Courtesy of Frédérique Bérubé
Courtesy of Frédérique Bérubé

Culture | Of music and family

Thanya Iyer’s album launch awes Café Résonance

When Thanya Iyer sings, she really sings. Hers is a voice that’s airy and soulful, grazed by the slightest fry, and intertwining in snug harmonies with Shaina Hayes’ elegant backup vocals. The pair offered a sunny antithesis to their band’s bass-heavy sound, which thrummed through every square inch of Café Résonance at their September 3 album launch, electrifying an audience nearly 100 strong.

The band describes their music as something between folk and jazz – defying genres, or perhaps creating a new one. Iyer’s background as a classical violinist shines through in her richly orchestrated compositions, and her website cites her studies of Carnatic music – a nod to her Indian ancestry – as another influence.

At the launch show, a space so crowded and brimming with palpable support for the artists on stage, layers of intimacy are bound to emerge in breathtaking patterns. Friend groups sat in clusters around tables of vegan eats: some were fans of the cafe; others, of the band; and still others were strangers, newcomers to this music or the space, yet welcomed like family.

Thanya Iyer’s music springs from family. There’s the family of listeners she has won over with her heartfelt songwriting and charming rapport. There’s the family on stage with her – the musicians who brought her album to life. There’s also the supportive “second family” of local women and femme singer-songwriters who joined the band on stage to sing backups for the haunting and waltzlike number “Can We Be Still.” And then there’s her own family, supportive of her career, watching in the audience with congratulatory bouquets tucked under their seats.

The band describes their music as something between folk and jazz – defying genres, or perhaps creating a new one.

“[Bassist] Alex’s mom was there and my mom was there,” Iyer said in an email interview with The Daily. “Alex’s mom has been super supportive of his music career and our band. She has always encouraged him to play music and really helps us with anything we need.”

“My mom […] is also very encouraging of the band and comes to almost all of our shows,” Iyer added. “My dad passed away just before I went to CEGEP, and it was there where I started writing music and singing. [He] was a singer himself.”

During her time at CEGEP, Iyer discovered many of the collaborations and friendships that would help shape her music. “Alex and Shaina and I all met at the Vanier [College] music program,” she said, “and what formed there was a really beautiful community of other musicians […], a lot of whom were at the show.”

Iyer and Hayes’ breezy vocals and spacious piano – described on the band’s website as “ethereal” – hovered over powerful bass lines played by Alex “Pompey” Kasirer-Smibert, punctuated by drummer Daniel Gelinas’ sparse yet compelling beats.

“[Our music is] constantly turning into something else and I hope to keep it that way […].”

“We […] understand each other’s personalities. For example, Daniel likes to drink tea and play music for two hours every morning, and is more of an introvert,” explained Iyer. “When it comes to arranging, usually Alex and Dan and I do everything together. With the album, it was a super collaborative process.”

At their Résonance show, the band played a set drawn from their debut album, Do You Dream?, paired with striking visuals by artist and designer Elysha Poirier. During the song “Painting,” close-up swirls of colour panned across the projector screen. “This one’s about finding your way,” Iyer said as she introduced the song. “It’s about finding your own path.”

“[Our music is] constantly turning into something else and I hope to keep it that way,” Iyer stated. “The music has changed so much this year and grown as we have [also] grown and developed a chemistry with playing together.”

“I’m not even sure if we have found our sound yet. But I hope we are onto something,” she continued.

They’re onto something, alright. Thanya Iyer has found her own path. It’s a path of music, and of family – a path that’s sure to lead her to enchant Montreal audiences for years to come.

Catch Thanya Iyer live on September 22 at Le Cagibi as part of POP Montreal, or stream Do You Dream? on Bandcamp.