She calls her music “dystopian pop” and is heavily influenced by art, religious beliefs, the conscious mind and non-conformity. Pyra is a powerful individual simply because her level of self-conviction is incomparable — that and she’s also an extremely talented artist, whether it be as a singer, songwriter, producer, visual curator or creative brand strategist. She’s got a new album ready to release, and the preview singles are whimsically deep. We caught up over an evening phone call after a long working day and this is more or less how our conversation went.
"2020 was supposed to be the year to do new things but it's gone sour", Pyra tells me as we embark on what's meant to be an interview but evolves into deep conversation. She’d just finished four other interviews that day, so she starts by openly challenging me to keep her engaged for the rest of our call.
By the ethereal powers that be, we dove into areas she candidly admitted to not publicly revealing before. Our chat starts with her explaining how she's been homebound for the last three months, and how that hasn't diminished her determination. She particularly acknowledges that the situation in Thailand is far better than what she sees on the news about the US and Europe. All her live shows are cancelled this year, and that just gives her the time she needs to develop more outrageous music and video content for her new album that she just previewed with the release of two singles ‘Dystopia’ and ‘Plastic World’. She ebulliently hollers, “the whole album is ready and mastered, so I'm excited!"
She’s only 27 now, but her career started over twenty years back, and it’s evident that her journey means everything to her — the young artist has developed herself into a self-empowered woman of wonder. Transitioning with ease from the indie artist arena to playing in the major leagues has only propelled her capabilities thanks to her irrepressible optimism — just earlier this year, she was signed by Warner Music. As mystifying and successful as she is, I got to find out a bit more about her introversion, nerd-mentality, professional approach and normal routined life.
Pyra grew up in a middle-class Thai household, where most such families send their kids off for extra-curricular activities and classes. “My mom sent me to a vocal institute for singing lessons. My teacher would get us to make demos, and enter singing competitions — and I would win a lot of these! One of them was a Mother’s Day album, which is still played till today all over Thailand."
I ask her if she likes hearing herself sing as a child, especially after growing so much as an artist, and her reaction had us both chuckling. "I sound like a ghost kid and I just cringe," she cries. Today, Pyra agrees that at first glance, her style and demeanour is perceived as "dark and scary" but over the phone, she's calm, charming and certainly well cultured, something that was easy to gather by just the undercurrent tone of confidence in herself. She reminds me of a core human value: “who we are is beautiful. And I use that in all my art and music.”
She continues to dwell on her upbringing: "I think it's a subliminal thing that’s influenced me in my career. Winning those competitions and jobs led me to learn the guitar and piano, and then I started producing when I was 16. So I took SAE electronic production classes with a few others just to learn music production." (SAE — School of Audio Engineering is a global network of top sound engineering colleges in over 50 cities). She doesn't shy away from who is, reiterating several times in our conversation that acknowledgement of her identity is an integral part of her artistry. She was a Thai kid who went to an international school and was taught primarily in English — but she started singing in Thai.
I paused for a hopefully not too brief moment to ponder about her childhood dichotomy, but Pyra is unabashed about it. "I don't really read and write Thai that well, but I speak it well. It's kinda weird because I feel like a third culture kid as I speak good Thai but I write better English.”
By self-affirming her own identity, her upbringing, her present moment, the world’s current state (and what she wants to do about it), her toil for knowledge and what it just simply means to be Pyra, she’s realised what her source of virtue is. And it was at this point as a young adult that she then truly ventured within her known and unknown self to discover the sound vision of the Pyra we know her to be today. I begin to understand more when she ever so humbly but emphatically asserts, "I really just want to save the world, you know, and just make it a better place. And that starts with a message.”
“An important way we receive messages is by voice," she continues. "We can use it to change people’s hearts and make societies more inclusive. And music, I guess, is just in one sense something you can enjoy (that message), but there are other ways too and I want my listeners to see that. That’s why fashion and my visual statement is important, it gives me more ways to connect with them.”
Pyra wants to dress how she likes, think as she wants and be able to share it with music as her cosmic communicating vehicle — and when it comes to sharing a message, she pretty much takes it literally. Every day, Pyra paints a different phrase on her face. While we’re talking, I notice that today it's the word ISRA, which represents freedom, etched for her followers to see. I coined it the Pyra Status — every day is a different multilingual memo to herself and the world.
Her wardrobe is certainly something to be wonderstruck about, too — it’s broody and mildly antagonistic, yet vibrant and bizarrely encapsulating. The video below is a sparkling example of that — it’s a shortened narrative version of the music video of ‘Dystopia' from her upcoming album. She’s named the series of narrative versions of the new singles 'Badtime Stories'.
“Everything I wear is sustainable”, she answers when I ask her about her apparel direction. She echoes her social responsibility streak, asserting “most of my wardrobe is thanks to local fashion students. I want to support the community, even through what I wear. Why should I waste time to support those who don’t need it?”
Pyra acknowledges that she’s grateful for being in a space of growth, respectably expanding from a locally-based artist to one that’s now under the wings of global major Warner Music. “Let me just say that as I grow outward, I also want to bring Thailand to the world with me.”
And that’s highly evident in her projection of everything about her as a visual enigma. She adopts a wide variety of her heritage elementals that are accentuated by various contrasts or alterations, whether it be in her costumes, makeup, hand signs, colour palettes or religious references. Pyra brings up an older song of hers from two years ago called ‘White Lotus’ — it’s a stunning portrayal of visual art, stamped by neo-religious aesthetics that Pyra loves to explore. While encouraging me to watch the video, (and I urge you too), she adds paradoxically, “I would say my vision and source is heavily Hindu based — but I'm an atheist who’s very into religious studies! I just enjoy studying and reading about them!” The hand pose she uses in ‘White Lotus’ represents the purification of the devil, one of the four lotus flower poses of Buddha.
