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Bringing Out the Big Guns: A Conversation with Sriram TT of Skrat

13 Feb

Chennai-based three-piece Skrat is one of the most original bands in India. Their brand of lager-laden rock ‘n roll riffs have captured the imaginations of thousands of fans across the country. Recently, they debuted their third full-length independent album, The Queen. Singer/guitarist Sriram TT sat down with Top Five Records to talk about formative musical influences, the Skrat crew, a comic book-style universe of Skrat characters, and much more. Read on for an excerpt of the conversation.

Picture courtesy Skrat's Facebook page.

Picture courtesy Skrat’s Facebook page.

Top Five Records: Let’s start from the basics. I’ve seen some interviews and things you’ve done, and I understand that your band name is from Ice Age. But beyond the name, how did you guys meet?

Sriram: The band formed around the time we were all getting into college. Tapass and I have been friends since kindergarten. I’d met Satish through school cultural fests and common friends, so I’d already known him for a few years. It all came together.

TFR: There’s a lot of varied influences I can see in your music. What did you grow up listening to?

S: Actually, my house was always filled with country music and old swing jazz, the Rat Pack and Davis and stuff like that. My dad’s a big audiophile, so all the music I’d listened to at that time was predominantly from my dad. So it was a lot of country, a little bit of blues, and a lot of the Rat Pack kind of music. There was some older R&B as well. My dad really likes to explore and find new music.

TFR: So your parents are cool with you guys having the band and everything?

S: Of course! They love it. My father’s a big fan of music, and my mum likes music as well. In fact, my dad always wanted to be in something like this but never got around to doing it. I wouldn’t say they are the incredibly forward-thinking kind of support that you may expect, but not forbidding [the music] is a big support for me.

TFR: I was at Weekender for the past few years, and your stage presence is just amazing! This time at the NH7 Weekender in Bangalore, Skrat played back-to-back with TAAQ, which I found really interesting because both of you were debuting new albums. Everyone loves your popular songs like “Tin Can Man” and “Samurai Badass”, but how do you get people to move away from that and listen to your newer material?

S: The biggest challenge for most musicians is, once you’ve created something that people like, how can you create something new that people are going to gravitate towards. A while ago, we had a band meeting to decide whether we should make music more like “Tin Can Man”, because people like that sort of thing. At one point, we realized that we’re not trying to make music, we’re trying to engineer it. So we dropped everything and decided to whatever we wanted to do. If people like it, they like it.

And it’s actually been a positive response. All of the reviews say that this album was a lot better. And I do feel that The Queen has caught on a lot faster than the older albums caught on at that time. In fact, we actually get people singing along to and shouting out for newer songs like “Machete” and “Stomp”.

TFR: Yeah, we really loved your album. It’s funny that you mentioned “Machete” and “Stomp”. I wanted to ask you about these two songs (since they don’t even have words in the chorus), and how they relate to your song-writing process in general. Does the riff come first, or do the words come first?

S: “Machete” is based on a big problem we have in Tamil Nadu, and everywhere really: about politicians and goons being the same thing, basically. We’ve always been subjected to torture by these guys, with their white cars and plastic flags – whether it’s something small like creating ruckus on the road, or something big like not letting a business deal go through because they didn’t get their cut. So on “Machete”, the two verses are kind of like a rant against all that, and the chorus is about how there’s nothing to lose when they have nothing to black-mail you with. And that’s why the chorus has no words. (Laughs)

Stomp” is a similar thing, but more about a person being subjected to this kind of stuff. On this song, the words and riff kind of came to me simultaneously. I had originally made the song on an acoustic guitar. In fact, the reason we called it “Stomp” was because the whole song was supposed to be me on an acoustic guitar and a board; very Delta blues kind of thing. And then we tried it on electric and the whole thing became heavy and fun, so we decided to go with that.

TFR: A song that we mentioned before was “Samurai Badass”, which is probably your most well-known song. I think you guys are into manga and anime, so is it related to that?

S: (Laughs) Yeah, we’re big comic fans. More into cartoons and comic books than anime, but yeah. “Samurai Badass” is basically an alter ego of what we were feeling at the time. It boils down to the same thing that Skrat’s been talking about: the only way one person can be not pushed around is if he has nothing to lose.

I find my writing to be a lot more authentic if I am able to create a character having the qualities I want to sing about, rather than singing about the qualities themselves. Suppose I wanted to say, “A person who has nothing to lose can’t be pushed around”. I could have said these lines in a song, but I thought, why not create a character who has nothing to lose and can’t be pushed around? That was my original intent, when I wrote the song on acoustic guitar. But then Tapass came in and said, “Dude, let’s try this on electric!” and that’s how that happened.

