January is a month of pleasant weather for the Mumbaikars. One could not hope for better weather on a day when a musical evening like this was following! The 18th of January was a special day for Mumbai – an event featuring Ken Stringfellow, a maestro in his own right, was slated for the evening in Mumbais Blue Frog. American guitarist Ken has been associated with biggies like R.E.M., Neil Young, Snow Patrol and Big Star for several years of his career. We could bet that an opening set from him was sure to be a true reflection of his portfolio.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there was more – we have all heard Sidd Couttos Tough on Tobacco before, but we were wondering how they would sound when Kens strings would be strumming along. Stunned? Yes, so were we, when we heard that Tough on Tobacco was slated to join in on Kens later performances. It was sure going to be fun!
Ken Stringfellow commenced the event at Blue Frog with a crowd of listeners cheering for him. His first sounds were quite conservative, just as it suited the mood. There was pin-drop silence at the venue, and just a minimalist guitar could be heard with Kens suave voice. As the chords fluctuated, Kens voice responded likewise. Most of the songs that he performed were his own, but he threw in a cover by The Long Winters. How he mingled with the audience was a delight in itself. His jocular mood and remarks, which were occasionally offbeat too, were befitting the kind of ambiance he had created.
By the time Ken wrapped up with his set, one could sense a commotion in the audience. It appeared as if Kens set had charged everyone. The hands had begun to sway, and the smiles were widening. A surprise had been shot at the audience! Four young men dressed in formals had taken over the stage. They called themselves Punk Ass Orifus and before the onlookers could recover from the abrupt entry, the men in black had set in action! Sidd Coutto took care of the rhythm guitar and vocals. Gaurav Gupta donned the role of the lead guitarist. Johan Pais managed the bass guitar, and Zorran Mendonsa stood behind the drums.
They played a short set, but it was enough to pour life into the audiences. What they played could easily qualify as Punk, Hard Rock, or Reggae. Their energy was never down for a second and they kept the audience engaged throughout. The World will carry on, Bad Feeling and Matter are some of the prominent tracks that they played.
After a short while, Bobby Talwar of Zero fame reached the stage, and much to our amazement took on the Djembe, instead of his customary bass guitar. It was difficult to believe that his hands were not accustomed to the Djembe, for he played it surprisingly well! The audience grooved along with him – these sudden surprises proved quite effective. However, they were far from over!
Warren Mendonsa was yet to join! He came to the stage to deliver the final song, and chose to play his Black Strat to Mayan Song, in his distinguished style. His solo performance on this song was a treat to the senses. The evening had shaped up really well! Sidd Coutto appeared once again, and had some fun moments with his kit. He cracked some light-hearted jokes and we caught a glimpse of his jokester side! Perhaps that is what won him the loud screams of We love you Sidd Coutto! from the lovely ladies in the crowd.
And then there was a pause For the first time, one could feel some inaction on the stage, but that was tolerable. The evening had been good and quite active by far. After about 10 minutes, the groomed men of Punk Ass Orifus were nowhere to be seen. They were replaced by Tough on Tobacco, who had switched to the informal attire. Jai Row Kavi took to the drums, and Pozy Dhar managed the guitar. What do you know? Some more fun was lined up for Mumbai!
They opened their share with their signature song Happy. Tough on Tobacco chose most of the songs from its new album, and borrowed some songs from the first album too. Many more tracks were served to the delight of the listeners. The bigger a canvas is, the freer a painters strokes are. That is just what was happening at Blue Frog. Song after song, their canvas was expanding, and the genres kept adding up. By the end of several spontaneous performances, Tough on Tobacco had played a wide range of genres, and with an ease that left the listeners in awe. Yellow Tops and Washing Powder Nirma were some spectacular songs that Tough on Tobacco made up.
The evening had been fantastic! The audience had enjoyed it to the fullest. What was promised at the beginning, however, was yet to be seen. Ken Stringfellow and Tough on Tobacco were yet to jam together. Right then, Ken returned to the stage, and jammed to the lovely blues song Crack Whores along with the band. The evening was now complete.
It was a wonderful moment that Mumbai witnessed on the evening of 18th of January. To those who could not make it this time, Id say that sometimes wonders happen twice! Make sure you dont miss out on the next one!
Tough on Tobacco is singer/songwriter Sid Coutto’s talent packed, genre bending, convention defying, wildly funny band with Sidd Coutto on vocals/ rhythm guitars, Johan Pais on bass guitar, Jai Row Kavi on drums, Gaurav Gupta on the acoustic guitar and Pozy Dhar on the electric guitar. The music is a mix of pop, rock and reggae. The band advocates not to start smoking because it’s hard to quit once you start and it’s just not worth it. Surprisingly, WTS was greeted with a puff of smoke at the doorstep as we entered the room to get the band from Mumbai talking about The Happy Goat and a lot more…
WTS: Tough on Tobacco is a 5-piece progressive disco dance metal Bhojpuri act from Outer Mongolia. We hope the interview is going to be as wacky as this description.
Sidd: No, no we’re extremely serious, we’re very serious. We’re very shy.
Gaurav: We’re serious with the media. (laughs)
Sidd: I’m so conscious, so conscious! (laughs)
Jai: Johan stay out man!
Gaurav: Ask the housekeeping to stay out dude! (laughs)
WTS: Let’s start with a little background information about the band. How did the band come to be?
