Interview with Indian Ocean

Indian Ocean is a contemporary fusion music band from Delhi. Some music critics describe its music as “Indo-rock fusion with jazz-spiced rhythms that integrates shlokas, sufism, environmentalism, mythology and revolution!” WTS had the chance to have an in depth conversation with the band and here’s what they had to say...

WTS: Your first album sold over 40,000 copies within a year of its release – at that time, the highest selling record by any Indian band ever. Did success come too early? How did it feel to know that your songs were a rage soon after their release?

Amit: The truth is success didn’t come at all! (loud laughter)

Susmit: We were very happy but we really thought we’d get a bunch of shows but nothing really happened. It was released in December 1993, we got our first show in March 1994 and there were no shows till November 1994! Our drummer back then left because he had to make a living and there was nothing happening. It was not success by any chance! (laughs)

WTS: What do you think was the reason for this?

Rahul: We don’t know! It’s new music, people take time to adjust to that; at that time they didn’t even know how to get in touch with us. This was the pre-internet, pre-cable, pre everything era – there was only Doordarshan.

Amit: The basic means of communication back then were chitthi and normal phones.

Interview with Indian Ocean

WTS: New Year’s Day 1997. During your concert, the band noticed a DAT recorder, bought a tape and recorded the concert. No music company wanted to release a live album of an Indian band, so a label called Independent Music was formed to release this. Desert Rain almost a decade later, still continues to sell (no. 2 on the iTunes UK world music charts!) what does the band have to say about this?

Rahul: What we feel now is that it proves our decision about 16/330 Khajoor Road right, even more… than ever! Music companies know f***-all about what sells and what doesn’t.

Susmit: Absolutely. That’s the reason we’ve gone completely independent. The thing is, what sells and what has future in music or any other art form, nobody can tell. There are a bunch of management guys out there who think they know everything. In fact, they’d written us off. They said that the first album was a fluke, the second would be a flop!

Rahul: We weren’t hanging around in order to do well. We were enjoying the music we were making and playing. That was what was important. We didn’t sit around feeling sad about it. We actually felt, “Oho! These company guys are a little…you know…” (smiles impishly)

Interview with Indian Ocean

WTS: Black Friday was your first full-length album for a Bollywood film, which also helped you reach to a larger audience. How was it different from recording a regular album?

Susmit: There are differences and then there aren’t. When we make music, we don’t think about situations, moods etc. We go haywire and it beautifully takes its own shape. But here we are given situations and moods. How it is not different is that filmmakers come to us to get music done by us, which will sound like us – ultimately we do our own thing. Many a times we already had certain compos. Once we were doing music for dancer Sonal Mansingh, and she said we’ll sit down, she’ll explain the situation and then we’ll compose music and that we’ll meet again when she’d tell us what changes are to be made. The first time she said the mood is such and such – we looked at each other and started off. The same thing followed the second time and with the third and fourth compo. Then she looked at us and said, “Is this a joke? My musicians take days and weeks and months and you’ve already done four compositions one after the other!” In the same way there are many compositions we came up with at that point of time.  But there are times when we compose something completely – ‘Bande’ was composed completely.

Rahul: But there are many things people don’t know about Black Friday. Black Friday has three songs but has seven pieces of music which were background scores and that’s a different phase in time where we got to see a lot of new things – Amit’s ability to program music and for the first time there was programmed music which sounded like something else but still sounded like it came from us. That’s an interesting facet of Indian Ocean that people have no clue about. People only know ‘Bande,’they don’t know the other stuff. In fact it’s so weird, a really close friend of mine called me up 2 weeks ago and said “I was just listening to Black Friday, and the rest of the music is fantastic!” and I said, “Yeah! We always knew it!” (laughs)

Interview with Indian Ocean

WTS: Tell us about your new album 16/330 Khajoor Road. We hear it has been named after the space you have been rehearsing at since May 1997?

Rahul: It’s a 100 year old Bungalow in Karolbagh!

Susmit: We have experimented a little bit in this album. There’s one song where we’ve played the saxophone and the clarinet, and in two more songs – one with a Rajasthani vocalist and the other with a Bangladeshi vocalist.

Amit: And one in which Susmit has played the electric guitar!

WTS: It’s the first Indian album to be given away completely free as mp3 downloads from our website. What prompted this decision?

Rahul: What people are not cognizant of is that royalty payments are close to nothing. Money from CD sales profits the company, not us. Most Indian artistes make their money playing live concerts. By giving away our songs as mp3 downloads, fans get to listen to our music for free, and if the songs become popular we will get more concerts in turn and get paid more – we stand to make whatever we’d make through a music company without the hassle of contracts and copyrights. They live in an era of the past which is why I’m glad they are going to flounder and fall because they still think that we will do all the intellectual work and just because they are signing us, they’ll take away our copyrights. I hope we’re starting a trend. Many bands are watching keenly. We were the first to come out with a live album, live DVD, giving it away for free, first band on which a full-fledged film has been made.

