Tag Archives: ganesh talkies

Songs about Lovers: A Chat with Suyasha Sengupta

16 Feb

If you’ve been paying attention to the music coming out of Kolkata for the past few years, you’d have heard of Suyasha Sengupta. She was the lead singer for the Ganesh Talkies – a rare frontwoman / guitarist – and went on to form her own electronic solo act called Plastic Parvati.

Last month, the reputed Toto Awards chose Plastic Parvati as the winner of their Music award for 2019, from among a formidable list of upcoming musicians. Recently, we caught up with Suyasha for a long-ranging interview covering the prestigious award, new music, artistic influences, and so much more. Read on below:

Top Five Records: Hi Suyasha!

Suyasha Sengupta: Hey!

TFR: Thank you so much for doing this! Just to give you a little bit of an introduction – we are Top Five Records, an independent review website that’s been online for about six years now. You may not remember, but we actually featured one of your songs a long time ago.

SS: Oh, yeah, was it before the album or something?

TFR: Yeah, it was literally like in 2013.

SS: Oh yeah, had to be one of the first ones.

TFR: Yeah, we’re really big fans of you and Ganesh Talkies, so we’re really glad that we could take the time to speak. So let’s get started, from the beginning. When did you start to get interested in music?

SS: Well, I come from a very Bengali household, so there was always some kind of music on when I was growing up. The stereotype is, you know, that Bengalis always have Rabindra sangeet on somewhere in the background, and that was quite true. There was a lot of folk music, traditional Bengali music, and there was also a lot of Elvis, the Beatles, Nat King Cole and all of that. Even before I started playing music, I would say that since I grew up with music, it helped the process.

I think I was about 10 or 12 years old when I realized I wanted to start singing and writing music. I started taking guitar lessons when I was about 14. And then of course, I discovered Nirvana and Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots – the whole grunge scene. I think I always knew that I would pursue something in the arts, but music was always my release, my go-to. It was a very natural process.

TFR: Right. And so, do your parents like the fact that you’re a musician?

SS: (Laughs) Well, I’ve been doing this for a while, so they’ve kind of abandoned the hope of me pursuing something else. It wasn’t very smooth in the beginning, but since I’m an only child, I played that to my advantage. For Indian parents, to let their children go into a creative field, it’s a little bit scary, because the future is always uncertain, and it’s an unstable profession. It doesn’t have the comfort of a steady 9-to-5. My parents were obviously apprehensive.

I started singing professionally at 18; this was when I was still in school, playing a gig on the weekends, going back to school the next day – for pocket money. They figured out that I would pursue something in the arts, but they encouraged me to at least get a bachelor’s degree. After graduation, they were like, “If you can manage both, then go ahead”. I actually ended up quitting my Master’s program after a semester and moving back to Kolkata, and that’s when I had a more serious conversation with them. Initially, they weren’t happy but I think they’ve gotten around to it.

TFR: Yeah, especially if you’ve always had music in your home, they would be semi-okay with the idea anyway.

SS: Yeah, and they were happy that I was doing my own thing and taking care of myself. And unlike the sex drugs and rock ‘n’ roll stereotype, she hasn’t turned up in a ditch somewhere yet (laughs).

TFR: Haha, right. So at what point did the whole Ganesh Talkies thing start, and when did you decide that you wanted to start the Plastic Parvati project on your own?

SS: Going back to the band when I was 18, we were primarily a covers band, and we used to play at this place in Kolkata called Someplace Else. The bass player, Roheet, and I eventually wanted to play our own music, from our own set of influences. One of the things we bonded over was ‘90s Bollywood. Not the music necessarily, but like a certain Govinda movie or some dance step. That’s how Ganesh Talkies started, and then the guitarist and drummer joined in. We came from different sets of influences, but the common love for – I wouldn’t say trashy – but the over-the-top Bollywood helped us.

TFR: Yeah, that ostentatious element.

