India Carney, The Powerhouse Vocalist Who Reminds Us That We’re All Human
Written by SongHero on September 12, 2021
Katy Perry could choose just about any singer on earth to join her band. Find out why she wanted India Carney.
You may not know India Carney’s name, but chances are you’ve heard her voice. The Brooklyn native, who graduated from LaGuardia Arts High (The “FAME”) School, and then moved to LA to pursue her classical music training at UCLA, has been part of Katy Perry’s band for several years. Before landing that coveted gig, India made her national television debut on NBC’s Emmy Award-winning series, The Voice – Season Eight. She made it to the Top 5, and in addition to Katy Perry, she has also sung with Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish, Meghan Trainor, H.E.R., and more. She has performed at the VMAs, Grammy Awards, BET Awards, The Ellen Degeneres Show, Coachella, and coached the singers of American Idol – Season 4 (2021). You can hear her voice on the American Express 2020 Holiday campaign, “Small Lang Syne.
Her original music fuses her pop, folk, classical, R&B, A Cappella, jazz and musical theater influences. In 2019, India signed to UK publishing company, Phrased Differently, to start the next chapter in her music career and is currently signed with Randy Jackson’s management company, 1963 Entertainment.
Her debut single, “Human,” a personal account on equality, representation and empathy, released this May. We spoke with her from her home in Los Angeles.
When did you write your first song? How old were you? Do you remember what it was about?
Though I don’t remember exactly which song was my first, I’m pretty sure it was one called, “Relax.” I was probably around 11 or 12 at this time, and I was caught in a love triangle. *dun dun dunn* I really liked this one guy who we’ll call Jack, who was perfect, but it was back when we barely had phones. We mostly chatted through AIM, on a landline, or on a cell phone, at certain hours because our activities were still regulated by our parents. All of that to say, it was hard to get in touch with him. At the same time, there was another guy who we’ll call Ryan, who was interested and available. I wasn’t as interested, but I also wanted a boyfriend, and he was nice. I hadn’t heard from Jack in a while, so I went with Ryan. That decision went against the advice I gave in my song which was, “Relax, relax, relax and choose which one’s better for you.”
When did you first think: I can become a professional songwriter”–how did that thought first cross your mind?
Perhaps when I wrote my first song that I’d call successful, which was, “Heartbroken.” Was it a masterpiece? No. Do I still perform it? No. But, it was the first cohesive song I wrote that checked all the boxes. It was memorable, singable, told a story, and there wasn’t a lot of cheese to it either. I wrote it when I was 14, after *Ryan* cheated on me. After all of that overthinking, huh.
I think writing “Heartbroken” was the real beginning of my songwriting journey. Shortly after writing that, I joined a composition class in high school – I attended LaGuardia Arts in NYC, and the class was called New Music Singers. It was a safe space for us to write music, collaborate and perform it for the school. It was amazing. We’d have guests come in and talk to us about their journeys in the music industry as songwriters. I slowly pieced things together and realized that, not only was it my dream to write music for myself, that I could do just that, write music for others, and have a career from it.
What is your songwriting process like–do you tend to start with a melody or chords or a lyric or a concept?
It differs every time. I’m a melody person. I’ve been a singer my whole life and in studying the voice, I’ve spent so much time delving in the beauty of melody. Though that’s probably my comfort zone, I also got my start in musical theater, which remained a big part of my music studies for years. Because of that, storytelling is also a big part of my process. It always has been. Sometimes, I start with a lyric concept and figure out how it would be sung, start with a melody and figure out what emotion that melody evokes, or, best case, allow both to flow simultaneously and then write the whole song in one sitting.
Do you prefer to write by yourself or with co-writers? What are the pros and cons of writing with other people?
I prefer to write by myself, because that’s where I spent most of my formative years as a writer – alone. But, I always welcome a co-write, especially if I’m already familiar with their work. There are a lot of pros to writing with others. Collaboration is a recurring theme in the arts. I can’t imagine doing music, theater, or any other form of art without ever having to collaborate with someone. It’s just how it’s done, and it’s for a reason. Art as an expression of self can only be amplified with the feedback of others who likely have had similar experiences. Introducing another perspective will bring people closer together. So, writing with other people can allow you that different perspective, and possibly get you a better song. Meeting new people in life is always great, and those new connections can easily lead to others.
The con I’ve experienced is the risk of ending up with someone you don’t gel with. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. Music is so subjective, and I definitely have a sound that I lean towards. So when I’m in a session with someone who doesn’t share that musical sense, I find myself compromising and ending up with a song that I don’t want to sing. I think the best way to combat that is to do a good amount of research about the writer before they come in and make sure that at least, musically, you understand each other. Personality-wise, that’s a risk you often have to take, in the moment.
You’ve had an amazing career as a singer, working with Katy Perry and others. What has that experience taught you about songwriting and the importance of a great song?
Thank you! That’s a great question. Music is a language, right? So imagine how much I learned singing a 2-hour long concert of Katy Perry music every other day for a year! I learned a lot about the language, and it was especially helpful for someone like me who loves singing pop music, but writes pop music with an R&B edge. I’ve learned that you can keep the song lively, regardless of the subject matter. Sad songs don’t always have to sound sad. Happy songs don’t all have to be cheesy. By putting extra time into the message, you can find a twist that is more substantial and meaningful.
I’ve also learned that a great song is not only one that is memorable or singable, but has depth and gets straight to the point. That’s a lesson I actually learned from listening to some of Selena Gomez’s music. If you look at the people writing her music, it’s no shock that the writing is so specific and beautiful.
Are there any causes you are passionate about? Have you written songs that are related to a cause or written with the intention of focusing on a cause, such as social justice?
Yes. As a woman of color, I take racism, discrimination and social justice very seriously. The events of 2020 really changed my mindset on it all. That being said, I wish I were a person that could be more outspoken on matters such as those. I wish I were led to host rallies and post videos outlining the injustices that we’re seeing every day. I think there are people better equipped than I. But, I did write a song about it called, “Human” which is available on all streaming sites (with a music video on YouTube). I wrote it simply to remind people that we’re all human. I found myself asking where all the empathy had gone, and why we continue to treat each other unfairly, like some lives are more important. It’s all extremely disappointing, and at the end of the day, our issues come from lack of human decency, which is something you can learn and develop. In an effort to encourage someone to drastically change their heart for the better, I wrote this song. The lyrics just flowed out, and as I was writing it, I outlined what I was seeing on social media and in person. It was an easy song to write because it came from the heart, I knew exactly what I wanted to say, and how I wanted people to feel listening to it.
If you had any advice to give to songwriters that strive to use their music and words for positive change to become a SongHero like yourself what would it be?
First off, thank you! Positive songs don’t have to sound gimmicky or lack soul. I tried it many times before and scrapped those ideas because they were boring to me and didn’t say anything new. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from being in writing rooms with other people is that there are a million ways to say something. If you come into the room with the perfect idea, great, but it doesn’t always happen that way. Oftentimes when writing positive songs, I hit a wall because I’m stuck using cliches like, “let’s make the world a better place,” “let’s band together” or “better days are coming.” (Clearly, you can make all of these phrases interesting if you want to!) If you find yourself stuck, scrap it and just have a discussion about the subject matter.
Chances are you’ll happen upon a different angle of the same story that’ll produce a more exciting result. Good luck!