From left, Shamik Ganguly and Conrad (Connie) Kisunzu of Jontha Links.

Shamik Ganguly’s Success Shows the Power of Pursuing Your Passion

The Indian musician talks leaving his engineering job to pursue music, what it's like going viral on TikTok, and his duo Jontha Links' new LP, "material love"

From left, Shamik Ganguly and Conrad (Connie) Kisunzu of Jontha Links.

Sam Orlin

Words by Ryan Quan

Shamik Ganguly's story began in Madison, Wisconsin, which is, funnily enough, the city he’s in during our Zoom call despite living in California. His parents both immigrated from India and met as undergrad students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s currently touring as the drummer for urika’s bedroom, a new artist who recently released his first single, “Junkie,” a promising atmospheric track showcasing years of sound production experience. They’re opening for Youth Lagoon, who you might recognize if you were a fan of the experimental bedroom/dream pop sound of the early 2010s. 

As a Midwest boy with immigrant parents, Ganguly’s love for music started young. He took piano lessons as a child, which sparked a passion for learning all sorts of instruments: guitar, drums, anything he could get his hands on. He went to the University of Michigan for engineering, but his passion for music never stopped. He eventually joined the music production and sound arts program after many late nights of experimenting by himself in the school’s professional recording studio.

During a software internship in the Bay Area halfway through college, Ganguly met Conrad (Connie) Kisunzu, another engineer trying to balance his love for music with his day job. Their connection was instant. Several years later, they quit their Silicon Valley careers and moved to Hollywood together to form Jontha Links, an up-and-coming duo that isn’t afraid to experiment with genre.

Their new LP, material love, is a personal culmination of their unique origins and influences, combining rock, hip-hop, R&B, and more. The songs explore the idea that love isn’t an absolute idea but rather comes in many forms. Sometimes love is superficial; sometimes it’s self-serving. This all comes through in both the project’s lyricism and its genre-blended sound.

Ganguly opened up to me about his past, going into detail about the transition from his technical Silicon Valley job to the glitz and glamor of Los Angeles. We also chatted about going viral on TikTok, how material love came to be, and how his background influences the music he makes.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Ryan Quan: The switch from the Silicon Valley engineering side to the creativity of L.A. is a huge, huge jump. Was it difficult at all to transition to that, or did you finally feel that you found your people and where you belong?

Shamik Ganguly: There were certainly difficulties, but I would say overall that it was a huge breath of fresh air. We had both been feeling the pressure of trying to be artists in a lifestyle that was not built for that. There are definitely artists in the Bay [Area], but we were all feeling the pressure, working around the clock trying to fit in both of these parts of our lives. By the time we said, “No, it’s just music,” we were ready to do it. We left with no regrets.

RQ: How did your parents feel about the switch from engineering to music?

SG: My mom has never really challenged it. She’s a professor in communications, women’s studies, and international studies, but she has always been in love with creative writing as well. It’s something that she hasn’t found a lot of time to do with her work and having children and, in what’s the Indian tradition, spending a lot of time caring for her parents. So she spent a lot of the last 15 years being the caretaker for a lot of people. She’s been dedicated to that and hasn’t had a lot of time to exercise her creative dreams. So I think she sees that in me, and she’s very much supportive of that.

It was harder for [my dad] to understand. We've had conversations about music. [He would say,] “I just don't know how to relate because growing up in India, it was engineer, doctor, or lawyer.” [Being a musician wasn’t] an option unless you were raised in a family that was already musicians. If you try to make that leap without having that familial background, you're just going to be on the street, or you're not going to make a good living.

But he’s definitely an open-minded person; he’s come to see it. When I was going into college, I had mentioned, “What if I just go to music school?” He was like, “If you’re gonna do that, you should also get a degree that’s gonna make you some money.” A lot of people have been through that pressure, obviously.

Kisunzu and Ganguly met as engineers before pursuing music together.

Sam Orlin

At the end of the day, I’m glad that I [went to school for engineering] because it has opened a lot of doors for me in terms of being able to support myself and separate my art from my finances. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized it can be very important not to conflate survival in the capitalist system with the art that you feel is so personal to you. So, I’m glad that he pushed me to do that.

RQ: I feel like that’s really rare unfortunately, but I’m glad that worked out for you!

SG: Thank you!

RQ: Let’s talk a little bit about your music career so far. “Pretty Carolina” went viral on TikTok. What was that experience like for you?

SG: It was really, really interesting and cool. That song has really resonated with a lot of people in a lot of different ways. Connie and I put together a little TikTok, especially focusing on Connie telling his story of the aspirations he had growing up of wanting to be a rockstar, and then we made it happen. Especially in this video, we really played up the rockstar aesthetic.

It’s kinda freeing to see people who don’t look traditionally like the rockstars we grew up with. Not a Mick Jagger or whatever. Some Black and brown boys dressed up as rockstars is a cool, refreshing thing to see. I think people resonated with that. People resonated with our drive to commit to our dreams.

