“Since I was 15,” India Shawn says. “I’ve been pursuing a music career. I’m not going to say my age, but it’s been a lot of years. It’s been step-by-step, just grinding it out.” The Los Angeles-raised singer-songwriter’s work is clearly paying off. She finished 2021 strong, releasing her stellar Before We Go album (via Epic Records) and concluding her national tour supporting Mayer Hawthorne. On the last concert date, we hung out backstage with her to talk about her church girl days, moving to Atlanta, and other twists her life has taken so far. Below are some pretty wise tips we pulled from our chat with India.
Your Roots are the Best Place to Start
India was a church kid. Though her songs today play in nightclubs, Hip-Hop, and R&B stations, make no mistake: She’s still trying to accomplish the same thing the gospel she sang way back when did.
“My Mom was the Praise and Worship leader of my church. We played Fred Hammond, Kirk Franklin, Donnie McClurkin. My mom was a cool Praise and Worship Leader. We grew up in a Pentecostal church. It’s a little more relaxed. On a regular week we did bible study, then choir rehearsal, then three services every Sunday. I had to stay. I was always in church. That’s where I got my first stage experience. Being scared and my mom would be in the front row like, ‘Sing!’ I threw myself into the fire and did it afraid.”
“One of the first songs I wrote went like, ’I’m so in love with Jesus.’ It was like an R&B and gospel song. My earlier songs were inspirational. The church is still in me. I started with inspirational music and I’m still trying to keep it there. I definitely felt the influence of my grandmother and my mom who were so deeply in the church. But now that I’m a grown woman and still choosing that path, I feel like it’s still a part of who I am.”
There will be Unexpected Shifts and Turns You Can’t Control. Adjust and Enjoy.
While most people move to Los Angeles to start their entertainment careers, Shawn’s family left The City of Angels and headed to the Peach State, forcing India to find a new collection of creative friends to build with.
“My mom uprooted our lives and was like, ‘Let’s move to Atlanta!’ This is in the middle of high school. I started at a new school. I was singing in a parking lot and someone came up to me like, ‘Was that you singing?’ I went to the studio and I’ve been in the studio ever since with buddies like J.I.D Earth Gang. 6lack, Childish Major, and Baby Rose.”
Flip Your Opportunities
India’s songwriting skills earned her a publishing deal, which furthers the reach of where her songs can land. She also uses the consistent writing she must do to bring clarity to what she truly wants to say as India, rather than what lyrics and moods would be suited for others.
“I’m in a publishing deal, which also helped me find my own voice. I was tired of writing for other people and I was like, ‘I don’t care if nobody hears anything I ever do. I have to make an album for myself.’ And I made a really special project called The Origin. It’s still my favorite body of work.
“That led me to work on Solange’s Saint Heron project. It is a collection of rising R&B artists. A lot of people discovered me from there. And then singing background for a lot of people, like Anderson Paak. He got on one of my songs and directed the video, too. I was feeling very free and uninhibited. I was in a super creative zone. I think you hear the pureness in it.”
Come Back Home
After a long stretch on the road, India is happy to be back home in Los Angeles.
“We just spent the past five weeks traveling the country and I’m definitely happy to be back here. Number one, I love the weather. You can go to the beach, hiking or to the desert–all on the same day! I just love having options. The energy is great. I think about my childhood and all those great memories.”
Creative Direction & Article by Brad Weté
Video by Serrandon
Photos by John Marquez