Pop Artist Vineet on Why He Released a Book to Accompany His Debut Album ‘Nine’
Nine short stories inspired by the songs narrate everything from cryptocurrency heists to supernatural occurrences
To write his first ever book, singer-composer and erstwhile radio executive Vineet Singh Hukmani says the inspirations were never literary in the first place. “I have no literary influences whatsoever, but I have been hugely influenced by cinema,” he says of his latest project Nine, which is a book and full-length album all rolled into one self-described “immersive experience” of the old-school variety.
Prior to the book coming into the picture, Nine is a culmination of Hukmani releasing genre-hopping, chart-seeking pop music. There were hip-hop-leaning songs like “Hurry” and more club-friendly tracks like “Dreaming Out Loud,” “Turning Back Time” and the Latin-infused “PFH (Party From Home).” There’s a somber turn on “I Pray,” but also steely rockstar mode engaged on “Jab the World,” both pandemic-themed songs.
In the process of aspiring to write page-turner short stories inspired by his pop songs, Hukmani says he got “spoiled by the power of expression.” It’s changed his creative process as a whole. “I now think of myself as an expressionist first and then a musician or writer,” he says. The album and book’s description explains that this is a combination of “thrilling stories” and “optimistic songs,” which can be streamed via QR codes printed on the page after each story.
In an interview with Rolling Stone India, Hukmani talks about how much cinema and filmmakers inspired his writing style for Nine and what’s coming up next. Excerpts:
What was it like unpacking the lyrics and themes of your songs to script out full stories?
Imagination coupled with expression is a limitless package. The year 2021 was surreal for me, where my U.S. agent [Martin Langford] drove me to do a single every 45 days in a different genre of radio, leading to a world-record gold disc from the European Indie Music Commission. This recognition – to be the first artist in the world to get nine Number One [charting songs] on the European Top 100 charts in a single year – holds huge meaning for me.
That is when I looked at the titles of my songs and let the cinema in my mind loose. You see, I love action-thriller movies with a good twist. I also realized that somewhere inside of me, there were all these stories waiting to be told and that only the tip of the iceberg, the songs, had been manifested first.
To give you an example of how the new song and first story in the book, Nine, began: I am deeply committed to my role as a provider for my family and that is what I tapped into, to write the title song “Nine.” But when you have to make things cinematic, you need to take things to the global extreme for a story to be riveting, so I imagined a lead protagonist in the story who was very committed to his family but had to be far away, fighting a risky fight in order to keep them safe! But when their lives were in danger, he came back in a way that will surprise everyone.
We all know about your musical influences, but what are your literary influences that guided this book?
I’ll be completely honest. I have no literary influences whatsoever! But I have been hugely influenced by cinema. I am the kind that waits for the book to be made into a movie. So, the excitement of movies has made me write stories that trigger cinematic impulses in the mind of the reader, and that too complete with the immersiveness of a song/soundtrack that matches the essence of each story.
My influences in cinema are directors like Paul Greengrass, Joe Russo, Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron and closer to home, Zoya Akhtar, Aditya Dhar, Rajkumar Hirani and Shoojit Sircar, who really know how to bring a script to life.
My writing is deliberately styled to allow ease of conversion into a screenplay because my aim is to present these stories to Netflix or Amazon or even the larger studios for a possible large-movie experience. I am not aiming to excel in literary pursuits, but I want to write entertaining stories with well-defined characters, a plot with a twist and an upbeat soundtrack, all together craving to be made into a movie!
You mention this is an immersive experience, but in a way it feels like an old-school method with the written medium rather than the digital/metaverse manner of VR, or even NFTs and music videos.
There is tangibility and then there is intangibility thanks to the promises of a virtual world with its virtual currencies. I am neutral, emotionally, about these two extremes. However, when I look at things commercially, today paperbacks and e-books worth billions of dollars sell every year, because they are tangible and there is an end price to the customer. Music is free for the listener and due to that, it’s getting commoditized more and more every day!
Musicians are grappling for ways to be able to give people something like live gigs or the resurgent vinyl so as to add more value to their music, and in return get paid a tangible sum for it. I didn’t want to go that way. I felt that a good book of new-age stories that is tangible and allows a price to a customer coupled with a QR code that takes you to the intangible side of upbeat global songs and even videos, makes for a great bridge between the tried/tested and the new!
Coming to VR, it is an exciting new media option and it will need good content. Also, who can say that my stories will not fuel new expressions of VR-related content or games as time goes by? NFTs are a new buzz word in the virtual world and I’m going to wait for that speculative buzz to convert to something tangible, something profitable, and believe you me, when I see that happening, I will be there.
Which stories, if any, were challenging to write and see through?
The challenge overall is to do three things – to be able to create a universal backdrop, to have characters that are real and affected by that backdrop, and then to join the dots that create twists, turns and surprises leading to an unexpected but resolved ending. I was lucky as the rigor of song creation has given me the ability to face similar challenges. I realized it was easier for me to write a story where I had been in a situation and emotionally affected by a similar circumstance, even if the scale was much smaller.
The story I pulled out of thin air with no connection to me whatsoever was “Where’s The Fun,” which is about the world’s largest cryptocurrency heist and the growing power of unseen forces online that can change the way the world operates. To me, imagining this story was scary and as I wrote it, it was very gratifying in a different way.
Do you think that now that you’ve taken this route, you may try to write a story first and then perhaps turn that into a song?
I have now been spoiled by the power of expression. I now think of myself as an expressionist first and then a musician or writer. So it is entirely possible that the story will come first and then a song or maybe [a number of songs] will continue to fuel story ideas. The route I take has to make commercial sense, where I can get the stories closer to my aim of getting them made into OTT/movies. While the English music scene in India is growing rapidly, I would like to take my music to the large audience base of English readers in India, too.
What else is coming up through 2022?
The book and album is a long shelf-life game. It was heartening to see Nine being #1 on debut on Amazon in the action-adventure book genre. We have a long path ahead of us. Unlike singles that have a low shelf life, the endeavor here is to keep the book burning bright and take it to new readers.
I have a few expressions of interest from some collaborations on singles that I hope to finalize quickly.
After my four Grammy submissions last year, I am extremely motivated about Grammy submissions this year, and my learnings from a few mentors at the Recording Academy will need to be put into practice.
An emotional goal that is driving me has to do with supporting a residential school for young destitute girls. We felt the written word can be used to educate these young girls and empower them with the strength they need to survive. Proceeds from the book are being used to pay the school fees of two girls that we are sponsoring, apart from taking care of some of the other day-to-day needs of the other girls studying in this school. The principal of the school has invited me to come and read the stories, and help the girls with their English and perhaps sing some of the songs for them. This gives the whole endeavor so much meaning and is giving me limitless energy to drive Nine in new ways throughout 2022.