Indulge 14th Anniversary Special: Chennai musicians collaborated during the pandemic lockdowns like never before!
Magical music came forth from a time of isolation in Chennai, thanks to these interesting collabs
While the world isolated itself during the pandemic and art seemed to be the least concern on everybody’s mind, musicians in Chennai managed to collaborate, many of them for the first time, to give us music that will bring us joy for years to come.
RH Vikram (composer and arranger for the band): Staying at home definitely made production harder. Being on either side of the computer screen can never create the magic of getting together and creating music. The transfer of energy and vibes that happens while being together and producing music can never translate by producing music at home. Though it did make it convenient in the lockdown, it’s not a process we enjoy. Artistes across the world were definitely more accessible than ever before, so it opened up new horizons and collaborations that were previously not thought of. We collaborated with the El Fé Choir (also based in Chennai) for our series called Freshly Brewed. While everything in the world came to a standstill, it was a good time to introspect as artists and a new perspective of what kind of art we want to create as a band.
I believe the lockdown helped artistes break down a wall we’ve built over time; where physical presence is demanded during collaboration efforts. Since the lockdown, even the most conservative of artistes were open to remote collaborations, some even investing in a basic home studio set up to stay relevant and to basically keep up with the joneses. Personally, I was able to collaborate with Sakthi Amaran for my single Free Will and now being a producer as well, I’m equally excited to produce for other artistes as well; Sakthi’s debut album being one of them.
The pandemic opened new ways of collaborating because we didn’t have to meet in a studio or be physically together in a space. We shared ideas and brainstormed on Zoom calls and voice notes, and for Vaa Sakhi, we had just one Zoom conversation! I got a chance to collaborate with my favourite artistes which was a huge blessing, and I think this would be the way forward. It’s so amazing, especially for someone like me who has been so ignorant of technology, to be able to reach out to any artiste around the world with just an email or DM on Instagram and make collaborations happen! The musicians I managed to collaborate with are all exceptional artists in the city. They have worked for all the leading music directors in Tamil music industry and are very well known in the live gig scene. From Ravi G on keys, Akshay Yesodharan (lead guitar) and Reshwin Nishith E on bass to Ramkumar Kanakarajan on drums and Sayee Rakshith (violin) — this was a beautiful experience.
It was definitely harder working during the pandemic, since I don’t have a home studio (which I’m currently building). Before the pandemic, I had a routine: I enjoyed dressing up, listening to the song I’m about to record in my car on my way to the studio and work on some magic with my producer but once the pandemic hit I was in my pyjamas in my room trying to record a badass song (laughs). The ability to spend more time on creating as the world was taking a break. It was harder for me. All my shows got cancelled and I was mourning the loss of expectations I had. So, I was not really in a creative mood. Nothing around me was the same. While the crisis was reshaping the world, I spent most of my time rearranging mine. Somehow, a cool collaboration came out of this isolation and that’s how I ended up being on Neeye Oli with Shan Vincent de Paul and Santhosh Narayanan.
For me, writing and making music felt like the natural and the easier response in dealing with the pandemic situation. In a huge way, all the time it had helped me reflect on the things that matter to me the most and the things that don’t, which led me to put all my energy into my album. At a time where most things felt uncertain and there wasn’t a lot of stability, creating music was my constant and the only way I could feel my feet on the ground. It’s been a time of new milestones, love, grief, fear and expressing myself through music has freed me. I feel really blessed and grateful that I was able to collaborate, put out new music with artistes I deeply admire. I’ve discovered so many incredible artistes from Tamil Nadu who’ve put out new music during this time and that hugely inspires me, whether it’s snippets of what they’ve been working on or a major release. I see that as being a huge success for the Chennai indie music scene. It’s an exciting time for indie music in Tamil Nadu as more people are motivated to put out new music and if this year was anything to show for, a lot more people are ready to listen.
