The Sound of UT: Riya Mahesh

Morgan-Taylor Thomas

Editor's Note: This story first appeared in The Daily Texan's February 2 print edition.

Four-year-old Riya Mahesh didn’t have much choice in attending her first piano lesson, her mother pulling her along by the hand. While the piano was soon replaced by a guitar, her love for playing music would become a lifelong creative outlet. 

Now a biology and math junior, Mahesh not only performs as a one-woman show, but is also the vocalist and rhythm guitarist in a nameless one-woman, two-man band. Influenced by Phoebe Bridgers, Taylor Swift and a love for books, Mahesh produces an indie rock sound drawing from her own personal experiences.

The Daily Texan: How do books influence your sound and songwriting?

Riya Mahesh: Joan Didion is my favorite author, and I got into her because Phoebe Bridgers said “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” which was Didion’s first essay book, had really influenced (Bridgers’ album) Punisher. I was like, “Wow, that’s awesome,” so I read the book, and I was hooked. I think when you focus on lyrics, books and prose tend to be really influential because you can take ideas people have and put them into a song. It’s a little more creative and requires more thought. 

DT: How has this past year of pandemic life affected your music?

RM: It’s funny because I pretty much have only written sad songs because that’s just kind of the place I’ve been. But recently, I’ve entered a very healthy relationship, which has been odd because I’ve had to learn how to fictionalize and write sad songs about things that didn’t happen to me. For example, I wrote this one song …  based off of my relationship, but it wasn’t sad enough. When you make indie sad girl music, … it’s a little hard to channel (being sad) when you’re not. And I mean, there’s an art to writing a happy song, but I haven’t quite figured it out. 

DT: What is it like being a biology and math major while also being a musical artist?

RM: At the end of the day, the only thing besides people that has consistently brought me joy is music, (so) it’s important for me to prioritize that. For me, the way (music) is very unstructured in my life … is a very liberating thing. I still have music alongside very structured biology and math. This past month, I was studying for my MCAT, and … it was the longest time I had gone without music. But then when I came back to Austin and started working with my band again, it was like this creative rejuvenation because I’d been creatively suppressed for some time. 

DT: What do you hope for yourself and your music in 2021?

RM: I think the cool thing about not pursuing music as a career is that I don’t really have to worry about becoming successful, so I think the plan is just making as much music as I can. I’m hoping to release this EP that I’m working on with my band within the next couple of months, and then (I’m) going to start recording (my) Quiet Light album, which will be really nice because I’ve been writing that album for a year now. So I’m really excited to record more music … and open a lot more doors.