By Jyothi Venkatesh
How has the lockdown been treating you? Has it affected your music in some way?
Honestly, the lockdown hasn’t been treating me very differently. I’ve always been a homebody. But I’m used to having people over, especially musicians, who I meet so regularly, and that’s not happening now. So that’s a little different and difficult for me. But because musicians find a way, and we’re all friends, we’ve been interacting anyway. In terms of my music, I think it’s just a coincidence, but I have been going through a creative patch lately, which comes and goes. So I’m trying to make as much use of it as possible by creating new songs, learning new stuff.
Tell us more about “Sound check”, and how did you come up with such an idea?
Sound check happened completely by fluke. I did a live session on Instagram and it didn’t go well because I had so many technical issues that I had to deal with, the phone kept going off, or the video kept going off, or the audio kept going off. And there were a lot of people who were very patiently waiting for me, for about an hour, more than an hour in fact, just to hear me sing for about 10-15 minutes, so I felt that I should do something to thank them. So, the very next day I was trying to shoot a video but because of all the technical difficulties the previous day, I thought let me first check the sound quality and all of that and then shoot the video. But as luck would have it, in the middle of my sound check the phone just refused to cooperate with me and we had to stop. So whatever it is that I had, as a video, that I could have shot during sound check was what I put out, because I definitely didn’t want to let go of that day and wanting to thank people, which is why I put this up. And it was a random jam like an aalap that ended up becoming ‘Aaj Jaane ki Zidd na Karo’, there were no plans for it to become that.
When I put out that video, people started enjoying it and sharing it and stuff like that. I think they like the fact that it was honest. I wasn’t even singing for someone else, I was honestly just singing for myself. And that led me to thinking that maybe it’s a good idea to do this as a series. I am actually in the process of shooting my next video just now. I’m going to continue to keep it ad hoc, so that it’s as honest as it can be. So hopefully the next video will be out by the time that this interview is published.
What are your views on the music trends of today?
I’m not sure what the music trends really specifically are. During the lockdown, we have seen that live shows are not happening. No new feature films are really happening, at this point just because you really can’t shoot. So the two main sources of income for musicians, films and live shows, are both not happening at this point. So in a certain way, it’s actually levelled the playing field. Film music, non-film music, everyone is pretty much in the same boat. We have the same digital ways of reaching out to our audiences. Audiences on the other hand, have a lot more time at this point of time to be able to listen to stuff. So whether it’s film music or non-film music(mostly non film music at this point of time)there’s a lot being released. I think we’ll just keep seeing a lot more. So maybe this is one of the coincidences that have led to a higher impetus on independent music. It’s already been happening, people have been coming out with new independent music a lot in the last few years, a lot of new artists have come out and hopefully that will continue for a while.
How is it like to be working on the movie Lal Singh Chadda? What is the music like for it?
Lal Singh Chadha, was a pleasure to work on. There was a lot of secrecy around it. Of course, in hindsight, I realized the secrecy was because they were just going to start shooting it. And the scheduled release for Lal Singh Chaddha was Christmas 2020 and I sang this in December 2019 about a year before the release. I’ve sung the whole song, and they chose to put out one line of that song as a part of the motion poster, which I was very excited about. When one of the guys in Pritam’s team blurted out that Aamir really liked my voice, I got to know that it is an Aamir Khan Film. And then after that, of course, I got to know for sure the day before the motion poster was released when Ajit, the COO of Viacom, who is an old friend of ours messaged me saying “I’m so happy to have your voice on our motion poster”. Then when I picked up the phone and spoke to him, he told me that it’s for Lal Singh Chaddha. The next day I saw the poster, it was lovely to watch. I’m looking forward, to that song coming out. It’s a beautiful tune composed tohero the lyrics and Amitabh has done a fantastic job writing the lyrics for it. I don’t know have any knowledge of any of the other songs of the film but knowing Pritam, I’m sure every other song will also be brilliant.
How is it going with Agnee? Are there any future plans for the band now post lockdown?
