Interviews with the Artists before the concert
Shankar Tucker | Rohan Kymal
| Rohini Ravada
1. You represent a new generation of musicians who have tapped the power of the internet to share your work with the world. What challenges did you face?
It's kind of difficult. Internet is all about DIY product and marketing, recording successfully by yourself and running your own website. Getting the right kind of knowledge and skills is really important. I was lucky to get a scholarship to study in India for one year. As the scholarship money was ending, I was just looking for a way to continue/start a career/music professionally. I was inspired by Boyce Avenue's internet video campaign and I tried to do a-post-a-week.
2. Describe your process of learning about ragas and improvising it, especially during your time with Pt. Chaurasia and how it influenced your perspectives.
At the New England Conservatory, my professor Peter Row played sitar. That was the beginning. I had intense early lessons once every one-two months. There'd be exact details of Ragas and Alaapas and I'd replicate them very specifically. So it was months of detailed music. With Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia it was a completely different approach. The standard approach to music in the US is classes for an hour every week where the teacher gives run down and then you practice. Hariji never said anything. He gave class for 2-3 hrs everyday. He played and we all tried to replicate. It was like being thrown into a river and to learn how to swim. He didn't help us out much but Peter Row thankfully had given me enough background and I learnt enough to above water.
3. What are some of the key events or encounters in your life that have had a deep impact on you and inspire your music today?
My family go on tour with Mata Amritanandamayi. I played a lot of music with their bhajan group, it was my first experience into indian music. It was quite a formative experience, 5-6 hours of music everyday for two months. What I learned from those days was that I wanted to make my music relatable to people; good music, that people will enjoy.
4. What are the different flavors of Indian music and how do you bring them into your music?
Carnatic classical music is very much about repertoire while North indian has a systematic approach, instead of repertoire it has a method. You learn a system as opposed to a piece that's more adaptable and I can take elements from it - it's more flexible. Getting to the youth, I was targeting a video format. So, I use sounds that I like myself because I'm part of the younger crowd. I got to work on a Tamil film, did a couple of sessions as a clarinetist with Pritam, Amit Trivedi. But I really want to put out my own music, not as player, but composer.
5. Why did you choose to do the AID concert? What should we look forward to?
I've been wanting to do a concert in a larger format for a while and you guys, gave me the opportunity to take my live performances to
the next level. I've had very different responses at different cities. I like the work of AID, ICJB with the Bhopal cause and Indian Raga. So yes, it's going to be the first live performance in Boston since ShrutiBox and I'm really looking forward to it!
Q. You are into music, theater, dance and even tabla. How did you start developing them and how do you manage all of that together?
I actually grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, then moved to New York for acting school. I did Drama and Business in Entertainment and Media Technologies. I went to school for drama, which includes singing, dancing and acting. I never really was a dancer. But I was required to take dance classes as part of my theatre training. I started doing a lot of theatre, especially when I was in college. I graduated and then signed with an acting agency. Earlier this year, I shot my first two films. I also write music and like to mix songs of different artists.
Q. Tell us about your background and what inspires you?
I learned Carnatic music when I was a lot younger then switched to Hindustani music. I also studied Western music towards the end of my high school education and took a lot of Opera classes. I think I’m able to transcend many different styles because of the different trainings I had.
I like the work of many different artists - Eastern and Western; whatever really clicks with me. Sonu Nigam, AR Rahman, Robert Brown, Adam Guettel. Adam Guettel, writes his whole music and then fills the lyrics that match whatever is happening with the orchestra. As an actor, that is interesting because when you are acting a song, you have the music to back up whatever you’re saying.
I think it [music] comes not much from the words, but the melody of the song. Every melody is a different feeling- a different bhaav. I always like to listen to or compose a melody. It is the music part of a song that is important.
