We're very excited to share our interview with our latest Band To Watch, Air Devi! Air Devi is the project of South Philly's Devi Majeske. The singer-songwriter first began sharing her songs to SoundCloud in 2015, and has come a long way since. We recently had the opportunity to talk to Devi about her upcoming EP, Rooting For You, out October 7th!
1. What have you been listening to lately?
Mbongwana Star, Les Filles de Illighadad, Adrianne Lenker, DakhaBrakha, and Raag Miyan Ki Todi (a raag I’m learning on sitar).
2. Opinion on Gritty?
I think he’s a fun-loving guy, reminds me of some neighbors I had back in South Philly.
3. Last song that made you cry?
Probably Channa Mereya by Arijit Singh. Oof, gets me every time.
4. What could you be a world champion at?
Peeling a clementine in one single peel.
5. First concert you ever attended?
The English Beat at WXPN, I think I was in 5th grade
6. Does Gritty have a family?
Yeah, the Philly rats <3
7. What is your go to road trip snack?
Used to be Hot Takis. They really make you feel alive, you know? But you gotta be careful about eating too many. Now I play it safer and go with Theplas.
8.Which cereal mascot do you think you could beat in a fight?
If there are any cereal mascots out there who want to rumble, just let it be known that I have a red belt (with a black stripe) in Karate. I only use it for self defense, though.
9. On a scale from 1-10, how well is this interview going so far?
10. Any local Philly bands that you want to highlight?
Kulfi Girls, St. John’s Wort, Froggy, Another Michael, and Bel!
Isaac Gutierrez for Born Loser Mag: To start things off, can you introduce yourself/tell us a bit about yourself?
Hello! My name is Devi. I was born and raised in South Philly and now I live all the way across the river in West Philly. I love making music, ice skating, playing chess, and being an all around gourmet. I’m half Indian and half Ukrainian. I play sitar, speak French, and have a degree in psychology that I don’t use (except for psychoanalyzing people, but my professor said I’m not “qualified” to do that or whatever). I’m in my School of Rock part of life where I work as a substitute teacher while pursuing a music career.
What was your first introduction to music?
Definitely my parents who played a lot of punk rock when I was a kid and my grandparents who played Bollywood or Indian classical music for me when I stayed with them. One of my earliest memories was my dad playing “Breakdown” by the Buzzcocks to get my energy levels up in the morning before preschool started.
You first started putting out music on soundcloud back in 2015. Was there anything in particular that made you want to start making music?
I think I’ve always liked making music. As a kid I would make up little songs on my violin, but I never thought to write lyrics until high school. When I was around 16 years old, I had a school assignment to write a poem. I was feeling pretty daunted by this, but I felt more comfortable when I framed the assignment as writing lyrics. That night I stayed up past 3am, nevermind that I had to wake up at 6am for school, experimenting in GarageBand, playing guitar, and singing my first song “No Clearances.” The rush, the flow state, and the joy that I felt from creating a song told me that this is something I have to keep doing.
I read that you grew up listening to punk rock and bollywood music! What would you recommend as an introduction to each of those?
For punk rock I would recommend the X-Ray Spex and X. For Bollywood, I would recommend the Lagaan soundtrack and Lata Mangeshkar.
What was it like coming up in the Philly music scene?
A lot of house shows in people’s basements! In my experience, people in the Philly DIY scene have been supportive and resourceful. There’s also a rich musical history in Philly, from jazz legends like John Coltrane, to Questlove, Santigold, Japanese Breakfast, Alex G, Dr. Dog, and so many more– I think they have left a sort of lingering musical energy in this city.
What does it mean to you to be able to bring an Indian influence to the Philly music scene and what has it been like carving out a space for that in your local music scene?
I’ve found that people in the Philly music scene have been very open minded and receptive to the South Asian flavor in my music. I think when I was younger, I was afraid to fully unleash this part of myself. I thought that having these Indian-sounding things in my music would be too “weird” for people. But I’ve grown past that, and I think my music has become more authentic in the process. It feels so fulfilling knowing that my music is actually resonating with other people. I’ve learned that there are other people like me out there. I’ve seen them come out of the woodwork at shows and online. So being able to bring an Indian influence to the Philly music scene hopefully means I’m going to continue to connect with people, form a community, and maybe even inspire others to share their cultures too.
