KOCHI: "It felt surreal to have the same kind of acceptance from the crowd as 28 years ago..." In a freewheeling chat with TNIE, the rockstars reminisce good-old times and discuss their plans for the future
You guys recently did a comeback show in Kochi. What was it like to be on stage again? What was the response of fans?
It was like going down memory lane. We saw a lot of our old friends in the crowd. It was a beautiful moment. It felt surreal to have the same kind of acceptance from the crowd as 28 years ago. It was a joy to see a lot of youngsters.
Was this comeback always on the anvil?
It had always been on the agenda. However, it gained momentum only very recently. Due to several reasons, we couldn’t make it in the past. This time, we had the help of a friend.
Did the movie Bheeshma Parvam play a role in 13AD’s comeback?
George: A big thank you to Amal Neerad! The shots in the song ‘Parudeesa’, wherein 13AD was written on the wall, helped instill curiosity in the minds of the younger generation, who eventually stumbled on our music. It mattered a lot.
Pauly: It was like a stepping stone for us on the comeback path. The film did matter, especially for youngsters to know more about the band and the music we play. Perhaps, we should have made our comeback soon after the film. We missed that opportunity!
George: You know, everything happens at the right time and for the best. We are glad to be back!
Kochi had a background in dance music. How did you, with your genre of music, connect with Malayali audiences back in the day?
George: I think what made us unique was that we attempted all kinds of music. 13AD is a mixed bag. We used to perform corporate shows, dance shows.
Pauly: Those days, we used to do all kinds of music. Dance music shows were all the rave in Fort Kochi then. But we would produce something entirely different. It brought about a change in the music scene. When we finally adapted to dance music, all the others turned to rock (laughs). We used to do a lot of music. We played at Hotel Sealord every day for almost 13 years.
Even when 13AD left the music scene, you were all pursuing music at your individual levels. Are there divergences in your personal tastes?
Eloy: Sure, we all do our own stuff, but it’s nothing like making music with the band.
Jackson: After disbanding, I was doing devotional songs mostly. Also, ads and songs for a few movies. But we used to keep in touch and did not miss any chance we got for a meetup. 13 AD was always a family for me. Then, now and forever…
George: It’s indeed a family thing. I have worked with many stalwarts over the years and it has taken me to different horizons. What I learned in music, I learned it from the university called 13AD. I’m still a fan of the band.
Technology has revolutionised the music industry, especially the music-making process. Now that you are back, would you be sticking to your old, organic ways?
George: We have to adapt. It’s all about bringing the old to the new. We move forward. We continue learning. Our new member, Floyd, is just 22, but a rocker. One of the finest drummers I’ve worked with. Pinson ‘brother’ here is 74. We have three generations in this band. We are all learners.
Several members have come and gone since the band’s inception. So many years have passed since your disbanding. Has there been any change in 13AD’s idea of music, the genre you follow?
George: I wouldn’t want to put 13AD into any specific genre. While, for many, 13AD is pop-rock, we have not put any label on our music. Now, in the new album that we are working on, the songs will have a new-age flavour. We are trying to blend the old with the new.
Pauly: We will keep our old sound intact while incorporating new-age elements. Back in the day, we had to create two albums in a short span of time. The first album, I believe, was made in just six days - from recording to mastering. Such a thing was unheard of.
How did that manifest?
Eloy: We had no other option, budget-wise. Six days and the album was done.
Pauly: The second album had a few more days. I think 10 days (laughs).
George: I think sometimes, when you work under pressure, you get the best result. The first album was huge!
Pauly: We had the best facilities at that time. The first album was done at Media Artist, which was the best studio in Madras. The second one was at Panchathan Record Inn, where A R Rahman was in the process of making music for ‘Roja’.
You’ve had the privilege of working with Usha Uthup and A R Rahman. What was that journey like?
Pauly: Didi (Usha Uthup) is like our godmother!
Eloy: The real pan-India publicity we got was through the programme ‘Pop Time’, which was run by Doordarshan. Didi had two slots dedicated to promoting emerging bands. That helped us get nationwide publicity. We landed our first recording contract on the back of that.
Pauly: We used to stay with Didi. She used to cook food for us. It was like a home. Later, the recordings of our performance for Pop Time were given to CBS. Magnasound took over CBS. With that, our demo. We signed contracts and did two albums with them. Didi played a major role in the band’s growth.
In the early days, while touring, did the prejudice against Malayalis, sometimes tagged ‘Madrasi’, hamper performances?
Pauly: This prejudice was not limited to the audiences, it existed between bands as well. North Indian bands were preferred then. However, this evaporated when they heard us performing. That said, prejudices exist.
Eloy: But it is not as prominent today…
George: It’s high time we transcended the north-south distinction and embraced each other as Indians. That’s the bigger message we would like to put forward. 13AD is an Indian band. We are proud to be so.
