Musical duos have a special synergy; like The Civil Wars or the White Stripes, they often share an undeniably genuine and natural chemistry and cadence; there’s a balance between the two members, a cooperative creativity that is reflected in their music – and this is nowhere more evident when the duo comprises of twins.
Tāl is a twin-sister duo from Auckland, New Zealand. Shalina and Shantini Sandran are both Malaysian-Indian and Pākehā (New Zealand-European), and the two meld musical sensibilities from their heritage and upbringing together in shaping their sound, harmonies blending in and out of each other to create an ‘in/between’ that is gentle, dreamy, and pensive.
Tāl’s music is an elegant balance between music, sound and story. Layers of Indian sitar, ambient beats, sister harmonies and synthetic riffs conspire to speak of shared experiences, growing together and journeys far from home; the lyrics, tinged by children’s fears and adult learnings, are a rumination on love, loss, pain and life’s enduring questions.
We asked the two about songwriting, sisterhood, family and heritage:
Can you tell us a little about yourselves? What was the first song you worked on together like?
Shalina: We’re twin sisters who make music together. The first song we wrote as Tāl is called What You Are, which is the first track on our self-titled EP.
It’s a really honest piece of music, and actually quite stripped back. The tabla in it creates a really warm, ambient space, the allows the vocals and guitar to enter/exit as they like.
For someone who hasn’t yet heard your music, describe your sound in three words.
Shantini: Spicy electro folk
Favourite lyric from one of your own songs?
Shalina: ‘sunset orange, tangerine, mandarin on your neck’ – Lights (Rāga Kafi)
We love the interweaving of genres and Indian undertones in your songs. How does your heritage and upbringing affect your music?
Shantini: We’re half Malaysian-Indian and half New Zealand- European. Growing up, our parents were very musically seasoned and both listened to a wide array of genres.
I think whatever you consume inherently becomes a part of you, so our cultural background definitely plays a big part in the music we make.
What’s your secret songwriting process? Do you start with the melodies or the lyrics?
Shalina: It wouldn’t be a secret anymore if we spilled the beans.
What was the inspiration behind your EP? And what was your favourite thing about the record?
Shantini: We had always discussed making an EP, and writing ‘What You Are’ was the first fragment in the body of work we were to create.
Our grandfather suddenly passed away a few weeks after we released the track. His death ignited something within us and we wanted to create our debut EP for him, as he was the one to pass down his gift of music to our father, who in-turn passed it down to us. Although the EP touches on various things that most of us can relate to, our grandfather was the driving force behind it all.
My favourite thing about the record would have to be the whole process of it all. It was an outlet of healing for Shalina and I with everything happening around us at the time, and we also did a lot of learning. We taught ourselves how to navigate the software we used, as well as the process of mixing and mastering the entire thing. There were very testing times, but there were also moments of triumph. We’re really proud of each other and what we’ve achieved together.
What’s in the pipeline for you guys?
Shalina: Right now, we’re working on the setup for our live shows. We’re planning to do a gig here in Auckland very soon, and ideally more elsewhere after that. Keep your eyes peeled ~
If Tāl continues to make music the way they have been, this duo won’t be going away anytime soon. Keep track of new songs by following them on Facebook and Instagram, and click here to listen to more of their music.
Written by: Pavi Sagar
All images credit: Tāl