Tag Archives: Indian

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!

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Fresh Voice: A Conversation with Srijit Bhowmick

6 Oct

Sri My Indie Playlist With Sri Vol01 Image 01_Srijit Bhowmick_PC Jyotirmoy Gupta

Srijit Bhowmick is a promising young singer-songwriter from Mumbai. In August 2017, he released his three-track EP Sri, a lilting mix of solid songwriting and good musical instincts. Bhowmick has a unique voice and wields it bravely. Although his tone itself is pleasant enough, his distinction lies in the way he makes his voice glide, shorten, elongate and stretch around the music.

Barely a month after his EP release, Bhowmick was featured on an Apple Music playlist celebrating Indian pop for “Am I Here”, an elliptical, wistful track that showcases his vocals – he makes a growl mutate into an echoing shout and a falsetto transform into a haunting whisper with seeming ease. (Funnily enough, we found “Am I Here” to be the least likely contender of the three songs for a pop music list, but what do we know about lists?)

“Yesterday’s Child” is a short but well-written ode to the growing pains associated with a disappointing middle age – bills, mortgages, all of that fun stuff. Bhowmick’s soothing guitar melody is supported well by piano, played by his associate Hrushabh Talapadatur. “Helpless” is our favorite track, though. The guitar work is deft and well-arranged, and Bhowmick’s voice is tethered within ranges that most people would consider pleasant. The lyrics are pretty good too, with clever lines that easily bring to mind a lost love. Maybe it’s the Dylan-tinged nostalgia that set it off, but we definitely got a whiff of Jake Bugg here.

We recently caught up with Sri for his take on his eponymous EP, his musical influences, and more. Check it out below!

So, let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a bit about yourself! 

I’m an indie singer-songwriter and I write songs about life. I was born in Calcutta but grew up in Bombay from the age of seven. Studying for Engineering/Medical was the stereotypical middle-class expectation, so I picked up the guitar as a replacement in high school. I always liked music and could always sing. And so, it began.

I have been writing for almost eight years now. It wasn’t until 2014 that I felt my solo material was taking some form and shape, something I could be really proud of. By 2016, I felt I finally had good enough material to go live with and so, I’ve been at it ever since.

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We listened through your three-track EP Sri a few times already, and we love it! To us, your music seems to draw influences from Dylan-era sounds as well as newer artists like Alex Turner – but we’d love to hear from you. What would you count as your greatest influences, musical or otherwise?

That feels great, thank you! Dylan-era sounds have influenced me quite a bit in terms of songwriting. Such a defining period in the history of music – I believe the 60s influenced almost everyone directly or indirectly. Having said that, it’s always a difficult thing to answer, because I’ve had a so many different sets of musical influences over time in phases that they must have consciously or otherwise become a part of my “musicality”.

Growing up, I had the stereotypical Indian mainstream influences coupled with what my Bengali roots provided. I picked up the guitar in high school, and so that became such an important time for discovering more music. Since then, my biggest influences have been Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Dire Straits, Guns ‘n Roses, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Cat Stevens, Oasis, Iron Maiden and various others, alongside some Bangla rock acts and a lot of urban Indian indie music. As for my writing, many movies have played a huge part. I was lucky enough to have enjoyed Satyajit Ray’s films since a young age; Rashomon, Hazaroon Khwaishein Aisi and Schindler’s List have also touched me deeply.

I would always sing at home, but with the introduction of guitar in life, I could improvise and jam with myself and I think that was a turning point. All of it was self-learned. I did the same with words, experimenting, pouring out whatever that came to my mind, and I think together those things sort of synced sometime around 2014.

I think tastes and attitudes are partly affected by our surroundings. As we know more, we are able to choose the ones we’d like to keep, and discard the rest, and figure out where to look for new ones. That is how the evolution of my musical influences has been, and I think my music reflects that. For example, “Yesterday’s Child” has got a little bit of a folksy vibe, almost like American folk music, but “Am I Here” and “Helpless” have maybe a bit of rock ‘n roll seeped in. Of course, it’s up to the listeners.

Tell us a little about your songwriting process. What comes first – the music, the lyrics, or something else altogether?

Usually, it’s a bit of this and a bit of that. I may have a musical idea and then try scribbling something down. And then I add some more musical ideas. Or the other way around – it really depends on the mood, or what’s on my mind. Did I read something that affected me or observed something or someone or pondered over things or just imagined situations? There’s a lot of to and fro to it. You arrive at a moment, or you try to go back to that musical idea you wrote months and years back as well. There are songs I have written in 10 minutes and there are songs I have literally worked at for days. The whole thing is almost maddening to the outside world but there’s an underlying process I’ve chalked out over the years.

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Your song was recently featured on an Apple Music list celebrating fresh new voices in Indian independent pop. That must have felt awesome! What do you have lined up to promote your EP and spread the word going forward?

It felt really great! I think “Am I Here” is still on there and that’s amazing, given that it’s from my first-ever EP and that it’s alongside such stellar Indian indie acts.

Most importantly, I’d love to play as many gigs as I can, take my music to new places, and hopefully plan a tour. My music is best experienced in the quiet embrace of a listening audience as it allows for my art to flow. Having said that, I’m an indie musician and if you pay me to play to your dog and cat, I will. Plus, cats and dogs are such amazing creatures, so why not!

I would also like to interact more with people on the business side of music. It always helps for an artist to stick to music and grow as a musician, while having better choices and help when it comes to handling the business side of it. I would also love to work on a music video or two. And if there are musicians who really like my music and are interested to work with me, I’d be glad to explore those possibilities as well.

And finally, let’s do a couple of rapid-fire questions!

  • Favorite album of all time? 

I am not much of an album person – when I was younger, I would listen to a song continuously for days and months even, until the shine wore off, before moving on. I believe that each song has got a universe of its own. That being said, Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska was an album that has had a huge influence on me and on my singer-songwriter craftsmanship.

  • Last song that you heard (that wasn’t your own)? 

Warfaze’s “Purnota”, Dire Straits’ “Why Worry”, and Parvaaz’s “Ghaib”

  • Dream venue to play your music, anywhere in the world? 

Nowhere in particular. Wherever I get paid with a good listening audience is perfect for me.

You can check out Sri on SoundCloud and Apple Music

 

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