Could you elaborate on the music ecosystem that existed before 13AD?
Pinson: I was in a band called Elite Aces, run by Emile Isaac. I was their drummer. It was the main band in Cochin at that time.
Eloy: There were also Highjackers and Supersonix. But Elite Aces was way ahead. Initially, we used to study the band. We looked up to them.
Earlier, there weren’t enough mechanisms to figure out the lyrics of a song. Some used to listen to the radio and write whatever words they thought they heard. In some cases, that would turn out to be entirely different from the original lyrics…
George: True. That has happened to me too, even until very recently (laughs).
Pauly: Now, it is so different. The lyrics are available everywhere. There was a time when people used to sing ‘Bloody Fellow’ when it was actually ‘Ready for Love’!
George: When we started, we were doing covers. We were known for covers at that time, and the lyrics of those songs were widely available then. We mulled the idea of writing and singing our own songs in the late ’80s. There was a keyboardist who used to come from Kottayam – George Thomas Junior (Viju). He was the MD of the Manorajyam group. He used to come and jam with us. He was the one who motivated us to do our own stuff. That’s how we started with ‘Ground Zero’ and ‘Revelation’. Both were his songs. Back in the early ’90s, Viju did both the music and the lyrics. We listened to him and played the songs.
George: The lyrics of ‘Ground Zero’ and ‘Revelations’ are evergreen.
‘The word about us is going around India...’
While crafting songs, what takes precedence – the music or lyrics?
Paul: We had lyrics come in first. Glen, our previous singer, did most of the songs. Eloy and Glen will then work on them, and compose the melody. Later, everybody contributed.
So, what’s the creative process for the new album?
George: Well, there’s a main guy behind it. This person has been associated with us ever since he was a kid.
Eloy: If we have done so much right now, it’s because of him. He’s played a big part.
George: He is one of the greatest sound engineers I have worked with. He will be working on 13AD’s album. He will produce our new songs. He will also redo our old songs. This man is none other than Deepak Dev.
What’s the new album going to be like?
Deepak Dev: 13AD band, as you know, carries a lot of legacy. I cannot do anything to tarnish it. But the band has left the music to me. They hope that I will add something out of the box. I know the ins and outs of both their albums. I learned to play the piano by playing their songs. I believe I know how they think.
George: We want to enter this new age of music within the confines of how we already sound. We don’t want to do fusion just for the sake of it. If it happens, it happens.
Foray into other genres?
Deepak: I would personally prefer them not to change their style. If you look at the international scene, retro music of the ’80s is coming back, albeit with a modern touch. I will maintain their retro vibes and adding some modern spice.
Has any timeline been decided yet for the release?
Eloy: We are doing it a single at a time. We are also redoing the originals — the first two albums, releasing them in a new bottle.
Deepak: Redoing the old songs poses a challenge. There’s nothing to be done to those songs. They sound at their very best. Anyway, I have done some work on it which the band has liked. I hope everybody else likes it.
You’ve got a new member – Floyd. Let’s talk about him...
Eloy: Floyd is on a different level altogether. He syncs well with the band. We are happy to have a young talented drummer in our band.
George: He’s a fast learner. We want young minds in our band.
Paul: He has brought about a good change in the band. We have become much closer.
Floyd, what are your thoughts?
There’s, no doubt, a lot of pressure on me to keep the original essence of 13AD intact. I want to be able to connect with the young audience as well as the old ones.
Practice sessions are just an excuse for them to bully me (laughs). It’s been an eye-opening experience for me. I am grateful to have such mentors.
Also, Pinson is actually my uncle. We are related. I feel proud to play alongside him. He has inspired almost all the drummers in Kochi. Pinson uncle remains a force to be reckoned with. Even at this age, his skills are impressive.
Which is your favourite 13AD song?
Floyd: ‘Ground Zero’.
Unlike yesteryears, there are fewer venues to perform and make money as a band. Nowadays, people prefer DJs over musicians…
Eloy: It’s true
Pauly: The production cost is higher when it comes to a band. There are factors like lighting and sound systems to consider. Not all the bands sound the same. So, to get a good band you will have to pay more. So people prefer DJs.
However, right now, if you are talented, you will get a chance to perform. During our heydays, one could not just go become a musician. They will be asked to focus on their studies and get a good job. Today, parents are more broad-minded and want their kids to pursue music.
Despite releasing a slew of songs and albums, many artists still continue to remain under the radar. Can 13AD’s revival boost aspiring musicians?
George: Yes, we would like to. Probably, we could invite an artist or band to warm up before a show. We will definitely give preference to beginners.
Pauly: Even we did not become what we are all of a sudden. We, too, had help. We will do our part to help musicians.
