Skrat Look Back at 15 Years of Mayhem
Chennai’s long-standing rock trio recount practice, parties and big performances
Four albums, raucous shows around the country (sometimes undertaken on motorbikes) and their own thematic universe – Skrat have checked plenty of boxes when it comes to being a successful indie rock band.
The Chennai trio – currently comprising co-founders Sriram T.T. on guitar and vocal duties and drummer Tapass Naresh, plus bassist Jhanu Chanthar – first came together in 2006 and ended up releasing their debut album Design in 2010. About 11 years ago, the lineup included guitarist Abhinav Krishnaswamy (currently from alt band The F16s) and bassist Satishkumar Narayan aka Sat.
Since then, we’ve see Skrat scale up and stomp about, often armed with just the essential rock combo of guitar, bass and drums. Bring Out the Big Guns in 2013 mucked about in indie and garage-rock goodness, while The Queen in 2014 honed in on an arena-ready sound. Their most recent record, Bison in 2017, ramped up an angstier, fiery sound.
Narayan, who left in 2015 to move out of the country, says about the making of Bring Out the Big Guns and The Queen, “[They] were both written when we had all become such a big part of each others’ lives. At this point writing songs became so natural to all of us. We’d know exactly what to play when without making eye contact or saying a word. Very rarely we’d ever have to ask someone else to play something differently. It would almost always fit perfectly.”
Although the pandemic may have dampened grander plans to celebrate 15 years, Skrat still have plenty of memories to smile back upon. The trio revisit a handful for Rolling Stone India below.
Skrat Goes International
When drummer Tapass Naresh spent 2010 and 2011 studying music management in Sheffield, frontman Sriram T.T. took it upon himself to fly to the U.K for a jam. He says, “Skrat was a four-piece band then. Abhinav Krishnaswamy had taken on guitar duties from Chirrag Sheth while Sat was still holding the bass frequency down. We played this quaint little festival in Reading organized by Sriram’s motorcycle instructor. He owned a castle by the river Thames where he held a small festival for the people of his town. There were two stages and a crowd of 200 odd people floating through the day. This was the first time we were playing our songs in another country other than our own. We were always skeptical about how our music would be received by the audience of another country. To our surprise, all the people who turned up at the festival both young and old ended up moving to our music and this gave me a whole bunch of confidence that our music works at a global level.”
Skrat Opens for Slash
Naresh terms their performance at the MTVi Xtreme festival in Bengaluru in 2015 as one of the most important gigs of his and the band’s life. He says, “This is the first time we got to see some of our idols take stage and blow our minds away. I still remember how those 30 minutes on stage felt like three seconds… That’s how fast it went. We were trying to play the best gig of our lives while trying to take in all the crazy energy that was around us. When we finally saw Slash perform we realized what real rockstars perform like. Though we were really good I still keep that one gig as a benchmark for us to someday achieve. One day we should own the stage the way Slash did.”
Swim. Eat. Jam. Repeat.
Narayan says, “We had a structured but super fun schedule leading up to The Queen and for the tour shortly after the album release. Tapass and I would head to TT’s, chill, do a few laps (I would attempt to swim) in the pool, have dinner and then jam till 12 AM. Occasionally we’d stop and get juice on the way back home.”
The Gig That Never Was
Being a DIY band who would jump at nearly every gig opportunity that came their way, Naresh recalls getting a slot to perform at a “relatively popular spot” in Puducherry. “Popular for what is something we realized much later on that day. We as a unit arrived early afternoon in Pondy and like we always do we proceeded to complete our soundcheck. Around 4 PM a slight drizzle sets in and we clear the stage area waiting for the rain to clear. A bunch of white shirt/white dhoti-clad men enter the bar for their afternoon/evening post-slumber drinks. It seems they weren’t too happy with our ‘Indie/English’ set that we had planned for them that evening. Our guitarist gets pulled into a small scuffle and eventually it turns a little wild. Next thing you know we hear news that the men have called in reinforcements and a bunch of goons were asked to find us and teach us a lesson. The second we realized this was going down we decided to pack up and literally run for our lives. Exciting and crazy things always seem to follow us wherever we go.”
Jhanu Joins the Band, Makes An Agreement
An extraordinary riffsmith and composer in his own right (with his eponymous band), Jhanu Chanthar took over bass duties in 2015, the first time he was playing the instrument. “I think it took me a few days to realize that the gig was an hour-long and all of Skrat’s songs had just about three minutes of playtime.” He was tasked with learning 16 songs in three days. For ease, Chanthar says he tricked his brain into grouping three songs together as one to learn them quickly. “My plan did not work out. I managed to confuse myself completely — especially with the song names. So, I made a deal with the band that I could screw up for the first five gigs. They agreed. And yes, I did screw up quite a lot! In fact, to this day I am still confused by the names. I still mix up ‘Bang Bang’ and ‘Adrenaline.’ The toughest song for me to learn was ‘Samurai Badass,’” he adds.
Saved by a Beatboxer
For their headline set at National Institute of Technology in Kozhikode in April 2016, Sriram T.T. recalls they had an energetic crowd and a massive sound to their advantage. “The crowd didn’t need any warming up. The pressure was on to perform at our maddest best and boy was it smooth! The sound, the crowd, the lights,” he says.
Then they heard the soul crushing sound of a kick-drum pedal knocking through the head. “Tapass wasted no time and had already started replacing it with the help of the crew. But this was NIT! A show with a few thousand people can’t stop abruptly. Riots could occur,” the frontman recalls. He and bassist Chanthar began jamming to keep the crowd buoyant. “Suddenly, Vineeth Vincent who was performing a beatbox set earlier, came up on stage and let it rip! The crowd looked as thrilled as we were! After a great five-minute free jam, Tapass was ready! Without telling us a word, he blasts into our free jam. The four of us had fun for a bit till Vineeth bowed out. What a save!”
The LoveRider Experience Veers Into Danger
Skrat and their crew took off on their motorbikes on the LoveRider Experience Tour in 2014, covering multiple cities by road. They plotted out a route between Kalasa in Karnataka to Goa for their next two gigs. “We set off to what would be a relaxed fun ride through the Western Ghats… until it wasn’t,” Sriram says. He adds, “Abijith [Rao] our engineer and I were enjoying this beautiful windy snake of tarmac blissing up in front of the pack on our psycho Enfields when we heard it; the dreaded sound of plastic fairings and metal meeting the tarmac.” While drummer Naresh had swapped bikes with their tour photographer after a rest stop, the accident shook the band and left them worried for several moments, until they saw the bike which had crashed was another rider not of their party. Nevertheless worried, Skrat were relieved to find the rider safe. “Lesson for us all to wear protection when involved in blissful tasks,” Sriram adds.