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
In 1994, about two years before TAAQ’s debut gig at the St. John’sCollege fest, Mani and Rajagopal played together for the first time. “We played for an All India Radio college campus thing. And we wrote an instrumental song called “Indigo”. It was actually the first song we ever wrote,” Mani reminisces. “It borrowed like mad from [Dave Brubeck’s] ”˜Take Five’,” he laughs.
TAAQ also did their share of covers. “We would choose covers nobody had heard of,” laughs Mani. Adds Rajagopal, “When we started off, we didn’t have an ”˜Oh, we are anti-cover’ stance. We just wanted to do our own thing. It started pissing us off when we started losing gigs because we didn’t play covers.” The band would get booking requests but it would be accompanied by a list of songs the organizers wanted covered. Says Rajagopal, “Then we would say, ”˜Fuck off!’” Mani adds, “Some might say it was really stupid because it was big business. If we had nailed colleges then, we would probably have been in an even better position right now. But we said no.”
TAAQ is, today, amongst the more senior bands in the country. Having been around for over 17 years, they have actually seen the “scene” change. “It’s all suddenly happening. A lot more festivals, a lot more bands, a lot more sponsors”¦ I just hope that the audiences also don’t just go listen to music only because it’s a fad,” says Rajagopal. Sure, the scene is growing ”“ the non-Bollywood, Indian independent music scene, that is. Slowly, but surely, the number of quality acts in the country is creeping up, as is the number of festivals and venues. Yet, the fact that we have a long way to go is underlined by the number (or the lack thereof) of gigs an average band gets. TAAQ, for instance, have been clocking about 45-60 shows a year. But 2013 will be a good year with them notching up over half their annual quota in just a month with the upcoming shows in Europe.
If stumbling upon the band name was a happy accident, Mani and Rajagopal becoming musicians in the first place is as serendipitous. While Rajagopal didn’t have musicians for parents, he grew up listening to a lot of music at home. “My folks had hundreds and hundreds of cassettes of Hindi and Tamil music. My sister was into a lot of English pop, and I kinda liked that,” says Rajagopal. “But rock was when I completely got addicted.” Yet, the only music aspiration he had was that of being the imaginary singer in an equally imaginary band that his friends and he dreamed up when in school. “Very recently, someone showed me a scrapbook from school and there was a question in there ”“ ”˜If you were in a band, what would you be?’ And I had answered, ”˜Vocalist’,” he laughs.
It wasn’t until the second year of college that Rajagopal started playing drums. “A friend of mine wanted to go learn the drums, but he didn’t want to go alone, so he asked me to go with him. We went to this guy called Jeffrey Pope, a really good be-bop drummer.” The friend dropped out after exactly one session but Rajagopal continued for a couple of months, before he got his own kit and started teaching himself. What sealed it for him was the first gig he did sometime around 1993 with some seniors from his college. “That was an awesome trip. Everything changed after that. After that first gig, the number of people who wanted to come and be friends with me”¦ I was like, ”˜Wow! This works, man’,” ”¨he laughs.
Mani, too, grew up surrounded by a lot of music, but being a musician was not on his mind. (“I always wanted to be a pilot.”) “My parents were a crazy bunch. They were hippies ”“ Tam Brahm hippies,” he says. “They had accumulated all this music ”“ a lot of Carnatic, traditional music and a lot of Fifties pop and jazz. And the one jazz record that would be played all the time was Dave Brubeck’s Time Out. It was all about odd meters. So, at age 10, that was all I heard for a long time.” His introduction to rock came around the time he was leaving school, via a friend who played him a riff on the guitar. “He took the guitar and played me [Deep Purple’s] ”˜Smoke on the Water’ and I was like, ”˜What the hell is that?!’” While that got him hooked to rock, the love for jazz never left. Pick any song across their comprehensive discography and you are likely to come across guitarlines, basslines or drum patterns that reference jazz and the blues ”“ often all together. And occasionally, there is the lyrical reference too ”“ as on “In the Middle”, an otherwise chugging rocker off 3 Wheels, 9 Lives, that takes inspiration from John Coltrane and his quote about starting in the middle of a sentence and moving in both directions. “Start in the middle with everything main/ Then like Coltrane, go both ways at once.”
Bengaluru’s ChristCollege is really where both Mani and Rajagopal grew as musicians. And the man responsible in a large part for that was Sunil Chandy. “Chandy was the most musical amongst us. He is the one who got us into studying music, and not just listening to it,” says Mani. “Though it completely fucks up your ability to appreciate music for some time,” he guffaws.Â