The musicians take us on a blissful spiritual journey for their collaborative EP.
In these uncertain times, it’s not uncommon to feel anxious and worried about the world around us, but listening and discovering new music can sometimes coat us in a blanket of security and reassure us, and that is exactly what Willow and Jahnavi Harrison’s EP “R I S E” does. With birds chirping sweetly over melodic guitar strings, the EP brings us to a idyllic garden surrounded by angelic ethereal vocals and shimmering productions. Introducing us to the teachings of Bhakti-yoga and sacred texts, the blissful EP overflows with positivity and optimism, leaving us in a state of awe.
Opening up on the production process of the EP, Willow said, “It was so beautiful because I look up to Jahnavi so much and I had listened to her music for months and months before we started working together and really got acquainted with just her vibe. She has just a divine presence and I was really excited to be around that and learn from that.”
No newcomer to the music scene, with a 2x platinum single and a Guinness World Record tucked firmly under her belt, Willow is not shy to bend the boundaries of music with her latest bodies of work THE ANXIETY and WILLOW, exploring various contemporary soundscapes. Ready to dive deeper into her craft and already plotting her next project, we sat down with both Willow and Jahnavi talking the creation of the EP, the teachings of Bhakti-yoga and bringing people together in a time of need.
Check out the interview below…
Heya Willow! Hows lockdown been? What have you been up to?
I’ve been creating a lot of music, trying to dive deeper into my craft and practising a lot more guitar because I have so much more time on my hands. I’m just trying to get my musicianship down right now.
Do you think this time has affected your creativity in any way?
One hundred per cent. In the beginning of quarantine, I was so stressed and COVID was just new to me. I kind of felt this shut down of creativity and I wasn’t writing anything or playing the guitar or doing any of that and that kind of really took a toll on me, but as I started to come to terms with the situation and tried to just accept this new reality, my creativity started to come back to me and I became more inspired to start playing the guitar more and start writing.
You grew up in the spotlight which can be very daunting, how did you navigate this and overcome obstacles and backlash?
Well it’s kind of a blessing and a curse to grow up with people looking at you and constantly giving their opinion about you. On one hand, you get used to people having opinions about you and you get used to people maybe not having the best feelings about you so later on down the line you can kind of come to terms with that a little bit easier because it’s been happening for so long. On the other hand, when it’s a constant thing that you always have to deal with, you know I think it’s a lifelong balancing act of healing and protecting what I do and don’t look at, especially on social media.
Congratulations on the “R I S E” EP with Jahnavi, how did this collaboration come about?
Well I had met some beautiful people named Jay Shetty and his wife Radhi and they kind of opened me up to Kirtan music and mantra even though during my childhood I was very exposed to a lot of Buddhism, Taoism and eastern philosophy and religion. But meeting them I dived deeper into that world and they had a Kirtan session at their house and Jahnavi was there. It was my first time I had ever experienced Kirtan and I was just listening to her voice and singing back to her and that call and response and that cyclical feeling, that mantra and that Kirtan has, I just cried because it was just mind-blowing and heart-opening. I went up to her afterwards and I was kind of in a trance, she probably thought I was crazy because I was like omg you are so amazing like I love you so much and your voice is so beautiful like God is coming through you. I can feel Source speaking through you when you sing and that’s when we first connected.
You said it was inspired by the teaching of Bhakti-yoga, how did you get into this and what about it inspired you?
You know, about a year and a half ago, I started practising yoga because I had had some issues with a tendon in my leg that was giving me a lot of pain and I was just trying to figure out a way to heal that and just be in better physical condition. I started doing Yoga for that and then as I kept going and eventually healed that problem in my leg, I was like Woah there’s really something to this. It’s almost a shame to look at Yoga as just being something to get fit or just being something to be healthy, even though it is also that, but I found that it was so much deeper and so much more. I just wanted to continue to explore that.
“Jiva Jago” means ‘wake up and rise from the sleep of illusion’ and not get caught up in the material world, what does this mean to you and have you experienced this?
Yes, you know when me and Jahnavi were creating the song “Rise,” I was kind of just expressing to her that feeling of waking up out of toxic cycles in your life and kind of rising out of those cycles. In Hindu philosophy, the karmic cycle is really a huge concept and so she was talking about that and I was like oh my gosh this is so beautiful because it’s also not just the cycles in your life, but getting out that cycle of rebirth and actually realizing the well of compassion that you have within you. Letting go of your ego before your body dies and kind of ejecting yourself out of that cycle of you haven’t learned that lesson so you’re going back to earth.