We had a lot of people showing a lot of love in the comments. [Before,] we were trying to navigate how to have an online presence. We made random TikToks, funny little bits and stuff that went slightly viral, but we never really felt that people were connecting with us for who we were. I’d post some joke, and people would laugh at it and send it to their friends, but no one cared who we were. This was the first time that the TikTok community was in the comments like, “We love you guys,” “We’re gonna go listen to your music,” “We support you.” One of the things that really got us, people were like “Hey, comment what you had for lunch today, let’s get this algorithm going.”

RQ: Aww that’s so sweet!

SG: Yeah! It was really touching for us because we’re millennials on TikTok, but we’re a little more used to the Instagram culture of people trying to be a little cool and not necessarily trying to do too much or look like they’re trying too hard. But we noticed in that moment, like okay, these people in this community, at least the ones we found with this post, they’re down to just support and really just be present. They really know how to work the algorithm and do what they can do for us. That was a really heartwarming moment.

"material love" came out Oct. 13.

Sam Orlin

RQ: So tell me more about the LP, material love.

SG: [When] the pandemic hit, we weren’t really focused on releasing in a huge way because it didn’t feel like the right time, and so we just made a bunch of random singles, including “Pretty Carolina.” A lot of them got some pretty good traction, but we weren’t trying to make a statement sonically or thematically. We were just doing whatever was fun for us.

After a couple years of that, we were craving a little bit of a larger statement, a little more cohesion. We looked back at some of the music we had written, and we identified some of the stuff that we lean intolike the gritty rock side of thingsit’s feeling really authentic and it’s feeling really expressive and feeling like who we are. We leaned into that and we wrote a bunch of rock music. We finished a 10-track demo tape, and we were like, “Alright, this is the first Jontha Links rock album.”

We sat with it for a few months, but we were like, “You know what, some of this is feeling a little contrived.” Like we tried a little bit too hard to be rock, and some of this sounds like regurgitations of rock songs we heard in the 2000s. So we sat back again to rebalance and just write what sounds good, not worry too much about what it sounds like. Let’s just be authentic, only focus on that.

We wrote for another half a year to a year, and then we went back over three years through the vault of songs we had written. We were like, “What do we still love? What is going to impact us in the future and age well and be meaningful to people?” We kinda collected that into what we’re now releasing as material love.

Rock has a certain history coming from Black origins in the U.S. and being co-optedas a lot of genres areby white corporations and turning into this pop regurgitation of rock.

RQ: Would you say that yours and Connie’s heritage and diverse backgrounds affected the project in any way?

SG: In a big way, sonically, it has affected things. Rock has a certain history coming from Black origins in the U.S. and being co-optedas a lot of genres areby white corporations and turning into this pop regurgitation of rock.

I got a lot of my rock from the radio, and a lot of it was this pop-punk stuff that had been a late phase of what rock and roll is in the U.S. So it’s kinda meaningful for us to take that and recontextualize that in our voice. Especially for Connie, we’re bringing this back to the communities where it came from, reclaiming in a way.

We also have a lot of different influences, classical music, world music. He grew up in the church, so there’s that musical tradition. R&B is related to that. We both love hip-hop. I think as Black and brown kids we gravitated toward a lot of different styles of music and seeing more people that represented us in different genres. Like I was finding my brown guitarists in punk music in certain bands. We were just kinda all over the place. I think that has something to do with our identities being American but also being children of immigrants. We have these open minds, we have this curiosity for all these different types of things and people and culture and music.

And I think that comes together because [material love] is not just a rock album. There’s some hip-hop tracks on there, and in every song that we write, there are influences that come from all these different places, and we hope that it comes across to the listener that this is not just genre music; this is our personal representation of who we are and all of the different things that make us who we are.

RQ: Do you ever clash at all creatively? Or do you mesh pretty well and bounce off of each other?

SG: That's a great question. Yeah, I think that we are surprisingly aligned. We've learned over time how to collaborate. I mean, collaboration in art is an art form in itself. And we've learned that writing music on your own and writing music with somebody else is a totally different process, and you have to have different goals and expectations.

As a duo, Kisunzu and Ganguly have developed a unique voice.

Sam Mandich

So when we write Jontha Links music, I think we're writing with that voice, the voice that we found as a collaboration. I feel really grateful that we've been able to find that rhythm, and that we're both open minded and empathetic enough to create space for each other. Obviously, as individuals, we have certain small goals that differ sometimes, like his tastes aren’t exactly the same as mine.

Sometimes, he might be trying to push the track in one direction; I might be trying to push it in the other. Of course that happens, but in all the collaborations I've done, I feel like this is one that has consistently been freeing and supportive, and I try to make sure that I'm doing the same for him.

Published on October 23, 2023

Words by Ryan Quan

Ryan Quan is the Social Media Editor for JoySauce. This queer, half-Chinese, half-Filipino writer and graphic designer loves everything related to music, creative nonfiction, and art. Based in Brooklyn, he spends most of his time dancing to hyperpop and accidentally falling asleep on the subway. Follow him on Instagram at @ryanquans.