This is an exciting time for Agnee. We are ready to release our next song, and we’ve just finalized all the details of how we are going to release it. It’s a song called “Kya Mai Kya Tu”, and it’s again written by Amitabh Bhattacharya who wrote the song for Lal Singh Chaddha. He’s one of my favourite lyricists of all time, and is also Koco’s favourite (Agnee’s lead guitarist). We both love him as an individual and also as a writer. We’ve collaborated with him for this one, first of many to come, I think and this first song will be out in June for sure.
After that, we are just going to start putting out a lot more content. We’re working on all our recordings at this point of time. We are lucky that Koco himself has an entirely state of the art recording setup at his house. So we don’t really need to go anywhere. And now thanks to a few friends, especially this friend of mine called Arvind from AudioGarage, The Studio, I have a fantastic recording setup at home, because he helped with all the equipment for it. And I think we are now ready to get into final recordings, for various other songs that we had composed to keep releasing as singles. Hopefully, by the end of the year, we will have at least three songs out, one every two months. We’re also going to release most of our catalogue that is with us right from the time of our first album, which has never released on any streaming platform. So we’re going to put them all out there starting with the new song that we’re going to release now.
What are you up to post the lockdown?
The lockdown actually has been all about watching a lot of new stuff for me. I’ve always been someone who likes watching series and films. I have a nice home theatre kind of setup with my projector and everything in place. So, I am a dream consumer for people who put out visual content especially. I recently watched ‘Paatallok’, which I think was just outstanding as a whole, and in particular, Jaideep Ahlawat’s acting is brilliant. In fact, our song, the one that we’re releasing soon, “Kya Mai Kya Tu” is also the theme song for a short film called “Talk”, which is directed and produced by a friend of ours called Sumit Sigh Sandhu and JaideepAhlawat is one of the main characters in it and he’s done a brilliant job there as well. That’s how I got to meet him. He’s a wonderful human being as well and hanging out with him was really fun. Even apart from music, I’m learning things like video editing, trying to learn a little bit of stuff on how to shoot videos and put them together etc. I have aspirations to be a film director at some point of time. And I think this period is going to help me at least start learning on how to get there. I don’t know whether I will get there, but I’m going to try.
What is your advice to budding musicians today?
My advice to budding musicians has always been “Just be honest with your music.”
I am a firm believer of saying what you mean and meaning what you say. And that extends to music as well. If you’re honest in what you’re trying to communicate, you will definitely connect with the audience much more, than if you try and be smart and do stuff. There is place for that kind of music as well which is very brain led. I do a lot of that stuff or I’ve been exposed to a lot of that kind of music as a mridangam player and a Carnatic classical player, where there are a lot of things, which are not just about soul, it is also about exciting the brain. I love that kind of music as well, but in the popular format one needs to connect to an individual, through soulful music and whatever you want to say through that music, you need to say it as honestly as possible.
That’s the first thing I keep telling people who are either composers or singers or musicians. The second thing that I would really like to stress upon is that you should not stop after creating a song and saying “ I made a song now and this is all I know”.You should actually be able to invest your time and your energies into putting the song out, making sure it reaches as many people as you possibly can. Getyour contracts in place, get the right partners in place to distribute your music, get into the marketing side of things, try and do as much as you can to do, as much justice on the marketing side to the song as you can. Just making a song and releasing it, and then expecting people to hear it is a very, very bad idea. You must put all of your efforts behind it and make sure that you reach out to people and after that whether they like it or not is up to them, but at least you should allow them to hear it .This is something, that you need to spend a lot of effort on.
What is your take on rap music over Indian Classical music?
I don’t think you can compare theseat all, they’re completely different kinds of music. Each individual might have preferences on what he likes or doesn’t like. Someone might like listening to classical music, someone might like listening to rap, or someone like me might like listening to both. Tomorrow, if you ask me if I would rather listen to a rap song or a classical music piece, I honestly don’t know what I would choose! It would totally depend on my mood at that point of time. But having said that, a lot of rap music has rhythmic intricacies that I appreciate a lot as a mridangam player,so, for me, there’s an excitement there as well.In that sense, that is my bridge between Indian classical music and rap music, the rhythmic component of it. However, when it comes to the melodic component of it, I don’t see many similarities between Indian classical and rap music at all.