I am a bedroom/home studio producer. I’ve recorded and produced all of my music so far, only from home. Staying at home definitely helped me turn inward and focus better on the music. It is usually just me and my band in the songs. But because of the sudden metamorphosis in schedules and the sudden outpour of ‘extra available time’, we noticed and reached out to Ranjani Ramadoss (saxophonist/singer/songwriter) and are collaborating with her for our next single Un Arugil. I am quite excited, since such collaborations are a rare experience for us and the patterns she paints on our canvas are nothing short of brilliant, intuitive and touching.
Staying at home made production easier for me because my father is a musician and because of the lockdown, I had the advantage of using his home set up but for most artists it was really difficult having to stay at home without the reach of a studio. I was never up for collaboration with producers because I had a hard time conveying what was in my head but I came across Adi, a producer from Bangalore who had mailed me his beats and I absolutely fell in love with them and wrote over it immediately. Now we’ve released two songs which we collaborated on during the lockdown. In one way, lockdown taught me to be open to collaboration! I had more time to focus on music than I did before, now I was stuck in one room every day, all day. It definitely wasn’t easy for any of us. It gave me space to write and think in a different way than I usually do, to make mistakes and have time to correct them. I wrote Generation Z, a song which talks about social media and how it affected us so much. I wouldn’t have written this if I weren’t confined to a room. In a way I had to go through this to get to where I am.
Though the pandemic was devastating for a lot of people, both Dasa and I were fortunate enough to not fall sick and yet get around to meet each other and work on our debut collab project — Kalliyugam. We both live close by to each other yet it wasn’t easy having to sneak past police check-posts just to reach our studio aka the frat house. Ironically the pandemic is when things took off for us. Everything from the maajja distribution deal to Rolling Stone happened during the pandemic. All the free time just made us want to create more I guess.
Un Tholil Naan Saaya was written quite a while back and with a lot of love. The initial version was produced with a vintage, earthy arrangement under a rural backdrop as the premise of the song. I ended up losing the hard drive containing that audio session and that is where the intent to revisit the arrangements partially originated, i.e. keeping it acoustic, minimal, intimate and real — something anyone with a voice and/or guitar can sit and hum/perform. The collaboration with Keba Jeremiah was an opportunity in adversity to say the least, if I may, as I’d been meaning to work with Keba for years, and this mishap led to our first collaboration on an original and that too during the pandemic! Keba and I have also been working on an EP in its entirety due for release in a couple months’ time.
Woe Begone feels like a miracle. The songs found me. I didn’t go looking for them. Each musician I asked to play spontaneously agreed. During the lockdown, working with these friends and kindred spirits on a project this personal kept me sane. Each song was a lifeline with which I held on amid paranoia, helplessness, and fear. My collaborators are friends first and foremost, each of whom I met at a different stage of my life and musical journey. Paul, Vedanth, Shreya, and Praveen are primarily based in Chennai, while Doug Carraway is my friend from Columbus Ohio, where I lived for 15 years, 1996-2011. The atmosphere of warmth and trust in which the entire album has come into being is its own miracle, a testament to these friendships. Owing to busy performance/touring schedules at first, and the pandemic next, we have never met as a collective. The process has been almost entirely remote! Vedanth and I worked the most in person, as I recorded most of the vocals at his studio. After he laid down the guitar track, Vedanth would share the project files for the song with the rest, who would send in what they tracked one by one, forming a kind of whimsical assembly line. Then, it was Doug Carraway’s job as our “accidental mixing engineer” who hasn’t ever met the rest of the band other than me, to make sense of it all and put each song together. Once Doug began mixing the songs in earnest, it became my morning routine to wake up to the latest mix he dropped in my WhatsApp, so I could listen over morning coffee. The entire process was all about slow cooking, the long ride, a leisurely magical mystery tour. Another close friend, Bangalore-based visual artist and designer Saloni Sinha, swooped in to create all the illustrations and artwork for the single, video, and album. I should mention that the album was mastered by a Columbus connection, Brian Lucey, now based in LA with his own studio — Magic Garden Mastering.
All songs are streaming on major audio platforms.