SS: Exactly. Unreal, gaudy. So that’s how we started Ganesh Talkies. We focused on making our own music rather than covers. When I was in the band, I started experimented with production. I was the primary songwriter for the band, and sometimes I’d have a keyboard or drum idea in my head, but I couldn’t always explain it to them. So I was like, okay, if I could map it out on a software, then maybe they can understand.

At the same time, I also realized that some of the stuff that I was writing was a little bit too intimate for the band. It was just my stuff and my moods. So Plastic Parvati started off as a passion project – and a learning project. I would use it to learn how to produce and how to write music personally.

TFR: For sure. Earlier on, you were mentioning that Nirvana and grunge is a very big influence for you. Does that carry on to Plastic Parvati?

SS: Nirvana for sure, that’s going to have an influence on everything I do. I think grunge in general has had a huge impact too. Apart from Nirvana, I was discovering a lot of female artists – musicians, directors, poets. I stumbled upon Hole, Garbage and Bikini Kill. These women have left a deep influence on me – because of their music, I don’t feel inhibited to say how I feel with Plastic Parvati. I’ve always been attracted to the fringes, the left-of-center artists.

TFR: That actually reminds me of this VH1 show called Left-of-Center.

SS: Exactly! I remember watching Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson videos, and I thought it was so cool. I’m a sucker for commercial pop too, but I really related to that. And that was the only good thing on TV around that time, and I feel privileged because they actually used to play music on TV back then. Now it’s just reality shows.

TFR: Yeah, now it’s just trash.

SS: Yeah. I don’t even own a TV anymore.

TFR: Same here. Going back to your album [Songs About Lovers, 2017], what was going on through your mind when you were putting that together?

SS: So with the album, we – by we, I mean me and my mentor Miti Adhikari [noted Kolkata-based producer] – we were putting together these snippets when the Ganesh Talkies was having an off-season period. I played him a bunch of unfinished scratches, about 20 of them, because I had all of these clips but I didn’t know what to do with it. There were some that we rejected outright and some that we picked out to work on more. That’s when the idea for the album came about. Miti is someone that I feel extremely comfortable with, so it was a very collaborative process. While I was songwriting, he gave me all of these ideas in terms of instrumentation or production. We’d worked together on Ganesh Talkies but that was as a producer; this was a more intimate process. I’d share the ideas and record the vocals at his place.

I didn’t initially plan on releasing it – it was originally for my mental health, that I could finish the project, because I was trying to tell these stories through my songs. The theme in my head was essentially a chronicle of my experiences as a woman in India, and an exploration of my sexuality.

TFR: Right. We’ve heard great things about Miti from Nischay Parekh as well, about how he was instrumental in developing his sound, too.

SS: Yeah, he’s really one of the key figures in the music that comes out of Kolkata. It’s a small city, and we’re all friends with each other.

TFR: Yeah. So I wanted to ask you about your experiences as a female Indian musician. What kind of changes would you like to see as a performer, for indie musicians to really get the recognition they deserve?

SS: It’s still a tiny bubble. For Indian musicians to get the recognition they deserve, we have to break out of the bubble. We all play gigs in the major metros or the tier-2 cities, but it’s not enough. How many people actually hear anything indie? Firstly, we need a scene which is not just, like, 10 people from Bombay; more inclusive of other people, other voices. And we need more female, trans, LGBTQ voices – moving away from the straight, upper-caste Hindu, male thing. We just need more involvement.

In fact, I was recently looking at some of the American festivals – there’s always one or two women headliners, but we don’t have that here. Like, last year, there was this festival on Women’s Day, that had an all-women lineup, but it was organized by men! The point is not to have an all-women line-up. The point is to normalize the role of women or other communities amongst what exists now.

TFR: Exactly. They essentially didn’t do much except filter by gender.

SS: Yeah, like there’s a “genre” called “girl-band”. For other bands, there’s genres like rock, hip-hop, whatever, but for these girls, there’s a genre called “girl-band”. That doesn’t make sense! The conditioning needs to change, basically.