TFR: You seem to have so many acoustic versions of Skrat songs. You should actually do an acoustic show!

S: Actually, all of the Skrat songs, whether you believe it or not, are made on an acoustic guitar! (Laughs) And “Samurai” was supposed to be like an Irish pub song, where you get together with friends and drink beer. It kind of became this heavy punk rock song with the electric.

The cool thing now is these characters that we have been developing. Our first album Design had a character called Gunslinger who we brought back in The Queen. I’ve now started working on an entire character universe, and all the characters on all Skrat songs belong to this universe: Tin Can Man, Samurai Badass, Gunslinger, The Queen, Loverider. It’s basically how I grew up. Wild imagination, imaginary friends, single child, all of that stuff.

TFR: Tell us about the Skrat crew. Who are these people, and how do you get them to follow you around?

S: Anyone who helps Skrat, like photographers and sound engineers, are basically part of the Skrat crew. The concept has really caught on ever since we introduced it in 2013. The crew has taken complete ownership. Now we’re coming out with a short movie, revolving around how the entire Skrat crew rode on bikes for our 20-day tour last year.

TFR: Oh, is this the Loverider Experience?

S: Yes, it is. On tour, sometimes I’d wake up in the morning, and these guys would already be in a Skrat meeting. They told me that my job is to write songs, play and do interviews. So they really take ownership. And the Skrat crew has slowly been expanding. It’s 40 to 50 people now! It gives me a little fear because I’m not even paying them, and they are just coming along because they like the music or they’re my friends. On our fourth album, which we’ve already started writing, we’ve put in a song dedicated to the Skrat crew.

TFR: Something we’ve all wondered at Top Five Records is about how Chennai is able to produce so many unique, well-formed bands: Skrat, the Shakey Rays, the F16s, Adam and the Fish-Eyed Poets. Is there something in the water there?

S: I think it’s because we’re slightly remote from any scene. Bombay has its scene, Bangalore has its scene, and you’ve got the scene people. We’ve had no “right way” to do it. We could do whatever we wanted because it was music in the end. It’s not like that in a lot of scenes. You know all those arguments saying, if you don’t like Pink Floyd, then how can you like RATM? So I’m one of those guys who says, I’m a big fan of Limp Bizkit but I don’t really like David Bowie, and people just lose their shit! “How can you say that? You have no taste in art!” and all that.

Another reason is that we’ve all kind of grown up together in Chennai, musically and otherwise. And of course, the fact that it’s Chennai adds a little bit of mystery. So we don’t really have a scene, and we just go off to Bangalore or Bombay to do shows.

TFR: There’s not many venues in Chennai, either.

S: Nothing, absolutely nothing, which is why there’s no scene. But, there’s always a flip-side to it. Chennai has no scene but it has a lot of good bands coming up.

TFR: You mentioned that things in the industry are geared towards more established cities like Bombay and Bangalore. Was it tough to break into the music scene as a Chennai band?

S: Very. Everyone knows Skrat as a band from 2012, but we’ve been a band from 2006. The first six years were just hell. During 2009 to 2010, we had about 20 shows that were cancelled on us in a matter of about 8 months. They’d book us, and then they’d cancel. It was very demotivating, and we’d never get gigs, let alone paid gigs. Even free gigs would get cancelled. Because of all this, a lot of bands contemporary with us broke up.

But Tapass and I had this one thing we’d always say to each other: we’ll play. We’ll play for two people, three people, doesn’t matter. There was no crew or anything at that time, absolutely barebones. We did these things called “sell-outs” where we did RATM covers. Even then, it sucked. Our original guitarist and original vocalist had quit. We ended up as a three-piece, and it really sucked. It was like one of those dreams where you’re running and you can’t run fast enough. It was depressing.

Around that time, we were in a jam session and we were really frustrated. Tapass threw his toms and said, “Fuck it, I don’t want to do it.” I plugged out of my pedal board and went directly into the amp, and we said, “Fuck it, let’s just play something, just for fun.” And in about an hour, we made all of the songs on “In the Shed”. We just jammed, and it suddenly gave us the answer we were looking for.

TFR: Nice. Like true punk in a way.

S: Yeah, or whatever punk means in India, at least. Listen, everybody in India has decent parents and grandmothers. There’s no way you’re punk rock, please. If someone comes up to me and says they’re punk, I’d say, “Fuck you, go home and eat thaiyir sadam.” Punk rock was invented to fight people like Lady Gaga, but in India we don’t have a Lady Gaga, we have Bollywood. Abroad, people may listen to both Lady Gaga as well as punk rock, but here, the people who listen to Bollywood don’t even care about us! That’s why I never go out and diss Bollywood. I think what they’re doing is genius, and we should figure out a way to cash in on what they’re doing.