“The big idea in all my music is to make the world a better place, and being true to yourself is a really important thing. That's why I always have Thai instruments and sounds. I’m Thai and I want to represent it in a Thai way.”
We start talking about how Asia is so influenced by the West and that there’s so much culture being forgotten through capitalism, greed and a plethora of modern ideals that break and damage the cultural norms of the Eastern hemisphere in the past. “I want to remind people that no matter where they’re from, they should know who they are. Our art is so vibrant: our food, our society, our culture is so rich.” She admitted the weirdness she feels for being like a third culture kid, but she’s certainly not lost interest or fervour about her roots. She’s pretty much turned that connective knowledge into powerful tools to build the Pyra image and prowess.
So what about Pyra when she’s not being Pyra. Or is she always being Pyra? Off-stage, in her day to day doings, whilst she’s formally replying emails or out buying vegetables from the market, she wears all black. Just black? “I'm actually an introvert, and I feel safe in it, I feel like I can hide in this colour. It makes me feel confident because it's strong and dark and scary — which has so much power.” Whether it’s a mask, sunglasses to keep her covert in public, she just prefers no attention off stage. “I'm not into glam stuff, I'm a simple and down to earth person.”
She refers back to the first two singles off her upcoming album, “I guess this is why I released these two songs, ‘Dystopia’ and ‘Plastic World’ together — I see it as yin and yang because without darkness there’s no light”. This is exactly what I was trying to excavate from her cavern of deep thought — the notion of balance, and how the two new videos are so outrageously creative, especially at first glance, while still comfortably enforcing a message led by a guiding light. Check out the official video for 'plastic world' below.
Balance is key to her, which means this year has been a major challenge, shifting from an independent artist to one with a full team working with her. “Right now, Pyra is the changed version of myself”. She admits that she's usually a solo player, but she's adapted. "I’ve learned that we are dependent, we don’t live alone in this world.” She’s used to doing it all on her own, from self-raising funds to build her content, write and produce all of her music, marketing her brand and booking her own shows. “Now, I’m learning from working with a big team, that I need them and I love working with each of them.” From being alone in her home studio to now working with a full team has helped her to complete her upcoming album in this challenging environment, which is packed with twenty songs she’s extremely proud of.
Pyra pauses for an awkward few seconds, and I can hear a hesitational murmur. She starts again telling me something she’s not spoken about before in an interview: “I’m actually a nerd.” The girl is a pro when it comes to branding — Pyra graduated with a first-class honours degree in communications from Thailand’s prestigious Chulalongkorn University, and she’s taken full advantage of her nerdy hard work and channelled all that brand marketing knowledge into an artist concept that’s been signed up by Warner. "I’m so thankful for everything I’ve learned”, she exudes and adds that when it comes to “being an artist and establishing my branding, I know I have to do something that nobody else has done. And I’m doing that, and it’s really all thanks to my major.”
So far, I’ve managed to keep her attention despite the four interviews she’s already done today, and the topic of marketing and building her brand ignited a new wave of energy. "Arun, do you know that I’ve prepared my own brand deck that my team uses?” That’s right, she wrote her own manifesto of the Pyra brand that includes her goals, aspirations, vision, message, branding direction, marketing strategy, sources and references. “My whole team has this and they follow it, so yes, that degree was just so amazing for me.”
It would be safe to say that the introvert in her has been slightly loosened by this point. Her team may be following her brand deck, but there’s still a lot of hard work to come from the artist. She’s had to learn to harness her ego, and while doing so, there’s a newfound appreciation for working with a team, for which she expresses how grateful she is. “People are investing in and seeing something in me, I’m not going to stop learning now. Every day is a learning experience for me, and that’s how I like my life to be.” Then, she bursts out a nerdy giggle.
I’m curious about her independent thought process, and whether her creative manifestation is or will be affected by being part of a megalithic label, but she seems unperturbed and says “at first, I thought I would have to give away my creative freedom and the brand that I’ve created and built, but the label appreciates it and what I do.” She tells me that she’s in a good place and that now she can “truly bring her vision to life with a budget and a team that can take my ideas to a whole new level.”
She pauses before adding: "Everything is logical… I have this split personality.” She explains that there’s the Pyra we see on screen and hear on our playlists, but at the same time, she's a super logical human being. "I wake up early, do my own presentations… I like being professional.” It’s not surprising that most people would never bother about that side of her, and that’s fine. It’s this grounded and clear-minded side that allows her to be Pyra to her listeners around the world. “People see me as a dark person because of my dystopian pop style — I want to be myself, so it’s okay if people see me differently."
Sensing a sign of slumber after a lengthy chat, I ask Pyra to share a blissful last few words with me, her fans and I guess the Universe. “Time”, she emphatically states. “We’re so tempted to sleep and watch Netflix and binge eat, and sleep at odd hours, but that’s unhealthy, and it's a waste of time. We can't buy back time. It's a currency that once lost, it’s lost. So make use of it.”
Pyra will be celebrating her birthday by performing one of Asia’s first extended reality (ER) live shows on her YouTube channel. Join her and immerse in her inimitable ways on 15 August at 8pm ICT.