This feature on Shivani was originally published in issue 19. Available here.
Shivani Desai’s wisdom seems to extend past the years they’ve been alive, which is likely related to how advanced their artistry is. As a musician, Shivani is in pursuit of the highest forms of knowledge—frequencies, and the effect of music on the inner being is a central theme to their work. At the same time, they are also a musician in the most intrinsic sense. This is to say that while Shivani explores the more abstract ideas, the simple joy of playing an instrument has equal value to them. Shivani has spent the last year playing guitar behind Deb Never. The pure experience of music is the most inspiring aspect.
Tell me how you started playing with Deb.
I had been following their music. They had just been posting demos on Soundcloud. After releasing a few demos, a manager hit her up and started working with her. For her first shows, she posted on Instagram, need a guitarist in LA, DM. My sister sent me that post. I reached out and the first time we met up we met in a closet-sized rehearsal space. We played our first LA show with Omar Apollo and another band called Eydress. It felt so cool. Deb is another queer artist, so it felt safe. We were instantly brothers. I felt their vibe and I wanted to help in any way I could. It’s been so much fun, we just played a show in this huge dome. 88 Rising put on a showcase for Grammy’s weekend. The whole dome was projected onto.
It seems like one of those ideal moments that are too perfect to not be the right thing cosmically.
Yeah, it was perfect timing. Playing with them is the only reason I shortened my semester. I was supposed to graduate this year, but I’ll just graduate in the fall. We’re doing a tour in April with Mura Masa. I saw I didn’t need that many credits so I decided to do them all in the first semester.
How do you feel about ending school so quickly?
I feel like I’ll still be able to go there. A lot of teachers said I could stop in on any classes. Even before I started working with Deb, when people would ask what I want to do, I was like, “I just want to be touring.” I didn’t have any idea how that would happen, but I just knew that was what I wanted to be doing and it fell into place. Even moving to LA, getting into CalArts, all of those things were such a dream for me. It was almost the law of least effort. I just believed, and everything fell into place. Personally, I feel as long as I am telling the universe what I want, and as long I am doing the things that feel easiest and right, it’s flowing like a river. It feels good because there’s no tension and no stress. It’s about following what feels right.
So what do you see for yourself after Deb?
I want to be working with her for at least four or five years after because I really love and believe in her. I feel like we can do some cool stuff together. It’s cool because I’m seeing how somebody goes from doing demos to playing huge shows. It almost gives me a blueprint of things—what role a manager plays, what role the artist is supposed to hone in on. I’m still working on my own music at the same time. When I was playing my own shows I would play to a fifty to a hundred-person audience and this is giving me performance skills to play for much larger crowds. It’s definitely a balance right now between Deb and my own work, but they’re so supportive of me. They know I make my own music and they’re always asking if I need help. We’re seriously like brothers. We went from not knowing each other to connecting in that closet-size rehearsal space, and immediately she had me recording stuff for her album. There’s a lot we can do together. I would love to produce a song for her.
It sounds like one of those relationships that goes beyond the projects that you’re doing and has the ability to be pure and grow naturally.
It’s one of the many things that I wake up and am super grateful for every day. When and how often I tune into the frequency of gratefulness really changed my life. Gratefulness and love are the highest vibrating frequencies, and they’re so healing. It’s almost equal to faith. The variable is what you have faith in. Faith in God, or yourself, or faith in the universe. It could be any one of those things but they all equal gratefulness and love. The coolest part is how some of this can be explained by science. It almost doesn’t matter where your perspective lies because you can see it from so many angles. Dr. Emoto, a Japanese scientist, studied the crystal structure of water before and after you say something positive to it. Before, the structure was abstract, but after, the structure takes on a highly symmetrical shape.
The craziest part is that our bodies are 70% water, so that’s also happening in our own bodies when we’re having thoughts. We have the ability to change the crystal structure of water molecules in our body. It’s the same thing with music too. We don’t just listen to it, the sound waves get absorbed in our bodies. It vibrates the water in our bodies. That’s why music is so healing. If you are to put a glass of water on a speaker, you would see the shape it makes, and that happens in our bodies. It’s where healing frequencies come through. Different frequencies resonate at different parts of the body. If you are to play a lower bass frequency, it resonates at a lower part of your body whereas higher frequencies resonate towards the top.
What role do frequencies play otherwise? I know a little, like that it has a role in astrology, but not to the extent that you do.
There are frequencies in everything. I’m really in tune with musical and sound frequencies. In high school, I began studying cymatics, the study of waves, on my own. Each frequency will make a different shape. Some of the shapes are more tuned into life on earth. For example, if you were to look at the frequency that 432 Hz makes in water, it makes the same shape that you see in a flower. Part of the idea is that when you are resonating with the frequencies, you are also resonating with the frequencies of this earth.
This is one of those things that is related to so many actualities of the way the world and universe work that were dismissed for a long time. It feels very much like a product of our time to be able to put these ideas together.