TFR: Very true. So for this last part, I have a few rapid fire questions to ask you. First one. Who’s one artist in India that you really click with?

S: I would have to say the F16s.

TFR: Favorite venue, and why?

S: High Spirits, Pune. Everyone’s there to have a good time. They’re going have a good time whether you’re good or not, and if they think you’re good, they have an even better time. It’s a great vibe, and I love the management there.

TFR: Favorite album of all time?

S: Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water by Limp Bizkit.

TFR: Very left-of-centre. I’m glad you didn’t say Revolver by The Beatles or something.

S: No chance. I’m a Beatles fan, but no, man.

TFR: Last one. What’s on your playlist right now?

S: Dinosaur Pile-up. Got introduced to them in NH7 Weekender. A country artist called Shovels & Rope. And Ty Segal.

Experimental Perverteres: A Conversation with Begum

22 Jul

Photo courtesy Anika Mehta.

New Delhi-based Begum are the most exciting band we’ve heard this year. Two members of the band, Karthik Pillai and Karan Singh, are from the gypsy/cabaret/indie act Peter Cat Recording Company. With Begum, their unmistakable Peter Cat madness is flavored with bassist Kshitij Dhyani’s masterful touch of elegance. It’s a perfect combination.

It’s no wonder, then, that their lead single “Waiting” is such a stunning debut. Karthik syncs his trance-like guitar groove perfectly with his melancholy singing. Karan’s drumming breathes inside delicate spaces as well as it drives segues between different phrases. Kshitij’s basswork is understated and moody, and all the more indispensable for it. The lyrics are poetic enough to feel the song’s melancholy and mysterious enough to add your own imagination to it.


Top Five Records had the chance to have a little chat with this promising young band from the country’s capital. What transpired next was a mad, strangely thought-provoking affair, much like the band itself. Read for yourself:

Top Five Records: Let’s start with the basics. Why Begum? What’s behind the name?

Begum: The name Begum is a tribute to the Queen Preeto, who reigned during the 5th century of Salil Ankola in Noida Sector 18. During her reign, hipsters, indie musicians and other things you can find at dollar stores were given a special place in her court. Her patronage towards Chinese artifacts and other things without a future beyond six months inspired us to come together and produce music with the shelf life of a Durian.

TFR: What pulled you together to form Begum?

Begum: Two smugglers Kshitij and Kartik were caught illegally transporting guitar riffs across the border. During interrogation, they conceded their guilt and were summoned to deliver a bribe in the court of the Begum. While presenting their bounty to the all-knowing Begum, they accidentally hit a set of sacred occult notes. One of the Begum’s guards, Karan, ran to stop them and, before anyone could notice, they were transported to an alternate universe. Now the three men have joined forces to jam until they find the correct set of notes to go back home.

TFR: When did you guys first get into music? What did you grow up listening to?

Begum: We grew up listening to Government propaganda, still our favorite when we need to kick off them blues about our future or where this country is headed. We got into music to prolong this dreamy, blissful, ignorance-fuelled state of oblivion and share the perils with our concerned friends, relatives and parents. Our music comes recommended as the best background score for an intervention by one in four psychologists in Nangloi area of Delhi.

TFR: Tell us a little bit about your single “Waiting”. What’s the story behind it?

Begum: The brain has been flooded by the discharge of the pineal gland cutting off all connections to the body and leaving the brain in complete awareness of its descent into numbness. In the song, the individual is having flashbacks and is viewing himself/herself in second person and third person as he/she slides into death and emerges as free energy, alive and malleable with a certain amount of consciousness. In one word: transcendence.

TFR: Most of your online presence features the image of a lady wading into the ocean. Does the image have any particular symbolism?

Begum: That image was artwork for our single “Waiting” and made sense somehow in context with the song. It has now been changed to the artwork for our new single “Chinbien”, which is being exclusively launched by Wild City. These are Top Secret archival images of rejected ideas for a personality makeover media campaign for one of the top Indian politico-crats, rejected on the grounds of being too nauseatingly humane.

Photo courtesy Begum.

Photo courtesy Begum.

TFR: There’s a certain dreamy melodrama in your music that few other artists in India can attempt, let alone pull off so perfectly. What inspires you to create this very unique style of music?

Begum: It’s a natural state of being, we suppose, the slow motion (as slight as it may be) effect is something we appreciate. But we think this question is best answered by the following quote by former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, delivered in 1878 while delivering a speech in reference to his liberal rival and famous orator William Ewart Gladstone in the Parliament of the United Kingdom

“You see the whole country of the system is juxtapositioned by the hemoglobin in the atmosphere because you are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity.”

