A few weeks ago, Anand R (1993 ISC) asked me to write a blogpost about Loyola’s music stars, especially in Indian rock. The universe conspired. Within days, I received a mail from Deepak Madhusoodanan (1996 ISC) alerting me to the exploits of his batchmate Jishnu Dasgupta (1996 ISC) and the band Jishnu is part of, Swarathma.
Excerpts from an e-mail interview with Jishnu
How musical was your childhood?
Quite a lot. My father is a classically trained singer who loves Rabindra Sangeet and old Hindi film music, and our home was always filled with strains of one or the other. Though my father tried to instill in me an appreciation for the above, it remains my regret that I was too much of a ‘teenager’ to listen to him at that time.
After Loyola, you did your B.Tech from NIT-Allahabad, worked in TCS, studied at XLRI… What were your encounters with music during those years?
In Loyola I participated in ‘solo song’ in the Youth Festival in Std IX. I came fourth. There were four participants. Needless to say, I was quite low on musical confidence. Something changed after I went to NIT –- I was in two bands, we got featured in RSJ (then India’s only rock magazine) and played inter-college events. That’s also when I started to play the guitar (the guys from the North east made it look cool and easy!)
I played with a few colleagues while at TCS, not serious bands, but mostly guys looking to have a little fun on weekends. XLRI was a rich musical experience. I met Abhishek, Satadru, Bharat and Poornima who would later become the members of bodhiTree (of the class of 2006) the band that composed, recorded and released on the internet songs like ‘GMD’ and ‘Sabke Katega’. They went on to become cult hits and found their way, with no mass media at all, into every cell phone and iPod in India (and even abroad). I remember being quite taken aback by the response. Though no one in bodhiTree wanted to take music as a career at that time, the experience remains one to be cherished.
I joined ITC after that and was posted in Bhopal and Indore, not particularly known for live music. But I don’t know how, but we started Indore’s only rock band called Square One with some college kids I happened to meet in a Barista. We did about 4 or 5 shows. What fun!
How did Swarathma come together? Did you search for like-minded souls, or did you bump into them, or…?
Swarathma had been an active band for about a couple of years before I met Montry (who played guest drums on a bodhiTree gig in Bangalore). When I moved to Bangalore while with ITC, I gave him a buzz. It so happened Swarathma was looking for a bass player at that time. I met up with the guys, really loved the music, got along with the guys and voila!
Writing and composing songs — are these group activities in your band? What happens when differences crop up amongst creative people? How do you resolve them?
In the scenario of a collaborative songwriting process, conflicts are not only inescapable they are invaluable. It is only with conflict (resolved constructively) that our music becomes better.
Even though we may disagree, we have immense respect for each other’s musical tastes and abilities – we also love each other as dear friends. The combination causes most conflicts to be resolved and helps the music come into its own.
What’s your typical work+music day like?
We’re quite contrary to the image of a band. We rehearse thrice a week from 6.30 am to breakfast. The rest of the day is devoted to individual practice, jams and other things. Afternoon onwards we usually are involved with non-music stuff.
Do you see yourself turning a full-time musician? What’s your advice to those who wish to pursue a career in music? Should music be combined with work, or can we in India think of becoming full-time rock musicians?
As of January 2009, I consider myself a full-time musician. I’ve made (tough) career choices that allow me the freedom to play and create music.
As for advice, I’m most unqualified to dish out any. But what I did was to follow my heart, for I have one life to live. It is hard, with a career, with responsibilities, but if you really really want to do something, you will find a way.
Which other Indipop bands would you recommend to your fans? Who are the other cool kids on the block?
There are some bands we really like -– Faridkot (finalists in the Channel [V] launchpad as well as in Radio City Live (the contest we won).
As a student, you have endured the music classes at Loyola. If you are the school’s music teacher now, how would you teach music?
I have really no idea. None of the music I play has ever been learnt in any class. To my mind, we need to resist the temptation of regimentalizing and taking the fun out of music.
Maybe it can be taught in a way that makes music classes memorable… maybe that’s too much to ask!
Becoming a successful band today is not just about musical creativity, it’s about how you market yourself. As a manager-cum-musician, what’s your advice to music groups struggling on the marketing front?
Believe in the music you are playing 100%. Everything follows from there.
Use the internet. Constantly generate content that engages your listener. Bring him or her closer to your band with it. Social networks, websites etc.
Play more gigs, work the crowd -– be known for something that it truly you.