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Despite the fact that she’s been active in the music industry for a full decade, not nearly enough people are aware of India Shawn. This is due, in large part, to the fact that she’s spent a large portion of her career so far focusing on other people. She’s written songs for the likes of Chris Brown and Keri Hilson and, as part of the Full Circle writing collective, for Atlanta R&B star Monica. She’s worked with Ludacris, Kanye… Shawn’s talents have been in demand.

Her own debut album, Origin, dropped in 2012 but things are really hotting up now. In the midst of this pandemic, she’s just released two singles simultaneously — “Cali Love” and “Not Too Deep.” Both are from a forthcoming EP, and they represent her first releases for Epic Records (and her first on a major).

“That’s actually the plan for the forthcoming singles,” Shawn says. “We wanted to do something different. Personally, it’s been years since I put out a full project and I just wanted to give my fans, and the people who have been listening and supporting during this time, a little something extra. Two is better than one, right?”

Both songs, Shawn says, are representative of the EP. Both were produced by D’Mile (Rihanna, Justin Bieber), and both are blessed with the smooth, emotive, sultry vocals Shawn is known for.

“D’Mile executive produced the whole project,” she says. “I’d like to think ‘Cali Love’ is a little bit more experimental, and then ‘Not Too Deep’ is a true R&B, soul record. That’s the project. I have R&B roots but I love to dabble in different sounds, going against the grain a little bit. That’s my preview of what’s to come.”

Shawn is a Los Angeles native, though she only recently returned after spending 12 years in Atlanta. As a result, this new project is directly influenced by her surroundings.

“I feel like this particular project is kind of a compilation of stories of me being back in Los Angeles as an adult,” she says. “I grew up here, and then moved to ATL for 12 years and just got back a couple of years ago. So the project is just based on my experiences of being back in L.A., and so it’s very much influenced the music.”

That’s particularly clear on “Cali Love,” within which she croons “Will you find true love in L.A.?” If the city has informed the work, romance and relationships have had their say too. Take “Not Too Deep.”

“I had gotten out of a long term relationship, and I wouldn’t call it playing it safe but I wanted to keep my relationship in the honeymoon, light phase of just appreciating a person but not necessarily having any responsibilities or having to define it because, to me, after getting out of that relationship, defining it sounded like more work than anything,” Shawn says. “So it’s just about keeping it light.”

Ten years after Origin, and after countless background gigs for other artists, Shawn has clearly grown a lot. Certainly vocally. There are no tricks here — just a beautiful, classic R&B voice conveying feelings and telling stories.

“I think I’ve definitely grown vocally, just from doing background gigs throughout the years and just getting older,” she agrees. “And just I’ve become more free in what I’m willing to share and say. I think before I had a bit of a filter, or I’d censor myself in some ways. I grew up actually in a very religious home, and had a lot of fear about what my family would say on certain topics. But now, I’m breaking out of that shell and I’m a little bit more free with the songwriting.”

It’s all working out perfectly, and her evolution earned her that major label deal.

“It’s amazing because the A&R who signed me, Ezekiel Lewis, I was a fan of his 10 years ago when he was a part of a writing team called The Clutch,” Shawn says. “They were my biggest inspiration at that time. I actually ended up forming a songwriting team of my own [Full Circle] with my sister and a couple of friends, based on their model. I was always in touch with the business side of the industry. Ten years later, he’s the one signing me to my first major label deal. That’s pretty cool.”

(AG Creative / Laurel Street Drip)

It’s interesting, because much of the narrative over the past few years has been about the decline of the majors in the wake of the digital revolution. Shawn, though, is delighted to have the support.

“I had been doing the indie thing for forever, and so now it’s like I’m learning to relinquish certain responsibilities that I don’t have to take care of anymore,” she says. “I was laughing with one of my people — he was like ‘India, you don’t have to edit your YouTube videos, we’ve got you — there’s a person at the label for that.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, OK.’ I can just chill a little bit.”

Again, her major label debut releases are coming while the country, the world, is on lockdown. Still, the rollout is keeping her busy.

“Putting the music out and promoting it,” she says. “Other than that, I’ve been cooking, eating and Netflixing like everybody else. Trying to work out. I’ve been more in touch with friends and family, which has been nice because before this, I was on the road and didn’t really have time to connect like that.”

Besides that, planning this year out is next to impossible. Everything is obviously up in the air. For now, she has a bunch of Instagram live streaming shows on the horizon, so we can at least look forward to that.

“Cali Love”and “Not Too Deep” are out now. The EP is due soon. Follow India Shawn on Instagram to keep up to date on live streaming shows.

LA Weekly