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Ace of Bass

Shrikanth Sriram, best known for his powerhouse slap bass style and killer grooves, will be out with his new disc ‘Seven Steps’ this month

Lalitha Suhasini Aug 09, 2008
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Courtesy of Shri

Mumbai multi-instrumentalist Shrikanth Sriram who goes by the moniker Shri, was India’s best export to the West during the Nineties. Shri cut off the Mumbai rat race after one appearance at the Jazz Yatra to make it big in the UK music scene alongside other Asian musicians such as Nitin Sawhney and Talvin Singh besides forming an explosive team with Badmarsh. Badmarsh & Shri released albums such as Dancing Drums and The Signs which set the live music scene rolling for both of them. ”˜Mathar,’ one of the most popular pieces from their debut had the world swinging to a never-before-heard Indian vibe.

Shri decided to part ways with Badmarsh after The Signs and is now set to release Seven Steps, his solo album, which he goes as far to say is his best work yet. In conversation from his Croyden home in East London, Shri tells us that he’s surprised himself both as a producer and a musician with the new album.

What went into the making of Seven Steps?

A whole year-and-a-half went into the album. And sometime last September, I felt that this was not what I wanted in it. The album is a marriage between electronic and acoustic sound. Usually I’m in a certain frame of mind before I start an album and I start doodling some ideas. I’m extremely spontaneous in the way I work. When I write it at one go, there’s a certain feel and sound. This album, for instance, is less spiritual than East Rain. I use the word spiritual with some reserve here. For me spirituality is intertwined with the process of creating music and not necessarily some warped, alien view of India exotica.

I wanted to talk about the dreariness of everyday living in Seven Steps. The title came from a chat I had with a friend who was telling me how all that he waited for a Saturday on a Monday. So it’s nothing massive and I don’t want to preach here really but since I’ve always struggled to get out of the rat race so it’s easy to translate this emotion into music.

Can you tell us a bit about this struggle?

The first Jazz Yatra that I played at in Mumbai was in 1990. After that there was a gap of six years where nobody wanted to hear what I could do. But I’m happy about what I’ve done. The rat race would have been to do music only to acquire money. Even here in London, people would make any gig to make money. But I got rid of rules that don’t suit my life. Going to London after I was discovered by Simon Dove was a 50:50 situation. Eveybody said that I’d be better off working with Laxmikant Pyarelal.

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What was it like when you first started out in London and was jamming with Nitin Sawhney and Talvin Singh?

Like any other genre DnB [drum and bass] had to struggle to be heard. And finally after being accepted by society it got diluted again. So the best way to tackle that is to move onto newer forms of music. Now, I’ve found a name for the kind of music I do ”“ it’s British music with an Indian accent [laughs].

Going back to what you said about spirituality, how did the Tibetan Buddhist feel track called ”˜Tap’ find its way onto the album?

”˜Tap’ is where I take a break. While the title track is like climbing a mountain, ”˜Tap’ is where I sit back and take control of the situation. And ”˜Onwards,’ the track that follows, is what I tell myself on an everyday basis. You hear of people killing each other and governments doing foolish things, but you have to move on.

Mumbai figures in all your albums somehow. In this one, too, there are street sounds from the city.

I recorded a nankhatai band when I was in Bombay. Since ”˜Adrenalin’ is something that you would associate with Bombay’s street, the sample fit right in.

What made you want to go solo?

Badmarsh & Shri had reached its end by the time Signs released in 2001. We were from different schools. Badmarsh is totally into electronica and I came from a classical, rock, jazz background. So the solo project came naturally. But Badmarsh is one of my closest friends even today and was the first to hear the new album. In fact, he might even remix one of the tracks.

Any new self-discoveries on the album?

It felt great when I turned up at the studio and already knew in my head what equaliser settings I wanted even before I started recording. So it felt like you are controlling the computer and not the other way around.

Now that I’m going solo and releasing Seven Steps on my own label, I was composing recording, producing and playing so that was extremely challenging. I had to divide my day into three parts, say, morning for composing, afternoon for administration and evening for production. I surprised myself because I feel that this is the best piece of work that I’ve done till date. It was all done in my home studio.

What’s your studio set up like?

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I’ve got a really powerful comp ”“ the Intel Quadro – and a Mac. I also have loads of percussion instruments that I pick up from all over. I picked up the ektara that you hear on ”˜Mad B Line’ from someplace in Central London. And I have a great set of Dynaudio speakers. I believe that you don’t need racks and racks of synthesisers. All you need is a great room, great speakers and a computer that can handle my nonsense. Sometimes I’m working faster than a computer and am doing too many things simultaneously, so I need a system that won’t crash in between all those million processes.

You’ve also maintained that you like the played sound more than the produced sound. How do you achieve that effect?

The word ”˜produced’ just like the word ”˜spiritual’ can be highly misunderstood. Produced does not mean high-end, clean, glass-shattering-like effects in the mix. The sound has to be organic. The more instruments you play, the more you move towards this sound.

You play the bass like a percussion instrument. Did your training in tabla have something to do with this?

It actually comes from hours of playing the bass when I was jobless. This was also the time when I played for the Jazz Yatra. I was doing my Bachelors in Chemistry from Mithibhai then and I was doodling around. It started off as a gimmick but developed into a serious style.

You also go into some serious hard rock after Indian classical.

Ya, that was my rebel phase after years of being told what to do. I tripped out on Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zep and Rush.

So was bowing the guitar influenced by Jimmy Page?

No, no, no. He used it as an effect for the whole guitar. Mine produces a sound which is a cross between the sarangi and cello. Again it started off as a gimmick at Mood-I but now it brings out the dhrupad in me.

Shri’s Top 5
“You haven’t heard anything yet if you don’t have these on your playlist,” says the bassist.

Who’s To Know ”“ L Shankar
“It’s the greatest modern piece of Indian classical with L Shankar on the double violin and Zakir on the tabla.”

Pendulum ”“ Eberhard Weber
“This is one of the earliest records for ECM by the German double bass player.”

Supermodified ”“ Amon Tobin
“This Brazilian based in Canada takes programming to a level where he’s punishing his computer.”

Remembranza ”“ Murcof
“Murcof creates soundscapes. If I want to relax or do my accounts I listen to Murcof.”

Works ”“ Bill Frisell
“He’s this Seattle-based guitar player who’s simply mindblowing.”

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