TT Sriram, the frontman of Skrat, talks about his life between business sales and tonal scales
It isn’t hard to imagine the lead guitarist of a rock band lugging around a bag filled with deodorants and condoms. However, if you’re picturing an artiste carrying all this backstage, followed by an entourage of groupies, don’t bother. You won’t find any tales of green-room hedonism here. This rockstar embarked on a door-to-door journey in the crowded markets of Mumbai and Madurai, trying to make the perfect sales pitch!
That’s a succinct summation of TT Sriram’s journey so far. A life that oscillates between being the frontman for one of Chennai’s most respected indie bands to being a salesman for a 91-year-old conglomerate company.
Despite hailing from an illustrious family that helms the multi-faceted TTK Group, Sriram earned his stripes the hard way. Be it onstage: where his band Skrat spent their formative years being trounced by scenesters. Or in the business realm: where at the outset, he might have been considered by many as the boss’ son.
Over a decade later, perspectives have changed. Respect earned. His outfit’s musical endeavours, which include four full-length albums, have led to sold-out shows around the country and earned the trio (featuring Jhanu Chanthar and Tapass Naresh) widespread critical acclaim. But, what of the entrepreneurial side of things?
Learning to hustle
“The corporate world and the rock ’n’ roll domain have very little in common. In fact, as far as I am concerned, they stay independent of each other,” says the engineering graduate with a degree in biotechnology from SRM University.
“I am not an academically inclined individual, so I never took the Ivy League B-School route. Which is why after college, my father, TT Raghunathan, insisted that I gain work experience. Initially, I worked with Kemppi, a Finnish welding product company, who were launching in the city. Following this, a stint at Brew Magazine’s sales department. Only then was I allowed to step foot into the company. And of course, I started at the bottom — as a sales representative,” he adds.
Did his family’s legacy in the field help him gain a better understanding of the craft? Maybe, because when he was a kid, Sriram’s grandfather would always explain how ‘working in sales is the most fun job in the world. In spite of this, the Tin Can Man singer admits he was scared.
“I was in my 20s. Surrounded by people who’d been working in the department for more years than I’d been alive. Getting fired or quitting wasn’t even an option! I slogged on the road from 10 am to 4 pm in cities like Chennai, Madurai, and Mumbai. Selling everything from deodorants to condoms—going to 42 shops a day and handling distributors. After an intense and challenging four-year period, they finally took off the training wheels, and I started progressing,” explains the 31-year-old, who is currently a senior manager in sales at TTK Healthcare’s food division.
Since his bandmates, Jhanu (bass) and Tapass (drums) are full-time musicians who are on tour at least 200 days a year, one begins to wonder if Sriram ever feels like a kid in a corporate classroom —looking outside the window and seeing all his friends going out to play.
“Not at all. Both of them are talented and hardworking artistes. Whereas, I currently sell chips for a living! Why would I complain? Sure, it comes with its own set of challenges, crippling self-doubt, and high-pressure situations. All of which I’ve handled in Skrat. I would even go as far as saying, music is the harder job. Touring is no walk in the park. The cyclical ‘airport-hotel room-performance venue’ experience they both endure is not an enviable one. Whereas, all I have to do is come home every day from work at 5 pm, enter the shed/jam space beside my residence and flip a switch in my mind to tap into my musical side,” shares the lyricist behind albums like Bison, The Queen, Bring Out The Big Guns and Design.
The aforementioned shed—seen on their 17-minute, five-song YouTube showcase—is where Sriram does most of his songwriting, in lyric books. His approach is so organic and analogue that there is no home studio setup.
The musician, who also handles guitars for city-based Tails on Fire and features on composer Dhruv Kumar’s EP, Pieces That Do Not Fit, explains, “As Skrat, we don’t sing about political issues or provide social commentary. We are empathetic towards such topics, but also very aware of how preachy such bands become over time. People still connect to our tunes because we provide context. I create characters in my lyrics and then imply these issues in the third person. Listen closely, and you’ll realise that tunes like Samurai Bada** are about bullying.”
Zero prestige issues
Sriram’s interests in fantasy and speculative fiction, in general, is apparent as 13 years of songwriting has evolved into a universe of Skrat characters and interconnected albums. “Honestly, I feel people connect harder and heavier to a person that is not of this reality. This is why adults cry in theatres when superheroes die on-screen,” he adds.
However, this Chettinad Vidyashram alumnus also admits to writing over 40 songs, some of which have never seen the light of day. Primarily because they are deeply personal tunes like Ghost Town and do not fit the band’s lexicon.
Regardless of what he writes, Sriram always shares his tunes with his father. “Dad is a proper audiophile. Besides his go-to country, jazz and swingpop records, he’s always listening to new music. So, it comes as no surprise that he’s my biggest critic. I remember sharing The Queen, one of our heavier albums with him, and he joked that I should provide a Saridon pill, free with every copy! However, he taught me an important lesson very early on in my career: ‘If you sound like someone else, there’s no point in doing it. Yes, there are only nine notes on a tone scale, but what matters is what you do with it’,” shares the artiste, who is currently working on a graphic novel interpretation of the
Skrat tune, Gunslinger.
Bonding over BHP
Motorcycles are a massive obsession for both father and son. Photographs of his father’s 1969 Triumph Bonneville 650 and cafe racer toy collectables are easy to spot in the shed. The apple, as they say, doesn’t fall far from the tree. Back in 2014, Sriram and his crew embarked on a 3,600 km road trip, spanning seven cities.
“The idea was to ride and perform at eight venues, counting stopovers at RiderMania and NH7 Weekender. Our adventures through lesser-known routes that touched upon Kalasa and Kudremukh, etc, have been captured in a tour video called The Loverider Experience,” explains the motorhead, who rode a Royal Enfield Classic 500 Desert Storm edition during that ride.
Another instance of the family connecting over bikes would be their involvement with the California Superbike School—one of the world’s premier riding schools. “My uncle TT Varadarajan and his son, Siddharth, bring the brand down to India every year. It is by far the most comprehensive school for the motorcycle enthusiast, and I love helping them out,” he claims.
We live in an age where cringe pop ‘musicians’ earn over `3 lakh per gig. So, what’s wrong with the live music circuit today? “In the quest for instant validation, new bands are losing their identity. The essence of songwriting is dead—it’s all about viral value,” he elaborates, adding, “Yet, there are a few original bands in the city. My favourites are La Brise, Amrit Rao & the Madrascals, Spotlight, and Nobody.”