Folk Rock act Swarathma is a band that has represented India at the mightiest of festivals abroad. The band, apart from being a musical treat, also put up a mighty fun stage act. The band has just released the track Topiwalleh from their upcoming album and are all set to go on a nation wide promotion tour titled the Restless Tour. Amidst all the chaos, IndianMusicRevolution caught up with the band for a quick interview. Read more!
IMR: Hello Swarathma! Congratulations on getting done with the second album, Topiwalleh. You guys must be really kicked about it, isn't it?
Jishnu: Yes, thanks for that. We’re all really excited about the launch of the new album. It’s always a great feeling to go from Class I to Class II, which is how I see this album for the band. Every album recording process is a huge step up for any band.
This time around we decided to go fully Indie with album and stayed away from conventional recording deals. Instead we’ve come to an understanding with the guys at Flipkart who’re really putting their weight behind good music, whether it is Indie or not. We hope to do justice to that partnership. Also, we’ve got Bindass partnering us for the launch tour. It’s like a bunch of cool people coming together to help us out.
IMR: An episode in The Dewarists and festivals like NH7 Weekender, Holi Cow and Storm Festival to name a few, it seems like things are getting bigger and bigger for you guys. When you started the journey about almost a decade back have you ever dreamt of such success (no matter you guys deserve much more than that)?
Pavan: When we started the journey, we had no idea of playing at music festivals or appearing on television. What mattered to us was to create original music and enjoy the process. Yes playing gigs was always there at the back of our minds, whether it’s a college gig or corporate. During that time there were hardly any music festivals in India. So we used to grab whatever would come our way. But now the scene is different, there are so many Indie music festivals happening in India. This is so very encouraging for all the independent acts in the country. I guess we are at the right place at the right time. No matter whatever is happening or changing around us we still do the same, create music which is close to our hearts and enjoy the process.
I don’t think success can be measured by whether or not you are playing at big festivals or venues. The very meaning of the word success is "the accomplishment of an aim or a purpose". So the aim and purpose of Swarathma is to keep making honest music.
IMR: You guys have always been a very socially and politically aware band. What are the issues that you are trying to deal with on this album? And what is the significance of your newspaper ridden album art (in all, what sets this album apart compared to your debut effort)?
Vasu: We may come across as a band which is socially and politically aware band, which is not a conscious decision but an intuitive feeling with which we write our songs about. As artists we are sensitive human beings and we are open and aware of what’s happening around us in this society. There are many things which affect us and how we deal with them by expressing our concerns in our songs. If it doesn’t affect us, it won’t be reflected in our songs. In this album we have songs like "Topiwalleh" which talks about the present political scene but told in a quirky twist, you may ask “isn’t it alread a joke by now?”. Yes it is, but we would also like people to think of what can be done about while we have fun. Similarly we have "Ghum" about child sexual abuse, "Aaj Ki Taaza Fikar" which deals with the sensationalism that’s created in media to sell news, We have "Kooraane" which talks of rampant consumerism and all of us becoming slaves of offers and discounts in the shopping malls and also we have "Naane Daari" (in Kannada) speaking about the optimistic power of youth and then "Rishton Ka Raasta" talks about the distances in relationships.
Artwork (concept): As a child I would wait for a colourful newspaper advertisement so that I could use that as a wrapper for my note books and text books. Also sometimes I when I buy bhajji's and pakoda's wrapped in newspapers I find interesting articles and designs in them. And on the other side I wonder what happens to these articles of our which we try and preserve, after all they are also "just a newspaper"! So, all these bits and pieces put together formed some imprints in my designer mind to try out this design.
This album has 10 songs while our first album had 8, actually it’s much more than that. We have grown as musicians and our production has taken a step-up and it is for us to see in this album. Even the way we have composed the songs here has every band member’s contribution musically. We wouldn’t promise that this is better than the old or anything like that. It is definitely a new experience for us and hope that our fans enjoy it the way we do.
IMR: You must have been performing the songs from Topiwalleh live. How is the crowd reception so far?
Sanjeev: Yes, we have been playing songs from Topiwalleh live for quite some time now. In fact, one song from this album named "Khul Ja Re", has been part of our live set list even before we released the first album! I think if you are a regular at our gigs, it’s safe to say that in this album you will not hear something you haven't heard at one of our gigs, but recorded and arranged in a studio setup. That's what we like to do - preview our songs to our fans as we write them, so not only will we give enough time for the song to grow and develop, but also get better at playing it in the studio by the time we record them!
From what we've seen so far, the crowd has received them quite well. I believe all of them stand out in their own way; my personal favorites are "Rishton Ka Rasta" and "Kooraane".
IMR: Recently there was an update on Facebook about the Topiwalleh tour. You must be excited. So what are your plans for this tour?
Jishnu: The Topiwalleh tour details are out - it is called the "Restless Tour" and will cover ten cities over a month. We're really excited about the chance to play the new songs of the album and reach out to the fans who've supported us all these years. We're also keen to play for those who have never heard us before!