And another aspect is that I’m basically in the black-hole of the country [musically]; we in Kolkata don’t always get the push we deserve. But I love Kolkata, it’s very comfortable.

TFR: Yeah, this is what we hear from the Chennai bands, too: “No one really cares what we do in Chennai, so we just have a lot of fun by ourselves”.

SS: Exactly. If you look at the music that’s coming out of these two cities, it’s extremely different and diverse. We have to work harder, and we don’t get the kind of recognition in other cities, so we have to focus on our craft more. We have no infrastructure, just us musicians. We have to travel to Bombay or Bangalore just to play a gig.

TFR: Speaking of gigs – what’s on the radar for Plastic Parvati?

SS: The next gig I’m playing is Control Alt Delete. It’s actually my first as Plastic Parvati in Bombay. I’ve consciously stayed away from club gigs because I’ve done that extensively with Ganesh Talkies. I also want to put out some music by the end of the year, because there’s been a change in my musicality. I want to see how that works, in the context of an EP.

TFR: Nice! So do you have anything down already?

SS: I’m still writing, so it’ll take some time. I don’t like giving myself a deadline, because I feel pressured, but I have some scratches down.

TFR: Cool! So the last thing we wanted to ask you is about the Toto Award, which you won recently for Music. That’s a great achievement, congratulations! What does the award mean to you?

SS: Honestly I didn’t expect it at all! Although I’ve been playing music for a while, Plastic Parvati has just been a year of me seriously trying to do something. In terms of independent arts in India, this has been one of the groups that has been supporting artists for a long time. And the previous winners are all artists I deeply admire – it’s great to be one of them now! Toto has always been great at selecting the non-mainstream, slightly underdog artists – there’s some pressure on me now to live up to their support. It’s also encouraging to know that there’s an organization like that that appreciates artists like me. I’m hoping that it’s a message to younger girls, too: there’s people out there who do support you.

TFR: Well, that’s all the longer questions we had. We just want to do a quickfire round now, cool?

SS: Sure, yeah!

TFR: Who would be your favorite Indian artist, apart from yourself and Ganesh Talkies?

SS: Fuck. This is hard. I can’t pick one! I’ll go with Parekh & Singh, and Peter Cat (and LIFAFA and Begum).

TFR: Awesome! I guess our tastes match exactly, because the last two interviews we had were with Parekh & Singh and LIFAFA.

SS: Nice! Yeah, I feel like they’re very representative of Indian indie. They’re not trying to do like weird raga type things with Western instruments, but they are writing their amazing songs, and their sound is incredible.

TFR: It’s very desi.

SS: Desi, but perfectly balanced. Oh, I actually really like Disco Puppet as well. But that’s a personal bias! And… can I name one more? I’ll say Pulpy Shilpy [Gowri Jayakumar’s solo project]. Spoken-word, hip-hop, R&B. And she’s doing everything by herself, so I’m a deep admirer of that aspect.

TFR: Right, ties in with who you are as well. So moving on, which musician, dead or alive, would you most love to work with?

SS: Definitely Sandunes. I love everything that she does, her music, who she is as a person. Her music is very calm, thoughtful. I’m the opposite, like a hurricane – would be very interesting to see what a collaboration would be like.

TFR: Third question. What’s your drink of choice?

SS: Royal Stag, with water.

TFR: Nice. Classic. What’s one track or album on constant rotation lately?

SS: An LP that I found recently – Yellow Magic Orchestra. It’s these three Japanese dudes who made weird stuff in the ‘70s. All analog stuff.

TFR: Very left-of-center, as we were talking about. Final question – what’s been your favorite gig so far as Plastic Parvati?

SS: This is also a little difficult, all gigs are so different. I did this one REProduce session in Varanasi. We were on the roof of a hostel overlooking the Ganges, full-moon night. The crowd was an interesting mix of foreigner tourists and some locals, who were listening to non-Bollywood Indian music for probably the first time in their lives. It was super interesting, and the lineup was great, too. Fun gig.