Interview with Indian Ocean

Amit: I think it’s time to do something second! (sniggers)

Susmit: We would like to hold the rights to our songs; it’s terrible when somebody else has the rights and is not doing anything with it…

Rahul: …doing bad things with it! You know why? Take for example Kandisa – Times Music retains the copyright to it. They put songs from it into anything and everything! Sufi Lounge mein ‘Ma RewaMa Rewa kahaan se Sufi hai mereko ye batao. Kuch bhi kahin bhi thop dete hain!

Susmit: They don’t consult us before doing these things because they have all the rights! Now we can choose where to give our songs and where not to. It’s the easiest way to get across to the market. We’re not relying on the distribution systems of music companies.

Interview with Indian Ocean

WTS: Aamir Khan’s production venture ‘Peepli Live’ – you’ve composed two songs for that. Doesn’t making music for movies limit your creative freedom in many ways?

Rahul: In this movie, absolutely not! We were not even shown the movie. One song already existed in our album Jhini, and a bit of the lyrics was changed – Swanand Kirkire wrote a part of the lyrics. Another was a poem given to us. We were not told anything else but the form was given to us saying “Now you compose.”

WTS: But you still don’t have the final say.

Rahul: Sure, but then this happens otherwise also. For example, during Kandisa Pramodji from Times said I’m happy with all the songs but I have an issue with one song, and ‘Kya Maloom’ evolved out of that. Within two days we came out with a part of it and took it into a completely different direction. It does help when somebody gives critical comments. Somebody says this song is too long and we’re like ‘Okaaay,’ sometimes you get too close to your creations also.

WTS: Rabbi Shergill says that “beyond Indian Ocean, I don’t see anyone… I see brown-wannabe whites”. What do you have to say about musicians still aping westerners instead of looking within and coming out with truly original music?

Rahul: It will change, sometimes it will continue. For example, if an American wants to do Kathakali, why do we feel happy? Why don’t we tell them “Chee chee chee! You’re not being original, go do something American!” There’s always exchange between cultures. Lots of Indians love rock music, I love it too.

Amit: And there are more role models out there. It’s not a crime.

Rahul: It’s not a crime! You can play what you want to play – whatever touches your soul. Big deal! Back then the guys who played in bands tended to be from the rich sections of society who looked to the West. It’s only now that the society has increased confidence in itself, gradually the music will also change.

Susmit: Bands start off with only guitars, bass, keyboard and drums. The number of role models in the West who have been playing this is far more. They grow up listening to them and it’s very difficult to get away.

Interview with Indian Ocean

WTS: Tell us about Leaving Home – how did it feel watching your own story unfold on screen?

Rahul: You want to meet the director? He’s here! (fetches Jaideep Varma)

WTS: Did Leaving Home’s release see any trouble in terms of screening it?

Amit: Rephrase that to ‘Were there any easy moments?’ (laughs)

Jaideep: There were only problems. It was very difficult because nothing like this had happened in India. It only happened because of this person in Big Cinemas who loved their music. Asheem’s death had left everyone in a reflective mood and that also contributed to it. I had been holding out for quite some time, the producers were not getting any money back. The turning point was when Asheem collapsed, that was when I decided I’m not going to be waiting anymore. I was beginning to think it might not release on the big screen. I would’ve released it on DVD or online. At the end of the day, how much can you wait?

WTS: Would you ever attempt something like this again?

Jaideep: I would never do it again. It’s not worth it; it’s just too much. It was worth it only for Asheem – we caught something really special on tape. I’m very proud of this film but it’s not worth trying these kind of projects in India. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody.

Susmit: I must say hats off to him. With all odds going against him, he made it happen. In my opinion, there will be a time when it will see a second release.

Amit: 100 percent. Maybe he’ll wait until one of us says tata bye bye! (laughs)

Jaideep: Don’t say that! Don’t even talk like that.

Interview with Indian Ocean

WTS: What do you think will finally shift the focus of people from music from movies to live performances?

Amit: That will happen slowly. I think our entry into Bollywood will change that, how ironic huh?

Susmit: In Bollywood, the advertising strength is so huge – it’s a proper industry. If there’s somebody doing equal promotion for live performances then definitely. Why do you think Black Friday became so popular? It’s the same people!

Rahul: Because of the advertising focus, the media goes gaga over it – they don’t have a mind of their own and only go after TRP. Bollywood has a huge reach, there’s no denying that.

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Priyanka Shetty

Priyanka Shetty is the founder of What's The Scene? Follow Priyanka on Twitter @priyanka_shetty

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