It’s almost like our time again, because this is all ancient knowledge. Now, these ideas are being proven by modern science after hundreds of years. Now people believe in acupuncture because we know that skin isn’t the largest organ, it’s fascia. Fascia is right underneath your skin and it connects your entire body. That’s why if you feel something down there you might also feel it up here, and it’s how things like acupuncture work. They couldn’t prove it for thousands of years and now they can. It’s a crazy and powerful time.
When did you first start picking up on these ideas?
When I was a kid, my dad would always play music around the house, but he would do it when nobody was in the house. He explained that the sounds are physically moving throughout the space, and changing the energy of the whole room. So I grew up with the idea of visualizing sound bouncing around. It just made me realize how real these frequencies are.
One of my sound healers, Dr. James, has seven gongs set up behind a table. You lay down on the table and underneath there’s a bunch of strings. He plays the strings from underneath you, and then he plays the gongs. Each gong has a frequency related to each of the planets, so you resonate at the frequency of those planets. The craziest thing I’ve ever experienced was seeing the sound move through the space in color. It was the only time I’ve ever seen sound. It was pulsing throughout the room, very slowly.
Do you apply these ideas directly to your work?
I keep it in my mind. Back when I lived in Ohio when I was sixteen, I was making a song with a guitar, drums, a synthesizer. I was thinking, this prayer bowl might be in the same key as the song, and it was. I recorded the prayer bowl throughout the whole song, and when I went to mix it, I slipped into a deep meditation, because I tuned into the frequency of the sound bowl. That’s the first time I ever incorporated healing frequencies into my music. It literally made me slip into meditation. I started thinking of the possibilities of embedding the music with these healing numbers and frequencies. Some of the most beautiful things happen when something flows through you. I didn’t intentionally set out to make something healing, but it just happened because I was listening to my intuition. That’s how a lot of these things happen, it’s just ancestral interaction. If you listen to everything that is guiding you, it is simply all you have to do.
It’s easy to get stuck though. Are there times that your belief disappears?
I feel like deep down I always have an understanding of what my faith is. My faith lies in the universe. Of course, sometimes things don’t work out, but I think everything is always leading you back to your initial path. As long as I keep in mind what I’m here to do, it always keeps me grounded.
Let’s talk about being Indian because we’ve connected on that before. There are also obvious relationships to what we’ve talked about today. It’s exciting to be able to recognize our culture.
For sure! I connect with it deeply on a musical level. The music my dad played was Indian classical music. I learned from a teacher; she lived ten minutes away from my house. She’s still my guru. When you have a teacher like that, it never ends. The knowledge that you get from them deserves you to give your entire life. I learned certain rules, like how you never step over an instrument or point your feet towards your teacher. It gave me certain respect for music, and I realized that it was something sacred and holy. The stuff we learned was ancient devotional music. I started off singing what are called raags. Each raag belongs to a certain time of the day. There are raags you sing in the morning, middle of the day, or at night. They put into my mind that certain frequencies are best to be resonated in the morning. I realized that the frequencies could actually be used to mindfully get through your day. This is all ancient Indian knowledge. I was raised as a Hindu, and my dad always told me, “Hinduism isn’t a religion, it’s a philosophy.” There’s no ceremony or baptizing. It’s a lifestyle. If your body and mind are clear, you can’t be stopped.
My sister named me Shivani. Lord Shiva is the creator and the destroyer. Shiva destroys negative energy to make room for positive energy. That’s what I feel music does. It moves throughout a space, destroying what was there and fills the room with new energy. I feel that is my purpose. It’s embedded in my name.
There’s a strong relationship to time here.
It’s completely cyclical. In the past there have been different time periods or eras; every two-thousand years or so there’s a new age. I personally feel that there is a new age coming—that we’re going from one to another. When I went to India, I went to some ancient buildings. I went to this one place that was in a mountain, but it was built from the top down. There were full stories in the rock, and all they had to create them with was a chisel. How did they even do that? All the stone that was excavated to make the temple was never found in the surrounding area. They had technology that we don’t even have now. It’s like we’re moving backward in the circle, and we’re about to start moving forward. They had it right before technology.
It was both a dark side and light side. It connects everything that is going on in the world right now, too. With the political climate, and the environment in such extremes, it only makes sense that this spiritual shift would be happening now.
It’s a privilege to be able to tune into it. The way our society is set up, some people don’t even have the privilege to think about these things because they have to worry about paying their bills on time. There are so many pressing personal issues that you can’t even think past them. It goes back to gratefulness. I try my best to do my research and get deeper with these healing frequencies.
One last note, what do you feel is the most important thing related to identity right now?
A big thing for me right now is tuning into intuition with the choices I make. I try to remember that I am being guided, and not to force things too much. I feel I am forming my identity through knowing that I am protected by the ancestors who came before me. It’s not just me, my identity is the energy I allow to flow through me. I feel myself as a spirit within a body. I have been in so many bodies, and this is just one of my forms.
For more from Shivani, follow @shiva_linga_ on Instagram.