Vinay Kaushal's new single 'The Elephant in the Room' is haunting and powerful
Lyrics themed around wildlife conservation with jazz undertones make for a novel pairing
What happens when a musician and a wildlife conservationist tie the knot? An umbilical ‘chord’ to the well-being of our forests, that’s what. Pune-based guitarist Vinay Kaushal and his ‘unofficial’ lyricist wife Uma Athale first conceptualized his third single, The Elephant in the Room, a year ago. Since then, the soulful vocals courtesy Mumbai-based Aditi Ramesh and tense, yet flowing piano lines by New York-based pianist extraordinaire Sharik Hasan have been virtually recorded and refined across continents. After his last 2020 release, Is it Sunny? in collaboration with Shakthisree Gopalan which revolved around love and longing, this song slated to drop on May 15, reflects an entirely different sentiment. From people losing their jobs and animals running scared, this song reflects that underlying atmosphere of fear — whether your home is made of bricks or trees.
How was The Elephant In the Room conceived?
The incident last year where an elephant was killed by a firecracker was all over the news, and I think that’s what gave birth to the idea of the song. I was writing the melody anyway and as we started conceptualizing the lyrics, they started to form around that. As the melodic and lyrical process continued, we realized that while we are encroaching more and more on the natural habitat for wild animals, human beings are also very, very far from feeling safe in their own homes, just like our wildlife counterparts. There are so many similar issues that people show outrage about for a few days but later they’re swept under a rug. The irony of it all quickened the songwriting process drastically. It’s our way of trying to address the elephant in the room and hoping more people will too!
What was it like collaborating across cities and continents for this single?
EITR is one of the first tunes that I wrote and remotely got recorded last year during the pandemic. Remote recording was a fairly new thing for me and some of the other musicians on the song, everyone was at some stage of setting up their home studio (makeshift or otherwise). This is how it came together: I wrote out the tune and made a scratch recording good enough to give a direction to what I envisioned for each instrument that’s on it. Sharik Hasan’s soul-filled piano notes really keep the mood together, Varun Venkit’s earthy drum playing is rock solid, Aditi’s powerful voice brings the lyrics to life and Krishnan Swaminathan’s bass playing binds us all into it. Looking back, remote recording didn’t prove a very big challenge technically. Although I must admit, I think I did break some curfew laws to go mix the tune in my friend Aseem Dhaneshwar’s studio.
Is there going to be a music video shot when restrictions ease? Your last one with a pole dancer moving in perfect sync to your guitar was pretty amazing.
I’m glad you enjoyed Is It Sunny? Nupur Chaudhuri (India’s first international pole medallist) is really amazing and I wanted the world to see the amount of work, both physical and mental, that goes into making something so graceful. For the video of EITR, I think I’d like to find wildlife videographers to collaborate with. It would be quite something to show the world an actual glimpse of how we all are part of the same ecosystem and need each other
Is there a second album on the horizon, after Naked on a Train?
Actually yes, I’m currently working on my second album. Who would have thought the strange times we’re in would continue a whole year later, with no end in sight. I’ve tried to immerse myself in composing more than ever this last whole year and I realised I had many little acoustic guitar ideas that were just waiting for some attention. It’s all coming together quite well and I hope to have it ready by September. The more or less acoustic album is sounding quite low-key, moody and emotionally heavy, just like the times we are in. I have a few singers in mind for some of the tunes, but I’d prefer not giving away any spoilers!
We just listened to your TEDx talk on Life Lessons from a Life in Music. If you were to update it, now in the context of living through a pandemic — what would you add?
I’d urge everyone to find that one hobby that people can totally immerse themselves in. So many people are going through mental irritation, frustration and other mental issues because of sheer boredom. A good hobby can be a lifelong thing to lean on. I’m very lucky that my passion and profession are somewhat intertwined. Also, I’ve learnt from this pandemic that adulting is not necessarily a bad thing. For example, when you make some money, put more aside for a rainy day than you spend on guitar gear.
Also, how has the general mood of uncertainty, restriction and loss affected your mind space as a creator?
Over the span of the year, my mind space has gone through a few stages. It started off pretty great — enjoying the quiet time and writing the three singles that are now released. Some commercial work kept me quite busy right after and I composed music for a series of short films called Brave New World that are streaming on Disney+Hotstar. I did go through a fairly uninspired few weeks at the beginning of this year, but listening to new music and running the cat around the house really seems to help me pull myself together. I’ve been trying to focus on getting better at my art as much as possible and seeing oneself improve seems a good inspiration to keep at it.
Guitar apart, your cat Miles who is always in your studio seems to be your constant companion on this musical journey. Cue: a purr-fect ASMR opening on your next track?
Miles is with me every step of the way. He is my biggest critic and doesn’t hesitate to walk out of the room with a completely disgusted expression when he thinks I’m playing badly!
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