Swarathma’s truly folksy

images37Swarathma comprises of Vasu Dixit – lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Jishnu Dasgupta – bass guitarist and backing vocals, Pavan Kumar – Indian percussions and backing vocals, Sanjeev Nayak – lead violin and Varun – lead guitar.

Vasu is a bold, free spirit and the band’s inspired composer. He is the showman onstage that the crowd loves to cheer. Trained in Carnatic classical, his unique way of experimenting with tunes in Hindi, Kannada, English and Punjabi has been a driving force for his fellow band members. A filmmaker by profession, Vasu is also a theatre artiste.

Jishnu’s bio makes for an interesting read. On the one hand, it is the story of academic and corporate successes, with degrees from the National Institute of Technology and a top Business school thrown in, and on the other association with music at all levels, from the Rock Street Journal to composing cult hits like GMD and Sabka Katega with Bodhi Tree. When not playing music, Jishnu is a communications consultant.

Pavan’s fingers draw inspiration from the hummingbird’s wings, creating rhythm on surfaces as varied as the Kanjira, the Djembe and the Dholak. His passion for percussion found expression when Swarathma happened to him, while still a student of art and photography at Mysore.

Meet Sanjeev, arguably the ‘athma’ in Swarathma’s music. A techie by profession, Sanjeev learnt the basics of Carnatic violin at the age of 12. The strings on his violin allow him the freedom to explore new sounds and experiment with different techniques.

At 24, Varun is the youngest of the group. He dabbled in dance, painting and singing before settling on the guitar.

What is Swarathma about?

Jishnu: The name ‘Swarathma’ came from one of our founder band members and ex-bassist – Abhinanth Kumar. The idea is for our music to be the soul of the note, or perhaps notes from the soul. We would like to continue to make music that is honest and from the soul. The sound is derived from contemporary folk fused with Carnatic, rock and jazz

How did it all happen?

Vasu: When I first met Abhinanth Kumar, I immediately hit it off with him – sharing my compositions and at the same time learning while making songs with him. I realised that I would enjoy playing and making music with other like-minded people, so that I could expand my creative space by exploring more than what I could alone. There is a special joy that I always experience (mostly on stage) while playing with my band. The fun is when we come together and ‘make’ music right there at that given moment.

Haven’t you all come from different backgrounds? Does that affect or play any role in the music you create?

Jishnu: Yes, musically we have very diverse backgrounds. In fact we cannot stand each other’s iPods when we’re travelling. Varun listens to a lot of instrumental rock, while Pavan is a pure classical music lover. Similarly, the others too have different tastes. But the beauty comes from the fact that we respect each other’s backgrounds. When you bring those influences that you’ve heard as a child into the jam room, you bring a musical energy that can be harnessed to create something unique.

Take us through some of your biggest albums and songs.

Swarathma was the debut album released in Jan 2009. It was judged Album of the Year 2009 at the JD Indian Rock Awards. The song Pyaasi, with Shubha Mudgal was made into a music video which has over 100,000 views on YouTube and featured on music channels like MTV. The Soundpad compilation from the British Council featured two of Swarathma’s songs. The TV Series Dewarists featured one of Swarathma’s songs called Duur Kinara. The second album Topiwalleh was released in 2012 to rave reviews.

What inspires you all?

Inspiration comes from life and the world around us. The key is to be open to it and to be affected by it. Once you let the world affect you instead of saying ‘I don’t care’, you set yourself up to express those emotions in some way. We do it through music. If not the world around us, we’re inspired by other great musicians we listen to or watch.

What is happening in the coming days?

We have been working on new songs for the third album as well as for a couple of causes. We support the Oxfam Trailwalker, a 100km-48 hour team race that is aimed at raising funds. We also composed a song for the BMW Guggenheim Lab aimed at responsible and sustainable development of cities. We are working on remixes of our current songs with DJs who are reinterpreting the songs in a new way!

Which artistes/bands inspire you the most?

There have been several bands that have blazed a trail, and shown us that it is possible. Indian Ocean, to begin with: they believed in their dream when nobody else did. Then there is Avial, Motherjane and Pentagram. Inspiration is all around, and it’s free. You just have to be open to it.

Do you collaborate with other artistes and bands? Tell us about some of them.We firmly believe in the power of collaborations in music. We’ve jammed and collaborated with several artists. We’ve created Pyaasi with Shubha Mudgal and it is the most noteworthy of our collaborations. We also co-wrote the Dewarists song “Duur Kinara” with her. We’ve jammed with metal bands, DJs, thavil players, saxophonists and others. The main thing is to make a personal connection with music.

Do you think bands get enough attention in India?

Bands have started to get more attention than before – that is mainly because bands have started taking themselves more seriously. It is only now that bands are beginning to get noticed, partly because they are creating great music and partly because audiences have become more open. Either way, it is a great time to be a band in India!