At the onset of their 25th year, Indian Ocean are out with their seventh studio album. It comes after a longish four-year break. Standing the test of time and tragedy— synonymous with the indie music scene of the country— the band has constantly reinvented itself and its music through the years. While they gave away their last album 16/330 Khajoor Road for free, this new album is distinctive for its collaborations, with each song featuring a well-known musician.
The album features a line-up from different backgrounds: singer and composer Shankar Mahadevan, classical vocalist Shubha Mudgal, multi-instrumentalist Karsh Kale, violinist Kumaresh Rajagopalan, kanjira player V Selvaganesh, Mohan veena exponent Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Bollywood composer Vishal Dadlani.
Titled Tandanu, the album's songs will be premiered one by one every Saturday on the TV channel Pepsi MTV Indies, with a 15-minute video story that takes fans through the journey of the song from start to finish. The show also features rarely seen footage of practice sessions.
City Express spoke to Amit Kilam, Indian Ocean's illustrious drummer, who joined the band in 1994 after the exit of Shaleen Sharma. In his words:
We started work on the album in April-May last year but weren’t too sure since we were waiting for funding to fall into place. November was when we knew that we had secured funding, so from mid-November to March-end, this album was all that we worked on. It was a conscious decision to document the making of the album, the jam sessions, the story behind each song. We wanted to show how this album was made, and then Pepsi MTV Indies came on board, and asked if they could premiere the content on the new channel. We said why not.
track with a political edge
The song keeps the political scenario in mind. It happened to come together when we were jamming with Shubhaji. We had planned a different song with her that we weren’t too happy with. I recommended Gar ho sake because I knew she knew the song and we liked the song. Maybe subconsciously, because of what’s happening around us, I thought of the song but it wasn’t an opportunistic inclusion. We’ve never made music like that.
Wishlist and more
We had a wishlist of musicians that we wanted to work with, and interestingly, there were quite a few common names like Shankar Mahadevan, Shubha Mudgal and Pandit Vishwamohan Bhatt. We really wanted to work with Vishal Dadlani. Vishal is a special talent. Then we looked at instrumentalists, and once again there were common names. Most of them were musicians we had known from before or had wanted to work with. Like Kumaresh, we had met at a small event but the vibe we got from him stayed with me and I really wanted to work with him. Nikhil (Rao), our new guitarist, was familiar with his music. Same was the case with L Selvaganesh.
So the idea for these collaborations wasn’t to give the artistes a ready track on which they could do their own thing, but for them to co-compose with us. We’d been working on a lot of tunes, half tunes essentially. We would record them, and keep them aside. Once we were done with 30-40 per cent of the song, we would stop. So we wanted to give each artiste two or three songs to choose from. The first song we worked on was with Pandit Vishwamohan Bhatt. We met him with two or three ideas but none materialised.
At the end of day one he suggested something, and we went with it. We added our own elements to it and Charkha was ready. With Karsh Kale, who is an old friend, we already had a substantial part of the song done.
With Vishal, we had a chunk of the song ready and left it to him to do as he wished. He had a few ideas, one of which was to change the tune and we did. He wanted to add Sindhi lyrics. So everyone collaborated and had an equal role to play.
All our collaborators are giants in their own fields. The biggest challenge was of course logistical, like getting dates, coordinating schedules. Luckily for us, all the artistes were ultra-nice and they instantly agreed to work with us. And then began the cycle of rehearsals. For that they had to come to Delhi, and then to Mumbai to record. It wasn’t easy but our managers Dhruv and Anurag ensured everything went off well.
New line-up, new sound
Indian Ocean today is an extremely energetic band with a fresh sound. Compositionally we’re still the same band, our style is the same, but the sound has evolved. We have younger musicians in our fold and honestly, we knew that infusing some fresh talent was the way forward. When we lost Asheem and when Susmit left, we were keen to see how Indian Ocean would restructure itself, what direction the sound would take.
On a lucky day, you find us all jamming and making music. On most days, you will find us playing cricket. It’s a great environment, where anyone can work on any idea and if someone likes that riff or vocal line, he joins in and so on.
For example, if Nikhil starts a riff, I add something depending on what I’m feeling, how I’m feeling. Sometimes an idea takes a while to become a song. Behney do happened like this.
There’s no pressure on us to write music or make an album. We never worried about how many albums we were making or how long they would take. Black Friday was an exception because it was attached to a film and there were deadlines.
After Susmit’s departure, we found ourselves a new guitar player and we started to behave like a band - rehearsals, jams... we were meeting more often. There was an energy to what we were doing. We wanted to meet and jam, and that’s how music got made.
25 years on
The current scene is far more vibrant than what it was 25 or even 15 years ago. The creative environment is extremely alive and is heading only in one direction— upwards. There are new avenues like music festivals. The Internet has given wing to many aspirations and artistes. Today there are music channels for indie music, there are radio stations playing non-Bollywood stuff. Together all this has given a huge fillip to the indie music industry. When we started, we didn’t have any of this. People wanted to hear cover songs, no one wanted us to play original compositions. When we started, the bug cable television revolution hadn’t even started.