“I haven’t really revealed anywhere or to anyone except for people who are close to me what actually happened between late 2013 to late 2014...”
Aruna is well known in the music industry for her insatiable talents and drive - a singer, songwriter, DJ, and a producer in the making. She represents a genuine success story from a strong woman with nothing but creative ideas, motivation and an unparalleled vision that has brought her career to the top.
When I last met with Aruna in the summer of 2013 we talked about goals, producing, and her list of achievements – she was one of the most successful women in our industry. But with all success comes sacrifice.
When Aruna’s social media presence and biweekly podcast went dark over the course of the past year, the ultimate sacrifice came to fruition.
Imagine coming face to face with the unknown, the probability that your entire existence may come to a screeching halt. Fire ignites throughout your entire body, your limbs go numb, you lose the ability to control your mind and take care of yourself. Doctors have few answers and a life changing diagnosis is suspected. You’re knocked down to your hands and knees and lose hope that things will work out. Is it the end? Or just a second chance at living the life you deserve?
Aruna’s new release "The End" touches every one of those places with intensity, pounding emotion and unimaginable vocal strength. Here is what the artist has to say about her experiences, her song, the future of her career, and most importantly - her message to the world.
"This is for those who don’t want to admit anything is wrong or ask for help"
There’s a lot that went into this single emotionally, more so than what we’ve heard from you in the past. There are these deep synths that marry in the vocals that I feel really have substantial value behind them – what’s the story?
I haven’t really revealed anywhere or to anyone except for people who are close to me what actually happened between late 2013 to late 2014 – it was the events that happened in that year that inspired this song and it was incredibly emotional and that’s exactly what you’re hearing. It started with having my first open abdominal surgery, which I've never experienced anything like it before and the entire process was terrifying, but nothing in comparison to what happened after.
In February I started having numbness and weakness in my left-hand fingers which eventually crept into my wrist and shortly thereafter it happened in my right hand and wrist as well. What I first thought was tendinitis was eventually ruled out after massage therapy, which had worked for me twice in the past, proved ineffective. The burn, the intensity I experienced was nothing like I've ever felt before. Opening doors and writing, brushing my teeth and my hair was impossible without grip or pulling strength. Later, carpal tunnel, nerve impingement, rheumatoid arthritis and thoracic outlet syndrome were ruled out and my doctors had no idea what was going on.
With the pain and weakness getting worse every day and ruling out all other options, the possible diagnosis of MS (Multiple Sclerosis) was posited. Once that came up, I basically had a nervous breakdown. It was a 10-day collection of dizzy spells, tingling shooting all over my arms, legs and head, weakness to the point of not even being able to stand up or walk, uncontrollable shaking, insomnia, inability to move my fingers, ankles and jaw at times and excruciating burning pain. It got to the point where I ended up in the ER twice in one week and nobody knew what was going on. I finally got the brain MRI and after an 8 day waiting period my conscious was clear.
But if MS wasn't the answer, thankfully, then what?
It took me going to the hospital the second time and telling them everything, all the tests, MRIs, EMGs, X-rays, blood-work, everything I had done for them to come to the possibility that this could be a mental thing. The decision was made for me to start on Xanax and eventually Klonopin for sleep. My parents had to come out from the East Coast and take care of me because the medication that the doctors started me on was taking a drastic toll on my body. After we started about 80% of my symptoms had disappeared.
Wow… so your song is a representation of this journey in its entirety?
Yes, what this song represents is everything from my fight with not being able to work, to being completely knocked on my knees and having to have my parents come out and take care of me. I couldn't function at all, and even once I finally did get to the point physically where I could walk around, something as simple as going into a restaurant or grocery store would completely freak me out and I would have to leave. I can’t even explain what that feels like, to be in an everyday public place feel so overwhelmed and uncomfortable and panicky.
That’s a terrifying situation, I’m sure there are readers out there who can relate to this. Did doctors eventually come to realize that this was a panic or anxiety disorder?
That’s ultimately what the diagnosis was, and so this song is about finding myself again. I started therapy twice a week and while the health issues are what triggered it, I knew it was really like an iceberg and there was a lot of stuff under the water I couldn't see. “The End” is ultimately about my struggle from one of the worst moments of my life back to health. It made me confront my mortality and gave me an appreciation for my health that I’ll never let go of. I had family and friends who helped me and those people will be in my heart forever.
What about your career – do you think that your career and the path you've chosen have anything to do with the diagnosis?
Absolutely, there is a social isolation that goes hand in hand with this career. There’s no companionship on the road or in the studio, it’s such a lonely life. I think that as a woman it’s especially hard as we’re such social creatures. That part of my realization was really hard to come to. I shouldn't feel guilty for feeling lonely sometimes and wanting to hang out with someone instead of working. Love, companionship and connection with others is as essential as food, water, oxygen or exercise.
This single almost acts as a message then, for people and fans who may be scared to reach out for help when their mental overload becomes too much.
Right, and I understand that everyone may not have it to the severity of what I had experienced, there’s levels to it. I know of people who have anxiety that have the ability to control it. This is one of the reasons I wanted to come out with this whole thing. There are readers and fans everywhere who are dealing with anxiety and depression at the level where they can still function but it doesn't change the fact that it’s still present and uncomfortable. This is for those who don’t want to admit anything is wrong or ask for help – I wish that mental health care was more accessible in this country; it’s something that so many people would benefit from!
Agreed! Our state of mind is one of the most valuable tools we've ever been granted. So I’m curious about the title of the song "The End" – is it meant to have more of a positive meaning or is it a representation of the downfall, the negative and dark experiences?
