Something Relevant: The Big Band
Photographs by Vikas Munipalle and Ashaita Mahajan
Meet Something Relevant, Mumbai’s very own jam band. The ‘big band’ comprising seven talented musicians has been around since 2003, and has slowly but surely won the hearts of many people with its music. Over the years, the band has built up its fan base in India and abroad and has moved into the professional arena after starting out as a college band at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. A tight group of friends, spend one evening with them while they jam to their original tunes, and one can sense the bond and chemistry present in the room.
After experiencing its first international tour in March this year, as well as the opportunity to play at the Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta, the band has been in the studio recording and is now focused on releasing an album as soon as possible. Something Relevant aims to release early in the New Year and start 2010 with a bang!
I met up with a few of the boys (men) to talk about their debut album, ‘Feels Good to Be Live’. The boys love to talk and they had a lot to say! Meet Stuart (bass), Tanmay (lead guitar), Aalok (percussion/backing vocals) and Aazin (lead vocals). Missing were Ryan (saxophone), Luis (piano/keyboard/backing vocals) and JJ (drums).
Hi guys! So first things first, we know you have an album coming out. What can you tell me about this album?
Tanmay: It’s our first album. It’s taken us a really long time. We recorded the entire album once, but we weren’t happy with that sound so we decided to up the production standard, get a good producer and just go all out, record the songs live, and our main goal for this album (as it’s the first) was to give the audience what they like. A lot of people have said we sound great live so we wanted to get that live energy that we have onto a record.
Stuart: The first recordings that we did were nice but it didn’t sound like us, it was ‘thanda’. We recorded some songs at the Whistling Woods studio as Aazin (vocalist) was studying there, we rehearsed the songs and recorded them live to see what it sounded like and we liked that process. Then we also recorded in the traditional way at the Blue Frog Studios, one at a time, and that made us realise that that didn’t work for us and it wasn’t the vibe of our band. It’s more like a collective — and everyone should ideally be playing together to get that sound. So we figured we needed some production from outside.
So, where was the final album recorded?
Aazin: The final album was recorded at Yash Raj Studios. We realised that [what was] more important than the production and good producer, what we needed to do, was [to] get into the studio (all of us together) and create this ‘sound’ and replicate the live energy that we have on stage. Now, when we actually listen to it, its ‘smooth criminal’, man!
Tell us a little bit about the process of recording this album? Practice sessions, recording, working with Shantanu Hudlikar, the producer, etc.
Aalok: I think all the recordings in the last two years were like practice for us — getting the songs together, understanding each other, realising what was missing and needed to be added, removing the stuff that didn’t fit — all of this was like pre-production for us.
Aazin: Our music is like wine, it has matured over the years! That is what happened with all our songs.
Tanmay: We didn’t want to release anything prematurely. We wanted to reach a point where we all felt comfortable and confident that this was the final product. A lot of ‘us’ has gone into the making of this album — we all had to believe in everything that we were doing for our first album, and this is it — it’s done.
Stuart: We really learnt a lot about how to work in a studio. Working with Shantanu Hudlikar was just amazing. He really sorted us out.
Aazin: Yeah, especially with me, there were these two weeks when I went into the studio after the songs were recorded live and it was just crazy! It really taught me (and all of us) that you’ve got to pitch correctly and enunciate and basically understand and push the song in the right direction.
Aalok: The thing with Shantanu was that from the very first day he got our vibe and understood where we were coming from and what we wanted to get out of this process. Then he used his many years of experience to achieve that. He’s just an awesome guy!
How many songs does the album have? Tell me a little bit about some of them.
Stuart: The album has eight songs. It starts out with “Mr. Invisible”, which was written by me. It’s about a guy who is performing for an uninterested audience — it’s like the performer is invisible to the audience and that the people are more interested in socialising than listening to him. So it’s more like a call to the audience: the guy is up on stage, he’s got something to say, so listen. This is why we wanted it to be the first song on the album. It’s our first release and it’s the perfect message to get across first.
Aazin: “Harry Mole” was written while I was on the pot! It’s one of those songs that is a product of enlightenment (nothing like a good turd?). It’s about this man who comes to realise a lot of things in life. There are always two sides to any story, we are thrown into all kinds of situations, and Harry has a ‘split’ personality — doesn’t know if he’s coming or going and when he finally reaches out and finds love, even that turns him down. Eventually, it teaches him that whatever said and done, he has to move on and be happy. The song’s structured like that — starts slow and builds tempo and the end is just like this powerful finale.
Tanmay: “Aha” is a super fun song. It was created when were all just sitting and jamming and it just clicked. So we decided to go with it, after which the lyrics just fell into place. It was just one of those spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment things. It’s about choosing between beer and the love of your life. It’s a very tricky question: booze or romance? So the message is, if both are drunk together, then it’s a party!
Aalok: “Horn OK Please” was one of the first original songs that the band wrote. It was written while we were stuck in a traffic jam behind a big truck (hence the name!). We were on our way to a gig, and it’s strange because we don’t really know where the words came from — we just started making stuff up as we moved along.
So who writes the lyrics for the songs? Tell us about your songwriting process.
Tanmay: Aazin and Stuart are the two lyricists of the band. Basically, we jam a lot now (as compared to before, around four times a week), so the music just comes out as a combination of sorts. It’s very on-the-spot — nothing is really planned. One person will play a riff and then it’s just like one after the other we add layers. That’s the fun part about Something Relevant, you know. It’s unpredictable, every time we jam, we don’t have to try to make anything new. It’s not forced — something or the other comes up naturally. We have this certain sound that we have created and it’s unique — we are all very proud of that. People can easily point out a Something Relevant song.
