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Interview with The Ministry of Blues

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The Ministry of Blues (MoB) play a genre of music that originated in the 1900s, but combine it with a distinctly 21st-century flair. The band’s music is not the laid back, lonesome blues but a hard-hitting “we’re coming at you like a ton of bricks” blues played with finesse and a deft touch. Red Hot Blues Rock is what they call it! The MoB line-up includes Philipe (vocals & lead guitars), Vinoo (bass), Rauf (vocals & keyboard) and Deepak (drums).

WTS: Let’s start off with a bit of background information about MOB, how did it start and of course what made u call it The Ministry Of Blues?

Philipe: The three of us used to play together (Deepak, Rauf and Philipe) in a band called Aftermath. It sort of died around the same time that Ministry of Blues started. Not too much of a gap between the two. That was more of a hard rock band. Then we just got fed up of the music that we were playing, so we disbanded. Deepak came out with the idea of forming a blues rock band, nobody was playing blues rock then, we were the only band. Also Ministry Of Blues in short is MOB and it’s a genre of music that caters to the youngsters so we thought of calling it that.

Deepak: So we just thought of this name and everybody liked it immediately.

Rauf: I liked the whole MOB feel!

WTS: How has the band transformed in terms of members?

Philipe: That was for a very short period. The band formed when the other bassist (Sarat) left, he played for probably six months before he got transferred somewhere else. So the actual band started moving only after Vinoo joined.

WTS: How easy/difficult was it for you to make it big in the Bangalore music scene?

Deepak: Firstly, we don’t think we’ve made it big. We don’t take it so seriously. We just enjoy our music.

Philipe: People call us veterans, there’s a big difference between that and making it big!(laughs)

Vinoo: As long as we’re playing we’re happy.

Philipe: We’ve been there done that. I used to play in a band called Hammersmith, we had a whole lot of stuff going, my brother used to drive that band. We were Asia’s second act on MTV back then. What did we get out of it? Nothing. Rock machine went on for a short while and then they turned into Indus Creed. They had three albums after that. What happened after that? Nothing. Making it big is difficult unless you’re doing traditional Hindi music. You take Shankar Ehsaan Loy for example. Who are those guys? Ehsan was the guitarist of a band called Crosswinds, Loy was a hardcore keyboard player, now they have made it big after getting into Hindi music. For English music it will always be an issue. We don’t see it gaining equal popularity. Playing live, you can have a good day, have a good show, and the crowd has a blast. It ends there. Taking it beyond that and cutting out albums, making money out of it’s just not happening.

Deepak: People don’t make money out of albums. That audience is not there.

Vinoo: Many, many years ago, when I was in my teens I had decided that I’m not going to earn by playing music. It reminds me of things that I don’t want to do. I firmly believe that the only decent thing a musician can do is to play in front of people. Everything else is done to death. All this recording, being in albums and all that, it’s all done to death. The only thing that matters is that you play in front of people.

Deepak: That’s completely gone. In today’s world very few artistes/bands actually make albums and sell it, it’s the age of free downloads on the internet. Where is the money? The money is only in playing live.

Philipe: We are playing live but the market is not so big for English acts and guys playing Western music.

Vinoo: Take India’s largest band – Indian Ocean, they earn a large amount of money but they are making their money only through live performances. In fact their next album is being given out for free on the internet. I spoke to the guitar player, who’s an old friend of mine. I asked them why they are doing this, because I was very curious. He said “The record labels are the only ones who make money out of it, we get nothing out of it so we might as well give it for free.”

WTS: In a city that has a lot of rock and metal bands what is it like being a blues rock band?

Deepak: It’s nice. We enjoyed it, it’s something very different and new, and I think it’s still fresh, it still sounds good to people.

WTS: Ministry of blues only plays covers. Why won’t you play originals?

Vinoo: We haven’t got around to it. It’s not a priority.

Philipe: What we really like to do is take up covers and uncover covers. Most of our songs, I would say, are quite far from the originals.

Vinoo: They take quite a bit of work as well. Each song takes quite long! It takes a few days before we’re happy with it. There are a few songs we don’t play because we aren’t completely happy with it.

Philipe: Every college band says “Ok guys…Hi! Welcome to the show, we are going to do one of our own compositions”. We played in Vellore and the only criteria they gave the student unit, was to get a band that will not play their own material. The crowd doesn’t enjoy it! And also with this genre that we’ve picked up, it’s been done to death.

Deepak: In this genre there is a style, it’s a standard pattern of music so I’ll just be changing the lyrics. Now for example Eric Clapton, he recreates songs in his style. Its legendary that’s how blues rock is!

Vinoo: If you’ve heard him play ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’, he has put a reggae beat to it!

Deepak: I grew up listening to Santana’s ‘Black Magic Woman’, that’s not his song. It was done many years ago before Santana was born!

Philipe: That’s how music is, it’s what you bring into the whole thing. Otherwise it’s just an ego thing, “This is my own comp, I’ve got my own song!”

Ralf: Some of the numbers that we do were written in 1930s, nobody even knows about those artistes. We do it our way, not the way it has been done before. That’s how we like to do it. We don’t want to play a song like how it sounds on TV.

WTS: What are the criticism/compliments that you get from fans?

Deepak: Even now we hear from people that it was a good show or a bad show. There are fans who say you guys started out really dull. You should have done this song in the beginning. The song list is not changing as fast as it should. Because the guys come for all our shows and we’re not able to change that fast.