What was the creative process of making the EP like?
It was so beautiful because I look up to Jahnavi so much and I had listened to her music for months and months before we started working together and really got acquainted with just her vibe. She has just a divine presence and I was really excited to be around that and learn from that. We are so different you know, she likes to contemplate things and she likes to sit on things and be like okay let’s think about this what does this mean and I really need that because in the studio I’m like “oh this is cool and this is cool and so let’s do this”. I get like fifteen million miles ahead of what’s happening right now and she keeps me grounded in that way and keeps me in the moment of let’s really think about what this really means. It was just a good learning experience for me being collaborative with an artist like Jahnavi.
Your music is very much genre-bending and you tap into a lot of different sounds, what inspired this decision?
Throughout my entire musical career, I’ve always wanted my music to bring people closer to themselves and to bring people closer to their truth, and ultimately to God. When I heard Jahnavi’s voice and I heard her music that’s exactly what I felt. I felt like I was experiencing a facet of God and that’s what inspires me to tap into so many different kinds of music. The Divine comes in so many different forms and so many different colours, and being able to honour The Divine and be in service through all of its different colours and different expressions is just the joy of my life.
Your brother Jaden also creates music, do you guys bounce ideas off each other or give each other advice on music?
One hundred percent. It’s so beautiful to be able to be in the same creative realm and be so close and have such a communicative and collaborative relationship. I’m almost positive there’s going to be some collaborations with us in the future so we’re going to be looking forward to that.
Now the EP is out, what is next for you in coming months? What are you most excited for?
I’m the most excited for diving deeper into my instrument, and just like I said, my mind moves at a million miles per hour so I’m already plotting what the next project is going to be. I’m developing that sound and the skills that I’ll need to have in order to execute that sound, and I’m really excited to continue that process.
Heya Jahnavi! How’s lockdown been? What have you been up to?
Hi! Wow, what a question. It’s almost hard to remember what life was like before March 2020! I was fortunate in that the lockdown caught me right as I was about to leave my parents home in the English countryside. I was on my way back to New York City just as the travel bans came in, so I got an unexpected gift of spending four months with my younger brother and parents, as well as friends from home, as the lockdown started to ease. Whilst we live close to London, we are also near lots of protected green spaces including forests and farmland, so I was able to spend time in nature every day – it made my heart sing and helped to process the strange daily mix of emotions. I was both grateful – for more time alone, time to create and meditate; but simultaneously deeply distressed by what was unfolding around me. A week after the lockdown began I started to hear of a large number of friends and family falling ill with COVID – every day it was someone new, with several passing away. It was a very frightening time and I knew that if I was feeling fear and anxiety, there must be countless others feeling that way too. I decided to start a daily music and prayer hour which I broadcast daily on across different social media platforms. I felt I really needed it, and it turned out to be a saving grace. We continued for ten weeks daily and I was amazed both to see how many people tuned in to participate every day as well as how ‘real’ it felt to come together in prayer. Many times I was moved to tears, envisioning a large hall filled with thousands of people and ‘hearing’ their voices all singing from the heart – though all I could see were their names on a screen. Then of course as soon as I was able to get back to the USA I’ve been working on new music with Willow!
What’s one thing you’ve learned about yourself during quarantine?
I think the quarantine has taught me the power and value of community, both how important it is for me to play a contributing part in it, as well how precious it is to lean in and receive love, care and support.
You were raised in a family of Bhakti-yoga practitioners, what was this like and how did this impact who you are today?
I grew up waking up to the sound of my parents practising mantra meditation every morning. They had found the path of bhakti-yoga in their youth and dedicated themselves very deeply to it and still do to this day. They really tried to create a home for us that was grounded in spirituality and authentic tradition, yet with the breadth to ask questions, examine and explore the world as we grew. My father had grown up in a Methodist Christian family in a rural seaside village and my mother was from a Canadian Jewish family. Despite adopting a new Eastern spiritual path very seriously, neither of them had rejected their roots and so exposed me and my siblings to a range of different influences. Our house was filled with a lot of music, both kirtan (devotional chanting) and Indian classical music as well as Irish folk, klezmer, jazz, Carole King and the Beatles. We lived very close to Bhaktivedanta Manor, a beautiful mansion on 80 acres of land that was gifted by George Harrison of the Beatles to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in the 1970s. The Manor is an important place of worship, open to all. It attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year and also houses a school, a farm and organic gardens, a monastery, and seminary college. My siblings and I attended school every day there, and used to play in the gardens and with the farm animals after school. I think growing up in this way gave me an amazing foundation and toolkit for life. We will all face challenges, fear, pain and loss in life, and having spirituality and community to turn to has been a huge source of strength. Most of all I feel like it taught me the importance of tolerance, humility, respect for all and to understand the beautiful possibility of a relationship with the Divine.
