In spite of multiple lineup changes through their 17-year long run, Bengaluru favorites, TAAQ, are ready to take Bangalore Rock to Europe this month
Perhaps it’s the fact that they are based out of the IT capital of India. Maybe it’s just something the band members are naturally inclined towards. But Thermal And A Quarter have always come across as a tech-savvy band. Remember the time they gave away their Plan B album under a modified Creative Commons License? That was in 2005, a good two years before Radiohead gave away In Rainbows as a “pay what you want” download. TAAQ were also one of the earliest bands to understand the importance of being in touch with fans online via a website and a blog.
So it is no surprise that when I drop by the band’s jam room at Taaqademy, the music school they run in Koramangala, Bengaluru, I find the band members completely absorbed with their gadgets ”“ guitarist and vocalist Bruce Lee Mani is hunched over his laptop and drummer Rajeev Rajagopal is punching away into his smartphone. It is April and they have a big international tour coming up in August. They tell us that there are flights and accommodation to be booked and more gigs to be lined up for their Europe tour. There are a couple of press interviews that have to be wrapped up, too. That’s when it strikes me. Sitting here, right in front of me, is the Great Indian D.I.Y. Band. (And one of the hardest working at that.)
Until almost the end of this month, TAAQ play 26 shows ”“ one every day ”“ at The Fringe, Edinburgh, the largest arts festival in the world. Later, they travel to Scotland to play two more self-booked shows followed by four in Ireland. Says the band’s drummer Rajagopal, “Last year, we did that small US tour, and this year’s plan was to go to Europe. We are going there, trying to present to an audience who are coming there with no notions of how a band from India is supposed to sound.”
Since they are going to be playing a show a day at The Fringe, the band will be showcasing three completely different sets. Says Mani, “There are the few love and relationship kind of songs. There are ones about introspection and self-discovery. And then there is the whole Indian perspective ”“ the oddballness of this country as seen through our eyes.”
The story of thermal and a Quarter ”“ and its interesting name ”“ goes back to over 17 years ago. A certain Ajit Varghese Abraham wanted to take part in the semi-professional rock competition at St. John’s College’s Autumn Muse festival in 1996. Since Abraham was also occupied with a full-time job (Both Mani and Rajagopal tried hard to jog their collective memory to recall exactly what Abraham did for a living, but came up with zilch. To their credit, Mani and Rajagopal had performed with Abraham just once), he needed a college band, if only to ensure he could enter the competition. He approached bassist Sunil Chandy, Rajeev Rajagopal and Bruce Lee Mani who had already been playing together as a band at Christ College.
Entering a competition also meant they had to come up with some sort of name for the band. “It was one of those last-minute, scratch-scratch, what-do-we-name-ourselves thing,” laughs Mani. They realized that they were three Malayalis and one quarter-Malayali (Mani). And Chandy came up with the name, Thermal And A Quarter.
“It was a baaaad joke,” Rajagopal faux-cringes.Â (I say faux-cringes because I am reasonably certain that after all these years, the band loves the name now. Rajagopal, in fact, is the one who has a tattoo of the band’s logo on his forearm.) “We said we would take a call later,” he says.
As it happened, the newly-christened Thermal And A Quarter won the competition and the grand prize money of Rs. 4,000. “After that, we all met once at this pub to discuss battle-plans for world domination,” laughs Mani. “And then he [Abraham] disappeared. We never heard from him again.” But the name stuck and the band continued.
What’s not spoken about too much, though, are the bits that follow this point in time. Few know, for instance, that Thermal And A Quarter were a seven-piece band at one time. (Between 1996 and 1999, TAAQ included a mridangam player and an Indian vocalist who “just sang alaaps,” as Mani puts it.) “We took part in the Indian Light Music categories at competitions,” says Rajagopal of the time TAAQ did cover Kannada and Hindi songs. But at the same time, they would have their own compositions too. “Some fusion things,” he says.
“We would go up on stage and do four Hindi songs, like “Chappa Chappa” or “Rim Jhim” or whatever, for the judges,” says Mani. “But then, we had to do something for ourselves. So we would do these fusion bits. It was just us having fun. Since they were instrumentals, we didn’t have to worry about languages. And those [originals] would win us the competition, because we were the only band with something original,” he says.