How long have you been playing the sitar? What other instruments do you play?
I have been playing sitar since 2019. I also play bass guitar, guitar, and am rusty on the violin.
You left Philly for a while to go to India and study classical indian music. What was that experience like? How did it help shape your approach to music?
It was a very immersive experience that gave me a strong framework for creating and appreciating music. I had a sitar teacher, Seema Ji, who came to my grandparents’ house nearly every day for four months to sit with me for a couple hours and unravel some of the mysteries of this ancient musical tradition. Not only did I learn a different way of understanding musical structures and methods for improvisation, but I also dove deeper into the spiritual nature and soulfulness of music. I think learning Indian classical music has helped me unlock a crucial way of expressing myself, especially that feeling of “saudade.” It’s also helped to expand my idea of what is possible in music.
I think something that I love about your music is how you blend all of these different genres and influences to create something new and unique. Your music speaks to everyone, but there are people that are at the intersection of your musical influences that have a unique connection with your music. Do you have that connection with your listeners in mind when you’re creating?
Thank you! When I’m writing, I try to stay connected to a feeling or place and don’t think too much about who might listen in the future. If I think too much about the listener while I’m creating, it might take me away from writing from the heart. All I can do is write from my experience, what I have observed, and what I know. I guess it just so happens that other people have had similar experiences, and so my music especially connects with them. That’s a beautiful thing that I never would’ve anticipated! It is important for me to feel connected with the audience when I’m performing though. When I see someone engaged or moved while I’m performing, or when someone sends me a message that they feel seen/understood through my music, it makes me feel seen/understood too.
Your EP “Rooting For You” comes out next month! How are you feeling? Are you excited? Nervous? How do you feel before a release?
I am so excited for Rooting for you to be out in the world! Sometimes right before a release I feel a bit nervous if it’s a song I’ve been particularly vulnerable on, but I’m slowly getting over that.
What were you listening to while working on the EP?
I was listening to Arooj Aftab, Daniel Johnston, Priya Ragu, Mannequin Pussy, Das Racist, Elliot Smith, and Vilayat Khan!
What are the inspirations behind the EP? And what was the writing/recording process like?
Every song on the EP is in some way inspired by the feeling of hoping for someone or something, hence the title Rooting for you. I picked these songs based on the theme from a pool of demos, so they were all written at different stages of my life and places. Most of the songs were written in fragments over time, but the last song on the EP, “It’s Over,” was written in one morning. After making demos for the songs, I brought them to my band where we fleshed out the arrangements and we finally recorded the EP in May of 2022.
This may change later on, but my current favorite song is “Dharti” can you give us some background on the track?
I’m so glad you like that song! I cried a lot when I was writing it.
“Dharti” is a song about a girl I met several years ago in India. She grew up in almost opposite conditions from me, yet I felt we could have been the same person born into different families. She had a very hard life, but she held herself with such grace and dignity, accepting circumstances that I couldn’t even imagine bearing. I so badly wished that I could've done something to help her have a better life, but I was told that it wasn't my place. Feeling helpless, I realized that the only thing I could do was write this song in her honor to wish her the best and to tell her story. I’ve since lost contact with her, but I hope that she might hear this song one day on the radio or something.
Is there a song that you’re most excited for everyone to hear?
Probably “Dharti” as well!
Can we expect an Air Devi tour anytime soon?
I’m hoping to put together a little east coast tour in the spring! Hopefully we can make it to Texas at some point, I’ve never been!
Is there anything you want our readers to know?
Just that I appreciate you for reading this far and for being interested in my music :)
To wrap things up, do you have any questions for me?
What do you think would be a good place for Air Devi to play if we come to Texas?
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us! Congratulations on your upcoming EP! Can’t wait for the official release!
Thank you so much for having me and asking such thoughtful and well-researched questions!