With this album we want to take steps to be loyal to the fans that have helped us reach where we have. We're giving away a hand-painted Swarathma Epiphone Guitar to one lucky winner as part of the tour.
While we're in different cities we'll be doing impromptu busking sets, playing in homes of fans... and the coolest thing, playing in the home of a fan for his or her friends and family. This is our way of giving back.
We have this series of concerts called Action Replay, where we give music back to those who may not be able to experience it readily. So when we'll be in Kolkata we'll play at an NGO called CalcuttaKids, run by some friends of the band. It promises to be exciting!
IMR: Swarathma is definitely one of the most energetic and colorful live act in the country. Whose idea was it initially and also to include the “ghodi”?
Vasu: The energy is definitely what the audience gives to us, we just bounce it back to them and it is vice-versa. Energy should be flowing, that’s where the fun is. I have had a background in theatre in Mysore under the guidance of Mr. Mime Ramesh and that influence is reflected in our live acts. I believe that audience come to see and listen to a live band playing, so we want to reach out to both those senses at its best. And our visual treatment is again a reflection of our songs, it is part of the performance. The ghodi idea was mine, when we were competing for the Radio City Live contest in 2008, because I thought we should offer something different and had to win the contest so that we could get the EMI Virgin record deal. So the effort paid-off but everyone who had seen us there kept asking for the ghodi during our performances, so decided to have her as long as she is on grass and hhhiiiiiee...ggghhhh.
IMR: As if you weren't colorful enough on your own, you had Huli Kunitha artists join you on stage at the M.A.D Festival. What was the idea behind it and can we expect acts such as these on the tour?
Jishnu: One of the purposes of Swarathma’s music is to integrate Folk arts into our music. At various times we’ve had Folk drummers from Maharashtra, morchang artists from Rajasthan and Thavil players from Temple festivals join us on stage. With the song Kooraane being what it is about, we thought there was an intuitive connect with the feeling of the "hunt" and the Huli Kunitha dancers. Of course, we need to work on the execution but the idea itself has a lot of power in it. As for similar acts on the tour, let’s wait and watch.
IMR: You’ve worked with the Indian Classical vocal maestro Subha Mudgal in your first album and then again in The Dewarist. How was the experience of working with such a personality and should we expect any surprise collaboration in the coming future soon?
Varun: Collaborations are as much of a surprise for us as much as it is for the audience because we don’t know what to expect out of it. Now when you are get to work with someone like Shubhaji, it becomes a lot more special because of how great a singer she is and how easy it was for us to work with her. There was no instance where I felt that I was working with someone really that great a personality, she is so down to earth which still makes me wonder and learn from her. So you see it’s not just about the song we came up with but a lot more than that. It’s the person and the experience of working with that person which makes it more special. And if I need to put it down in short it was a magical experience for us back then and it continues to be so even today. Still can’t believe that it really happened.
Jishnu: As for future collaborations, it’s difficult to plan. Many of them happen spontaneously at shows or on the day before the show. For example we collaborated with Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy (Scribe) on a show where he brought his beatboxing-rapping-growling genius to our folk-infused theatrical set. The result was fantastic. It keeps the experience fresh for us and the audience.
IMR: You guys have been in and around the "indie scene” from a long time. How much do you think it has changed during these years? What difficulties you had to face then which bands now-a-days don’t have to worry about?
Sanjeev: I feel the scene has only got better. There are many more bands today than ever before, that make music they like, write their own songs, and be heard. Venues like Hard Rock Cafe's in India are now open to bands that write songs in other languages than in English. Few years back this was unimaginable. The times are changing and good original music that is honest in any form or language is being appreciated. We feel fortunate to be playing at a time when this change is happening. We went through all the problems, difficulties that any new band would face when we started out. We didn't have a manager for a long time. Getting enough time to do sound check before the show would begin, was a challenge; getting quality sound equipment at the venue was even harder. Some of these problems will continue to exist for the bands - but as you start to play more gigs, you get smarter and find a way to work around some of these issues. One thing is for sure - today there are lot more venues and music festivals to play at, than ever before. So today, bands have more opportunities to showcase their music which is a good thing for the scene.
IMR: Thank you for taking the time out to talk to IndianMusicRevolution. Any final words you would like to share with your fans and the readers?
Montry: Wish you happy music, and come and enjoy with us.
Currently pursuing engineering at VIT, Vellore, Hari spends less time in the college and more time outside, either catching bands live or helping bands as their drum tech. Currently playing drums for a Metalcore band in college covering artists like Lamb of God, Killswitch Engage etc.
He's also got a flair for sound engineering. Listens to a variety of genres ranging from Dubstep to Grindcore and Death Metal in his spare time, apart from blogging about his various encounters with music and is a die hard of Indian heavyweights, Motherjane.
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