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MotherJane: Philosophers and Guardian Angels

By Vineet Kanabar | July 27, 2008

Split Magazine: MotherJane

MotherJane has been one of India’s top rock acts for close to a decade now, and their wildly popular debut album ‘Insane Biography’ (2002) is one of the best Indian rock albums of all time. Split Magazine caught up with front man Suraj Mani for an exclusive interview about the band, their philosophy and their upcoming album ‘Maktub’. Read on.

MotherJane is one band that’s been around for a long, long time, and is still considered to be one of the top bands in the Indian rock scene. How does it feel to have been there, done almost all of that?

It feels great to be here and doing what we love, which is to play the kind of music we love to the kind of audiences we love. It’s a really great job!

What’s going on with MotherJane of late? A new album in the works, rave reviews at the Rock in India performance — where does the band go from here? What’s next on the cards?

We’re in the studio recording the tracks of ‘Maktub’, which is our [upcoming] second album. We already play all these tracks live and are very excited with the reviews we are getting. It would be really awesome to release the songs to our audiences and play it while they sing along. In fact we already had that situation happening at the Rock In India gig, where large sections of the crowd were singing our new songs with us! Should be available on our site very shortly.

What has the recording and song writing process for the new album been like so far?

MotherJane basically creates songs in the following manner, though there is no set rule as such. I write the lyrics and present it to the band while explaining what I was trying to say about the central topic or theme. Each member then proceeds to make a musical interpretation of his own views and feelings on the same subject using his chosen instrument. It is almost like a musical conversation between friends and everyone’s invited to have their say. We then pick what we like the most and arrive at the song. It’s really lots of fun and very artistically and emotionally satisfying. I think a lot of people identify with our music because they feel that they are privy to this conversation and because they themselves instinctively are feeling what we were feeling. In such a scenario, a lot of the music lies in the silences and in the heads of the listeners!

I travel 14 hours one way on a bus to make it for practice in Kochi as I live in Bangalore. I have no complaints. Not being able to play music is not a pleasant option. In fact, it is not an option at all.

Your lyrics and the distinctly Indian-sounding riffs have come to constitute MotherJane’s USP, if you will. It all seems deeply philosophical. What inspires you to write such brilliant poetry? Is the title ‘Maktub’ an allusion to the Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist?

“It’s the brilliance of life that inspires brilliant poetry.” I’ve always loved philosophy and have counted on the thoughts of many a great man as my best friends. Though I’ve read and loved Coelho’s Alchemist, it was a scene in Lawrence of Arabia that brought out this idea of Maktub. The song is basically about life and how destiny has a tendency to play itself out in a certain way unless we step in and change it. Now you become a co-creator in your world and during those moments you are at your best, as the creator himself lives in you.

What are your favourite songs from the upcoming album? Run us through them, please.

Oh they are all great! All very different in purpose and feel and hence I won’t even bother to compare. There are eight new songs — “Chasing the Sun”, “Fields of Sound”, “Broken”, “Blood in the Apple”, “An Ode To Life”, “Maktub”, “Before One Million Comes One” and “Karmic Steps”. We also have a reworked version of one our earlier tunes, “Mindstreet” as a bonus track.

It has been more than 10 years since the band first performed. In all that time, how do you think the scene has changed, both regionally and nationally?

Believe me, it has changed. Lots more bands, loads and loads of original music. We have enough stuff to make a dozen odd international quality compilation albums. Maybe some bands may need a better studio, however the material is abundant and exciting. Indian rock, and on a broader perspective, “non-filmi” music, is poised for a massive leap. It is already providing the much needed relief for music lovers who are not getting what they need from the filmi-hero-and-heroine-running-around the tree kind of songs.

Having full-time jobs outside of the band, how often do you guys jam? Is it difficult to manage even after all these years?

We meet as often as possible. I travel 14 hours one way on a bus to make it for practice in Kochi as I live in Bangalore. It would be nice to own a private jet! (Looking forward to that one!) However, [I have] no complaints, really. Not being able to play music is not a pleasant option. In fact, it is not an option at all.

Split Magazine: MotherJaneWe all know about Rex and Avial. Besides that, are there any other musical directions that the band members follow? Any solo ventures or side projects?

Not really. Nothing worth writing home about. Just some sessions and studio work, here and there.

Can you elaborate on the MotherJane philosophy? The one about the guardian angel. The fans at Split would love to know.

Yeah, well, MotherJane is this musical guardian angel that we believe looks over the band and is greater than the sum of all of us. The name MotherJane is a variant of maryjane and symbolises the band’s opinion of music being the greatest drug ever!

What is your take on the Indian bands that are riding the scene these days? Any favourites? Any that you can’t bear to hear?

There are lots of good bands today and a lot more to come I’m sure. What’s nice is that there are now quite a lot of different styles and sounds behind many top bands. Pentagram, Parikrama, Zero, Raghu Dixit, Swarathma, Evergreen, Avial, Junkyard Groove, Thermal And A Quarter.

MotherJane is closest to being what you can call ‘rock stars’ in India. How has the transition been from when you first started?

It’s been very internal for us. We started at a very basic stage and now are considered one of the top live acts in the country with lots of style and substance. What is best about all that is that we have grown more confident at being ourselves and finding our purpose in being pioneers for many exciting changes in the Indian rock scene. With ‘Maktub’, we are sure the world is going to welcome a very new and unique direction and sound that rock is seeing.

Cheers to you guys for bringing out rock music with a real Indian twang to it. Any famous last words for your fans and the readers at Split?

Do what you are best at, the best way that you can. And if you want to know what you are best at, look closely at what you love and find yourself in its centre.

You are your greatest art form!


3 Comments. Post Yours Here.
  1. July 30, 2008, 2:22 pm Ashwin

    these guys are my fav. cant wait for the maktub release ..nice interview :)

  2. September 4, 2008, 7:33 pm Gogo

    the best rock band in India acc to me !!!

  3. February 15, 2010, 4:54 pm goutamjay

    Maktub is awesome.. particularly ‘Broken’ and ‘field of sound’

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