“Tu Hai is a conversation about God” – Indian Ocean
Formed in the 1980s and formally named in the year 1990, Indian Ocean has gone through several changes in its core team. Despite this, when you hear an Indian Ocean track, you associate it with the band immediately. The signature sound of the Indian Ocean has been retained and that’s one of the many victories the band should feel proud about.
Out of the five members who are a part of the band today, Rahul Ram, who joined the band in 1991 and sings along with playing the bass guitar, is the one who has had the longest association with it. The other members who form the current line-up of the band are Himanshu Joshi (lead vocals), Amit Kilam (drums, percussions and vocals), Tuheen Chakravorty (tabla and percussion) and Nikhil Rao (lead guitar).
Indian Ocean has recently released a new album in the form of ‘Tu Hai’. The album comprises of six original tracks and has been released independently by the band. In this interview, the band members talk about the process behind the creation of their latest album, releasing music in physical format, composing for films, why it is good to be a Delhi based band and more.
‘Tu Hai’ is the eighth album released by the Indian Ocean in thirty-four years of its existence. ‘Tandanu’, the last album by Indian Ocean, released way back in 2013. Why did it take you so long to come up with a new album?
Rahul: Covid-19 disrupted many of the plans we had made. We were about to release a bunch of singles three years ago. We release new music with the hope that people will like it and call us for live shows. Unfortunately, live shows came to a halt during the Covid-19 situation and therefore, there was no point in releasing fresh music. After three years, we decided to release those singles in the form of an album. We also worked on a bunch of films in between. We also composed 6 – 7 songs for a play on Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.
In today’s age of singles, we don’t get to see a lot of full-fledged albums releasing.
Amit: Trends come and go. People tend to follow trends blindly. These days, artists try to generate content for their social media pages along with the other content they are trying to release. Through the social media content, they try to maximize views and likes. This is one of the reasons why the world got driven towards singles. By releasing singles, they get more content to popularize on social media over a period of time. Labels also like the idea of maximizing the reach for a particular song instead of releasing a whole album. We decided to release a full-fledged album and are very happy about the decision. But, we also had a slightly different approach this time around. We released the songs one by one and then, released the album four weeks after the launch of the first song.
Rahul: Imagine an artist who has a limited amount of money to spend. Unless he is very rich, he cannot promote each song from the album equally. So, releasing singles works well for most independent artists.
When ‘Tandanu’, the last Indian Ocean album released, CDs were still around. People are collecting vinyl records again. Do you have plans to release ‘Tu Hai’ in a physical format?
Rahul: We are considering the possibility of releasing the album on vinyl. Unfortunately, vinyl has become a rich man’s game. You need to have a turntable to play vinyl records. Most people would want to have a proper sound system as well. It’s a niche audiophile market which I am glad exists. At least, a few people listen to music in the form of WAV files. On streaming platforms, you only get to listen to music in a compressed format.
Back in the day, Indian Ocean albums would be released by mainstream music labels like Times Music. ‘Tu Hai’ has been released independently by the band. What are the kind of challenges you face while releasing music independently?
Rahul: Right after ‘Kandisa’, we decided that we will not be signing on any contract that leads us to giving up on our copyrights on our music. In the case of ‘Jheeni’, the album let us retain our rights on it. Films like ‘Black Friday’ were commissioned projects, so we were not supposed to retain our rights there. After that, we retained the copyrights and licensed the music to the label. Times Music released ‘Tandanu’ on our behalf but the rights remained with us. We licensed the album for a limited period to them.
Apart from being a part of Indian Ocean, the different members in the band do other work as well. Rahul, for example, is a part of Aisi Taisi Democracy, a political satire musical group also comprising of Sanjay Rajoura and Varun Grover. What do all of you do to ensure that you stick together and find time to practice and create music as a band?
Rahul: Indian Ocean has always been the topmost priority for all of us. Everything else is secondary. We work our schedule around it. Himanshu, for example, does a lot of film work and shoots. He tells us in advance about his dates and we don’t do any work during that time.
