Kiran Gandhi is quite possibly the smartest person I’ve ever met. In addition to having been a live drummer for M.I.A. and establishing her own name as a solo artist and producer (she goes by Madame Gandhi), she also has an MBA from Harvard, which is proof enough of her genius. But what I learned hearing her speak on a panel at Seattle’s Pop Conference is that her intellect goes far, far beyond academic learning. Gandhi was so insightful, so passionately logical and sharp and observant about the ways that our culture dismisses and denigrates femininity, that I knew I had to talk to her one-on-one to learn anything else I could from her.
So I emailed her, with a wild idea to talk about her music and her worldview from a unique angle: her interest in astrology. On the PopCon panel, she referenced friends’ and collaborators’ signs with such warmth and familiarity and respect, it was clear she thought deeply about how her own identity and personality traits interact with others. And whether or not there’s any peer-reviewed scientific article we can point to in order to prove that astrology has academic legitimacy, I find it obvious and important to recognize how much real-world value there is in thinking about who and how you are -- and who and how other people are.
Gandhi went far beyond my dreams of what the interview would be. She wove together memories, deep personal reflections, savvy insights about music production and the artist experience, pop culture inspiration, feminism and a dozen other topics effortlessly -- all tying them together with the ribbon of astrology. It’s clear from the interview, which is reproduced in full below: self-reflection is rewarding as fuck. I’ve had hundreds of hours of therapy that haven’t been as inspiring and thought-provoking as eighteen minutes talking with Madame Gandhi.
The outrageous emotional intelligence shows in her music, propulsive electronic tracks overlayed with articulate lyricism that ranges from the flowing and metaphorical to an almost spoken-word style of blunt declarations. She tells stories of women, of landscapes both on earth and in the mind. She owns her voice.
Madame Gandhi’s latest track, “Top Knot Turn Up” was released on Friday, June 29, and she’ll be putting out her first full-length EP in the fall of 2018. Don’t miss out on her voice.
This article has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
When did you get into astrology and how?
I first got into it when I started noticing that my mom and all my closest friends had birthdays in January and February, which is coincidentally when my birthday is -- February 21st. I was noticing I would have to prepare a bunch of gifts during those months, in a good way. I love showering my friends, my family, my favorite people with love. So I was like, maybe there is something to the pattern recognition of astrology, to which signs really do attract each other and inspire each other.
What similarities did you notice in those family member and friends?
I felt like all my Aquarian friends at the time -- and I was also dating an Aquarius, my best friend Lara is an Aquarius, my mom is an Aquarius. I was noticing at that time -- 2012 -- that they had so much love energy, and they’re such inspired people. Nothing really bothers them; they move through things really quickly. And they just were really powerful women. I love women who step in fully to their power. I think every sign has a version of that, but for me it was definitely the Aquarian women in my life who inspired my entry point into astrology.
And so you’re a Pisces?
Mhmm, two days away from Aquarius.
Okay so right on the cusp! So what does your sign mean to you as a person and as an artist?
My Pisces-ness is something that informs my art and my love and my personality daily. It’s my compass and it’s my tool for empathy. I think for me being a Pisces means that you’re a dreamer, it means that you’re colorful, it means that you’re bright, you’re extremely creative. I do move like water [the Pisces symbol is a fish, a water sign], I feel like I’m really present wherever I am. And sometimes that makes me really late for things or really behind on things, or don’t hit people back when they need me. But that’s because wherever I do choose to be with my time and my attention, I’m 100 percent there. And I think that’s a good thing.
I think with Pisces, I have all of the emotions of the world, so sometimes the negative of that is that sometimes someone will say something and it will hurt my feelings, but I don’t want to overly bring things up so I just kind of sit with it. But it manifests as a tension in my belly and I feel it.
In my work over the past couple years, the phrase “own your voice” has come to be at the forefront of my art and my music and it’s almost in every song! And I think that’s because I have had to learn to say out loud when something is hurting my feelings or doesn’t make me feel psychologically safe. And that’s part of my Pisces-ness: sensitivity. I think it also allows me to be a good empath, I really do try my best to know where others are coming from. It’s actually a defense mechanism; it’s productive to be empathetic but it’s also about making sure that I’m not allowing something that doesn’t need to be hurtful to be hurtful.
For me, astrology is about pattern recognition and empathy generation. When people ask, “oh I’m a Scorpio, what does that mean?” I never say what the generic traits are. I just say how I’ve experienced the Scorpios in my life, and what’s the common theme and pattern between them. And I love that because it allows me to make someone feel understood. It makes someone feel seen. It makes me understand where they’re coming from and what motivates them and what de-motivates them.
As an artist who is in a different city almost every other day, it allows me to make the unfamiliar become familiar. When you meet somebody, just being able to share their sign and what you’ve experienced with them, I’ve found that it allows me to bond with people and also to understand them better.
Are their other attributes of your sign that listeners can hear in your music?
I think the duality of depths. Half [Gandhi’s debut LP, Voices] is really these fourth-wave feminist anthems. And I wanted to build and construct a soundtrack to this movement. You can hear my fierceness in songs like “Her” and “The Future is Female.” Then you hear my softness, my peacefulness and sincerity and sadness, in the first three songs of the record, which are “Yellow Sea,” “Moon in the Sky” and Gandhi Blues.” In those songs, it’s about feeling lost and finding your way, or it’s about missing a lover and wanting to be a better version of yourself and growing the relationship together.
And so in that way I think my Pisces-ness is really present on the record. You have the sassy fierceness where I’m pursuing truth really aggressively. But also there’s the Pisces softness and sincerity that comes out in love and in relationships.
Are there signs you collaborate well with as an artist?
I really love collaborating with Aquarians because they have so many ideas.
