There’s something charming about Sonia Rao, the Los Angeles based indie pop singer/songwriter who’s received praise from CeeLo Green and Christina Aguilera on the purity and soulfulness of her voice. She didn’t grow up with dreams of becoming a pop star nor a TV star, and unlike many of her peers, she didn’t go to college to pursue music. As the daughter of Indian immigrants, Sonia was classically trained on violin at age five and piano at age seven, but encouraged to seek a career outside of music. She went to UC Berkeley to study Psychology and didn’t write a single song until after graduating.
Sonia’s college boyfriend unexpectedly passed away and to process his death she found herself writing song after song. “Music was my catharsis; it helped me to process everything that happened and express the heaviness I was feeling,” she says. “I never talked to anyone about his death because I felt like there was nothing to say. But in writing these songs, I realized I did have something to say about it, as well as to him, and to myself.” These songs would later become her debut full-length album, Calm Her, released in 2011.
It is that genuine, instinctual human need to create and express that has propelled Sonia Rao to continue to grow and explore as an artist. Sonia’s sophomore album, Los Angeles Part 1, was released on September 17, 2013. Los Angeles Part I is an album for anyone in transition, be it between loves, cities, careers, homes, or even those on the verge of truly knowing themselves. The EP was written over the last two years, during Rao’s self-proclaimed “epitome of new beginnings and transition.” She moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles, challenged her Indian American family’s expectations for a career in medicine or law, fell in love, fell into LA’s tumultuous love-hate cycle, and was tossed into the reality TV experience with an appearance on Season 1 of NBC’s The Voice. In that time Rao has also performed duets with some of her favorite artists growing up, including Daniel Bedingfield and Elliott Yamin, MTV India debuted her first single 'You Say I', and ABC, MTV, VH1 and E! have featured Sonia's music on their shows including The Vineyard, Jersey Shore, Underemployed, Snookie & JWOWW, The Challenge: Rivals II, I’m Married To A... and Married to Jonas. Sonia was also featured as BMI's “Indie Spotlight” artist. Suffice to say, since the 2011 release of Calm Her, Sonia Rao has had plenty of time and experiences to approach her piano with a fresh mind and hands.
While many consider Sonia Rao to be an indie pop singer/songwriter, there’s an undeniable folk influence to her music on a conceptual level. Lyrically, her songs have a strong storytelling component. For example, “Los Angeles,” the final track on her forthcoming EP, tells the story of Sonia and her fellow contestants on NBC’s The Voice sharing their stories back at the hotel after a day of filming. “At the core of all of the reality TV weirdness, promo and consumerism, our ultimate goals were to simply sing our songs and tell our stories,” she says. “I thought this juxtaposition was strange and beautiful.” Sonia sings, “Keep on rocking me, baby, sing that lovely song, sing it straight from your heart and pull me along, into your story, I seem to have lost my own.”
Growing up between two cultures, Indian and American, has put Sonia Rao in a unique place. “One culture encourages entrepreneurship and individualism,” she says, “while the other, understandably so, encourages stability and discourages risk.” In pursing a career in the arts, considered by many to be the definition of “risky,” Sonia has found her place between these two cultures, within her family and within herself. “Growing up I didn’t see many Asian American artists, especially Indian American, in the mainstream music scene. One thing that has made my career thus far and my experience on The Voice so meaningful is the continuous response from young, aspiring Indian and Indian American artists who also want to break out of cultural expectations.” With Los Angeles Part 1, Sonia Rao leads fans into a world of indie pop where listening to your inner voice is the bravest move of all.