Many of the songs put together by the Indian Ocean have dealt with environmental issues. In an interview, you had stated that the band does not support any cause that is not political or religious in nature.
Rahul: We do not support any political party. However, everything in this world is political. Even the environment is political. We have a lot of things in our mind which can be represented in the form of music. For instance, ‘Tu Hai’ is a conversation about God.
Amit: While listening to the song, people might realize that there is a seeker, an atheist and a believer and they are talking to each other. We show each of their perspectives through this song.
In all these years, many members left the band and many joined in. How did you manage to retain the signature sound of Indian Ocean?
Amit: It is actually quite a challenge to maintain the sound. The sound keeps changing organically. Till 2009, Susmit, Rahul, Aseem and I were there. From the time the band was formed till 2009, the sound underwent a lot of changes. Yes, there were elements which one associated with Indian Ocean from the beginning. For instance, the songs didn’t have the traditional verse-chorus format. Most of the songs would have fairly long instrumental passages. The bass and drums are played in a stylized manner. The way of playing the guitar is also quite unique. In 2013, Susmit left the band, Nikhil joined in and things changed further.
The spirit of the Indian Ocean sound is based in the world of experimentation and improvisation. That has always been maintained. Some basic tones have changed. In this album, you will get to hear some interesting rock based elements. Many of the elements you see in this album might not be a part of the next album. Things change with time. However, the Indian Ocean sound is quite easily identifiable.
When an individual joins the band, they might be bringing their sensibilities and influences to the band. Nikhil, you were a part of a rock band called Swastika during your college days. You might have brought your earlier influences to the band when you joined in.
Nikhil: Yes! When I joined the band ten years back, I closely analysed the material the band had released over the years. The band members encouraged me to share my own ideas about the music we were going to make together. I was given the space and time to come up with whatever I could. From ‘Tandanu’ to ‘Tu Hai’, I have had a very interesting journey with the band.
Tuheen: I agree with Nikhil! When you join the band, you have to learn the existing material and try to be close to it as possible and bring your own ideas to the table as well.
Has being a Delhi based band and staying away from Mumbai worked in your favour?
Amit: If we were a Mumbai based band, we would have suffered the same fate as other bands which got settled in Bollywood.
Rahul: There is no clear answer to this. However, my experience tells me that there are no bands in Mumbai. Anybody who is good enough is snapped up by Bollywood. It’s very difficult to say no to a studio recording for which you will be paid 30-40,000 and practice with your band. Since we live in Delhi, we don’t fall into those traps.
You spent two months in Mumbai working on ‘Black Friday’. Composing for a film must be a very different experience from recording an album on your own.
Amit: The experience is different for sure. You have to work towards bringing somebody’s vision into reality. You have to work around the director’s ideas. When we do our own work, we get a lot of freedom. Here, you know that you have to go in a particular direction. However, we create the compositions keeping the band’s sensibilities in mind.
Himanshu: When we work on our albums, we have more time. While working on a film, we have to adhere to deadlines.
Swanand Kirkire, Varun Grover, KK, Piyush Mishra – working on films has led to several interesting collaborations.
Rahul: That’s right! If not for the films, we might have never got the opportunity to work with these incredible people. Working with Piyush bhai on ‘Black Friday’ was a revelation. We got the opportunity to collaborate with several interesting musicians on that film. Paresh Kamath and played the electric guitar for us. Raghav Sachar, the wonderful multi-instrumentalist, played the saxophone and the clarinet.
You have scored the music for an upcoming film called ‘Bhagwan Bharose’.
Nikhil: ‘Bhagwan Bharose’ has a very interesting storyline and we had great fun working on the film. It is currently being screened at different festivals across the world. Shiladitya Bora has directed the film. Apart from doing the background score, we have composed one song for the film. We might do another song for the film.
Do we have to wait for nine more years for the next album to arrive?
Rahul: The speed at which Nikhil is coming up with new compositions, it seems the next album would come out in the next three months. But, that won’t happen (laughs). We have plans to put together material for the next album. Right now, we are in the middle of this extensive tour. Till August, we are extremely busy. When you are touring constantly, it becomes difficult to sit down and practice.
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