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How Indian Rockers Multitask

Some of the country’s busiest musicians tell us how playing in different bands augments their skills besides helping them sidestep genre typecasting

Anurag Tagat Jul 07, 2014
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(center) Multi-instrumentalist Sidd Coutto on stage with alt rock band Tough On Tobacco last year. Photo: Kuntal Mukherjee

Early this year, Sidd Coutto from Mumbai played five gigs with three bands on one night ”“ with alt rock band Tough On Tobacco, his solo pop rock project and with hip hop act ViceVersa. Coutto, who plays half a dozen instruments including the drums and trumpet, has been part of multiple bands since 2004 and hasn’t gone by a single week without gigs since 2013. Says Coutto, “There’s no down season.”

Coutto is part of the growing tribe of musicians who plays six, if not seven nights a week with multiple bands. The best part of being a part of several projects is the opportunity to write more music, says Coutto. Adds the musician, “I write so much every day that it’s never just for a particular band or project any longer. I just write and then think of where it should go.” Between 2008 and 2010, the number of venues that supported live music and music festivals grew right across the country, with Blue Frog opening first in Mumbai in 2008 and then in Delhi in 2011, with the promise of six nights of live music every week. Festivals began taking off in 2010, with the Bacardi NH7 Weekender bringing over 30 artists across three days in Pune. At the same festival, drummer Virendra Kaith barely left the stage, erforming with extreme metal band Demonic Resurrection and hardcore band Scribe. Says Kaith, who is now part of rock act Mihir Joshi Band and Hindi rock act Sparsh, “I jammed with [jazz duo] Sridhar/Thayil because their bass player [Amit Ahuja] introduced me to them. The first thing people will ask you is about your previous experience. They [Sridhar/Thayil] hadn’t heard of any of the [metal] bands I had played for, but they were convinced when they heard me play.”

Sankarshan Kini plays trumpet, violin, guitar and bass for several Mumbai bands.

Sankarshan Kini plays trumpet, violin, guitar and bass for several Mumbai bands. Photo: Jai Sangoi

At the second edition of the Ziro Festival of Music in Arunachal in 2013, multiinstrumentalist Sankarshan Kini performed with acoustic rock band Whirling Kalapas as well as electro rock band Donn Bhat + Passenger Revelator. Kini plays everything from flute to violin to the trumpet and bass with both acts. As the number of gigs increase, being a part of multiple projects has become the best way for musicians to feed their creativity and make a living as a fulltime musician. Says Kini, who has previously performed with folk rock act Kailasa and with pop artists such as Vasuda Sharma and Roshni Baptist, “It’s helping me express myself better musically. It gives me a serious dopamine rush when I walk into a music store.”

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While bassist and vocalist Rohit Pereira’s hip hop project ViceVersa and electro pop band Shaa’ir + Func’s gigs are managed by the same artist agency, Mixtape, artists like Kaith, drummer Aditya Ashok [also a part of Shaa’ir + Func], guitarist, vocalist and drummer Sahil Makhija and drummer Jai Row Kavi [from Tough On Tobacco and fusion group The Karsh Kale Collectiv] say they book on a first come first serve basis, regardless of which gig pays the most. Says Ashok, “You always try and honor the first booking.”

(far right) Virendra Kaith played drums for jazz duo Sridhar/Thayil, 2012.

(far right) Virendra Kaith played drums for jazz duo Sridhar/Thayil, 2012. Photo: Tejal Shah

Musicians such as Coutto and drummer Jai Row Kavi are also sessions musicians who work on advertisement jingles to occasionally cash in a bigger check. Says Kavi, “Most of the bands I’m part of pay low, so I take up Bollywood sessions work and ads for money ”“ it balances out sanity.” Kavi, in addition to playing drums with Tough On Tobacco, rock band Indus Creed, instrumental metal band Pangea and part of fusion act The Karsh Kale Collectiv, also does sessions work for music series MTV Coke Studio. Kavi originally started out as a drummer in funk rock band Helix in 2002, and went on to join bands such as Helga’s Fun Castle and groove metal band Pin Drop Violence [PDV]. Diversity was always a priority for Kavi, who says he never wanted to be tagged as just a drummer for metal bands. Says Kavi, “It’s not like I get calls to play in a jazz band. I’m mostly called for anything rock-related now.”

Bassist and vocalist Rohit Pereira, who co-founded PDV in the year 2000 with lead vocalist Pradeep Miranda, always wanted to be more than just a metalhead. Pereira says he “likes his hip hop as much as heavy metal.” He adds, “I grew up with stuff like Abba and Madonna playing at home.” Even while he was part of PDV, Pereira played bass for alt rock band Kinky Ski Munky, death metal band Exhumation.

After PDV announced their break up in 2009, Pereira formed comedy rock band Khiladi in 2010, got together with longtime friend Manas Ullas to form electro/dubstep/hip-hop band ViceVersa in 2011. Pereira adds, “I look at it as playing music I like. I always learn something from other musicians, it’s like feeding off their creative energies from different minds. Like with [Shaa’ir + Func guitarist] Randolph [Correia], what I learn from his band, I put into ViceVersa.” Breaking stereotypes was what drummer and drum ”˜n bass producer Aditya Ashok aka Ox7gen set out to do as well when he formed alt rock band Social Suicide in 2006 with college friends. By 2012, Ashok was a sought after drummer, playing with three different artists [Delhi EDM artist Dualist Inquiry, a specially-curated set featuring upcoming artists called ”˜The Future’ and electro rock band Pentagram’s all-star jam] on three different stages in one day at the 2012 edition of NH7 Weekender. Says Ashok, “I felt like I was going to have heart palpitations by the end of it, but there’s no negativity or regret attached to that year at Weekender.”

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The 24-year-old drummer is now part of Shaa’ir + Func [S+F], alt rock band The Colour Compound, composer Mikey McCleary’s Bollywood covers band Bartender and singer-songwriter Nikhil D’souza’s pop rock band. Says Ashok, about being a part of S+F, “Randolph [Correia, S+F guitarist] puts down the basic groove and leaves blank spaces. I have a lot of creative freedom to change things up. It’s a full on free jam at times [with Shaa’ir + Func].” One of the downsides to being in multiple projects, according to Kavi, is the risk of burning out. Kavi developed a back problem in July last year that forced him to suggest temporary replacement drummers to bands he was scheduled to perform with for several months last year and this year. Says Kavi, “I played at Weekender [in late 2013], but then the problem came back. You get burnt out, sometimes you just want to chill and take a break, which luckily I still get time for.” The only thing Kavi regrets not having time for is teaching, something that drummers like Kaith are currently choosing over Bollywood projects ad jingles, in addition to their multiple projects. Everyone from four-year-olds to women drummers enroll for Kaith’s classes. These days, he performs metal music live more than he listens to it, leaning more toward rock and pop. Breaking out of metal drummer tag also had another advantage, more closer to home. Says Kaith, “When I used to play with metal bands, I had friends and family who I couldn’t share my [metal] music with. Now, my mom can relate to Sparsh’s music and my brother is more into Scribe, although he’s not into heavy stuff like DR.”

Multi-instrumentalists like Coutto and Kini clearly want to keep adding on to the list of instruments they can perfect. Says Coutto, “I want people to look at me and say, ”˜Oh fuck he’s a drummer,’ and then when they see me again, they’ll say ”˜Oh fuck, he plays other instruments.’ I’m a long term guy so I’m not there yet.”

This article appeared in the July 2014 issue of ROLLING STONE India.

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