TFR: On a similar note: we think that the music you guys make would be best suited for a particular sort of pensive, elegant atmosphere. What would be your ideal gig venue?

Begum: Parliament of the sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic of Akagarma. A Golden Pillared Opera house along with an orchestra and an immersive and subjectively responsive lighting and visual setup. Globes radiating sound and the warmth of sound pressure levels, tinted audio generators pulsing and rushing through the crowd.

TFR: The video for your new track “Chinbien” features a surreal series of imagery and video clips. How important are visuals to the end product of your music?

Begum: While browsing the Internet to solve the mystery of feline dominance, our video director Samridhi Thapliyal was stuck by a sudden and deeply saddening inquisition. What if aliens are trying to establish communication with us but their mode of communication lies outside of the aural and visual abilities of a common Honey Singh fan? So, to extend a hand of friendship and a proposal for a symbiotic relationship with the dimensions outside of human experience, the music video has been a humble attempt. It is a short catalogue of what aliens should expect to see on a vacation trip to Earth, which Samridhi expects to be picked up by the tourism department of our planet someday.


TFR: If your music had to be slotted between two albums of any language and any genre, which two would it be?

Begum: We would be forced to slot our upcoming album “Begum Bagh” between the available recordings of broadcast from “Phoney Wars” and a spoken word album of all of Alfred Jarry’s work, synchronized to free jazz and Altaf Rajas Alaaps.

TFR: Tell us one artist (Indian or international) that you’d most love to work with.

Begum: Tony Clifton

TFR: When can we expect the Begum album?

Begum: The Begum album will be out by August followed by a tour and one more music video coming up as well somewhere after that. Also we are in the process of composing an Indian Opera, hopefully debuting it sometime next year.

Striking a Balance: A Conversation with Ketan Bahirat

3 May

As we previously mentioned, we were very impressed with electronica/ambient/post-rock band Until We Last’s recent performance at Counter Culture. New writer Anindita Nayak recently got a chance to speak to Ketan Bahirat, founder of Until We Last, about the band, his early start in music and challenges.

Until We Last

Photo courtesy Until We Last’s Facebook page.

Let’s talk a little about their music first. Until We Last songs transport your mind to different level with their unusual mix of melodies, making them sound a little like God is an Astronaut or Explosions in the Sky (though the band does dislike the comparisons sometimes). One of our favorite songs of theirs is “Water”, which sounds even better live than it does on the album. Unfortunately, their SoundCloud channel doesn’t have all of the songs they had performed at CounterCulture, but maybe we’ll find them on their upcoming EP, which is launching in a month’s time. Now, let’s move on to Until We Last’s journey.

Currently in his penultimate year of college, Ketan Bahirat took formal Hindustani lessons back in 6th grade. He picked up guitar skills from YouTube videos and played with two metal bands before forming Until We Last in 2011. Until We Last has been performing live since late 2012, culminating in the launch of an album, copies of which they were more than happy to give away free at Counter Culture. When quizzed about his personal favorite gig so far, Ketan speedily answers with Magnetic Fields, an impressive festival in the middle of the Rajasthani desert.

The name of the band stems from a philosophical note that revolves around travel, our home planet, nature and the quest to strike the perfect balance between sustainability and development. When it comes to song names, it’s usually based on circumstances. Their most popular song, “Rain”, was so named because it was raining when they were composing it! And there is, of course, a conscious decision of keeping a close reference to nature or travel.

 

The initial few compositions were recorded in Ketan’s bedroom. When looking for potential band members, he remained close to the local music artists and often jammed with them. It hasn’t been an easy ride for Until We Last, considering that the lineup has had over ten changes so far. The longest time without a lineup change was for a year, ending when the bassist, Anjan Bhojaraj, left for higher studies and was replaced by Paul Dharamraj, a former member of the Bicycle Days. This aspect is probably one of the major challenges for any band, especially when the band members are so young and other aspects will tend to take higher priorities.

However, working with so many artists has also helped Until We Last’s music evolve. One of their former band members, Bhargav, continues to send across pieces of compositions from Singapore and they are continuing to reach out to other artists who could collaborate with them to produce more music.

Photo courtesy Until We Last’s Facebook page.

One good thing that struck us about Until We Last is that they don’t seem very concerned about the prevalent culture of piracy, especially in a country like ours. Admittedly, the growing number of music festivals and venues is changing that culture in India, but the fact remains that platforms for indie artists to sell music are uncommon and finding people who are willing to buy music is even less common. Until We Last has also seen a good amount of traction from countries like Germany and Russia, where listeners are willing to pay for their music.