Q. How did working with Shankar happen? Describe your experience making music with him.
We’ve known each other since when we were a lot younger. We were both devotees of Mata Amritanandamayi. We used to see each other every now and then, and we never realised that we were both interested in music. I would sing the bhajans and play tabla, and Shankar would play the clarinet and that’s when we realised we could really get together and create cool music. Then, Shankar asked me one day if I’d like to record something for Shruti Box. Then we picked up songs -- O Re Piya and Rolling in the Deep, thinking it might be an interesting combination. He came to New York and spent a few days at my apartment. I have a friend who owns a studio in New York called the Motel Room Studios. So we spent a day there, and finished the song. We got really great feedback on that.
Q. What makes it fun working with Shankar?
He is a genius musician. He understands music in a way very different from what most people do. We have similar backgrounds but swapped. I started with South Indian and North Indian music and then moved to Western, while he started with Western and then moved to Indian classical music. This really helps out in the range of abilities. He is also talented in many different instruments. He knows how to program various sounds and edit them, it’s just great!
Q. What was an interesting moment while recording that you remember?
It is always kind of awkward having us on videotape while recording. Sometimes I look at the camera and smile, which is not what you are supposed to do. It just happens, and is almost embarrassing.
Q. What are you looking forward to with the AID concert?
Normally, I am on stage and doing something in Western music. This will be a stage that will allow me to perform live in
Indian music. I will be performing for a very different type of audience than usually do. Knowing that I am supported by
different type of music audiences would be really great! I had a unique opportunity to work with Shankar at the A. R. Rehman
studios in Chennai when he was scoring the film. It is a completely different feeling. There is a different energy in the room.
Q. What are some of the key events or encounters in your life that have had a deep impact on you and inspire your music today?
A. More than anything, it is my spirituality. For me, music is the way I communicate, the way I pray, the way I express myself. So everything around me influences me. It could be any song, I seek my spirituality in it. And that is why, I feel I so much peace whenever I sing or am around music. It doesn’t have to be a Sufi song for me to feel that way, every song for me is spiritual. That’s my inspiration. That’s what I yearn from every song.
Q. Was the choice of music as a career easy for you?
A. I don’t like to think of music as a career because then it becomes like a business. There are challenges with being in the US and going mainstream or pursuing a life as a playback singer. You have to be in India to be a full-time mainstream musician. It is a choice that I had to make in life. I didn’t want to make music my business. I want to keep music as my passion. Therefore, I prefer to collaborate with people who are like-minded about music and share the passion. We organically come together the way life progresses, but not necessarily by printing a business card or making it a career.
Q. How did working with Shankar happen?
A. It was funny. A couple of years ago, I quit my job, sold my house, packed my bags and lived in India for about 8 months. I met a lot of musicians and had a lot of fun living in India. Then, I came back and it was during one of my late-night web-surfing stints when I happened to come across the Shruti Box series. I didn’t pay too much attention to the fan base response the channel had already garnered at that point. I saw a few videos and thought it would be a really good collaboration. One thing led to another and I landed up on Shankar’s webpage. There, I read a press release where he mentioned how he is always looking forward to working with musicians and collaborating on new ideas, and he would love to hear from them. So I dropped him a line, and sent him a link to my website which has a lot of songs on it. I said, “I would love to collaborate with you. You are a very innovative musician. If you like my music and would like to collaborate, let me know.” He replied the very next day, “Sure. I would absolutely love to.” And the rest is history. :)
Q. So how was the experience of making music with him?
A. The very first time he came over and we recorded, I think I recorded an entire song with a couple of different takes under an hour. He wanted to make sure we got 3-4 different takes of the song to get different videos and visuals at different angles and cuts. So he said “Wow! this is a new record. We have never recorded anything under an hour.” We laughed about that. It was really funny. And I said “Oh! And here I thought I was taking a long time.”
Q. What was the most striking thing while working with him?
A. The most striking quality of Shankar is his humility. He is so humble, so down-to-earth, very professional, very honest and a very genuine person. This comes across right when you meet him. To have gotten so much adulation and success and still be humble; that’s quite a quality that not a lot of people have these days. That’s what I love most about him.
Q. Is this the first time you will be in Boston?
Yeah. It is the first time. I have been wanting to make a trip to Boston for ever now. I guess it was meant to be for this. :)