Kaamya Talwar Sharma, the singer, songwriter and guitarist who fronts the indie pop band Chammeili, said music has always been in her blood. “I have a visceral reaction to music, deep inside. I always have. I don’t know how to explain it. My mom says I gave her ear damage, because I was always noisy and singing. I was a loud, vocal child.
“My parents didn’t realize music could be a talent, until I insisted on getting lessons. They appreciate music, but don’t play. My dad likes classic rock like Pink Floyd. My mom was a Harry Belafonte fan. Even now, when I’m at my parents’ house, they’ll be playing old Bollywood soundtrack songs in the kitchen,” said Sharma.
She grew up in New Delhi, India. “I went to school, but spent most of my time at the One World College of Music. It’s a creative community, with beginners who are five or six and adults in their 30s, 40s and older. There was a lot of collaboration and positive feedback. I developed close relationships with staff members, who were practicing musicians in their daily lives.”
With the help of session musicians from the school, Sharma wrote, produced and recorded an album, Seventeen Faces. She designed the album cover, arranged copyrights for the songs, tried to create a buzz on social media platforms and released it independently. “I was only 17, so I was a bit shy to be singing my own songs,” she said. “You can hear it in my voice. I don’t feel that way about the songs I’ve been doing since I started Chammeili. They feel like mine.”
Sharma put Chammeili together after she moved to Berkeley, to study sociology at the University of California. She started writing and recording the band’s debut EP, Necromancer, while she was living at the Stebbins Hall Co-Op.
“I met Connor Finn, a drummer and multi-instrumentalist, and we arranged, played and recorded all the songs. We did live drums, and some guitars, at his place in LA and some at my parents’ house in Palo Alto. Lead guitar was done at the apartment of Varun [Jhunjhunwalla] in Berkeley, and some vocal overdubs were recorded in a friend’s closet in New York City.”
The songs on Necromancer are intimate and moody, full of heartache and romance. They combine bedroom pop with ambient touches that give the music a wide-open feel.
A jazzy asymmetrical beat influenced by Indian classical music drives “Necromancer,” a waltz-like song in 9/8. Sharma’s aching vocal dances in and out of the rhythm, searching for the magic in everyday life. “Indian music is often in the back of my head when I create a melody. A lot of Indian instruments, like sitar and sarangi, are single note instruments. They don’t use chords in the same way that Western music does. That informs my vocals and the melodies I hear when I’m composing.”
Chammeili has gone through several iterations over the past few years, before the current lineup coalesced. “We want to be recording and writing true, emotional, innovative songs, but since we’re independent artists, the business aspect of things can make it difficult. We just finished working on a new album with the whole band, called Icy Blue. We’re going to release it later this year. We’ve been playing a lot of the material live already, and will be playing more dates soon.”
The band’s name is the Hindi word for a jasmine flower. “It has a lot of connotations in Bollywood and Indian society,” Sharma said. “It was my Instagram username when I was growing up, and it encapsulates so much of my experience, as a person who traveled from India to the U.S. and as someone who embodies femininity and also has issues with it. It has connotations of sex work in India too, so there are a lot of social and sexual layers to the word.
“It reminds me of night blooming Jasmine, known colloquially in Hindi as ‘raat ki rani’ or ‘the queen of the night,’ with a scent that’s poisonous and intoxicating. It just feels like it fits.”
You can listen to Chammeili on their Bandcamp page chammeili.bandcamp.com/album/necromancer. ‘Necromancer’ is available on vinyl from Berkeley’s Lavasocks Records at lavasocksrecords.bigcartel.com.