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His music is Bishnoi-Ce!

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Anyone who is Facebook pals with Sooraj  Bishnoi has more than a soft corner for his dorky yet amazing puns. On the surface, Sooraj comes across as a goof, but it comes as a pleasant surprise to learn that he is so well-versed with music, as a professional singer, songwriter, and music producer. Music isn’t his only passion though! The man also enjoys wildlife photography, and he is proficient in making people realise exactly how talented he is with the knowledge of so many musical instruments. Sooraj Bishnoi talks to Afternoon D & C Feature Writer Mansi Shanbag about his plans ahead and his process.

How were you introduced to music in the first place?
I've always been into music, ever since I can remember. My mom used to sing Hindustani and Carnatic music as a hobby, and I used to imitate her both with my own voice, and then on a little keyboard that she owned. This was when I was about one -and-a-half-years old, so it's more of, well, living hand-in-hand with music rather than being introduced to it. I gave my 8th grade in keyboards from Trinity College, London when I was six, after which I picked up the guitar, then the violin, then the drums, and the classical piano, and there's really been no looking back from there, I feel!

What does the brand 'Sooraj Bishnoi' really entail?
Well, I always look at there being two main aspects to me, with regards to being a player in the music business. Firstly, there's the performance side of me, which entails writing my own songs and performing them live, along with perhaps covers of other songs that I love. The other side of me is the music producer and recordist - where I work for other clients: recording and composing for ads, short films, and also recording and producing for other artists and bands. I set up a home studio in Santacruz about six months ago, and have been operating from there. The truly magical part is when the two sides of me combine - where I write, record, produce and publish my own songs.

What genre would you categorise your music as?
I like to experiment with different categories and genres, and hence I find it a bit difficult to categorise my music into one particular genre. There's a bit of everything that I love in there. So, I guess my music has kind of a blues-pop-country-rock-jazz-funk-alternative vibe! But yes, I tend to stick to the acoustic or rock side and not really venture into EDM or electronic music - for my own songs at least.

Are you affiliated with any record labels or management companies?
No, I am currently fully independent, though I'm in talks with a few people for social media management, because I want to direct my entire focus on making great music.

Do you have a band? How does that work?
I'm in the process of setting up a five-piece band - which is rather long overdue! I used to perform with two of my friends, Hansel Dias (bass) and Calvin D'silva (drums) as 'The Sooraj Trio', but I've been feeling the need for a fuller sound to my songs, and have hence roped in Pranav Kamat (guitars) and Nishat Chadha (keyboards) to join the line-up. I perform solo nowadays though, mostly.

You are a resident artist with NSPA. Please explain?
NSPA (Natural Streets for the Performing Arts) is an NGO that promotes busking - aka, performances in public venues. I've recently completed two years of being an artist with this organisation. I usually perform with my friend Shannon Fernandes, and we mostly play covers of classic rock and alternative songs which we love - ranging from 'The Beatles' and 'Simon and Garfunkel', to John Mayer and Green Day. NSPA has given me such immense value in terms of performance experience - thanks to the variety of locations I've performed at, I can handle myself on practically any stage - malls, metro stations, parks, promenades, cafes, nightclubs and one day hopefully, a world stage.

You released your debut EP 'It’s Your Life' in 2012. Tell us a little about that?
'It's Your Life' was more of an experiment to test the waters - to actually go through the process and find out what it was like to put a song up online. I didn't market it or push it, I just wanted to see how things went on their own. The title comes from a song in the album called 'It's Your Life,' which basically urges people to make their own choices and not be afraid to take the road less travelled - because after all the pushing, it's your life. It was a learning experience in itself, and I'm working on an LP now, which I plan to release on a fuller scale. I wanted to make way for my new sound, so I’ve pulled the EP off from all the platforms. The old EP was becoming deadweight. I had to keep paying for it to be up there, and I wasn’t pushing it. I’ve also reworked my sound a lot. I'm including a few songs from the EP in this next LP that I'm working on, though.

Among the songs that you have sung or written, can you single out a favourite one?
Oh, that's a tough one! I've loved and relished the writing and creative process of all my songs. But I think I've had a very different experience with the most recent song I wrote called ‘Afterlife’.  It talks about suicide, and why not to do it - because there's no guarantee that there is a life after the one you have, and if it's going to be any better, and also underlines the heartbreak of the life that you leave behind you, the ‘afterlife’ for your near and dear ones. It sends a hopeful message which says, 'You're never going to change the past, but you've only got to give yourself a present.' I cried buckets while writing the song, and it's still hard to keep my eyes dry when I sing it live.

Who are your main influences?
I'd say one of the main influences on my music has been John Mayer - his style of writing, his melodies and his way of playing the guitar. Apart from that, I also love 'The Beatles', 'Simon and Garfunkel', 'Poets of the Fall', and have also recently been listening a lot to artists from the independent Indian music scene, such as Tejas Menon, Prateek Kuhad, 'Spud in the Box' and 'Short Round'. I'm also trained in Western and Indian classical music, so somewhere, somehow, sometimes, influences from Beethoven or Mozart or Carnatic music find their way into the way I produce my songs.

What do you feel about the music scene in Mumbai?
I feel that the independent music scene is growing and in an extremely good way. Of course, the majority of the city listens to Bollywood - that won't change anytime soon. But the independent scene is much bigger than it was even three years ago, with a lot more venues opening up to independent musicians, and with some artists even getting a substantial fan following, like Daira or Prateek Kuhad or 'Blackstratblues.' So I think there's going to be a very big increase in the number of people attending and being aware of independent musicians in the city. Independent music is on the rise, definitely!

What future gigs do you have that need to be penciled in on the calendar?
I'm hoping to perform at 'Blue Frog' Pune, and 'Tuning Fork', very soon. On an immediate note, I have a gig at a restaurant called 'The Boston Butt' at Kala Ghoda, on Sunday, November 6, in the evening around 8pm. I'm mainly taking some time off a lot gigs, to practice with the band, and also getting set to release my newly-recorded single, ‘Nemesis’, in a few weeks time.

If not a musician, what would you have been?
A number of things! I do wildlife photography as a hobby and a passion, so that could've been one career - in fact, I just got back from Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka a few days ago. Another passion, which has existed side by side with music since as long as I can remember, is aviation and flying. Unfortunately, I dropped Math and Science in 12th grade, so I can't really do that commercially, but I'd still love to get a private pilot's licence.

Next gig at Qtube Cafe, Bandra  on November 23.

Don’t miss it, folks!

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