Singled Out: Aatmaa's Hidden Bruises

Keavin Wiggins | 05-10-2024

Singled Out: Aatmaa's Hidden Bruises

Alt-rockers Aatmaa just released their new single "Hidden Bruises" from their forthcoming debut album, "Cataclysm", and to celebrate we asked Shara Deepankar to tell us about the single. Here is the story:

We wrote "Hidden Bruises" during the height of the COVID lockdown. There was a lot of uncertainty about what kind of world we would end up with at this point. Some were saying just 6 weeks and we'll be back to normal, but we saw this as a long-term state. Ashwin is a touring stage manager and backline technician for bands and I'm a behavior analyst working directly with autistic individuals. Both of us were impacted by the shutdown. I remained an "essential personnel," but Ashwin's tour schedule for the year was completely canceled. Since Ashwin was home and I wanted a distraction from work, we were consuming a lot of art during this time. TV shows, movies, books, podcasts, music, you name it, all while also navigating tough conversations within our community. "Hidden Bruises" came as a direct result of that consumption. We didn't have it in mind to write a song about the systems of oppression and being angry about what was happening in our world. But when we sat down to write the lyrics and really get out of our own way, that's exactly what happened. We ultimately felt like these lyrics served the song which is always our first goal and that we could identify with them on a personal level. They gave us something to cling to in an uncertain time and we hope these universal truths reach others who may be dealing with similar experiences.

Out of frustration of not being able to play concerts with his friends, Ashwin talked me into having what was then a very modest recording setup in our second bedroom. A few microphones, electric guitar, synthesizer and a very small drum kit. When it comes to the writing process, Ashwin always starts with a drum beat and simple synth lines for us to build upon from the rhythm section on. Most of the structure of the song came very quickly, a day or so at most, but then he hit a wall with how to approach adding electric guitar. Ashwin reached out to a friend, Dan Phelps from Seattle, WA, who helped add what would become the monstrous sound that is dueling guitars swarming in feedback and aggression. That would be the first time but definitely not the last Dan would write with us remotely with an approach that would breathe new life into the songs that Ashwin and I were writing in our apartment bubble together.

When it came time for me to add vocals, we started as we usually do, a lot of mumble tracks. Mumble tracks were Ashwin's idea, I felt strange doing them at first because I'm really not saying anything, but testing how my voice sounds against the music; it's more of an improv session. The goal with mumble tracks is to find the right vocal melody that we want to move forward with so not adding in lyrics at this point but if I sing a lyric that we like, we make note of it and it may or may not be part of the final product. One line that came from the mumble track was "San Francisco" where the words "Desperate Hope" actually sit. I really liked the cadence/melody of San Francisco but lyrically it wasn't something that I wanted to keep. But the line "Someone will die from me" also came from a mumble track and when I listened back to that I knew we were keeping it.

A lot of times there can be 4-5 different vocal melodies but the lead vocal melody came out really early for the last half of the song and we stuck to it. The shadow or backup vocal melody was actually recorded separate from the lead melody. We were surprised with how well the two blended together so we kept it. Once the guitar melodies were added by the incredible Dan Phelps, we started vocal melodies for the first half of the track. This section didn't come as naturally as the last half. I really wanted to keep the first half an instrumental but Ashwin had strong opinions about adding lyrics and well, he was right. Since we were adding vocal melodies, I really wanted to make sure and compliment Dan's work on guitar, not sing over it.

As far as lyrically writing this song, I can't pinpoint exactly how this came to be. At this point I was writing daily. I use my notes app on my phone and also pen and paper. So typically I will listen to the song with headphones and read through my notes to find something that grabs me.

It's definitely a process. This is the first time I've written for a project so it was very daunting at first and there's a lot of self-doubt I had to work through to get here. But I'm thankful for Ashwin's patience and that both of us worked through the process together.

When it came time to make a music video for the song, Ashwin and I both agreed that we wanted to showcase both our studio and the city we live in. We love Chicago! So with the help of our videographer Aaron Ehinger, we filmed places throughout Chicago that we love. Luckily, it was a cold, snowy night which we think fits the vibe of this record. But then we also filmed a performance in our bedroom where the song was written and recorded. It felt right to complete this journey right where it started. That was our premise for the story behind the video.

We hope that people dig our big ol' sad tunes.

Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the song, listen and watch for yourself below and learn more here

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Singled Out: Aatmaa's Hidden Bruises

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