Click. Silence. Four Beats. A breath. And go. This is the beginning of a typical recording session for Northern California based artist, Shilla Varasteh. At only nineteen, she has released several singles, an EP, and more all while balancing home and school life. She writes, produces, and releases her songs from her bedroom studio.
Shilla’s Hopeful Musical Journey
Growing up in Germany, Shilla began her musical journey when she was very young. Her parents enrolled her and her sisters in music classes in Kindergarten. She continued her musical education in California, by taking part in school orchestras, singing in the choir, and taking various other music classes such as AP Music Theory. Currently, she attends Sierra College as a Music Business major. With over a decade of experience playing the violin, she expanded her musical skills over the last few years by picking up the ukulele, guitar, and piano. She explains, “The moment that I knew one or two chords on the piano, I just started playing them over and over and just sang whatever my heart felt.” This is how she believes her songwriting journey began.
Whistle-notes are a unique talent of hers as she can sing notes that are above the average female vocal range and sound,whistle-like. These notes are accessed in the whistle register which is the highest register that a human voice can sing in, and it is not very common to train oneself to sing in it. Some famous artists that are known to have access to their whistle register at present are Tori Kelly, Hayley Williams, Ariana Grande, and Mariah Carey.
Shilla uses whistle-notes in the background of her songs, and in harmonies that blend in seamlessly. Oftentimes in editing her songs, she will stack harmonies on top of each other, sometimes nine at a time, with the highest harmony being in the whistle register. This creates a ghost-like illusion that is both mysterious and fascinating.
“You can look at anything to be inspired,” is one of Shilla’s mottos when it comes to life. he gets her inspiration from people, objects, popular culture, and the nature around her, but most of her motivation comes from her home life and her family. She began recording around her Junior year of High School and has been fascinated by it since. Not one of her songs is considered truly good and approved of by Shilla until she plays them for her family and receives their acceptance. I should know, because as her twin sister, I have listened to all her songs and I see all the work that she puts into her music.
She uses this method as self-approval as well as a way to get feedback and opinions on things that she might have missed. She always asks her family, “how can I improve this song?” and, “what do you think I should add there?” This shows exactly how precise she likes to be with her music and how she wants to make it as good as she can. If one thing is off, she needs to re-record it. Her immense determination and work ethic combined with her talent and creativity is truly something that cannot be found just anywhere in the Music Industry. She has a gift of connecting with people and therefore wants to share her music and messages with as many people as possible.
One of Shilla’s unique traits is that she has synesthesia. Synesthesia can be described as a condition in which a person’s senses are connected. For example, some musicians, Shilla included, associate music to colors and/or numbers. She describes it as attaching colors to “different vibes and the different sounds” that she hears. An example she used was one of her songs from her upcoming album, We’re All Criminals, which took on the colors red and orange, and she expressed it as having a, “metallicness to it.”
In the book Beethoven and the Grosse Fugue: Music, Meaning, and Beethoven’s Most Difficult Work, author Robert S. Kahn mentions, “…there is no way to acquire synesthesia.” He goes into detail on how synesthesia is a trait that is discovered at an early age and how its prominence can vary from person to person. It cannot be compared to other people because it is simply different for every person. Even though Shilla has a less dominant type of synesthesia, she finds that it helps her with everything she does in regards to songwriting.
Shilla is working on her first solo album, We’re All Criminals. It is inspired by mystery and crime and themes of selfishness, self-love, jealousy, anxiety, temptation, and even, climate change. She explained it as, “…a story about two lovers who steal a car and do all these crimes. Worries set in, and things end up out of hand, and they experience the good, the bad, and the ugly.” For this album, she drew influences from TV shows and movies, such as James Bond and Money Heist because they help her set the scenes for her songs. The album’s recording and mastering process has been completed and is currently waiting to be released.
The COVID-19 pandemic has influenced her by postponing her album release because she predicts that once the quarantine is over “all of these signed artists are probably going to start dropping their music” and she feels like her music will drown in this overflow of popular music. Shilla describes this part of the music industry as the “waiting game” and she wants to find that sweet spot in time where “people can see [her album], where people can like it and where people can get attached to it”. Therefore, the ideal release date for the album is going to be in June or July.
During this time, there are some projects in the works, such as a song with a lot of Persian cultural influence. Growing up in a half-Persian household, her father passed on cultural knowledge, music, and the language onto her and her sisters. The song contains Persian lyrics about love that were written by both her and her father. Translated into English, some of the lyrics are:
My heart beats for you/ oh like a fool/ the stars call your name/ every night it’s the same
The Persian language itself has an elegant ring to it and singing it sounds even more beautiful. Shilla hopes that drawing on her culture will expand her musical horizons and help her discover more about her roots.
Connecting with the World
While her future goals are to become a musical artist, Shilla’s motivation comes from sharing her love for music with others. The songs that she has written are all open for interpretation and she encourages this, as that way, people can make their own connections with it. As Andrew West states in The Art of Songwriting, “the meanings of texts, languages, and words are unstable and hard to determine, making it impossible to lay claim to a ‘correct’ interpretation.” One of her most important beliefs is that “a life without making music and sharing music that I write, just isn’t for me.” And so Shilla hopes to touch as many hearts as she can by sharing her love for the art of music with the world.
To learn more about Shilla’s music, see her channel on YouTube, or listen on Spotify: SHILLA and iTunes: Shilla.
Written by Kamelia Varasteh | Photos by Kamelia Varasteh and Shilla Varasteh