TFR: Absolutely. So, that’s all from our side. Thank you so much for speaking with us! We’ll keep an eye out for the new EP, and it was a blast speaking with you!

SS: You, too. This was so fun.

You can listen to Plastic Parvati on SoundCloud, Spotify, and iTunes. And keep an eye out for her new music!

Bacardi Nh7 Weekender, Kolkata 2014 – Day 2

12 Nov

Read our day 1 coverage here.

November is a wonderful time to have open air festivals in Calcutta. The weather, after having remained consistently lethal for the past six odd months, begins to enter a rather pleasant phase. The sky is the perfect blue. The heat doesn’t kill you any longer. The sweat dries faster. A zephyr actually exists. And best of all, unlike other places (cough cough, Bengaluru) where the rain often plays spoilsport, it remains wonderfully high and dry all day round.

So when Day 2 of the Calcutta edition of the Bacardi Nh7 Weekender kicked off on a fine Sunday afternoon, it was all smiles, laughter and cheer that rang around the beautifully set up Nicco Park grounds.

I was slightly late to the show that day, and when I reached, the first act had already begun at the MTS Discover arena – the French duo, As Animals. Their music was a rather interesting conflation of electronic and alternative, and seemed like the sort that you’d enjoy even more when intoxicated – which the lead singer Zara, going by her completely phased out appearance, probably was. But let that not deter me from transcribing the acts that were to follow.

After a brief stint with these French trippers, we crossed the English channel, and went off to the Red Bull Tour Bus to see Houdini Dax, an extremely … (no points for guessing) British three piece brit-rock suit. Houdini Dax hail from Cardiff, Wales, and they look and sound absolutely, and quintessentially British. They played a rather energetic gig upon the Tour Bus (which included a surprise Beatles cover), and the frontman even ventured down in an attempt to woo the women with his rather “fragile” paper heart. And oh! Did I mention that their bassist looked like a complete Paul McCartney knock off?

While the Houdini Dax was galvanizing a small crowd around the Tour Bus, an eclectic Indian folk outfit was slowly turning out to be the center of attraction of the evening. Maati Baani at the Dewarists’ Stage packed an incredible amount of Indian punch. They had it all – Hindustani classical, Bengali baul, rustic folk, Sufism – peppered with a dash of new age funk and world music. Fronted by the beautiful Nirali Kartik, and a host of other supporting musicians, they carved out a beautiful one hour of varied and soulful compositions in an environment that was predominantly Western-heavy.

Maati Bani

Maati Bani

Meanwhile, the ebullient (and yet another French) duo, The Inspector Cluzo had started creating a ruckus at the Bacardi arena. We went over to find a bearded frontman hurling profanities at everything that was American and British. He proudly touted the fact that their music was absolutely natural – with nothing that was pre-recorded and sampled – and all that they used to perform live, were not laptops and tracks, but their bare hands. On that note, he sent a few heavy riffs flying into the crowd while the drummer entertained us in some rather unique ways. Of the number of songs they performed, one was particularly memorable. This one, titled “F*ck the bass player”, was basically a song about the uselessness of a bassist in a band. Needless to say, they didn’t have one, but it did raise several eyebrows and ruffle many puritan feathers in the crowd.

The Inspector Cluzo

The Inspector Cluzo

The Inspector Cluzo then gave way to the Sky Rabbit on the Red Bull Tour Bus. This four piece electro-rock group from Mumbai played out a rather lackluster gig, following which we headed back to the Dewarists’ stage to see Appleonia – which wasn’t all that great either. The next big thing that we were particularly stoked about was Indian Ocean, which was still a good one hour away. So to while away this gap, we decided to remain near the MTS Discover stage, and munch on pizza slices, to see who filled in for Pentagram (who had cancelled earlier that day). And boy, were we in for a pleasant surprise.

