Thermal and a Quarter is all set to rock on!

The Bengaluru-based band, which is also one of the oldest rock bands in India, is ready to set the stage in Chennai on fire! 
(L-R) Rajeev Rajagopal, Leslie Charles, Tony Das, and Bruce Lee Mani
(L-R) Rajeev Rajagopal, Leslie Charles, Tony Das, and Bruce Lee Mani

Their last performance in Chennai “just over a year ago” as Bruce Lee Mani, lead guitarist and vocals, of one of the oldest bands in India, Thermal and a Quarter, puts it, was very different from what Chennai is set to experience this Friday as the band takes centre stage.

This time around, Chennaiites can expect a really heavy set from the band. “In our midlife crisis, I think we’re just pulling out all of our 90s grunge influences and really just bringing a heavy set for Chennai. This set, if I may add, is unusual. Last time, we came with a nine piece with a full horn section and we were doing full jazzy and funky things, but this time, it’s just going to be a heavy set.”

Been around for 27 years, Thermal and a Quarter is literally the ‘rock’ as far as the music scene is concerned. The band, of course, has seen music change over the years. “If you do anything for that length of time, you see a bunch of different things change; trends come; they disappear. Suddenly, some music is at the forefront, some other music takes a backseat. We’ve seen it all. And actually in many ways, it doesn’t make a difference if you are in it (music) for expressing yourself and doing it because that’s who you are; that’s what gives you the most satisfaction,” Bruce says, adding, “Right now, there’s this Bandland Festival that’s going to be happening in Bengaluru, and all the big festivals coming back; so it looks like music itself is making a comeback in terms of live music — after pandemic, that is; and which is good because you see people wanting to come out and watch gigs and really support local bands.”

Thermal and a Quarter is a rock band from Bengaluru, formed in 1996, rooted in classic rock. Talking about how rock music has transitioned, Bruce tells us, “The idea of rock is now so loose, flexible and amorphous that I don’t know if anyone really understands what rock per se means. All kinds of things can rock these days!”

Growing up in the ’90s with bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, rock invariably influenced the band’s music choice. “Add to that, of course, the ’80s and ’70s rock that our parents were listening to,” Bruce says. “So, those were our influences and we picked up guitars and started playing. And you know, as a teenager in those times, the things that come to you are loud, aggressive music and I guess rock fulfills that desire at that time. And I think as far as our own particular brand of music is concerned, it’s not easily classifiable. It’s really mixed up and incorporating our whole Bengaluru vibe into the music we make has resulted in that particular mix of sound,” he explains.

Bruce confesses that over the years, the band hasn’t experimented with other genres. “We haven’t gone very far off the live instruments kind of thing. So, we’re still playing guitars, bass, drums, keyboards. We haven’t done much electronic explorations, but within this format, I think we’ve explored quite a few different avenues.”

Since Bruce mentioned “midlife crisis” at the start of the conversation, we ask him if the stage of life one is in, reflects upon the music they make, and he instantly says, “It better! If you’re being honest with your art, then yes.”

He continues, “There is no real one way to do these things. We don’t have a process of making music; ours is very organic, very messy. It’s like a relationship because I just can’t come from anywhere. I write most of the lyrics, and have some basic sketches of ideas. And then we bring it into the jam room. Some songs take exactly one hour to finish writing; some songs take five years. And with four people, we have to agree creatively, that this is something that everyone is good with, and happy to send out to the world. However, even with so many ways of doing it, we know that every time is different. We do think  that’s what makes it (the process) beautiful,  interesting and keeps us coming back.”

No band can ever claim to not have had any disagreements, and Bruce says they have had differences of opinions too, “Of course, we have had disagreements. But we have a shared desire to keep making music because we love it; moreover, we trust in each other’s creative and artistic inputs. And that generally tends to overcome any differences or controversies that we have.”

Twenty-seven years is a long time; even marriages don’t survive that long, we tell him, to which Bruce adds, “This band is older than my marriage. I was 19 when we formed the band. I think what has helped us stick together is luck and circumstances that enabled us to stay in the same place and keep doing the same thing. Secondly, a shared commitment and the fact that we’ve got such a pretty vast body of work, in terms of released albums and tours. So then the whole becomes more than just a sum of the parts.”

The stage still excites the band like it did the very first time they set foot on it. “The long years don’t make a difference. The excitement is the same every single time because we get to learn new things,” Bruce says.

The band is currently working on their ninth studio album. “It is a very interesting album, about altered states of consciousness. We’ve got all the songs ready, and are in the middle of pre-production right now. The album will hopefully be out early next year.”

To the young lot of musicians who want to make a career in music, Bruce has this to say, before signing off, “It takes a little amount of madness; you have to be slightly crazy to keep doing this for as long as we have, because there are lots of ups and downs. But eventually, it comes down to what you classify as important. If it’s important for you, as a person, if it defines you as an artiste, then you will find a way. Also, when you’re thinking about what’s important, ask yourself: Are you doing this to be famous? Are you doing this to be a star? Or are you doing this to really find something that will be your friend for life, will be a way to express yourself creatively and artistically for the rest of your life? There is no right or wrong answer there, but it’s important to understand what your responses to those questions are.”
Tickets starts at Rs 250.
November 24, 8.45 pm.
Bay 146, Mylapore

X: @rupsjain

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