Bruce Lee Mani On How the Internet and the Pandemic Led to His Solo Album
The vocalist-guitarist of Bengaluru rock band Thermal And A Quarter created a song a day for the 30-track ‘We’re All We’ve Got’ and is now releasing a song each week
Longstanding rock band Thermal And A Quarter are no strangers to the Internet. Among the first Indian indie acts to release their albums on the web, they’ve had no trouble keeping up with the times. By frontman Bruce Lee Mani’s own admission, however, he wasn’t all that active on social media. “I would only do stuff for the band or [music school] Taaqademy. Occasionally, I’d put up something but I wasn’t actively engaging with folks,” he says.
By April this year, when the second wave of Covid-19 devastated India, Mani recalls it was a “sensory-overload of a time” to read the news or scroll through feeds. When his wife pointed out that he needed some real creative outlet, Mani decided to claim social media as a space for his music. He wrote a song each day for a month, resulting in his debut solo album We’re All We’ve Got: Songs from a Pandemic.
With the 30-track album released on July 22nd, he might be done and dusted with it, but in hindsight, Mani says the project was daunting. “When I began putting it down, I realized what I had taken on and that the only gun pointed to my head is my own,” he says. Fortunately, the “medium decided the message” for Mani’s album, since he was also creating videos for these “songettes” as a “musical diary” which were all around a minute or so in length. Mani adds, “When you put up IGTV, not many see it. When you put it up on your feed, more people see it. So I thought let’s just make one-minute songs.”
From swaying guitar-led pieces to characteristically sarcastic takes on India’s political figures and daily introspections of the big picture, We’re All We’ve Got is not too far from the thematic realm that TAAQ’s prescient 2020 album A World Gone Mad inhabited. Except, of course, Mani is much quicker and to the point across 30-tracks, giving some space to collaborators who wrote in to him once he’d begun the series. There’s longtime friend and writer/actor/filmmaker Rajeev Ravindranathan’s lyrics on “Poke Me” and “On the Other Side” to ace vocalist Vasundhara Vee on “Riches True” and evocative Kannada vocals from Pallavi Md on “Believe The Tide.” Guitarist Abhishek Mittal sparkles on “Zoey, Dear Zoey,” as do Paris-based singer-songwriter Sumana on “Help” and erstwhile TAAQ keyboardist Sunil Chandy on “What Bizarre Puppets.”
Mani is grateful for collaborators hopping aboard the album, because in a way, he was imposing a 24-hour deadline on all of them. He adds, “I would have a conversation with someone on Facebook and then say, ‘Look I have an idea but you have 24 hours to do this!’ I’d send them a scratch recording and lyrics or if they have lyrics, I send them the song.”
Along the way, Mani found what he sought through the project — a sense of purpose. “Halfway through it, I couldn’t wait to wake up and start working on a song. It was such a rush to do it daily,” he says. Another realization that dawned on Mani after jumping into the project was that it was his debut solo release, which may have led some people to ask about the status of Thermal And A Quarter. When he spoke to his bandmates, drummer Rajeev Rajagopal told Mani that the project has to keep going.
Following the completion of We’re All We’ve Got, Mani kicked off a weekly song release series with an eye on new music each Friday, with tracks like “Coming Out,” plus covers of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Wonderwall” by Oasis. This week, he released the bright, funky pop-rock song “Simple Pleasures” with producer-composer Abhijit Shylanath. Mani says, “I’ve been sitting on a material like this – songs that I wrote on my own with no intention of putting it out. I have a bunch of instrumental things that I’ve been working on for four or five years now, just to learn about new styles of music and production too. I might keep going.”