By Madison Taylor, Point Park News Service:
When Monica Khan was just a child, she frequently visited her grandmother in Wilkinsburg. During her visits, she quickly fell in love with her grandmother’s Bollywood music records, singing to them on a daily basis. Although she didn’t know it back then, Khan credits those old Bollywood tunes for much of her current musical career. She goes by the stage name Omne and produces a self-styled type of music that she calls “Gotham Pop.”
Now at age 22, Omne has made the decision to move from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles in pursuit of her musical dreams.
Q: How did your family react to your decision to become a musician?
A: Not well. When I first started writing music as a teenager, I did my first open mic at a place in Jeanette called the Keynote Café. I was 15, so my dad came to pick me up and when he got there I was mid-song. When I finished, some guy in the audience said something like, “Play another one, baby,” – and my dad was not happy about that. He told me I wasn’t allowed to play there again on the ride home, and I was devastated. I come from a conservative Bangladeshi-Muslim family of doctors and engineers, so not only did my parents not like that I was putting myself out there that way, they also didn’t want me to be distracted from school.
Today, my parents aren’t really involved in what I’m doing musically. My mom and dad haven’t even heard the songs that I’ve put out. It’s not that they don’t care, they just come from a different world. Now that I’m an adult, I don’t let that stop me.
Q: What musicians have inspired you?
A: Patsy Cline is probably in the top three. I also love all of the old soul greats like Etta James and Aretha Franklin. Women who write about heartbreak and lost love have always been my inspiration. I also went through a really big punk stage as a teenager and frequented Warped Tour every summer. When I first started writing, it was lyrically heavy bands like “Brand New” that inspired my writing. In college, my roommate listened to a lot of rap, hip-hop and trap music. When I started working with producers, I think it was a blend of punk and hip-hop that created my sound, which I call “Gotham Pop”.
Q: Can you explain “Gotham Pop?”
A: Gotham Pop came partly out of my obsession with the movie “The Dark Knight.” I love the style of the movie and the story. The characters are all so strong, yet conflicted. I imagine that my music is something that you would hear on the Top 40 on Gotham City radio: dark and cinematic. It also helps that “The Dark Knight Rises” was filmed in Pittsburgh, so it is “Gotham” in a way.
Q: If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
A: There is this Bollywood movie named “Devdas,” and when it came out when I was 10, I listened to the soundtrack at least a thousand times. [The] 9/11 [attacks] happened when I was in 4th grade, and it was sometime after that, that I tried to hide the fact that I was ethnic in any way. I grew up in a rural, mostly white, area of Western Pa., so I started to feel ashamed of where I came from after 9/11. It was only within the last month or so that I started to revisit my childhood and listen to that kind of music again.
Q: What was the first show you ever played like? What went through your mind?
A: The first show that I played was opening for “Betty Who,” which was insane. There were around 150 or so people there. It was the first time that I was performing any of my original songs, and I had a 25-minute set in front of a crowd of devout Betty Who fans. Before I went on, there was almost nothing going through my mind. I was so nervous I was just completely blank.
As soon as I got on stage, I announced that it was my first show and I could hear the crowd loosening up, which made it easier. The songs sort of just blurred from one to the next, and I got more confident with each one.
Q: What is the best thing that has happened to you throughout your music career?
A: My first video was posted on Solange Knowles’ blog “Saint Heron,” which brought me to tears. However, I think the best thing that happened with my music career was the first time I saw someone tweet my lyrics. It was the best thing because it was a sign that there were people listening. I’m not doing this for the money or fame, and to tell you the truth, there isn’t a lot of money and fame is fickle. I am pursuing this career because I remember the way music helps me when I’m in pain or lonely, and I want to be that for someone else.
Q: Why did you make the decision to move to L.A.?
A: L.A. has a lot of things, but if there is one thing it does have, it is people with drive. In Pittsburgh, all of my friends had 9-5 jobs and were pursuing pretty safe careers. Music is not safe, and it was frustrating to be around people who don’t understand the kind of investment you have to make when you want to make it your life.
If there are any female artists in Pittsburgh reading this, I implore you to put yourself out there. No one is going to push you. You have to do it yourself. If anyone wants advice about how to begin that process, absolutely reach out to me.
Q: What will you miss about Pittsburgh?
A: The sense of community. Pittsburgh was my home for so many years. There isn’t a neighborhood that I don’t have a friend in. The guy who has been my muse for my sad, longing songs went to Schenely high school, and then (the University of Pittsburgh). I spent so many nights on roofs in Oakland, or talking about life in Schenely Plaza. I worked in restaurants in Shadyside and Squirrel Hill throughout college and afterwards. I punched the bouncer at Tiki Lounge on my 21st birthday. There are just so many little moments that came together to create the person that left from Pittsburgh International Airport … and I miss everything about them. But without change, you don’t grow.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
A: As long as you are making music for the right reasons and are striving for something bigger than fame and money – you can get there. It takes time, and it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. No one goes from 0 to 100 overnight. There is a lot that goes into becoming a professional musician that stays around. The most important thing you can do is not to let your ego get in the way, while also being ruthless about your craft. If you aren’t thinking about your craft 20 hours a day, you won’t get there. If you have a Plan B, you won’t get there. Musicians, actors, any artists face a lot of rejection. If you can’t handle that, you won’t get there. But if none of that scares you away, and you can keep pushing, eventually you will be surprised at what life brings your way.
For more on Omne’s journey and to stream her latest music, head to www.2omne.com.