Kathmandu cowboyWangden Phintso Sherpa is not a seasoned artist, nor is he well versed in the ins and outs of the music industry, and yet a right touch of sophistication is palpable when you listen to his album.
During a period as tentative as the pandemic, it has become customary for many to find solace in creating or consuming several art forms—from writing poetry and songs, painting, mindlessly scrolling TikTok, to being glued to YouTube or Netflix.
Although the world has been in muddy waters for quite some time, out of the chaos has sprung creativity that is characteristic of a time rife with deeper self-reflection, especially induced by the lockdown isolation. While many tried coping with the solitude by involving themselves in one thing or the other, one Nepali attending college in Houston, Texas, did the same with his guitar in 2020.
A senior in college at the time, Wangden Phintso Sherpa simply toyed around with the idea of songwriting and never took it seriously enough. Fast forward two years later, the 24-year-old has now gone on to release an entire album—a feat typically unconventional for a relatively unknown artist.
“As cliché as this sounds,” he says, “I honestly never imagined myself even sitting here talking about a record I could call my own.”
His debut album, ‘Tangled in You’, came out on February 11, 2022, with nine tracks on the record. Wangden traces the album’s roots back to the onset of the pandemic in 2020. Mumbling a few tunes here and there during that period, he later decided to get a cheap microphone from Amazon and casually record one of the first songs he had written: ‘Lavender Lemonade’.
“I only properly wrote ‘Lavender Lemonade’ at the very beginning and showed it to Kyle Bartsch, a college friend. He knew about my inclination towards music and songwriting; it was he who connected me with Chuck Leah, his family friend, who happens to run a record label,” says Wangden.
After Leah’s team got on board with the recording plans, Wangden was given three weeks to write and record the entire album in July 2021.
“It was definitely a hectic period, given the short duration in which everything needed to be done. I often felt like I was forcing out lyrics that didn’t feel organic, but with everyone sailing the same ship, we came through with the album eventually,” he says. “I am just grateful that my team saw something in me I could never see in myself.”
When you listen to the entire album in one go, there is an underlying ambiguity to the genre that stands out immediately. Although Wangden asserts that his music is predominantly ‘pop-rock’, what is most noticeable about the discography is the variation in flavours that is deeply embedded from track to track. The polarity in using folk instruments like the sarangi in one song to the funky country sounds in another is distinguishable; he attributes that versatility to the diverse perspective brought to the table by each team member.
“Given that each of us come from different backgrounds and is at a different stage in our own lives, this is definitely what contributed to a well-rounded production process,” he adds.
Wangden credits his producers, Evan Bakke and Leah, for bringing that necessary edge regarding the choice of instruments and various sounds.
Having lived in Houston, Texas, throughout his college years, his album feels familiar yet original, given the intrinsic ‘cowboy’ theme that encompasses it. When the lockdown isolation was mandated, it became the catalyst to a period of self-reflection and existential questioning for many. Wangden himself had to stay alone for the most part—and not out of his own volition, he says. Since he was the only Nepali in his college, the only thing that allowed him to escape all the inner noise and outer chaos was Nepali music.
“Listening to Nepali songs was my coping mechanism. It would immediately comfort me and give me a sense of proximity to home despite being thousands of miles away,” says Wangden. “I believe that entire experience served as an impetus for me to pursue and release Nepali and English music simultaneously.”
This is precisely the formula that aids ‘Tangled in You’ in becoming a standout. That appropriate blend of Nepali and English tracks in the album is a recipe that can either be a hit or a miss. Wangden, although enjoying that writing process, says that self-expression using two different languages brought a unique set of challenges with it.
“I wanted to make sure the pronunciations and the vocabulary in my Nepali songs were immaculate because I was aware that songs that butcher any of the two aren’t well-received,” he says. “Not that you need to be loaded with jargons, I simply wanted whichever vernacular I was using to be comprehensive and authentic.”
As mentioned before, Wangden is not a seasoned artist, nor is he well versed in the ins and outs of the music industry. Yet, a right touch of sophistication is palpable when you listen to his album. This isn’t truly reflective of an individual who has only very recently tapped into his musical aspirations.
When asked where his artistic side stems from, Wangden credits his parents for setting the stage for him and his siblings to prioritise their creative pursuits just as strongly as their academics.
His elder sister, Yondeen Sherpa, shares how the family has always liked anything artistic. “We’ve always been a very musical and artsy family. Everyone in the family sings around the house; even I took guitar lessons and have been singing for as long as I can even remember,” says Yondeen.
While singing around the house and being passionate about music is one thing, actually following through on that passion and putting something out there is certainly a whole other ballgame.
“I have always known he has a good singing voice,” says Maya Sherpa, Wangden’s mother. “But what we didn't know was that he also wrote and composed songs—so that was quite a surprise for everyone,” says Maya.
Although taking up musical instruments and emphasising art have been the norm, Wangden’s family still had quite a few reservations about where he was heading with his music professionally. Given that a career in music, especially in Nepal, is treated as an afterthought, his family knew that solely depending on music was not a reasonable goal.
“Even though we want him to be content doing whatever he does, depending on music as a career in Nepal is not realistic. This, coupled with the fact that he has a degree in computer science, makes more sense to explore a career in music and have a stable day job concurrently. But ultimately, it is about his happiness and well-being,” adds Yondeen.
Releasing his first two singles in late January 2022, ‘Tadhiera’ and ‘Tangled in You’ (the title track) on YouTube and Spotify, Wangden has decided to take a different route with regards to when and where he wants his entire music to be made available. Although he has released the album on Spotify, he wants to go at a different pace with YouTube.
“What I don’t want is for my songs to compete with each other, especially if I were to put it on a streaming giant such as YouTube, which is the most widely used video platform in Nepal,” he says. “I will eventually upload all the songs on YouTube, but for now, my primary objective is for each track to get its own room to breathe.”
Returning home after finishing up college and recording the album, Wangden slowly came into the public eye with a few musical covers on TikTok. His short skits and musical performances on the platform have received considerable traction, which helped him connect with a wider set of audience. This, Wangden says, was his strategy from the get-go, and that is evident—given the mileage he gained on the platform.
While discussing his musical inspirations in the Nepali industry, he is quick to thank The Elements and Bartika Eam Rai for paving the way for aspiring artists such as himself:
“Resonating with their music is one thing, but how these artists have explored themselves through music is truly inspirational. That would definitely be the greater objective—to see how I can expand myself through songwriting, branch out into different themes and genres and especially not box myself into one category at the end of the day.”