Sridhar/Thayil: This Be the Interview
Alternative, bold, and as fresh as they come, Sridhar/Thayil is an intelligent, quirky band with fun influences from all over the world. Here’s our exclusive interview with Suman Sridhar and Jeet Thayil about their music, songwriting, favourite venues to play, and much more.
What has been going on in the world of Sridhar/Thayil lately?
Sridhar: We’ve been working on our first album, recording, arranging, collaborating; and we’re writing an opera that will be staged in November at the Prithvi Festival. As Sridhar/Thayil, the band, we’re playing in London at the end of October.
I notice that you guys have some very eclectic friends on your MySpace. Four Tet, CocoRosie — these are quality bands that are perhaps not as popular in India as they should be. Can you tell our readers your top five current bands, or maybe just five bands that you think more people should listen to?
Sridhar: Check out St. Vincent’s new album.
Thayil: We don’t listen to much music.
You guys have played in a good variety of places and countries. How have your experiences been playing in India? How has the response been to your brand of music, and how is it different from the response you get in other countries?
Sridhar: Our first gig was at the Galle Festival in Sri Lanka, January 2008. The response was immediate and it gave us the green light. A lot of our content is sassy, twisted pop, which is accessible at first listen. Then there’s the experimental music, which an audience may take a beat or two to get into. I think there’s something going on in India right now, we’re hungry for new art. Films and bands on the same bill, living rooms bursting with unexpected combinations of spoken word, cabaret, visual art, noise guitar and opera. Fifty independent artistic endeavours are born every day, there’s excitement in the air; everybody wants to collaborate. I have a feeling that we are part of a movement.
What has been your favorite venue to play in so far?
Sridhar/Thayil: Three favourite venues: The Lighthouse (Galle, Sri Lanka), Bacchus (Bangalore), Prithvi Theatre (Mumbai).
How do you go about writing music? What’s the process like?
Sridhar: The most fun way of writing a song is when it writes itself during a jam. Sometimes they occur to us individually in solitude, sometimes in a crowded street, fighting to be heard amongst the other voices in your head. Once it’s born, we bring it home. You start songs all the time, but unless you finish them, you haven’t done anything. Finishing a song is where the work begins.
About recording your songs: what’s that process like? Do you work in a home studio, or is it a more elaborate setup?
Sridhar: Home-made and broken. Someday I may just tell you how we recorded our MySpace tracks. For now, let them remain examples of “interesting production”. Your music has nothing to do with your equipment. We began with no gear and no band! Poverty fuelled our inspiration and it still does. That’s how Sridhar/Thayil was formed. The generosity of friends from the music community makes this album possible.
You start songs all the time, but unless you finish them, you haven’t done anything. Finishing a song is where the work begins.
Your band name is fairly direct. Were there any other names which were discussed during your formation?
Sridhar: When we first formed Sridhar/Thayil, we were bursting with ideas. Our aesthetic crosses several mediums, be it visual, print, or sound. We wanted to form a company that produces original work in multiple disciplines. We already have two projects — the lyrical-pop live act, and ‘Opera Noir’. There’s a visual aspect to Sridhar/Thayil as well, which might find expression in the album art and live VJing — Jeet draws and takes photos, I paint. A typical band name would not do justice to the versatility of our project. Our friends in Bangalore call us The Polka Dots, which I kind of like.
You guys have a one-of-a-kind sound. Can you tell our readers about your major influences? What did you grow up listening to?
Thayil: The Bible, Baudelaire, and the bomb.
Sridhar: My first jazz CD was lent to me when I was 14. ‘Great Ladies of Jazz’ had it all — old school, pure, and raw — I found my Indian classical background adapting easily to a sound I’d never heard before. Then, I was introduced to western classical music more formally in college and absolutely fell in love with its verticality, textures, and drama — screaming cinematic possibilities.
I think essentially Jeet and I are actors, we’ll do what it takes to tickle the audience. There’s no ideology or message driving us, just the art of showbiz, at its best. We want to please you, because that pleases us.
I personally love your tracks “This Be the Beat” (download) and “City of Sisters”, and judging by your MySpace downloads, I’d say I’m not the only one. Tell us more about these songs.
Sridhar: They are the first two songs we wrote together, before we even knew we were a band, and they’re full of sex and drugs. Well, so are some of the other songs, but who’s counting? They are navigating their way to your speakers right about now, and then will you tell me what you think?
And finally, your fans all over the country would love to listen to more of your unique music. Can we expect any releases in the near future?
Sridhar: As the album is being recorded, we will continue to post scratches on MySpace.com/SridharThayil. I’m excited that a couple of our more intimate songs [that] we haven’t had a chance to perform live will feature on the album. Some songs are better heard sober, in privacy. Altogether, we’re looking at a 16-track album.
Thank you for the lovely interview. Do you have any parting words for our readers?
These are the presents I give thee,
A chillum given to me
By my previous lover,
Whose memory I
For your hands for my heart,
Your breath for my breasts,
Your fingers for my fuck,
My show for your buck,
Your go for my stuck,
Your eyes for my soul,
My soul for your spit.
Ass of gold,
Melt a ring
On my finger…
All because you’re my honey man.
(Lyrics excerpted from “These Are The Presents” by Sridhar/Thayil.)