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Headliners: Akshay Anand lets narratives lead the way in his original acoustic music

Akshay Anand, a third-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student, said he discovered the only way he can write songs is if he does it all in one sitting. After breaking off his first serious romantic relationship, he said he stayed up until 3 a.m. starting and finishing his first original song. (Kanishka Mehra/Assistant Photo editor)

By Brooke Cuzick

April 10, 2020 1:06 p.m.

Akshay Anand’s acoustic, romantic musical style has some of his friends referring to him as the “Indian Ed Sheeran.”

The third-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student said he attributes the comparison to the fingerpicking and slow tempos in each of his original songs, creating a tone similar to Sheeran’s first album “+.” Anand said after years of partially completing tracks, he discovered the most effective method for his writing was to fully invest himself by penning lyrics and instrumentals in a single sitting. Following his first serious breakup, Anand said he used the method to start and finish a song recounting the experience in a single night. It was that one session that led to an infatuation with the hyper-focused way of songwriting, he said.

“I kind of just wrote the full song at three AM, and after that it was addicting,” Anand said. “(Being able to write an original song) was amazing; being able to write a song and call it my own and to put my experiences in it and share it with people.”

[Related: Headliners: Michael Palermo strums his way into the music industry with a ukulele]

Part of his process to solidify a functional songwriting technique included finding a subject matter worth dedicating a track to, he said. Storytelling proved to be the aspect that drove the singer’s most fruitful sessions, as he said it gave his lyrics a sense of direction. Aside from his first song about his breakup, Anand said he has written lyrics to describe notable occurrences going on around him – like the birth of his nephew and navigating the dating world. The themes he explores may not always reference exact experiences, but he said he takes emotional inspiration from the events for the final product.

“The easiest way for me to song write has been making it into a musical story for people to understand,” Anand said. “It can be very difficult to keep that going with new music as well, because if I don’t have a story, then it’s kind of like, ‘What am I writing about?’”

Sometimes portions of conversations – in tone or sentiment – find their way into Anand’s songs as he searches for topics noteworthy enough for a midnight songwriting session. Soham Gupta, a third-year civil engineering student, said he lives with Anand and often finds feelings from conversations he had with him expressed later in song.

Anand’s songs come across as emotionally genuine because of their roots in these real-life occurrences, Gupta said. Overall, each track shows his softer, more caring side, which he said aids Anand’s efforts to properly reflect his emotional reactions toward the situations covered in his lyrics. While there is a level of raw honesty in the music that clearly resonates with Anand’s personality, it’s his voice which makes him comparable to other indie-pop artists who use similar soft vocals and stripped back guitar, Gupta said.

“The way he talks sounds nothing like the way he sings,” Gupta said. “The first time I heard him sing I was like, ‘That sounds like Ed Sheeran.'”

Outside of vocal ability, Anand’s confident live presence is also full of surprises, said Michaela Capps, a third-year international development studies and neuroscience student. She said when Anand was hired to perform at her fundraiser event, he was initially hesitant to play alongside seasoned student musicians. But once he took the stage, he showcased his upbeat personality as he told the audience stories between comfortably strumming songs on his guitar, she said.

“It was insane to … see him take root and put his creativity out there and seem really confident even though he was talking before about how nervous he was,” Capps said.

[Related: Student learns lessons of competition in process of auditioning for ‘American Idol’]

Maya Partha, a third-year economics and international development studies student, said part of Anand’s stage confidence stems from his assurance that his audiences can relate to the stories he tells in his songs. Anand has become comfortable writing about universal topics like romance and breakups, she said, which makes his music well-suited for all audiences.

As he’s grown as a lyricist, the singer has also gained the ability to quickly write last-minute songs, she said. Anand and Partha occasionally perform together, and she said on the day of one of their shows, he brought a song he wrote the night before to showcase for the crowd. And while Anand said he is still new to the music scene, his willingness to experiment with string-picking patterns and tempo makes him excited to perform his one-session songs live.

He said the unorthodox method of writing is sometimes a process of trial and error since it doesn’t always result in a song he is satisfied with. But ever since he wrote his first song in one night in a Hedrick Hall South stairwell, Anand said hasn’t looked back.

“I need to sit down and just write it all at once, or I’m not going to be able to finish it,” he said. “I guess I’m still developing as a songwriter in that sense. I’m still very, very new to the whole process, but I’m really excited to keep going with this.”

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Brooke Cuzick | Alumna
Cuzick previously served as a senior staff writing for Arts and Entertainment. She was the Music | Fine Arts editor from 2019-2020 and an A&E reporter from 2018-2019.
Cuzick previously served as a senior staff writing for Arts and Entertainment. She was the Music | Fine Arts editor from 2019-2020 and an A&E reporter from 2018-2019.
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