MG ROAD:A line in Motherjane’s second album Maktub, goes, “I say to you, it is written, and by your hands it is rewritten.”
The words more or less sum up their journey. It all began for them in 2001 with their first album Insane Biography and then came Maktub in 2008. They are back now with a fresh single and have started performing live with a new line-up. The sound is even more progressively modern as it moves away from dark undertones. The Kochi-based band recently performed at Hard Rock Cafe in Bengaluru. Excerpts from an interview.
You’ve been in the music industry for 19 years. What are the big changes you’ve observed..
The biggest change that has happened over the years is the decline of record labels. They are losing prominence fast as every artist is a label by himself/ herself today. The scope of the industry has increased considerably with new avenues like Youtube, which serves as a marketing tool and a source of income. And of course, the decline of television. The role of social media in music is growing at an unimaginable rate and it sure is exciting to us.
Is the market better for musicians today?
It has it highs and lows but it’s definitely much easier to launch yourself into the scene. There are more avenues to generate income rather than just record sales and concerts - that’s a huge shift in the industry dynamics. To a high extent, it’s much better now for bands and musicians.
How have the sources of revenue evolved?
Earlier, the biggest source were concerts and some money from record and merchandise sales at concert venues. Today, there are digital sales, merchandise, streaming revenue, digital performance royalties, ringtone revenue etc. Merchandise adds up to 50 per cent of the total income generated by bands globally and this area is still at its infancy in India.
You were missing in action..
We went through many changes and we made a conscious decision to take it slow this time. We realised that if it’s fear of failure that drives you, the outcome will be not be the one you desire. These two years, we let our music take its own shape instead of taking up shows and releasing songs in a hurry. Business decisions took a back seat and we gave space to creativity even if it meant being questioned constantly. We started writing Clay Play in 2012 and the song underwent 10 versions before we strung it together. In the meantime, the band found its ground.With Clay Play, we found ourselves and we’ve received a very positive response from our fans. The song talks about taking life playfully. That’s what we did with the band. The wait worked out for us. Despite our inactivity during this phase, the interest in the band was still alive on social media and in the music industry. We are very grateful to our fans and followers for believing in us.
How has Motherjane’s identity changed in the recent past?
The new lineup is all about balance and totality. We took a minimalist approach with regard to sound. We sustained the ethnic elements that Motherjane is known for, while we have revamped and added some new sounds that we didn’t conventionally use. The solos are shorter, which brings in a balance to our compositions.
Rather than sustaining the style we started with and relive the past, we are heading into a new direction. It’s been quite a journey since the band was formed in 1996. The band’s new members bring in their original style and sound. Instead of filling the shoes of previous band members, we decided to evolve. We are all at the same wavelength when we write songs together.
Your line-up has changed multiple times in the past four years...
Yes, we are often asked about the changes in the band’s line-up. A few years ago, we were at a point where each musician was growing in a different direction. Finding their true potential meant steering into a completely different space. Everything that happened added to the big picture. Rex left the band and started Avial, Mithun is spearheading Thaikudam Bridge, Baiju is travelling as a guitar demi god, Suraj is scaling new heights as a rock poet, Nirmal David is an award-winning animator, Laji George and Shyam Narayanan (along with Mithun) are getting ahead with Pseutopia, Santosh Chandran is with Arka, Deepu is into sessions, Deepak Dev is composing for movies, while Biju Peter, Sesil, George and Ravi Nairare are finding their respective spaces in pursuit of happiness and innovation. It’s good to see that everyone has evolved.
Some argue that the band can’t be Motherjane without some of its previous members.
We accepted that it is a natural process to grow and change. John and Clyde have been with the band since it was formed by them and Mithun in 1996. Since then, Motherjane has spread messages about evolution, hope and awakening.
Change has been a constant even from our first album Insane Biography to our second album Maktub. No doubt, we have grown, and yet, we continue to hold on to the message of a higher consciousness.
In short, we gave the metaphysical ideas a new design with our music. It’s like old wine in a new bottle. Moreover, if you consider bands like Opeth and Megadeth, you’ll see that their line-ups have also changed drastically over the years, but they still hold the essence of what the band stands for.
What were some of the challenges you faced during this period?
Mainly, it was questions. When people asked us about our next release, we didn’t have answers. While there was encouragement to take a new direction, there was also hesitation. We were on a journey of exploration but we also had to live up to the expectations everyone had from brand Motherjane. We had no idea what direction the music or the band was taking. It was a difficult phase but we learnt some of our lives best lessons. In the two years without gigs, John and Nithin even learnt how to cook a meal!
Clyde was the official cook but he got fired after an overkill of chilli powder in every dish. We learnt to make dishes like puttu, upma, fish curry and chapathi. Yes, we knead the dough and roll it ourselves too! However, we failed to please Rex with our fish curry. That’s something we need to work on!
Could you brief us on the new lineup?
Motherjane now has four core members -John Thomas (drums and percussion), Clyde Rozario (bass guitar), Nithin Vijayanath (lead/rhythm guitar) and Vivek Thomas (vocals), along with two touring musicians Sushin Shyam (keyboard/ synth) and Varun Raj (guitar). John and Clyde are part of the founding members, while Nithin has been a familiar presence to Motherjane.
He joined as our band manager in 1999 and has been with us all these years. He’s an old friend to the band. Meanwhile, John first heard Vivek when he judged a competition which turned him into a fan of Vivek’s voice. Vivek has been with us for over two years now.
How are the previous members taking to the new line-up?
We are humbled by the support we received from them. Suraj Mani, Baiju Dharmajan, Deepu Sasidharan, Santosh Chandran and Mithun Raju were present at some of our shows to cheer for us. In fact, a large part of the credit for our single Clay Play goes to Rex Vijayan, who did more than his call of duty as producer.
Bands that inspire you?
In Clay Play, you’ll find influences from bands like Rush, Daft Punk, Korn, Karnivool, 80’s pop sound and of course, Avial. In terms of taste in music, we are all on the same page. Are you working on new songs?
We’re coming up with an album soon. At this stage, we are moving at a fast pace but we don’t want to limit ourselves with a time line. We have already started working on four more songs to be released soon.