But in the end it’s all about sustainability: fans need to buy music to support good artists. On that note, please do listen to Until We Last’s music and maybe buy it too. And be sure to follow their updates on Facebook and Twitter too. We wish them all the success with their upcoming album!

Naturally Scattered: An Interview with Raxit Tewari

26 Feb

Scatter Nature

Raxit Tewari’s main band Sky Rabbit is something of an Indian indie legend. It started off as a metal band called Medusa that dropped six-track album way back in 2005, before transforming itself into the current electro-pop/indie avatar which won big at the JD Rock Awards this year.

Tewari’s solo side project Your Chin seems to have been born from the same ethos that caused Medusa’s alchemic transformation into Sky Rabbit. It may seem like effortless mood-music, but there is a solid groundwork of talent and aesthetic sense that supports it all.

Tewari describes his second EP, Scatter Nature, as soundtrack music for a solitary walk through a busy city, possibly his hometown of Mumbai. It’s pretty much a perfect summation: Scatter Nature made us think of strangers colliding and interacting like independent particles in this harried world.

“Run Along Now Little One” is the stand-out track on the EP. Tewari’s signature, peculiarly flat vocals describe arcane prophecies (“Laughing gas will burn us while we’re dodging tragedies”) over music that introspects, sighs and flows along with the pace of life. The accompanying video, directed by Misha Ghose and Naman Saraiya, is perhaps the perfect accompaniment. It syncs Raxit’s music with grungy tableaus of Mumbai life – a red telephone, a rusty lock, smoggy skylines – showcasing editor Sourya Sen’s skills as much as the directors’ or the artist’s.

This is not to say that the other three songs on Scatter Nature aren’t worth mentioning. “Fingerprints & Mugshots” is a deal less dreamy than but in a way more wholesome in sound. The phrasing of words and sentences on “Who Would Have Thought” is a character on its own. And the plaintive stretch of the titular words on “For Love”, layered over an electro-pop version of almost-dance music, is just pure magic. It’s also the closest to Sky Rabbit, in our opinion.

All in all, Scatter Nature is a great EP. It got us really excited about what we might hear from Your Chin in the future.

So excited, in fact, that we decided to hear from him now. To round off our review, here’s a short interview with none other than Raxit Tewari himself!

Photo credits: Anuj Prajapati

Photo credits: Anuj Prajapati

Top Five Records: Let’s start with something that we’re quite curious about. Why the chin, of all body parts?

Your Chin: It sucks when it walks out on you. Chewing is almost impossible. You’re left to ingesting with plastic pipes going straight into your esophagus. And that’s just one of the many things. It’s important to acknowledge and address it if you want to prevent all of this.

TFR: Artists often create solo projects to express ideas that might not fit in with other, non-solo acts. How does your musical process with Your Chin differ from how you go about making and publicizing music as a part of Sky Rabbit?

YC: Your Chin’s mostly about sitting in a room and writing/producing music with a computer. I have been tinkering with software for a while now and wanted to see if I could produce some worthwhile music like this.

TFR: Where does your music take inspiration from? Was there a particular artist or even a set of experiences that really guided you here?

YC: A lot of things really. All of them get sewn in. It keeps happening over time.

TFR: You’ve previously described your first EP as the sound of the city, presumably a seethingly busy one like Mumbai, moving along with you. What’s the right frame of mind for this one?

YC: This one’s more of a put-it-on-your-phones-and-go-for-a-walk-EP.

TFR: There’s a lot going on in your music – in terms of technique, texture and style. Tell us a little bit about your working process.

YC: I usually put down smaller ideas on impulse and then build on them at a later stage.

TFR: You recently opened for Gotye at the Oz Fest in Delhi. What was that experience like?

YC: Gotye has a terrific live act. Was an honour to open for someone who is so on top of his game.

TFR: Your style of music is not the most common type out there in India. What has the response been like, in gigs and festivals around the country?

YC: It’s been wonderful. Not underwhelming in anyway. It’s been very consistently progressive over the last few years.

TFR: We loved the music video for “Run Along Little One”, especially the beautiful, grungy montage of urban life. Tell us a little bit about the creative process that went into making this video.

YC: Thank you! Glad you loved it. We went out for a day and shot a whole lot of this place not far from home. Literally rediscovered it in so many ways. Found new nooks and corners. It was extremely impulsive and a lot of fun.

TFR: The last question we have for you is a pretty standard one. Who is the one artist, alive or dead, that you’d most like to work with?

YC: Brian Eno?

So there you have it. Listen to Scatter Nature below!

Happy Birthday to Us!