So, the upcoming album is called ‘Feels Good to Be Live’. Who came up with the title? Is there a story behind the name?
Stuart: All of us came up with that name. The title is like the cliché — everyone’s always saying it feels good to be alive. In our context, it feels good to be live, because we’re a live band. We love to play live, anywhere in the city, to be able to spread the music, have concerts all the time like everywhere else in the word, make it a cultural trend. Live music is something that should be present in the city to maintain good vibes and cultural influences.
Now, the album is recorded, ready, and you have been talking about it for a long time. Why have you not released it yet? What’s taking so long?
Tanmay: We started production in May, and it’s taken us almost eight months. Negotiating contracts has taken a long time (which we did not anticipate). We looked at all the possible options in the industry for release. We have pretty much met everyone and done shit loads of research before deciding what to do.
Why would you spend so much time on your first album? Why not just go with any big record label?
Aalok: Because you get to release your first album just once. And we want to do it in the best way possible. We didn’t want to mess things up and release it in a hurry — we have a good product and we want everything to be just right. We just want to be very careful and make sure everything is in order (production, artwork etc), and all this has taken time.
So when should we expect ‘Feels Good to Be Live’ to finally launch?
Stuart: We are in talks with the label right now and hope to release in January 2010.
Are you doing anything specific to market the album, post-production work?
Aazin: We are going to be shooting some music videos for our songs “Tomorrow”, “Comfort Song” and “Horn OK Please”. We are planning out a three-month-long tour in the beginning of 2010 — we aim to do as many gigs as possible. We are trying to get a couple of sponsors to fund our tour around the country. The idea is to play concerts, at proper venues with the required logistics and not only clubs, pubs and lounges. We want to put on a proper show in every single city we play at.
Tanmay: Our tour is our biggest marketing tool right now, because its no doubt good to be live, so that’s the idea!
What expectations do you have from your debut album?
Aazin: A million copies sold (everyone laughs). Realistically, we are hoping that our music not only reaches people in India, but abroad as well. We would love to tour Europe and America. We want to try and get the album out in a bigger market because we believe it’s an international product.
Stuart: We would consider ourselves successful if young people buy this album and get influenced and inspired to learn a new instrument or form a band. It’s been done before, but our music is different — and if it helps open minds to different kinds of music, that would be just awesome. We want people to realise that language is no barrier when it comes to music — it doesn’t matter if we’re singing in Hindi or English as long as the music is good and everyone has a good time. We always have something to say in our songs and even if just one person in the crowd gets it, it’s worth it.
Speaking of international tours, Something Relevant went on its first one to southeast Asia in March this year. What was that like?
Aalok: Well, we were invited to play for the Java Jazz Festival in Jakarta which is the biggest jazz festival in Asia (maybe the world, too) and it was an absolute honour for us. Apart from that, in connection with the ICCR we played several shows at schools, colleges and other venues in Indonesia and South Korea. The crowd instantly responded to our music. We played a show at a school in the Bandung province in the day, and at night we had 150 new followers on Facebook! It was a great experience over all. We would like to replicate that here in India.
We have this certain sound that we have created and it’s unique. People can easily point out a Something Relevant song.
What makes Something Relevant, relevant in today’s music scene?
Stuart: We are open to anything and everything. There are some musicians who would only follow, support and play one particular genre. That doesn’t apply to us. Most of us are not heavy metal fans, but we definitely get influenced by some of those artists. For example, at the end of one of our songs, “Groovy Dancing”, it’s really heavy and it’s inspired by bands like Scribe and others. We don’t really care about the genre; we play anything that feels good, and we play it with emotion — from the heart.
In the last six years that you all have been together, I bet you have made many mistakes and dealt with a lot of ups and downs. How do you think the band has grown and developed during this period?
Aalok: The most important thing is sticking together and not letting the petty differences get in the way, sorting through any issues, dealing with it in the best way, because we’ve all known each other for so long. We are more like a family and we have all grown musically. Our priorities are clear now and we are working together to make Something Relevant bigger and better.
So, where are you guys playing these days?
Tanmay: The usual club circuit — we need the money! We play all sorts of gigs — other than the clubs and pubs, we also play at weddings! We recently played at the American Consulate Gardens for their 40th anniversary, we did a show with a 40-member choir at the NCPA Experimental Theatre, so we’re like an all-round band. We’re entertainers! However, we want to play a lot more shows in other cities around India.
Where do you see Something Relevant in the next five years?
Aazin: Making big production film music. (Tanmay: I want to have a studio!) That we’ll have in the next two years. In five years, we should be touring the world. Anything is possible and so is this!
Stuart: We want to play at jam-band festivals in the states; we want to keep coming up with new stuff, improve our musical chops; it should all only get better. We just constantly want to play. I want to see ourselves evolving and maybe one day playing alongside bands like the Cat Empire or the Dave Matthews Band — we want to be that good.
Well, my last question to you is, why should people buy ‘Feels Good to Be Live’?
Stuart: Give it a shot! It might open your mind, you might love it, or you might hate it, but it’s something you’ve never heard before.
Aalok: It’s honest, it’s us, we’re there in all those songs, so if you want to get to know us, please buy the album!
Tanmay: Keep an open mind and try something new!
Aazin: Someone once told me, “The sky isn’t yellow, it’s chicken”.
Something Relevant on MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/somethingrelevantgroup