranked. So these are my two maxims for sure.
What does success mean to you and how has this evolved?
Success is when you set a goal for yourself and you achieve it. And I know for myself personally, anytime I’ve achieved something that’s good enough for me I don’t care about the opinion of somebody else. It’s only when I sort of, deep down inside and I’m not admitting it to myself, that it wasn’t that good - it’s what I call a B+ and not an A+ - that’s when I’m constantly seeking the validation of others, and then I lead myself to be hurt if they don’t like it. I know that for me success is defined when I’m proud of the work, either because the expression of the work is so authentic and so well done that it’s good enough for me and therefore it can be released. And I’m protected against the opinion of others. It’s kind of like the marathon, when I ran the menstrual marathon I was so proud, I was so proud. And you know I wrote that story and it only went viral four or five months after the fact but it had such purity of intention because when I ran, I was so afraid of my own body, so afraid that maybe I’d be in so much pain on my cycle that I wouldn’t be able to run the marathon. And then when I was able to run it, and overcome the shame of it, and overcome the actual physical pain of it, and successfully complete my first marathon, it was this journey I was so proud of. And so when all the negative criticism and the hate and the period shaming rolled in on Twitter for the months after it went viral, I was completely protected by it. So that’s how I define success.
What scares you when it comes to your practice?
Um, I think the only thing that scares me really, is knowing that I have important work to do, and then not having the time to do it. Or not having the self-discipline to do it. And that’s a helpful question you’re asking me because that’s the honest truth. Anytime I feel anxiety in my belly it’s when I can tell it’s because I should be doing something or contributing to something at a faster rate to be able to keep up and comment on all the negativity clouding our airwaves from this current administration in America, and knowing I haven’t commented on it or made my music yet. That’s the only thing that scares me, is a missed chance to improve the life of somebody else, via my music. So even just saying that out loud is very helpful, to overcome that fear and just do. The only way past it is through it.
Do you have a supportive female network in your field? If so, how did this develop?
Obviously, obviously. Because I give. Because I give. If I’m offering value to the women in my life, they’re offering value back to me. It’s about collaboration. That’s when business took a wrong turn, when we corrupted it by trying to exploit it. Business at its core is a wonderful thing, it means that I offer you value and I hope to elevate you, and then in turn, you either go elevate somebody else and there’s karmic balance, or you elevate me directly, either way it’s fine. Business got corrupted when we started exploiting each other, you know you go to a gold mine, and you’re like how much can I reap all of this earth, all of these jewels and wonderful gifts of the earth and how expensive can I make it and how rich can I get - that’s when everything goes wrong and business gets a bad name.
So I really channel this idea of collaboration in my work, I want to elevate you in the hopes that either you’ll elevate yourself, somebody else, or my work in return. And that’s how I've supported myself with not only talented women, but also really woke men.
How has your understanding of yourself evolved over the years?
It’s a constant journey. I’m constantly trying to improve myself and learn from my mistakes. I have one lyric in a song I’m writing right now where I say ‘all my bad habits have got to, got to go’, and my manager was humming it the other day and he said it made him go for a run. So I think what I try to do is learn from my mistakes, improve on them, and then share these lessons with those who are up and coming so that they can receive that advice and receive anything that I’ve worked hard to learn.
What drives you to keep pushing your work to a new level?
Every time I do a show with audiences who get elevated and celebrated, that’s when I know I’ve got to keep going. Because every time I’ve felt inspired by all the shows I’ve gone to when I was growing up and today, when someone has given me the gift to feel like my best self, I feel so grateful to them. And so I just want to contribute that back. Our job as artists is to make the most honest and pure art, and then let the world decide what to do with it. And so that’s what I’ll keep doing. That’s what drives me to push my work to a new level.
Activism has been a prominent line throughout your life, do you see this developing even further with the current crushingly masochistic administration in America? How so?
Of course. I think that with all the misogyny that is brought and almost celebrated by the Trump administration, we have a very visible and tangible wall to overcome. And I think oftentimes sexism, in particular, is so subtle that it’s very difficult to combat. It’s very difficult to combat social cues that are taught to women from such a young age. The fact that often the marketing and the messaging that we’re sent is that our value comes only from our looks, instead of our contributions and skill sets. But now, with such a problematic administration that directly threatens the reproductive rights of women in this country and perhaps even globally, our work is cut out for us. And they say often that if you can see it, you can change it, if you name it you can change it. And so certainly in this administration there’s very clear, governmental and policy problems that we’re fighting against, which makes my activism even more meaningful and has given me a much larger audience with open ears than ever before to speak my truth.
Tell us about some career hurdles you’ve faced.
Yeah, all of 2016! When you’re pulling together a project that has no backing and no one knows what it is and you have the vision in your head and you have to constantly keep painting the vision to other people and you know you’re begging people to work on your project, I would say a personal failure is giving too much.
You know when you’re starting something off, we constantly just give so much, the young entrepeneur is so grateful if someone works for them, they’re overly thankful, instead of saying 'no, I’m confident in my vision and we’re both lucky to be here'. And so I would say one mistake I made is overly underselling myself. And overly giving of myself to others that it actually caused the project problems. So sometimes when we’re starting something off, we have to actually hold back a little bit and believe in ourselves and rally the people who are genuinely interested in the vision, as opposed to who think they can get something quick off us because we’re needy and starting something off.
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
Music man, music.
What are some of the things you like to do to take care of your body and your mind?
That is a great question, I run. I run, I get on a bike, I do yoga, I do hot yoga, I get elevated. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke marijuana.
I think that we as musicians are taught that you want to get fucked up and smoke. I am not criticising anybody at all, because each of us have our way of creating, but I do think there’s an expectation on artists to be feted and I think sometimes it’s used to their disadvantage, it’s used for businesses to take advantage of artists, you know when we're a little bit drunk or high or whatever, then we’re not completely clear so maybe we missed some money that got scraped off, or maybe we missed an opportunity and someone’s taking advantage of us. I mean, Rihanna wrote a whole song about how her accountant was scamming her. And that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with drinking, but we have to stay alert.
So for me running is where I access my clearest self. And when I’m able to hear myself think and really have the visions for the work that I want to do which then motivates me, so that’s how I stay healthy. I eat well. I’m vegan, I’m gluten free, and I think when we at the most atomic level embody the very thing we preach, that’s when we're living a balanced life.
What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?
Consistency. Every day, chip at it, you know. I don’t fear the person who does a thousand kicks in one day, I fear the person who does one kick, each day, over the course of a thousand days. The person who really sticks with it. That’s when you build something that no one can shake, a strong foundation where no one can mess with you. That takes hard work, discipline and self-belief, and that’s what I plan to do.
What women would you most like to answer these questions next?
FKA Twiggs, Tune Yards, St Vincent, MIA, Santigold, Abra. These are some of the extraordinary women who are inspiring me.