Sidd: It was a two piece band. ToT was actually two people (Hansu and I) making music for the sake of making music. Two years later there was an album ready and the band formed to play the songs in the album, most of them played in the album as well, so we just started playing as a band. We’ve all played together in different bands. Johan and I were in Helga’s Fun Castle together, Pozy and Gaurav played in Zero. So we just kind of put them together.
WTS: How has the band transformed in terms of band members?
Sidd: It’s just one guy who’s not there anymore. He used to play the violin and saxophone. We didn’t want a violinist, we were just happy with the sound that we had!
Gaurav: We thought that it would be a unique element.
Sidd: You thought so I didn’t think so. There are a lot of bands who have them right now. I guess we figured we sound better without it and we were right.
WTS: Back in 2008, you came out with your first album The Happy Goat. What made you call it that?
Jai: Cow. (loud laughter)
Sidd: The thing about the happy goat is you should be a happy goat, life is tough you’re going to die you’re going to get eaten. The album cover is this goat, a happy goat and this was about a month before Id I guess, before somebody’s mutton biryani. You gotta be a happy goat! You just have to be happy because life is short and you’re going to die soon.
WTS: And you spent two years on it, what took you so long?
Sidd: Life. Life got in the way. I didn’t work on it for some time. In the mean time I wrote new songs. We started writing together as a band between January and March. We had already started writing new songs before its release. We had enough material for a new album by the time we launched the last album and now we’re releasing a double album because we have enough material for one more album as well.
WTS: We heard you had a lot of fun during the filming of ‘The Taxi Song’. We’d like to hear more about that.
Sidd: I think the taxi driver, the camera person and the director had the most fun. We didnât even watch the video! We did just the Bollywood scene and just showed up for that. We were just there for our sequences.
Gaurav: The video was to portray a story and not just show the band playing.
Pozy: We didn’t know what happened! (laughs)
WTS: Could you briefly describe your music-making process?
Jai: I think we never formally sit down and discuss things.
Gaurav: We’ve probably done it twice!
Sidd: We’re all very busy, we don’t have much time to get together and spend a lot of time. So whenever we get to sit down in the jam room, somebody says something and everybody just catches on.
Pozy: It needs some quick perception.
Sidd: A lot of the songs we did on terraces. We’ve written 5 or 6 at least on terraces with an acoustic guitar!
WTS: What come first the lyrics or the melody?
Sidd: It depends, but mostly the melodies come first.
Gaurav: With this band, the melodies came first.
WTS: What are your rehearsals generally like?
Gaurav: Just before gigs.
Sidd: If we’re doing a gig in Bombay we generally add about 5 new songs so then we have like 2-3 rehearsals before the gig. Otherwise we all know these songs. We’re not retarded. No man, you know the song. We get together and play to get the vibe again. But he (points to Johan) has a little memory issue. (laughs)
WTS: A lot of people say that reggae sounds simple but we hear that playing reggae is a lot more difficult than it sounds. What do you have to say about that?
Jai: For the drummer.
Sidd: For everybody man I remember when these guys started off they couldn’t play reggae at all.
Jai: I still can’t play reggae (laughs)
Sidd: No, no you’ve learned, you’re much better than before. They are still thinking about it too technically, there’s nothing technical about it. Helga’s Fun Castle was heavily reggae. I think I just got a lot of my reggae inspiration just from being in Helga’s Fun Castle. Johan for some reason has always been into metal.
Johan: I got into reggae just because of that! (laughs)
Sidd: We play pop/rock/reggae. The songs are essentially pop songs, with elements of rock and reggae. I guess every third song is reggae. But the reggae’s kind of cut down a bit. The first album had a lot more reggae than what we’ve come up with now.
WTS: Sidd, tell us more about your experiences with Zero and Helga’s Fun Castle.
Sidd: Different points of life. Zero was a rock band, when we were in college we were doing that whole “So let’s rock, yeahhhhh”. Things were going well and we were playing gigs but it wasn’t the same band as it started off because Warren had left by then. It was not the same things we had other guitarists and we were just playing gigs. We were essentially a Zero cover band by the end.
Jai: And Helga’s most definitely a more serious band, not cutting out the fun aspect but yeah.
Johan: Times were different then. Helga was what, five years ago? 2004!
Sidd: When somebody leaves the band it’s not the same. The equation of the band is just lost with people. With the second album, it wasn’t Helga’s Fun Castle, it was Helga’s Serious Castle. It was a completely different band, different genre.
WTS: Do you believe that being in a band is equivalent to being in a relationship or do you think it is okay for band members to play with other bands once in a while?
Johan: We’re in a relationship and I think he’s sleeping around! (points to Jai)
Jai: All of us are involved in different things. I’ve played for other bands as well like Indus Creed and Bhayanak Maut. All of us do! But we really like this band.
Sidd: For me, I’d call Tough on Tobacco as my main band.
WTS: What do u think sets you apart from the other bands in the country?
Johan: Jai can’t grow a beard! (laughter)
Jai: There are some 4 bands like that man where the drummer can’t grow a beard!
Sidd: Yeah, like Indus Creed, Bhayanak Maut… (loud laughter, applause)
Sidd: What sets us apart… When Tough on Tobacco started off, we did so with no aim for listenership and just to make the music we wanted to hear. Since the band’s become a 5 piece unit, we just write and play together. Everybody can play whatever they want in that nobody’s given any fixed thing, just enjoy yourself. It’s just who we are. If you come for our gig, it will be entertaining, it will be fun.
Jai: We love taking requests!
Gaurav: No, no no! We DO NOT like that! Just for the record!