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The Big Bang Theory Of Blackstratblues

Guitarist Warren Mendonsa delivers some life lessons in his third new album, out this week

Lalitha Suhasini Mar 12, 2015
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Photo: Courtesy of Warren Mendonsa

Photo: Parizad D

Five years ago, Warren Mendonsa had packed his bags to return to India from New Zealand. “I was struggling to make sense of my life,” recalls the Mumbai-based guitarist, “I was moving back and for the first time, I didn’t have a return ticket to Auckland.” It was the moment when “Come Anyway,” the only song with lyrics on his third album, The Universe has a Strange Sense of Humour, took seed. Says Mendonsa, “This was the last song I wrote before I left New Zealand. I was playing it on an acoustic, which I normally never do. I came up with the chord progression and the chorus melody with the lyrics “Come Anyway,” and knew right then it couldn’t be an instrumental.” The lyrics also seem to reference a relationship that had ended, but “Come Anyway” with vocals by Nikhil D’Souza from Mumbai, is an impossibly romantic song, which isn’t stifled by the emotional angst at its core. Adds Mendonsa, “Lyrically, it’s keeping with the title of the album where you’re never in control of a lot of things that life throws at you. You go with the flow and later on, you try and figure why shit happened to you and then make sense of things.”

Thirty five-year-old Mendonsa has mined his life experiences and a range of influences – surf rock via The Ventures, the Derek Trucks school of blues and traditional Maharashtrian percussion even – for the blues-driven collection of tracks, slated to release this week. The artist began writing most of the songs while he was still in Auckland, and like with his previous albums Nights in Shining Karma [released in 2007] and The New Album [out in 2009], Mendonsa has taken his own time letting his music ripen. “I like leaving songs alone for a while so I can find perspective when I come back to them and so that I don’t get attached to parts that don’t need to be there,” he says.

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Though the artist approaches his music with a sense of equanimity and maturity beyond his years, there’s also a child-like joy that went into the making of this buoyant eight-track album. If Mendonsa hadn’t taken to an iPad app called Bebot, a synth app with preset sounds to “annoy the hell” out of his wife and use it to “make background sounds while I told her ghost stories,” “Renaissance Mission” would have been dropped out of the release. “I had exhausted all that I had to say on the guitar and wrote a riff on the Bebot and doubled it on the guitar and got a hook, which a lot of people felt was really catchy. Even a kid can do this,” says the guitarist, showing us the app on his iPhone to make his point. Fervent barking punctuates our conversation from behind the closed door of the room where we’re in, surrounded by Mendonsa’s gear, which is usually not out of bounds for Zeppelin, Mendonsa’s two-and-a-half-year-old American cocker spaniel. “I wrote “Little Rascal” for him,” admits Mendonsa, needlessly looking sheepish, “He’d sit on my knee, sometimes not letting me play while I wrapped up the album. He hates loud drums and would start barking when I played those parts out on my laptop.”

album cover

With drummer Jai Row Kavi and percussionist Karsh Kale, the rhythm section does get heavy, but like Mendonsa has mentioned in the past, it is a driving life force on the album. The guitarist opens up the music editing software Cubase on his laptop and goes completely geekish on us. While all we can see is a rainbow, he plays us individual parts from “Folkish Three,” with Kale on drums. At one part, the sound of a festival procession featuring the dhol – the monster-sized drums, which are part of most Maharashtrian religious ceremonies – builds slowly. “Now it sounds like the procession is approaching my street,” says Mendonsa, telling us how he recorded the sound of a festival procession passing by his suburban Mumbai home. The folk drum sounds have been seamlessly woven in, as have parts of speeches and interviews by some of Mendonsa’s favorite musicians – Frank Zappa, Derek Trucks and Kale. The voice of Mahatma Gandhi also features on “Folkish Three,” but Mendonsa wasn’t attempting a political statement. He says, “I was randomly looking at YouTube and a Gandhi video popped up on the side, so I thought why not?”

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The Universe has a Strange Sense of Humour sounds like it has recaptured Mendonsa’s past and reinforced it with the present. The result, when you look at how Mendonsa has grown as a musician and a producer, is no less than perfect.

Buy and listen to The Universe has a Strange Sense of Humour by Blackstratblues here.

Blackstratblues album launch tour details below

14th March, The Humming Tree Bengaluru, Entry: Rs 400, including cover and one beverage.
19th March, Blue FROG Mumbai, as part of Pepsi MTV Indies and Bluefrog presents Ribbit, Free Entry
28th March, The High Spirits!! Pune, Entry: Rs 300

Buy The Universe has a Strange Sense of Humour here

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