Away from the stage it’s hard to picture Indira Force fronting trail-blazing Christchurch band Doprah, the six-piece trip hop act in which she theatrically weaves her fragile voice, expressive hands and giggly humour. Silke Hartung spoke to the diminutive artist who is better known as Indi, discovering that her own measure of success is likely to stem more from her compositions than performances.
Indira Force, that’s her real name, believe it or not. She tells me she recently had issues with her email account because her provider’s security system thought it wasn’t.
Indira, or more familiarly to the local music scene Indi, turned 20 the day before we met. She has been on the radars of music fans and industry alike, since placing second in the 2012 Smokefree Rockquest. In that short time she has made a name for herself as songwriter, voice and visual focus of Christchurch indie trip hop outfit Doprah, who released their self-titled debut EP in June, after over a year’s worth of well-received singles.
But Indi also stands on her own two feet, musically speaking. As Indi she recently topped South Island uni radio charts with her flawless pop song, Stay, recorded as part of her SFRQ prize package with none other than Joel Little – pre-Lorde-fame era, that is. She is awkwardly ambivalent about that song and the inevitable major label attention which preceded its recording and release. Fluent on the piano, she composes ethereal, effortless sounding cinematic instrumentals and it is in composition that her artistic heart lies.
Indi grew up in Titirangi in West Auckland, where her family still live. “I love it there, you can see the ocean from our house.”
It’s long been an artistic community and the very supportive Force parents seem to be on the periphery of local creative industries, so she grew up being surrounded by music and discussing music frequently.
“Not just music, any creative endeavours – it’s always good to have someone to bounce creative ideas off.”
As Steiner school pupils, she and brother Jasper were exposed to the dreaded recorder early on. Putting on a fake, whiney noise she mocks her younger self: “I don’t wanna play recorder, it’s lame!”
Over the years she tried violin, guitar (her one-song-repertoire works best after a few drinks, she laughs) and even drums, but it was the piano that got her fully hooked. Aged nine she decided to take up lessons, having already been playing by ear for a while on her family’s piano at home.
“I would just sit there and play for hours and hours,” she recalls.
She had to be cajoled into Rockquest by a school friend, her solo success coming as quite a surprise. Among the outcomes was contact from Doprah-founder Stephen Marr, who first met with her in Dunedin where they tried some recording.
Two weeks after an early gig with Doprah at 95bFM’s Fancy New Band showcase in May 2013, she found a new home at bandmate Marr’s flat in Christchurch. Indi recalls thinking that taking Doprah from a long-distance studio project to playing live and being a proper band was “the best thing ever, so she left her job, family and friends behind on a whim.
“I didn’t even feel like I was being that brave or adventurous or… dumb, maybe. It felt like the logical thing to do, and it has really paid off. We would have never been able to practice any other way.”
Additionally, Indi found a close-knit musical community that she says she wasn’t part of back in Auckland.
“Singing was never something I considered an instrument, or something that I do well. There’s a difference between a singer being technically good and being casual – I try to be emotive. The singers I always admire are singers who are able to convey an emotion, or communicate something with their voice rather than hit a note. It’s all subjective, though. I’m in love with Bjork, deeply. Everytime she sings, she’s just exploding with energy and emotions that are bigger than herself. It’s such a dynamic, felt thing for her, very intuitive, I think. It comes from a place that’s not her head.”
And then there’s Kim Deal.
“As a vocalist I find her very fascinating because when she sings it’s nearly like she’s talking to you. She doesn’t care whether it’s in tune, and it emerges in this music which is very dark and raw, this beautiful honey-like husk – ahhh, angelic! I admire singers who sound very raw.”
While she does sing, she says she’d prefer not to be known as singer, but as musician. For practical reasons, and thanks to her Rockquest prize, she moved from piano to a Nord stage synth, because she liked the way the keys felt.
“I treasure it, it’s my baby! I bought it thinking I was just going to use the piano, but then I ended up finding out all those crazy sounds I could make. I could press just one note and make five come out of it. That really opened my world compositionally. If you get really nice gear, you’re going to probably get different results from more possibilities. That being said, no matter how good your gear, if you can’t compose for shit, you’re not going to be able to write something that will connect. Whereas if you’re a good composer you’ll probably still make something that’s really good. I’d like to think it depends on the person, not the machine.”
She is just in the process of adding to her self-taught skills in Logic by studying audio engineering at MAINZ in Christchurch.
“You know you’re turning into a proper geek when you find yourself looking up all the microphones Steve Albini uses,” she laughs.
For now Doprah is Indi’s main focus, but in the long run she says she’d like to write soundtracks.
“I’ve always secretly just wanted to have a whole orchestra at my disposal,” she explains matter-of-fact.
The poppy sound of Stay is something she would prefer to leave behind, and she seems genuinely surprised about the attention it received from blogs worldwide, after she released it gung ho and without promotion via Soundcloud one night, against industry advice.
Indi seems to have her head firmly on her shoulders. Her creativity, wit and scepticism mixed with engineering studies, as well as good general industry knowledge, provide a great base for her to be able to take success into her own hands, keep her artistic integrity and in the long run hopefully enjoy a long lasting career.
For now, look out for her in Doprah, but in the future, keep an eye, or rather ear, out for Indi.