Philipe: I told him don’t come to the show, take a break! (laughs)

Deepak: This American comes up to me and says, “You play all kinds of blues, Texas blues etc. and the range is pretty wide.” It’s not just one kind of music we’re playing.

Philipe: Compliments, well for one, in the 30-35 years that I’ve been playing, touchwood, I’ve never been booed. Never. It’s just value for money. You may not like the music, but you will listen to it.

WTS: How long does your sound check generally last?

Deepak: Five minutes and we’re done.

Philipe: There was this time when we finished our sound check and the sound guy says “Are you guys a serious band? A five minute sound check? I’ve never done it in my life, you know.”

Deepak: It has taken so many years. If you’re professional enough you’ll understand what is the limitation of sound, and that it’s not going to get any better, hanging around there and keeping the audience waiting, it’s just not worth it.

Rauf: It all depends on the kind of instruments there are, how many members there are etc. For us, experience definitely comes in hand. With Philipe, the sound that comes on stage is so amazing, because of his experience, his tones etc are just perfect.

WTS: Each one of you seem to have fairly busy lives, how do you manage to find time to jam together?

Philipe: You can make time if you want to. And you have to make time for that. We have nasty working hours. Thank God we have five day weeks! Friday evening we drop what we’re doing and head out to this lovely little basement. It’s heaven. It’s got lovely speakers, an electronic drum kit that sounds like heaven, and the amps there are awesome, so the mikes are plugged in, and in about ten minutes we get started. I think we take longer opening the beer. (laughs) Fridays are mandatory. We jam every week unless we’re travelling. Tightness has to be worked at. Don’t forget that you’re out there, if you’re not good enough don’t go onstage. You have no right to be onstage if you’re not good enough.

Deepak: Keeping the band tight is something that can only come with practice. It’s like a plane flying , I don’t think you can go on if you cut your engines! (laughs)

WTS: How have you managed to stick together for so long?

Philipe: Friendship! Never has anything gotten to a nasty, personal level. Never, never. We don’t get personal. We have disagreements but not anything personal. We wouldn’t carry it home.

Deepak: In the music room there would be a lot of disagreements, but then we look at the bigger picture. If I get pissed off, I know that more than anything, I like playing with them. So it’s just about keeping your emotions off of it and enjoying what you’re doing.

Philipe: It’s like a lousy marriage (laughs) and we have thumb rules, if it’s getting out of hand just drop it. Then after a while it all gets back to normal. We make use of stuff you learn from marriage counseling. If you lose your temper with your husband, count to ten, take a walk in the park, things like that! (laughs)

Deepak: Another thing about this band, it’s very interesting. The other name we thought of was Seven Down.

Philipe: That’s because Vinoo is seven years older than me, I’m seven years older than Deepak and Deepak is seven years older than Ralf. Exactly.

Vinoo: That makes him (Ralf) 21 years younger than me!

Deepak: So they can’t fight. It’s like a father and son relationship. It’s not allowed. (laughs)

Ralf: (To Vinoo) Dad, where’s my pocket money? (laughs)

WTS: How would you describe your sound to someone who hasn’t been to any of your gigs?

Philipe: Aggressive blues rock. High on energy.

Deepak: We transform into animals onstage! (laughs)

WTS: Do you think people’s focus will ever shift to live performances from Bollywood?

Deepak: The good thing that’s happening is bands that are playing live are now associated with Bollywood. Take for example Kailash Kher’s band, I watch it on YouTube all the time. Superb! He’s a great singer. So, live music is coming up. Kailash Kher’s concerts have around 8000-10,000 people!

Philipe: But Hindi rock/pop will always rule. Anyone who is going to contest that is a clown. It’s never going to happen. You will never make that kind of money, never have that kind of crowd. The only time when you had such an audience was the early nineties.

Ralf: Then (sings) Video killed the radio star!

Deepak: Then the discotheques came in, the DJs came. In my opinion, there is too much out there, as far as entertainment is concerned. Online EPs, everything – we’re being bombarded with lots of entertainment. Even during gigs, after about five songs you can see the crowd getting a little restless. Our kind of music is one where you have to build that taste, acquire that taste. At least right now. The only thing that can be done is promoting the bands, and they should keep playing. It’s going to take time.

Philipe: But I think one of the main things that’s happening in terms of playing live is the live webcast. Motherjane did that. They had a live webcast when they were playing at Opus by the Creek.

WTS: Deepak, don’t you feel like overplaying sometimes?

Deepak: I overplay all the time. I’m the only one who does more than what’s required.

Vinoo: Actually all of us do.

Rauf: It also depends on how much alcohol we’ve had.

Philipe: He doesn’t drink by the way. Good boy! (points to Rauf)

Rauf: I’m more of an adrenaline junkie.

WTS: Have you guys had any embarrassing experiences while performing onstage?

Deepak: Oh a lot of them! All the time, at every show. Serious goof ups!(laughs)

Philipe: There was this crazy goof-up in this solo that we do. He just completely goofed up onstage (points to Deepak). I was cringing! I was up there thinking “I wanna die right now!” It was that bad! (laughs) and then we come back home, and we see mails from people in the audience which read “that piece by the drummer and the bass guitarist was superb!” (loud laughter)

Deepak: So when we goof up, we just look at each other and smile, and the way we cover up is also great.

Philipe: One thing we’ve learnt to do is smile and act like nothing happened when we know it’s a disaster!(laughs)

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