25 Jun

Top Five.

Last year, on a particularly idyllic summer day, a couple of us decided to start a music review website that heeded neither genre nor country. We wanted to talk about hip hop as well as psychedelic rock. We wanted to talk about Chennai as well as Massachusetts. We wanted to make lists; lots of them, about lots of topics.

Now, a year later, some of those things have been done; yet many others still remain on the list that we’ve created for ourselves. It has been a great ride so far, and there is much more to come.

Keep your eyes on Top Five. As usual, we promise to give you the one-oh-one on the world of indie, India and beyond. Thanks for reading!

Raindrops and Lullabies: A Chat with Tajdar Junaid

28 Apr

Continuing with our love affair with the Kolkata music scene, one of our favorite musicians right now is the very talented Tajdar Junaid. Taj has been around for quite a while; he’s toured with Blackstratblues, provided music for Bengali art films, and was a member of the now-defunct Cal alt rock band Cognac. He’s just finished recording his outstanding debut album What Color is Your Raindrop, and plans to release it very soon. Tajdar’s songs have a certain wide-eyed beauty that reminds us of the smell of rain on grassy grounds, and we promise you’re going to like his music, too. Read on for a short interview with this gifted singer-songwriter.

Tajdar Junaid

Top Five Records: Tell us a little bit about the musical journey that paved the path for your debut album, What Colour is Your Raindrop. When did you know that you wanted to be a musician? 

Tajdar Junaid: It’s all got to do with the Led Zep cassette that my cousin played when I was 13. I distinctly remember the song was “No Quarter” and then followed “Whole Lotta Love”. By then, I was sucked and swirling inside the speakers of my tape recorder. For two years, I kept persisting to get myself a drumkit but unfortunately we didn’t have enough space to accommodate one in the house. Those two years, I played drums on the school table and irritated my classmates by playing with pens on their back. My elder brother used to play guitars and there was a chord book around. When I turned 15, it dawned on me that my dreams of becoming John Bonham will never see the day, so I might as well learn the guitar to express myself. I started off with the chord book and the first song that I learnt was the riff to Nirvana’s version of “The Man Who Sold the World”. I used to save up my “lunch money” and go and buy cassettes. Of course I’d be hungry at school but man, when you hold that Led Zep or Metallica black album in your hands, you are so satisfied!

While in high school, I started looking around for a good guitar teacher and I was glad to meet Amyt Datta. He totally opened up avenues in my head I didn’t know existed. I started practicing more and more, and music slowly became a love affair. So the decision to become a musician was not a conscious one. It has been more about sticking to and holding onto what you love because it’s a peaceful feeling.

TFR: Your album has a rather peculiar and intriguing name.  What’s the story behind it?

TJ: It’s named after a song which was written on a rainy day. It’s me asking you…”so what’s your story?”

Guess who the cute kid is?

Guess who the cute kid is?

TFR: We understand that there are eighteen different collaborators on your album – from all over the world and of all genres. How did that happen?

TJ: I feel very fortunate to have some very talented musician friends from all across the globe. Thanks to the internet, these songs travelled all across to be recorded. I heard Greg Johnson, who is a fantastic singer songwriter from NZ on a CD when I was in high school and had barely begun to play the guitar then. I wrote an email to him appreciating his music and he wrote back surprised to know he had listeners in India. We lost touch until about two years ago, when we exchanged some music again. He liked what he heard and he asked me to play guitars on one of his song. And when I started recording my album, I knew a song of mine “Mockingbird” suited his voice perfectly. I met Fred White (from the thrice Grammy Nominated UK band Acoustic Alchemy) over Soundcloud.com. We heard each other’s music and got excited about the idea of collaborating and mixing my album. Vishal Nayak , who is an old friend from Calcutta, went to study music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He played drums on a song of mine from his home studio in New York. Anusheh Anadil who is a fabulous singer from Bangladesh sang on a song too. Vache, who is from Armenia, played the traditional Armenian flute Duduk. Nitzan Sagie is a brilliant composer from Israel and I met him over Soundcloud.com. He contributed on a song of mine called “The First Year”. It’s a beautiful surprise when the universe opens up its avenues to you and you end up collaborating and making music with people who you have never met in your entire life.

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TFR: You went from guitarist of an alt rock band [Kolkata’s Cognac] to a solo singer-songwriter with a seemingly endless array of instruments and influences. Did that happen organically?

TJ: At one point of time I just got bored of playing the guitar and chanced upon Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s music which completely changed my life and made me question my existence and role as a musician. I became curious and started listening to all the music I hadn’t heard before and learning new instruments with the help of the internet, such as the Ukulele, Mandolin and Charango. I realized my way to happiness is to remain curious and keep discovering my love for music in newer ways, similar to a kid in a candy store.