The Ganesh Talkies, fronted by Suyasha SenGupta turned out to be The Undisputed Find of the Day. Suyasha’s captivating stage presence kept the whole crowd hooked while the extremely groovy rhythms and guitars kept a number of heads bobbing up and down. The Talkies’ set included songs from their Technicolor and Three Tier Non AC albums – the result being a heady mix of alt-rock, reggae and dance.

The Ganesh Talkies

The Ganesh Talkies

Next up, were two stalwart acts – both of which have been around for more than two decades and enjoy a cult following in the country: Mumbai based alt-rockers Indus Creed on the Bacardi Stage and Delhi based fusion masters Indian Ocean on the Dewarists’. For me, the decision was a no-brainer, and after having spent not more than ten minutes being bemused by the former, I headed off to have my mind blown to smithereens by the latter.

Indian Ocean is one of those bands that aren’t just heard or listened to. They are experienced. One’s perception of their music transcends far beyond the realms of the sensual, and borders on what could be called the spiritual. Be it Himanshu Joshi’s alaaps, or Rahul Ram’s bass riffs, or Tuheen Chakravorti’s Tabla – they manage to create those picture perfect moments when tranquility and ecstasy co-exist in harmony. Their gig that evening, was essentially part of their tour for promoting their new album Tandanu, and therefore most of the songs were new to me. The fact that they still managed to reach deep down and evoke a plethora of feelings just proved beyond doubt that they continue to be a class above the rest – even after all these years.

Indian Ocean

Indian Ocean

Towards the end of Indian Ocean’s masterclass performance, I had to take my leave to go pay a visit to the Red Bull Tour Bus where Sriram TT and his gang of garage rockers – Skrat, were setting out for a hard hitting, angst-ridden gig. This would be my third Skrat gig in a little less than a year, but it turned out to be as fun as it always had been. Belting out their heavy, riff driven melodies, and their tongue-in-cheek lyrics (“love is like pool / all colour but only balls”) they brought in a completely new dimension to the prevailing mood at the venue, which had just been charged up, rather emotionally by Indian Ocean’s poignant tunes.

Skrat!

Skrat!

Forty five minutes of Skrat later, the entire crowd around the Nicco Park grounds gravitated near the Bacardi Arena where the headliners were about to take off. Mutemath, the American alt-rock group, who even boasted a Grammy nomination to their name, were known to some, and unknown to others. But from the moment they kicked off amid a flurry of confetti and electro-rock tunes, there was not one soul who didn’t have a huge smile plastered on his or her face. I’ll confess that I hadn’t thought so highly of Mutemath before (my primary exposure to their music being a soundtrack on the Asphalt 8 Android game) but boy. Were they bloody good! Paul Meany’s eclectic vocals, his dexterity with keyboards and keytars, Darren King’s thumping beats and not to mention Todd Gummerman’s wonderful guitar work – all fell in perfectly to deliver one of the best live experiences that I’ve ever seen in my life. They performed most of their popular hits, including “Chaos”, “Blood Pressure” and their Grammy nominated single, “Typical”. In the end, they added a wonderful twist when Paul got on top of a rather bling-bling mattress (or was it a magic carpet?) and went sailing over the crowd, while simultaneously performing with consummate ease.

Mutemath

Mutemath

It was close to 10 PM when the burning embers of the fantastic evening began to fade. The lights on the stages had been turned off. One of Quidich’s supercool quadcopter-cameras whirred above my head. I looked around at the venue that was quickly emptying and  couldn’t for the life of me reconcile the pity sight with the extravaganza it had just hosted.

So there you are. That was the end of the epic Calcutta Weekender. It had been a grand success, but if I had to choose I would probably choose Day 1 over Day 2 as my favourite.

As they say after Durga Pujo here in Calcutta – “asche bochor abar hobe”,  you can rest assured that T5R will be back for it next year as well.

 

Words and pictures by Subhayan Mukerjee (@wrahool)

 

 

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