I love collaborating with Virgos and Capricorns because I know I’ll get a bunch of shit done! They’re really good at taking my ideas and energy and actually executing. So when I do sessions with Virgos or Capricorns, I actually leave with either the song done or most of it done.
When I work with other, more creative signs, we have really cool ideas but sometimes the project file sits on my computer for months on end. So the quality is really dope but it hasn’t gotten done yet.
That’s why -- when people are like “I hate this sign, I hate that sign,” to me that’s an unnecessary energy. We have so much to learn from each other; that’s the whole point! Each of the signs has so many things to offer and also so many things to work on. It’s that collaborative spirit that allows us to get the most out of each other.
We’re in Gemini season right now: all the Geminis I know are so self-empowered, they are so self-assured. They don’t really show a lot of self-doubt if they have it. In men it almost as a “man-god” quality -- like a megalomaniac kind of quality. Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Donald Trump.
But when you take that same energy and put it with women, to me, it’s really inspiring. Princess Nokia is a Gemini and she’s just so powerful, as this young brown woman, so powerful! She just does whatever she wants and I love it.
I’m a Gemini! People hate us sometimes.
Because people are jealous of that sense of power. But jealousy is a wasted emotion. Anytime I feel jealous of anything, I check myself and say “what does that mean that I want from my own life?” It’s a useful emotion, actually, you can use that to inspire you. They might be jealous of a Gemini because a Gemini is powerful and does whatever they want. Then they can do some work to be like, “well what am I not doing in my life? I want to do whatever I want. I want to be brave enough to quit this job and pursue what makes me happy!”
Everyone can be inspired by everyone. And this is something I wanted to add to the article, which is that each person, and each sign, experiences all of the other signs really differently. I never read things in magazines about the signs because that’s just a generic description, but I experience Cancers really differently than the next person, or Leos, all the signs. And that’s so special.
I might describe a Cancer and then you bring in someone else to describe a Cancer and it sounds like you’re describing completely different people, and yet the Cancer would probably agree that both of those descriptions are accurate.
It’s emotional intelligence.
To me it seems like a way of interrogating who we are and who other people are.
And how we interact, and which parts of our humanity can interact. Some parts of my Pisces-ness don’t work with the Earth signs, the Tauruses and the Capricorns and the Virgos, so I dial it back a little bit. For those sessions I make sure I show up on time. And I know that if I show them that side of myself, I will get the most out the experience, and they will walk away thinking I am professional.
But if I go in with a different side of me, which is love energy, and the desire to go get a coffee and bond and chat, that that doesn’t inspire them, so that’s the wrong side of me to bring to that session.
But with an Aquarius or a fellow Pisces or a Capricorn, we can bond for days before we even make something, but that bonding period is vital to the quality of the work. Because now we trust each other, and we’ve built a small friendship before we even go into the studio, and that makes a difference.
Are there ways in which your feminism and your interest in astrology interact?
I think the desire to even want to understand somebody, and to really understand that there’s no such thing as right or wrong. That interactions are fluid, and you have the ability to shape interactions. To want something to be mutually valuable. That’s very feminine to me, that’s saying “let me nourish this relationship so that it blossoms.” I think that thoughtfulness is a feminine trait.
I think there is such a thing as toxic femininity, with emotional manipulation. But I think that I’m so sensitive to others manipulating me, having bad experiences in the past where past lovers and exes have used that emotional bullying on me that I would never do that to somebody else.
Are there any musicians of your sign that you really admire?
Yes, Justin Bieber.
And Nina Simone. She’s got my birthday. And just because we were born on the same day doesn’t mean we are the same person, but I did watch the documentary and I did relate so much to the early days of her life. And in the later days of her life, she turned very violent because she felt like the world turned its back on her. She was seeing all of this deep racism, and the manipulation of the music industry, and the manipulation of her work. And she has also received so much domestic abuse in the early parts of her life.
And I’ve never experienced domestic abuse, but I at least know what it’s like to be emotionally bullied, and it scared me when I saw that she had trauma later in her life. And for me, how I’m using that right now is to say “wow, that means that we, each of us, has the responsibility, that it’s on us to confront our pain in real time.” It’s on us to heal in real time, instead of being like, “I’ll do the work later.” Because it only gets more difficult and accumulates. I’m 29 now, and I’ve really enjoyed this year dialing back on how public I am. I’m spending a lot more time alone, thinking about the things that make me sad or the things I want to improve in my life, and actively trying to improve them so that I don’t have that trauma later.
What is the biggest misconception people have about Pisces?
People say that Pisces are crazy. People say that a lot actually. I think there is something to be said about February versus March, and this definitely ties into feminism. March is Pisces, it’s feminine, it’s ruled by the emotions, it’s the month that we’ve chosen for International Women’s Month and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. And we live in a masculine world, we live in a world that is obsessed with doing things according to the masculine. The way we do sports is very aggressive, everything is about winning, ranking each other, brute force aggression. We live in a world that values war, that draws lines in the earth to divide -- “this is your country, this is my country.”
And so it would make sense for people to perceive a March-born Pisces to be crazy. Because she is living in a world that is completely not designed for her to win. It’s actually completely designed for her to fail. And so any Pisces that is even a little bit of her truest self will be perceived as crazy because that emotional richness, sincerity, and connection to sensitivity is often not seen, valued or understood in the way we’ve constructed society.
So many that’s the biggest misconception of Pisces. That they’re crazy, when in fact, Pisces are deeply clairvoyant and emotionally intelligent.
Madame Gandhi is currently dating a Cancer.
“Top Knot Turn Up,” Madame Gandhi’s first single off her upcoming album, is out now, and she’ll be releasing her first full-length EP in the fall.