Take 5 with SunFest’s Sonali

Warming up the SunFest Ford Stage on Sunday is the talented singer/songwriter Sonali.

This young, rising pop artist has been creating beautiful music since she was very young, and in 2012 was invited to attend the incredible Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. It was there she studied alongside some of the industry’s leading artists and industry veterans, including Questlove, Bob Power, and Nick Sansano.

It seemed like the stars were aligning with the young artist, when she suddenly fell ill. Sonali was diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Disease.

Now, this confident Indian-American songstress is ready to debut a new sound for fans. In a new interview, Sonali shares what fans can expect at SunFest, Chronic Lyme Disease, and why her love of pizza is worth the risk.

What can new and old fans expect to see and hear during your upcoming SunFest set?

I’ve just now started playing live shows with my backing band, so this is going to be brand new for everyone! Playing live is an aspect of my career that I had to put on hold due to my struggle with Chronic Lyme Disease the past few years, so finally getting to see this come to life is amazing. I have a 10 song set, and only four of those 10 songs are released, so everyone’s going to get to hear a lot of unreleased music!

For my fans who have been with me for awhile, they know I’ve completely switched genres of music! I used to make folk pop, but now my sound is more indie pop and has a lot of electronic elements, so that’s new too.

You are originally from Florida, now living in beautiful New York City. What are you most excited to see/revisit/eat during your South Florida visit?

I actually moved back to Florida a little over a year ago due to my illness, but as much as I miss New York I love being home too. Aside from my friends and family, and of course my adorable dog Scooter, the thing I miss most when I’m away from home is Pizza Time Caffe! Possibly unpopular opinion, but I think it’s wayyy better than any pizza I’ve had in New York, and let me tell you I’ve tried my fair share. I’m technically not allowed to have pizza because I have a pretty restrictive Lyme diet now, but breaking it for Pizza Time is so worth it.

You studied at the Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music at Tisch, and had an opportunity to learn from some incredible artists and professors. Can you share a stand out memory or lesson from your studies?

I think the single most important thing I got from attending Clive was just being constantly surrounded by musicians of such a high caliber. So many of the big up and coming artists and songwriters you’re hearing about now went to Clive, so you have no choice but to grow and step up if you want to compete with that level of talent. It was definitely intimidating at first, I think for all of us, because we were all kind of used to being a big fish in a small pond. But being around exceptional talent challenges you and helps you grow, I wouldn’t be the artist I am if I hadn’t had that experience.

In terms of a single standout memory…my freshman year some of my friends and I made a cover of Rihanna’s song “Diamonds”, and it ended up going viral and reaching Rihanna herself. We got to go out to her concert in Newark and meet her after the show, super casual no big deal.

You were diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Disease just as your first tour was about to begin.  We are very happy to hear you are on your way to recovery! How did this experience impact your outlook and your music?

Thank you, so am I! Chronic Lyme is a life altering illness, so it really changed everything for me in every way possible, so much more than I can possibly fit here. There was a time when it was so bad that I couldn’t leave my bed, that’s about the time I realized I needed to move back home to Florida, because I wasn’t physically able to take care of myself living on my own. At that time it seemed like a career in music was impossible, so to be here just days away from playing Sunfest is incredible.

Lyme is still something I have to constantly work around and work through, but I am so grateful to be at a point where I’m healthy enough to even have that as an option, because just a year ago things looked very different.

Can you tell us a little bit about your track “Turn It Around”? (Either the songwriting process or the inspiration behind this beautiful track?)

Absolutely, I’m so glad you liked it! I wrote “Turn It Around” during my first semester of college at NYU. Growing up, I was always this shy, quiet girl, and it was an aspect of my personality that I really felt held me back in so many ways. I viewed college as this opportunity to completely start over and reinvent myself, maybe underestimating just how difficult that actually is in reality. Needless to say, somehow I didn’t undergo a complete personality change overnight, and I was very much the same person. I have a tendency to be a tad overly critical of myself, so I wrote “Turn It Around” one night when I really wasn’t having it.

One of my favorite things about “Turn It Around” is that it came from a dark place, but ended up having such a positive spin. The song is basically about taking control of your own life, and realizing that whether you do or don’t want change, it’s your responsibility.

What does the rest of 2018 hold?

More new music releases, and more live shows! Like I said earlier, playing live is something I had to completely stop for so long, so I’m planning to make up for that now.

When are you happiest?

When my personal life is good, I’m the happiest. If I have a good support system in place, I can handle anything life throws at me. Plus, accomplishments like Sunfest mean so so much more when you have friends and family to share it with. I’ve felt so much hometown support and love, and there are no words to describe how much that means

Don’t miss Sonali on the Ford Stage at 5 p.m.