Are you planning shows across India?
George: Well, the word about us is going around India.
Pauly: Many have started reaching out to us to do shows. We are looking at the possibilities.
Anything planned in Kerala in the coming days?
Pauly: We have had enquiries about shows in March and April. We are awaiting confirmation.
A common theme among bands, back in the day, revolved around being carefree and taking a rebellious, anti-establishment stance…
Pauly: Back in those days, some used to get super inebriated before their performances, but we weren’t like that. We never consumed anything of that sort before the performances. We were always clean on stage, which eventually got other bands to do the same – to enter clean.
George: As a matter of principle, we kept it so.
Pauly: We don’t indulge ourselves in the act of getting drunk before performances.
Before performing, were there any vibe-setting rituals?
George: We slap each other on the back to get back to our senses (laughs).
Have you incorporated any social or political statements in your forthcoming songs?
George: We may have…
Pauly: No, only love (laughs)!
George: We have done such songs in the past. ‘Ground Zero’ is one. We will be reproducing a few old songsas they are apt for the current scenario.
Pauly: Yes, it would fit right in this current age. ‘City Blues’ is another one.
George: The city (Kochi) isn’t what it once used to be.
What are some of your best memories of playing together?
Eloy: We don’t even remember what happened yesterday (laughs).
Jackson: Embarrassment is out of the picture when I am with this bunch of funny and caring folks.
Pauly: George’s first show, which was in Calicut. I will never forget that. It had over a lakh people in the audience.
George: My first show was the one that grounded me. When you join one of the biggest bands back then, you feel a lot of things. I was overwhelmed. The funny thing is, I was not a singer when I joined 13AD. Pauly and Eloy mentored me. The performance at St Albert’s College in 1993 was my first show in Ernakulam. The queue started from the High Court junction. Eloy quipped the queue was for a film at the nearby Saritha theatre (laughs). But it was for our performance. It was a great feeling.
You guys have over 2,000 shows under your belt, right?
Pauly: The number is somewhere around 3,600, if you count from ’77 to ’96.
George: We used to have late-night shows in Rajendra Maidan; they lasted till 5.30am.
Pauly: By about 9.30pm, the crowd would appear, and just sit and relax to our music under the moonlight. They had a lot of concerts at Rajendra Maidan, which was open and free for the crowd.
Kerala cities lack that nightlife vibe…
Pauly: That is very true. So many restrictions! Back then, people used to sit out on the streets and listen to us play at Sealord Hotel.
George: I was one among them (laughs).
Shouldn’t such fuss-free avenues come back?
George: Yes, very much. It should be in the vein of Woodstock.
Pauly: Small sound, only moonlight…
TNIE team: Ronnie Kuriakose, Mahima Anna Jacob, Gopika Sidharthan, A Sanesh (photos), Harikrishnan B & Pranav V P (video)
Though this is the first time I am associating with 13AD as a producer, my connection with the band goes back years. In fact, 13AD played an instrumental role in shaping my musical journey. It is, after all, the songs we listen to during our teenage years that sink deep into our veins, spark creativity.
I grew up in Dubai. There, an Anglo-Indian family introduced me to the album ‘Ground Zero’ by 13AD during a house party. Much to my delight, I learned that the band was not just from India, but from Kerala.
I yearned to meet them. Coincidentally, Jackson Aruja, the keyboard player of 13AD, was visiting Dubai as part of an orchestra. When I learned this, I got my parents to take me to the show.
Usually, people go to such shows to see the singers, the artists. But I went to see the keyboard player. Jackson uncle is a leftie; that’s unusual. Keyboard players are usually right-handed. He was playing with a lot of gimmicks. I was impressed. It was there, on watching him, that I developed a passion for the keyboard. Until then, I was just into singing. My love for the keyboard stemmed from my love for 13AD. I developed a rapport with Jackson uncle.
Whenever I visited Kochi during holidays, my father used to take me to Sealord Hotel (in Kochi) to see the band’s performance. During one such visit, the band called me — a 13-year-old child artist — on the stage and gave me an opportunity to play with them. I still remember the song: the then-hit song ‘Didi’ by Khaled.
Later, before heading to Dubai, father took me again to see the performance. I yearned to get back on the stage again. And guess what? They invited me on the stage again. It was a fascinating experience.
When enrolling at a college here, it was with the hopes that I could do something in music in the land of 13AD. By then, the band had left the scene. Yet, I used to keep in touch. Georgie’s brother, Joseph, is a close friend. We call him Bubloo. Through him, I was updated about the band.
I really wished to see the band together. But by then, they were in different walks of life. Still, I used to press them… it was my dream to see them together. Now, that dream has materialised. What’s more — I get to produce the band’s new music. I consider myself very lucky.
— as told to TNIE