Thermal And A Quarter Ready New Album
The Bengaluru alt rock band’s sixth album is a commentary on the state of the Indian alternative music scene
Sometime in 2013, when Thermal And A Quarter were in the middle of a hectic 40-day tour (26 back-to-back gigs, no less) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, they were inspired to write a new song called “The Sponsors Backed Out.” Deftly dodging the question on what informed the lyrics, the Bengaluru alt rock band’s lead vocalist and guitarist, Bruce Lee Mani says, “If we have to list the specific incidents where sponsors have ‘backed out’, we’d be here all day! Every time I hear that phrase [The sponsors backed out], I always get this mental picture of a bunch of stuffy guys in suits walking backwards in a line out of a boardroom, little leather briefcases held defensively in front of them.”
The song will feature on their sixth album The Scene, which is not just a truly enjoyable album with the band flexing their blues and jazz muscle ”“ TAAQ played most of the album at two editions of Bacardi NH7 Weekender this year ”“ but also an extremely important one. The album raises issues that few musicians dared raise publicly, cautious to not rock anybody’s boat, especially not an event organizer or sponsor’s. As Mani puts it, “The SceneÂ is very much a 2014 album. A glimpse of our times! It’s an album that’s been writing itself through much of our career I guess. But right now, everyone’s talking about “the scene” and it’s a happy coincidence that we decided to call the album that as well.”
In fact, it seems like the band was brimming with ideas during the Edinburgh tour, which also shaped the song “Going to A Broad.” Says Mani, “[The song] Made all the more sense when we were writing, after just returning from one of our most successful tours.”Â “Going to AÂ Broad” takes a dig at the fuss that’s made around an Indian band performing outside of India, but only in the most endearingly possible way. Says the guitarist, “It’s actually quite self-mocking as well, which is fine. Before the I.T. boom and young Indian people crisscrossing the globe, only rich uncles and Malayalis had ever left our shores… and such an aura, such mystique they had.”
TAAQ has been on fire even after they wrapped up their Fringe tour, gigging relentlessly and playing songs off their last album 3 Wheels, 9 Lives. This year, the band also set up the second of their music schools in Bengaluru, the aptly named TAAQademy, which ensured that they stayed on home turf to finish writing the new album. Drummer Rajeev Rajagopal has been an important influence as a songwriter on the title track, offers Mani. “Rajeev has chipped in with the lyrics for the title track on this record as well – with his characteristic pithy style – and that’s become one of the defining songs, even live,” says Mani. The Scene is also the first album that the band has written with bassist Leslie Charles, who joined the band in 2013. “I think we began writing with Leslie about halfway through 2013. He’s got the chops, the attitude and the musical sense that makes him a perfect fit with the evolving TAAQ sound,” adds Mani.Â Â Â
This is not the first time that the band has written themes that spark debate. Almost a decade ago, TAAQ took on politicians, music critics and music labels in their third album Plan B. On The Scene, the band take a dig at musicians too in the track “God Rocker.” Says Rajagopal, “This one’s about those grand old big daddies of the Indian rock n roll scene, guys who walk the scene believing they have the power to make it all happen. You simply HAVE to tremble in their presence.”
In a way, The Scene also charts the band’s career graph from the pre-social media era when there were fewer means to communicate to an audienceÂ to ensure that a gig was packed. Says Mani, “We were recently talking about our very first DIY gig, the ‘Potatoe Junkie Concert’ which we pulled off in 1999. Just think: no Internet, no email, no FB/Twitter/ no mobile phones even, for the most part. Just posters and word-of-mouth. 1000+ people came.” Cut to now when a pub gig means an email blitz and as the guitarist puts it “FB event-invite-carpet-bomb, status updates, boosted posts, SMS blasts, Twitter barrage and maybe 200-300 people will turn up, if you’re lucky.” Of course, all this had to go down in a song called “Like Me.” TAAQ, with roots in the IT hub that is Bengaluru, had begun reaching out to its fans on the internet giving away digital copies of their albumÂ Plan B in 2004, years ahead of Radiohead whoÂ released their album In Rainbows on a pay-what-you-want basis in 2007.
With tight melodies supporting some of the most relevant lyrics we’ve heard in recent times, TAAQ also pay an ode to rum on a track named “My Funny Turpentine” choosing one alcohol brand over several others, including those thatÂ have supported festivals and gigs across the country. Says Rajagopal, “[The song is] A tribute to Old Monk. It talks about that funny social lubricant that blends this entire Indian music scene together… and sorry it’s not Bacardi or Dewars.” A band favorite from the album, which the audience seems to take to instantly is a track named “MED” expanded as Medicated Electronic Dance, TAAQ’s shot at EDM. Currently in the studio recording The Scene, TAAQ seemed to have hit upon a breakthrough album, which hopefully will stand out of the clutter of releases this year.
Thermal And A Quarter will perform The SceneÂ in its entiretyÂ at B Flat in Bengaluru on December 20th, 9 pm. Get tickets here