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Clarity And Confidence Drive Motherjane’s Exhilarating EP ‘1 1 1’

Drummer John Thomas, who has been part of the prog rock heavyweights since 1996, talks about lineup changes and metaphysical influences on their third record

Anurag Tagat Jun 14, 2022

Kochi-origin prog rock band Motherjane in 2022.

Kochi prog rock veterans Motherjane’s new four-track EP 1 1 1 gets its name from a bit of numerology and how this number often denotes the “presence of angels,” as drummer and composer John Thomas puts it. “Some people say it’s absurd shit and all that. But this [appearance of the numbers 111] started happening on a regular basis sometime back. We arrived at it that way,” he says with a laugh.

Pronounced “triple one,” the record has been in the works since 2014 and it deals with metaphysical subject matters, so Thomas felt it was befitting to get a symbolic title. “In another way, it also sounds like ‘three,’ which is apt because this is the third Motherjane record,” the drummer adds.

Placed next to their seminal debut album Insane Biography (2002) and the sophomore record Maktub from 2008, 1 1 1 sees Motherjane doing what they do best – championing string-bending prog that nods toward Carnatic scales as well. Only now, there’s a new lineup once again. While Thomas and bassist Clyde Rozario have been around since the band’s inception in 1996, they inducted vocalist Niranj Suresh (from prog band Blank Planet) and guitarist Anubhav Langthasa in 2018. “The new musicians have brought in a lot of difference. There’s a lot of learning along the way, too. Anubhav is a producer as well, so I learned a lot about production from him. I call him guruji and all that,” Thomas says.

While their 2015 single “Clay Play” – which is presented as is, featuring former vocalist-producer Vivek Thomas and guitarist Nithin Vijayanath – was a starting point for 1 1 1, the EP opener “Awoke” had its origins in a drum phrase Thomas wrote in 2011. “Back then, I think the band was not very interested in it, so I moved on with it,” he says. When Langthasa joined in 2018, it led to them reintroducing the idea to the guitarist. Thomas adds, “Within two minutes, he started a guitar intro. Niranj also jumped in and contributed.”

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As much as “Clay Play” and even their 2018 standalone single “Namaste” had divided fans (“People thought, ‘Oh shit, what’s happening with these guys?’” Thomas laughs), 1 1 1 presents razor-sharp, rhythmically fist-tight songs like “Awoke,” “Planeman” and the explosive closer “Contact Sense,” which has a few nods to prog act Dream Theater. “Unlike the earlier record, this is not a guitar-centric sound. We’ve introduced a lot of other elements also,” the drummer adds. Beyond Carnatic guitar work, there are rhythmic influences and a thavil drum phrase that inspired the tracks on the EP.

Thematically, a statement from the band notes that each song “represents our journey of awareness, surrendering control and finding our true self. It’s a long, continuous journey of self-discovery.” Among the revelations Thomas had in the course of making 1 1 1 with the current lineup was how disciplined everything has started to become for Motherjane compared to before.

He broaches this subject with caution, given that the band has seen a number of formidable contributors in the past – from vocalist Suraj Mani to guitarists like Baiju Dharmajan, Rex Vijayan (from Avial), Mithun Raju (from Thaikkudam Bridge) and Deepu Sasidharan. “I’m not blaming anyone, I think everybody in each lineup is learning something. But I’ve realized that with older rock bands like ours, there was often less discipline. It’s [being] a bit critical of the whole scene, but now the players have become more professional,” the drummer says. For example, the band now plays with a click track, which they consider “essential” while performing these complex, often challenging songs. “Of course, we had fun with earlier lineups, and this lineup is also having a lot of fun in a different way,” he explains.

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While performances have never stopped for Motherjane over the years, consistency with releases has been an issue. That’s changed with 1 1 1 and Thomas says the EP’s release was well-timed, given that gigs have resumed. Motherjane have so far performed in Bengaluru and Mumbai, with a 10-city tour in the works. A lot of new people are turning up, according to Thomas, and he is grateful for the continued support from fans.

With the tour intended to span two months, Motherjane are also planning two music videos for the EP in the coming months. “We’re trying to release playthroughs and stuff. There’s a lot of content being planned and made,” Thomas adds.