TFR: You have toured as a guitarist for Blackstratblues in the past. How did that situation materialize? Have you played for Blackstratblues after that?

TJ: Warren is a good friend and we have mutual respect for another’s music. Our common ground is our love for blues. He was preparing his first Blackstratblues tour in 2010 and I was visiting Bombay for a recording so it worked out well. I did play with him again recently and it was great fun.

TFR: Some Bengali friends of ours – ardent enthusiasts of the region’s cinema, of course – informed us of your role as music director/composer in noted films such as Iti, Mrinalini (about a suicidal once-famous actress) and Dui Dhuranir Golpo (about two young transgenders from Kolkata). Very impressive! Do you find that there are differences in the composition process between Taj, the music director and Taj, the solo musician?

TJ: If a scene from a film needs a simple melody, I should put aside my intellect and play a simple melody. And if a song on my album needs me to play a blues slide line,I should practice hard and learn to play that line because the song needs it. When I say “needs” I mean to say songs or any work of art has a life of its own and will tell you exactly how to shape it, only if one shuts his ego and intellect and listens quietly to the song or painting unfolding itself. It’s actually quite simple, we just love making things complex. But the bottomline of everything I do is to have fun and like what I do or else don’t get into it.

Tajdar

TFR: Our favorite song from your upcoming album is the mellow “Though I Know” [download from NH7 here], which reminds us a bit of Eddie Vedder (and occasionally Beirut). However, we think that the title-track “What Colour is Your Raindrop” has a strain of melancholic beauty that can often be found in Hindustani classical music. Tell us a bit about your undoubtedly wide spectrum of influences.

TJ: I’m in love with music and with everything it does to me. It makes me happy, brings me calmness, it excites me, makes me travel in my head. Over the years I’ve understood that all forms of music have something good to offer so absorb the good and the bad will filter itself out. I love the serenity and etherealness of Indian classical, I love Chopin and his melodies, I absolutely dig Albert Collins and all the blues greats, simply because it is very moving, And Thank you Lord for the Beatles. It’s silly not to enjoy so much goodness around you.

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TFR: “Aamna” [another track from his album] is the kind of ethereal, delicate lullaby that parents should play to their young children. Tell us a few special things about this song.

TJ: Aamna is my pride and joy. She is my little niece who is one year , four months right now. When she was born I used to keep her on my lap and play music to her and put her to sleep. I am a musician and the truest part of myself that I can offer is my music. I wanted to gift her something that could put her to sleep even when I wasn’t around.

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TFR: We’re very intrigued by the instrument that you play on “Dastaan”. What is it? How many instruments do you play on this album?

TJ: It’s a 10 string folk guitar from South America called the Charango. I first heard it in the Ost for Motorcycle diaries and fell in love with the sound. I have played the guitar,charango,mandolin,ukulele,glockenspiel and sang on the album. I would like to learn the piano. It’s a beautiful instrument !

TFR: Finally, on a lighter note. Who is that cute kid on the cover of What Colour is your Raindrop? [see above]

TJ: It’s me when I was 4 years old . Calcutta used to have a lot of strikes then and the roads would go completely empty. I used to be amazed by the traffic police and delighted to see huge cars and trucks stop with simply one wave of their cane. So I was filled with pride holding that cane and posing on the empty road. Perhaps I was grinning and thinking I brought the entire road on a standstill.

You can listen to Tajdar’s amazing work on his SoundCloud or visit his website here.

Oceans Apart: A Chat with Nischay Parekh

25 Mar
A man and his guitar

A man and his guitar

Nischay Parekh, 19, hails from Calcutta, a functioning chaos of a city famous (or infamous) for its poets and prose; a city that seems to have certainly rubbed off on the young singer-songwriter. We recently had the chance to listen to “I Love You Baby, I Love You Doll”, the spectacular first single from his debut Ocean. It’s a mix of 50s nostalgia and the breeze that causes the leaves to sway on a summer’s day, that hasn’t been heard since this side of an uncharacteristically mature John Mayer. Nischay’s better than Mayer, though, in our honest opinion.

A classic pop voice, burred with just a hint of heartbreak, is not the only thing in Nischay’s arsenal. The man seems to be a pro at the kind of graceful strumming that engender pretty pop ditties, and he has got quite the handy quill, too. If that wasn’t enough of a fix, you can check out more of his stuff on his SoundCloud, which features more than a dozen and a half brilliant, sometimes-glitchy-mostly-pop songs – including a pensive, stripped-down cover of “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley that would put The Weeknd to shame.

