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Thermal and a Quarter: Crack the Mystery

By Riddhi Parekh | November 9, 2006

Thermal and a QuarterPhotograph by Harmit Singh, courtesy of ThermalAndAQuarter.com.

They’ve been around for ten years now, released three albums, toured the UK, opened for rock legends like Jethro Tull and Deep Purple, played shows to save trees in the rainforest, addressed youth suicide, and recently even added a saxophone player to the band. What’s next for Bangalore’s very own Thermal And A Quarter?

Split Magazine finds out in conversation with Bruce Lee Mani, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for the band.

(The following are excerpts from the interview.)

What have been the major influences in your life as a musician?

They go all over the place. As musicians we all come from very different backgrounds.

The common ones are south Indian Carnatic music, mainly in terms of rhythm — rhythms used in the context of drums and things like that. In terms of bands, we each have varied tastes but we would all agree when it comes to Dave Matthews Band, Sting, Steely Dan and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Individually, my influences range from James Taylor, AC/DC, Aerosmith, John Coltrane and even some latin music these days.

Having opened for legends like Deep Purple and Jethro Tull, who would you like to open for next, if you had the chance?

We’d love to open for Dave Matthews Band.

If you could have an international band open for you, who would it be?

Now, that’s a hard one. It could be anybody. Of course, it’ll have to be someone newer than us.

What Indian bands are you guys into?

We have most albums that have been released by Indian bands. It’s nice to try and see what other bands are doing. So many bands are putting out their own material. Delhi has 15-20 gigs happening a month, but Bangalore really sucks with its foggy laws that can’t differentiate between live bands and cabaret bands. The scene is unhealthy with bands desperate to play and forced to do cover songs.

It’s not just [about] the music anymore. There are stories of the great American dream, but I don’t even know if they were true at that time, or are still true anymore. It is everybody’s dream — but that’s about all it is, a dream.

Thermal and a Quarter have played in Glasgow and London, and even been featured in The Herald. That must have been quite an experience. Did you ever dream any of this would happen when you were starting out?

We hadn’t thought about it when we started out. But a few years down the line, when we started writing our own songs for the first time and making our own music, we could start thinking about it. It was a great experience. When we went, we realised that a lot of the preconceptions we had in our minds were not in accordance to reality.

Would you care to elaborate?

In a place like Glasgow, where we played a majority of our UK gigs (six gigs overall), there are about 20 to 30 gigs happening there every night. There’s a strong culture of writing music and watching live bands there and the audience doesn’t come in with expectations. Especially in the local scene, people come in and see the bands — if they like what they hear, they’re going to identify and have a good time. We thought we’d get (and perhaps got) a better response for our ‘exotic’ value there, but from the 200-odd people who were at the show, one person came to us and said, “I thought you’d play some Indian music, but after hearing you I couldn’t put any geography to the music. You may sound like a hotchpotch of influences, but it can’t be called hotchpotch from India specifically — it could be from just about anywhere.”

You guys have released three albums so far. How has the response been in terms of CD sales and otherwise?

Even though we’re not yet signed with a label (only because we haven’t found one we want to work with yet, and they haven’t found us), our albums ‘Plan B’ and ‘Jupiter Café’ are selling, and are even being sold internationally — we make more money selling CDs in the US than over here. It’s just that people pay $11 for a CD there, while they’d pay Rs 200 for it here. Online distribution has worked like a charm and our CDs are selling through Musicyogi. ‘Plan B’ was an interesting experiment, we released it on our site for free. It was something different we tried, because for a lot of bands (not only those in India, even internationally), the revenue stream is not through selling CDs. It comes through playing live. And its release somehow coincided with us getting featured for a nine-minute spot on NPR in the US. (National Public Radio is an internationally acclaimed producer and distributor of non commercial news, talk and entertainment programming.) The next day, our website crashed due to the number of hits from all over the US. Being on NPR gave us a lot of credibility.

A lot of good has happened through word of mouth and people sharing online. It’s a great model for unsigned musicians. But even marketing on the web requires a lot of smart promotion. You’re just another one of the million people out there, but while it’s a challenge, it’s a more accessible challenge.

What are your thoughts on being a musician in India? Should it be left at just being a “hobby” or are there enough avenues for one to pursue it professionally?

It’s very individual. If your idea of success is the world tour, the limousine, hot shot rock star image, remember that it doesn’t work like that anywhere. If you want to make a living out of being a musician in India, you’ve got to be smart about what you’re doing and how you want to pursue it. It’s individual and possible, but don’t have high expectations. The internet and the business model is changing — you have to capitalise on new trends. You can’t just play guitar and hope you’re so damn good that you will just automatically be taken care of. You’ve got to study business and understand that aspect of the whole thing. It’s not just [about] the music anymore. There are stories of the great American dream, but I don’t even know if they were true at that time, or are still true anymore. It is everybody’s dream — but that’s about all it is, a dream.

TAAQ has played at a lot of gigs involving social causes and concerns such as suicide. What do you think are the biggest problems with the youth today?

The biggest problem with the youth today is that they’re getting old too fast. A good friend of mine was just telling me she had a conversation with an 11-year-old about condoms!

Though I don’t know if there is just one cause and one solution to everything. Ten years ago your average 15-to-16-year-old had a sense of wonder for things. I just don’t see that anymore.

Comments

6 Comments. Post Yours Here.
  1. November 10, 2006, 7:30 pm B

    Mistah Bruce – you definitely all grown up, bob!

    But seriously… Nice interview

  2. November 14, 2006, 7:35 pm Hawkeye

    A little bitta something that was left out of the answer to the last question: This ‘loss of innocence’ is just the way it is now, in urbania. There’s no other natural way, given what we’ve done with the world. It’s evolution! Deal with it.

  3. November 18, 2006, 2:15 am informa

    very interestingly framed questions. well written interview. wish i hadn’t missed the show.

  4. November 29, 2006, 9:45 am Gertrude, HSBC

    *applause. The questions are as crispy, crunchy, ooh.

  5. November 23, 2007, 2:21 am Thermal And A Quarter(Bangalore) « K.I.N.G

    [...] Crack the mystery “‘If your idea of success is the world tour, the limousine, hot shot rock star image, remember that it doesn’t work like that anywhere. If you want to make a living out of being a musician in India, you’ve got to be smart about what you’re doing and how you want to pursue it.” – Split Magazine, November 9, 2006 [...]

  6. July 6, 2009, 8:15 am pushpy

    Nice probing questions?

    Good Interview Ms.Parekh

    \\m// \\m//

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