Congratulations on the EP with Willow, what was it like working together?
It was an exhilarating, dynamic and really fulfilling process! Willow is a deep, old soul; so thoughtful and measured about what she wants to put out into the world, and at the same time fun and fast-paced and always making me laugh! I think both of us have found that it’s not necessarily easy to meet creatives who you really connect with both artistically as well as on a heart level. I feel we have that, so it makes working together a real gift. The process presented a growth curve for me, as I found myself writing songs in English and leaning into more contemporary influences which are outside my usual comfort zone of mantra music. Willow is so encouraging as a collaborator and even though she’s younger than me I often felt like she was my big sister giving me the loving push off the cliff! I knew Willow was self-assured as a creator, but I didn’t realise how confident and talented she is in role of producer! Whilst we would come up with ideas and write together, I deeply appreciated Willow’s ability to direct our studio sessions and I was continually impressed by her instincts in guiding the sound of our music. Building creative trust together was a beautiful experience; and I’ve really been boosted by it – after just three weeks with Willow, I feel energised and ready to jump off some more creative cliffs!
Looking back on the creative process what was a highlight of working together?
Our mutual love of harmonies, especially the unusual ones! We could get lost trying to find just the right one for a blissful hour. More seriously, the biggest highlight for me was just getting to work on something both creatively and spiritually fulfilling. I’m so grateful we both shared the common inspiration to create a work of love and devotion.
What do you want people to take away from this EP?
2020 has been a tumultuous year that has stirred up so many difficult emotions and questions. My hope for this EP is that it can soothe, uplift and inspire, as well as open a little sacred space within, to pray, meditate or just pause. The title track “R I S E” is about spiritual awakening; the search for meaning, and the need to cultivate a deep spiritual connection. If even a handful of people feel that this music helps them I will feel extremely happy.
Your music is very impactful and spiritual – is it difficult to convey this message across?
I think the best art bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the heart. For this reason, it’s important to me to try to facilitate an authentic and genuine experience for people, so they can make that connection themselves. I believe every person is a spiritual being, seeking love, truth and happiness. So I think the message is relevant to anyone and everyone – it just depends if someone wants to tune into it. I try not to get in the way too much. It’s like -if you’re dehydrated on a hot day – you don’t need me to tell you about the benefits of drinking water, you just need to drink it – let it quench your thirst and refresh you’ll know how it makes you feel. I think there is a spiritual thirst that sometimes we don’t even know we’re feeling until the water is right there. Every day I get thousands of messages on social media from people sharing their wonderful and heartfelt experiences with spiritual music – it’s inspiring, humbling and reminds me that I’m not the water – just a trainee water carrier!
You also appear on BBC Radio’ 4’s Something Understood, how did this come about?
I always loved to write. When I was 17 I started a blog about my life, reflections and experiences and continued it for about 10 years. A friend who is a great writer used to read it and regularly told me that I’d make a great contribution to another BBC program called Pause for Thought which is a daily 3-minute live slot on the biggest breakfast radio show in the UK. I thought that was extremely unlikely to ever happen, but he was already a contributor to it, and many years later, got me to audition for the producers. One thing led to another and I’ve been doing that for nearly five years now. Something Understood is produced by the same team, and I have really loved working on the program, which explores themes around faith and spirit through music and poetry!
Travelling is also a huge part of you as you explore various cultures and cities, what is one thing you’ve learned from your travels?
It’s a cliché, but wherever you go, there you are. Many years ago, I remember being in one of the most beautiful places in the world, beneath a breathtaking sunset and feeling distracted and unhappy. That taught me that as much as travelling is interesting and exciting, the journey within is even more important to me. As I try to develop a strong connection with my sacred space inside, I can experience sacred space on the outside, wherever I am….it’s beautiful but also— I’m a work in progress!!
Now the EP is out, what is next for you in coming months? What are you most excited for?
I’ve been working on more music during the lockdown in London, so I’m excited to share that soon! I admit I’m quite happy to not be moving around so much and having more quiet time to study and grow, but am I looking forward to the day when a huge crowd can gather together and dance and sing at the top of our lungs again! I’m dreaming of it!