A talent like this does not go unnoticed. Nischay played at the Bangalore edition of the Weekender last year, and shared stage space with none other than Norah Jones at the recent A Summer’s Day festival in Mumbai. India is rather inundated with its share of music festivals at the moment: there’s a new one mushrooming in every cognizant pocket of the country. It’s a world of ‘hear and be heard’ like never before out there, depending on whether you’re the audience or the artist.  The following is our humble attempt to connect these two sides of the spectrum. Top Five readers, meet Nischay Parekh.

Top Five Records: Hello, Nischay! We’re very honored to have you here with us today. Let’s start from the basics. Why music? How did this whole thing begin?

Nischay Parekh: Music started for me when I was 16 years old. I was taking ‘’recreational’ guitar lessons for a few years before that.  It was around that time that I started writing songs, and I really began to enjoy the process of building a song from scratch. It was like Lego, except the blocks were pieces of my own imagination. Once I began writing and playing more seriously I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

TFR: What did you grow up listening to?

NP: My mother had a very interesting collection of cassettes and CDs. There was a lot of cheesy stuff like Rod Stewart, Geri Halliwell (ex spice girl), but then there was also some great stuff that had a bigger impact on me like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Nat King Cole. The sound that came out of our old “deck” (yes that’s what they were called, CD and Cassette player!) has probably left a bigger impression than I care to admit. A lot of it is subconscious, of course.  I was lucky enough to have grown up with a lot of the ‘good stuff’.

TFR: Tell us about your first few bands. We understand your naming patterns for bands have an affinity for Kingdom Animalia.

NP: I have band in Kolkata called “The MonkeyinMe”. There are four of us. It basically consists of very close friends of mine that I started playing music with in school.  All of us are a little spread out geographically at the moment so it’s hard to put out material frequently. However, we are in it for the long run. A future MonkeyinMe album is definitely on the cards.

Then there was this group I was a part of in Boston called “Orange, the Panda”. I do have a fascination of animals and the general element of mysticism. Maybe it’s because I never had a pet?

Cover for Nischay's album

Cover for Nischay’s album

TFR: So we hear your upcoming debut album Ocean is being produced by someone who has done similar honors for the likes of Madonna and Radiohead [London-based Miti Adhikari]. Not bad for a debut! Has having Miti around changed your song-writing or music-making process in any way?

NP: Miti has been great. I am really fortunate that he was interested in working with me. Having him around has brought a lot of clarity and coherence to my music. I had all these songs and Ideas, which were flying around like loose pages. Miti has definitely helped me bind those pages into a book of sorts. He’s been a real collaborator on this album. Added to all this he’s really on top of his game as an engineer. So it’s been a great experience.

TFR: If you had to be sorted into a record collection based on similarity, which two albums would Ocean be slotted between?

NP: The Reminder by Feist and Plans by Death cab for Cutie. I’m probably giving myself more credit than I deserve, those two are great albums and I love them!

TFR: What kind of themes can we expected to be touched upon in your debut? Do you intend it to be a musical culmination of your nineteen years of life, or is the time frame shorter?

NP: Ocean is a collection of dreams I’ve had. I write exclusively about animals and relationships. It is definitely a culmination of my entire life. It’s full of mysticism. I enjoy the paradox between very ‘real’ human emotions and these stories that I tell with animals as central characters.

TFR: It’s always very interesting to know the kind of things that inspire each individual musician. What’s your trade secret(s)?

NP: I’m attracted most to design. The music I love most always has its own specific aesthetic.  I love creating a vibe and designing music that can live well in that world.

TFR: Congratulations on your success at A Summer’s Day! Word is that your performance gained you a legion of fans that day – quite a few of them being female, of course. What was it like to share the bill with Norah Jones? 

NP: It was a great concert. The audience was great. You can always tell when they’re really listening, and they were! The atmosphere was so relaxed yet charged with infectious positive energy.

TFR: What’s it like to be at Berklee? [Nischay is a current student at the prestigious music school.] Is Ocean different from how you imagined it before you got into Berklee?

NP: Berklee is a temple for music. Everyone and everything there inspires you. I’ve really learned the mechanics of music after spending time there. This has helped my music immensely, a lot of songs on Ocean were written in Boston during my first (and only) semester there.

TFR: Who’s one artist (Indian or international) that you’d give your right hand to work with right now?

NP: Leslie Feist and all her wonderful friends from Canada!

TFR: Give our readers one reason why they absolutely must listen to Ocean.

NP: It’s a happy album and it’s about love. Best reason in the world.

So there you have it. We are waiting with bated breath for Nischay’s debut album, and with this article we hope you are, too. 

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