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Gary Lawyer: ‘I’m Exactly Where I Want to Be’

The veteran rocker from Mumbai talks about making a living as a ‘Western’ musician in India, keeping up with social media, and his upcoming album

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Nirmika Singh Mar 31, 2016
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Man With The Golden Voice: Gary Lawyer at a gig at Blue Frog, Pune last year.

Man With The Golden Voice: Gary Lawyer at a gig at Blue Frog, Pune last year.

The trajectory of Gary Lawyer’s music career in the last two decades could well be the highs and lows that rock [or to use an umbrella term, ”˜Western’] music has witnessed in India in that time. From playing glorious gigs at Mumbai rock mecca Rang Bhavan, recording English albums with labels like HMV and Magnasound to serenading balmy jazz standards at Jazz By The Bay, Lawyer has probably lived the best rock star life that India could offer.

If we were to analyze, there are two things that have made Lawyer a respected name in the Western music circles in India ”“ one, his ability to move across genres such as country, rock and jazz with impressive ease; two, the fact that he is among the handful of musicians in India who make their living playing only Western music. “I’ve raised a family doing that. It’s not like I have a job at the side,” says Lawyer, who is now readying his new album, Heaven’s Child. The musician recently released the album’s title track along with a video for it, and is exploring various DIY options to launch the album digitally.

In an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone India, Lawyer talks about doubling up as the producer on his album, navigating his way through social media and the sorry state of infrastructure in the indie music scene.

How has the response been to your latest single, “Heaven’s Child”, and how has been the album shaping up? 

The response has been tremendous. The compliments that have come my way, they are genuine. This is a lead song from the album by the same name. The rest of the songs have gone to America for mastering. Creatively, making this album was the easiest part for me, because I have always been a singer and a songwriter. But one thing that you should know is that all the instruments have been done by me, except for the solo in the end. It started off with doing one song, then two and three and it became 13 songs. But I have just taken 11 of those songs. When you do things on your own, everything takes time. But it has been an incredible adventure, I can’t even describe. When I think about how I did this, I can’t really repeat it. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. I really had no idea that I would wind up doing so many songs.

Social media has become a big marketing tool now. Do you use it a lot to promote your music?

That has been to my disadvantage. Social media is very new to me. I haven’t been on Twitter, and this and that. I have a lot of friends [on Faceboook], a lot of people send me requests. But as far as posting and all is concerned, I don’t do that a lot. You see, my first and second albums were on a cassette, as cassettes were dying out; the rest of the albums have been on CD. I have always been attached to major labels, whether EMI or Magnasound or Virgin. So this is the first time I am attempting it on my own. I’d rather do it that way with full control. One thing I have is a lot of good will; a lot of people are aware of the amount of work, energy, dedication I have put into my music career. I am the only musician in India who is doing pure Western music for a living; I’ve raised a family doing that. It’s not like I have a job at the side.

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You never considered taking up playback singing in films?

Yes, I was offered work by the biggest names in Bollywood but somehow I just never felt the connect with it. I feel that I don’t belong to that world, because my background is not such. And there are so many great Hindi singers here, I don’t know where I’d fit in. Although when I said that to a lot of music directors, they said, ”˜No no, we want to use your use. Leave that up to us.’ Coming from a Parsi background, I have always listened to Western music from the time I comprehended anything about life. Ask me about Western music, and yes, [there’s] great knowledge ”“ whether it’s folk, classical, jazz or country.

How do you juggle your touring life with studio sessions and production?

This album took a lot of effort. The recording process was the toughest for me, it wasn’t just about pushing a button and recording, one has to be in the right frame of mind also. But I can’t tell you how fulfilling it was. I am exactly where I want to be. There was no producer, and I have had wonderful producers in the past, so this was totally instinctive and hence no pressure at all. If it works out, okay, but I have nobody to answer to. It’s been a dream for me to do this.

How do you look at the independent scene right now?

I just feel that there is not enough attention being given to Western music. I feel we have a huge Western musician audience. We don’t have big bands coming in to play; I mean if we had an easy environment to play, there would be bands playing every day. Look at the size of our country, look at our market. But unfortunately, I don’t know whether it is our tax system, licensing, it doesn’t seem to happen at all. Once in a while, you get to hear about a big name playing in Bangalore or somewhere but the infrastructure is just lacking. There’s really no support at all. Not television, not radio, not [print] media. I mean, there was a time in India when everybody wanted to write about you ”“ like ”˜So and so has a new album and this is the mood of the album’, then review the album, post-pre stories, photographs”¦Now, nobody gives a damn. With this album, I am trying to do whatever I can. I might work with a digital platform that pushes your music on YouTube and other places, putting it on iTunes etc, because that is something beyond my reach, I wouldn’t know where to turn. I mean, if it is too much of a hassle, I might just put it up as a complimentary album, saying ”˜Guys, this is it. Hear it and by all means, download it.’ And the spin-offs come in the compliments you get.

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A lot of people, especially veteran artists, feel that technological advancement and the resulting easiness in producing and putting out music has caused a lot of mediocrity to thrive. What do you feel?

Yes, I was in fact having a conversation with a friend about this and he said, ”˜Gary, isn’t this a good thing [technology]?’ I said that it’s a great thing but the mediocrity kind of nullifies everything. Now I am constantly getting messages from so many people that reach out to me on Facebook and say, ”˜Gary, can you listen to my new song?’ Now, how many can you listen to? I mean, these days there’s so much nonsense also. Sometimes when I go to a club, I hear such rubbish. But they are hired to play there!

Do you see promising talent on the circuit ”“ any particular artists that you really like?

There’s a lot of great talent, but kind of few and far between. I think, it is a syndrome ”“ to develop talent, the bottom line is that you should be able to earn a living. Now, to be able to do that, you have to have venues, of which we have very few. How much do those places pay, god knows! You don’t even have an outdoor amphitheatre like we used to have, I mean Rang Bhavan was great ”“ there would be thousands of kids. The moment the gates would open, there would be a frenzy. And we’d have a celebration like second to none. All that has also closed. What does that leave you with? A couple of clubs. How many people does a club hold ”“ 200, 300 or 400 at the very most. And how often does that happen? Once in six months. Even the one place that we had, Jazz By The Way, which featured bands every day, that’s also gone. The one great thing that has happened lately which stuns me also is that today, parents encourage kids to be musicians. When I was growing up, it was taboo to be a musician. Now, I find so many parents that say, ”˜Gary, check out my son, I think he is a great singer’ or ”˜My daughter is a keyboard player. She wants to do it professionally so I have said go ahead and do it.’ Yet, the infrastructure is lacking.

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