Great question -- It’s really meant to be both. The line "the light at the end of the road" has a double meaning. "The end"appears twice throughout the song, the first time being “the end closing in, one breath at a time…” - when I wrote this, it was a week before my surgery and I felt like I was walking into my own death. It was confronting my mortality in way I never had. Later in the chorus it says “can’t stop till we crash into the light at the end of the road” and what that represents to me is two things – the light at the end of tunnel releasing me to health and happiness or it could be death. For me it was like, I’m either going to fight my way through this until I win, or I am going to die trying.
Obviously this specific song, being so personal and deep, is much more intense than any of the other songs and collaborations you've done in the last year or so. Did you find that on this specific collaboration it was more difficult to choose who you wanted on the track due to the sensitive nature of it? How did the final choice come to be?
I actually originally wrote this song for someone else, and they ended up not using it. So I had this top line and I was thinking about the types of sounds I wanted on it and who was good with these sounds. Husman's name came up because he remixed "Start A Fire," which I loved and I knew that he would be a good candidate to bring this song to light.
How much of the production were you involved with throughout the creation of the song?
At first, I hadn't intended to produce this, I was going to let him produce and I’d do vocals. When I got the draft back there were things about it I absolutely loved and other things that just weren't quite there yet. I took his drop and simplified it by cutting it up and pasting it so it was more simple and repetitive and the second thing was the verse – it was whole note piano chords and it was nice, but it was way too pretty for what I was talking about. Too pretty for death – I had this vision of how I wanted it to sound which was almost like a film trailer, to make it dark and dramatic and powerful, so I went in and redid the piano part completely, gave it these big drums, metallic hits, feedback, high strings and this hopeful chime sound. There are so many layers on that part. Between myself, Husman and Myon from Myon and Shane 54 who mixed and mastered it, we took every one of our best parts and made it into what it is now.
"I just walked out of the booth and into the crowd and just starting hugging everyone I saw. I felt like whatever they were getting out of this, I was getting that much more."
So, touching on production – how has the transition from writing, singing and DJing been into full blown producing?
Well, I have been going back and forth on producing for such a long time – mostly because it scares the shit out of me. I majored in music synthesis at Berklee, so I had the background but I had never produced dance music before. Part of it is so terrifying… I always tended to identify my worth by my work, so if I do something and then fail it’s almost like I’m failing as a person. Knowing that this was a risk I stayed away from it –and here I am still wrestling with it!! Producing is just an overwhelming cycle of endless layers and decisions – it’s absolutely staggering. I started studying with David, aka 7 Skies, and getting tips & information – now I’m working on an instrumental track, which I’m hoping to complete this year.
What was one of your highest, most positive points after your return to good health last year?
I had a show in July in Washington DC – it was a smaller venue with such an intense, loving crowd. I was still feeling really emotional and sensitive then, and the last song I did was an encore. The fans were demanding “Let Go” which I wasn’t even intending to play. As it was, playing during the encore I did something I’ve never done before and haven’t done since. At the end of the song I just walked out of the booth and into the crowd and just starting hugging everyone I saw. I felt like whatever they were getting out of this, I was getting that much more. When you’re knocked to your knees in life it makes you raw and vulnerable instead of strong and independent all of the time – this moment just warmed my heart. The whole situation really forced me to discover and embrace my vulnerability.
Do you think that as one of the women at the opening gates of Electronic Dance Music with as much influence as you have, that your overall message has altered from always being strong, independent, and in control to saying "it’s great to be all of these things, but it’s great to be raw, sensitive and vulnerable as well"?
I do, absolutely. You can see it in my Instagram too. The struggle of self-acceptance and self-love has been there a lot of my life. If you’re not comfortable with yourself and you’re not okay with yourself, then you’re always putting on a show– you’re not comfortable being you. The truth is life isn’t always fucking happy and great – but we have to embrace our humanity and allow ourselves to feel whatever it is we feel. A large part of this anxiety came from this dis-integration between what I felt like everyone else wanted to see, like look, how cool my life is blah blah vs. the parts of myself I didn't like and the insecure feelings. Now I’m posting pictures I’ve never done before in these tender, vulnerable moments with no makeup, just myself. I can truly say today "I love me." That been one of the greatest gifts I've gotten from the therapy so far.
What are your plans for the rest of the year, now that you’re getting back to yourself?
There are a couple of things in progress that I’m not quite ready to leak – but I’m really looking to increase my output this year by doing my own singles and unless it’s with a really well known artist I won’t be doing features anymore. I’m working on establishing my own brand as an artist and hopefully releasing three more singles for the year and also a series of dance remixes. I would like to possibly release an EP by the end of this year but the idea of an album never made sense until now. I didn't want to make an album with different people each producing different tracks with my vocals. That’s not an album to me, it’s a compilation. I want to produce a consistent sound beyond the vocals. That being said, an album takes a lot of time and effort and we live in a world where people think music should be free, so I wonder if it really makes sense to put the time into a project like this.
What do you want to push out to your fans?
A lot of gratitude. A huge thank you for those who were patient with me while I was going through this. My whole team who was great and very understanding and my fans for standing by me – being awesome and supportive. I feel like enough bad shit has happened and it’s just time to go out there and kick some ass. I’m proud of this track and what it represents. This is one for the books for me!
Aruna is now reclaiming her health working with her doctors to taper slowly off of the anti-anxiety medication. Her goals for the year are not only to continue learning, producing and singing but to inspire people through her story. The message to take away for everyone is that it’s okay to ask for help if mental health is taking up negative space in your life. You don’t have to fall to your knees to receive the love and support you need to better your mind, body and well-being. Speak up; it’s not the end of the road.
From Aruna's Facebook page