Swarathma: Notes from the soul

This Indian folk rock band from Bangalore is gaining popularity for their soulful music even as they prepare to launch their second album. Shirin Mehrotra talks to Swarathma about their two loves – music and food.

From left: Sanjeev, Pavan, Varun, Vasu, Montry and Jishnu

Band Members:
Vasu Dixit – Vocals and Rhythm Guitar
Jishnu – Bass and Backing Vocals
Montry – Drums
Sanjeev – Violin
Pavan – Percussion and Backing Vocals
Varun – Lead Guitar and Backing Vocals

Why Swarathma?
Varun: We wanted a name that was more than just a cool word or phrase – something that stood for what we believed in. That was why one of the erstwhile members of the band came up with this beautiful name – Swarathma. The soul of the note or notes from the soul, if you will. As long as we stay true to this name, our music will ring true.

Who’s the voice (swarr) and who’s the soul (atma)?
Jishnu: There is no single answer to that question. Varun’s guitar and Sanjeev’s violin have as much of the swar as do Vasu’s vocals. Each one is the swar and the atma in equal measure. This brings me to an important point: we’re probably no great shakes as individual musicians. But when we come together we’re greater than the sum of our parts. That’s why everyone is swar and atma in equal parts.

Image courtsey: http://www.facebook.com/#!/swarathma

Who does Swarathma look up to?
Montry: Every member of the band has different musical inspirations and influences. As a band we look up to Indian Ocean as much for the music as for the courage of their conviction. They stayed together through the toughest of times and created a genre of which we are all a part of in some way.

Whose music would you actually go out and buy from the current crop of musicians?
Jishnu: There appears to be an assumption in the question. Does it mean ‘whose music do you respect or appreciate enough to buy, instead of download free’? If so, there is a difference between respecting music and the act of buying it. The two are no longer inter-related.

I no longer think that appreciating music means that I have to buy it. It means that I would listen to it. I would still try and download it. Yes, that does mean that I advocate piracy. I think it is one of the best things to have happened to music. Far from snatch the livelihoods of musicians and puncture holes in the booming music business, it’s opened up the world of music to those who may never have known of its existence. The way music is consumed has changed, and the sooner we make our peace with it, the easier it will be for everyone.

Coming to the question of whose music we respect, there is a crop of great new bands that deserve recognition: Paradigm Shift, Agam, Parvaaz, Dualist Inquiry, Solder are among a few that come to mind.

One Indian instrument that you wish to include in your band.
Pavan: The veena. I’ve been captivated by it from a young age. But I’ve never had a chance to learn it. It is a unique instrument with an unmistakable sound that is very Swarathma.

An instrument that you (all band members) would want to learn.
Montry: Sanjeev would like to learn the cello, Jishnu the double bass, Pavan the veena. But my take is a little different. I am into fashioning my own instruments from discarded waste (plastic bottles, ball bearings among other things). So I don’t really wish to learn anything. I will most likely create an instrument instead.

Image courtsey: http://www.facebook.com/#!/swarathma

Which city has been the best audience for Swarathma and why?
Vasu: Bangalore has been the best for obvious reasons. The city has seen us grow from the days when we could just about play to now when we’re a serious band! The other city that definitely deserves mention is Pune. It’s our second home!

Coming to your other love food; what has been your craziest food adventure?
Vasu: That has to be Morocco. We had the good fortune of touring the small West African country in 2010 and had some pretty crazy food. I had the toughest time as I am vegetarian. The snails were pretty memorable as were the tagines and the saucisses (sausages).

Jishnu: Another memorable food adventure was the first time we toured Singapore in 2008. We went to a street lined with small eateries and ordered some of the most exotic seafood dishes possible. The look in the eyes of the crayfish and the lobsters haunt me to this day. But they were delicious. We do make it a point to try out local cuisines wherever we go.

Varun: I remember once in Delhi we had a couple of nights off when Randolph Correia (of Pentagram) and Vijay Nair (of OML) took a few of us to Old Delhi to sample authentic Mughlai cuisine. It was mind blowing! Even Lucknow’s Tunday Kababi was a great experience.

Pavan: Speaking of Singapore, I remember suffering their cuisine for three days before I found a place that made ‘pratas’ (their word for paratha). I almost wept, I was so happy to have something that resembled food I knew. Closer home we’ve been forced to eat at several roadside eateries while on tour. Most of them have been uniformly terrible. We’ve found that if you order three kinds of dishes at a regular dhaba, they will be exactly the same. But we’re probably one of the few bands that will go out of the way to visit a well-known restaurant just to get a great meal before we head to a performance. I remember the detour to eat at Karim’s when we were in Delhi.

Image courtsey: http://www.facebook.com/#!/swarathma

Image courtsey: http://www.facebook.com/#!/swarathma

One dish/cuisine you’ll never try even if paid a million bucks?
Sanjeev: That’s easy – non-vegetarian food for Vasu, the veggie. The rest will try anything.

How important is food for you?
Pavan: Most of us stop functioning normally when hungry. That’s why keeping us well-fed is key to keeping us in good humour. Just ask our tour manager. Food forms an important part of the hospitality rider when we’re on tour. There’s usually a pre-show snack that we have backstage that keeps us fired up for our onstage theatrics. I remember the band being pretty thrilled about deep-fried stuff.

What’s your comfort food?
Jishnu: A good cup of chai and a break to clear our minds usually works best. But among the best food we’ve had as a band is at the ancestral home of Sanjeev Nayak while travelling to Mangalore. Even Konkani seafood is to die for.

Image courtsey: http://www.facebook.com/#!/swarathma



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Graphics designer turned writer. Writes about food, films and books. Aspiring fiction writer. Wannabe backpacker. Jalebi hogger. Old Monker. Hrishikesh da/Gulzar addict. Follow Shirin on twitter @foodchants

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