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Mumbai’s zaniest rock band Zero which recently disbanded tells us how they had raging metal heads moshing to their easy hooks

Rolling Stone IN Oct 08, 2008

Bobin James

When Zero’s wacky 29-year-old drummer Siddharth Coutto aka Sidd says, “We’re friends who happen to make music,” the formula’s down pat. Chris Martin said the same thing about his band not too long ago and they’re not doing too bad for themselves either. Three albums down, Zero, undeniably one of the most popular bands on the Indian rock circuit, especially on home turf Mumbai, has had its share of splits, comebacks and line-up changes. In fact, this is not the first time that it has threatened to wrap up. When lead vocalist Rajeev “Sonu” Talwar left for the US eight years ago, Shazneen Arethna stepped into his shoes and lead guitarist Warren Mendonsa from the band’s original line-up was replaced by a series of guitarists including Sanjay Joseph, Meghshyam Adoni and Niranjan “Pozy” Dhar last year. This time around Rajeev, 32, is taking off again for a more lucrative career in a London advertising firm.

Zero’s last gig at this year’s I-Rock was made of stuff most Indian bands can only dream of. Just as the band launched into its final track ”“ ”˜PSP 12’ ”“ for the night, a track they were ”˜sick of,’ the cops arrived and, citing the 10 pm statutory deadline, pulled the plug on the audio. The audience, among them thousands of Zero fans, could have cursed the police, the system and the country and gone home. But they chose instead to complete the chorus for Zero, which disbanded a couple of days after the I-Rock in September.

We meet the band at the office of Counter Culture Records in North Mumbai, the independent music label that the band’s bassist Girish “Bobby” Talwar kicked off with Zero’s manager Vijay Nair. Sidd and Warren, who played together in a band called Vicious Circle, wrote the early Zero numbers, among them, ”˜Old Man Sitting on the Back Porch,’ ”˜Love Song,’ and ”˜Hate in Em.’

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When Zero came together, Rajeev kept track of all the gear and Warren was the software man. At a gig in Hyderabad in the Nineties, Rajeev and Warren figured out the entire PA system because the organisers couldn’t afford a sound engineer to do the job. The band also remembers how it carted around all its equipment in one car, were paid in sandwiches after gigs at Mumbai’s Razzberry Rhinoceros and how they won Rs 35,000 for their first competition at RAIT, Nerul.

Zero’s sound was easy and unpretentious. It might have not had the most profound lyrics but it did manage to get entire front rows to sing along. “We grew up together, lived close by and if you walked into any of our homes, you’d hear the Beatles play,” says Sidd.

When it was formed in 1998, Zero was bottled and booed off stage at their first ever I-Rock. “The first three years were bad,” says Bobby, 29. The metal heads didn’t want originals but Zero was relentless. “We’ve picked fights with audiences, done Beatles covers at hardcore metal gigs like the Festival of New Noise and told the crowd to fuck off,” says Sonu. Their persistence paid off  – ”˜Christmas in July,’ ”˜Mariachi,’ ”˜PSP 12”,’ were in demand at concerts – and soon, audiences raved about even the bad gigs just because it was Zero. “We gave each other the confidence and told ourselves that it didn’t matter what the crowds said. Music was always very personal and we knew that the returns don’t always validate the investment,” says Bobby. “People in Nagaland knew our songs man,” he adds. Along the way, it also got to perform with childhood heroes, Rock Machine, one of India’s first and most original rock bands. Rock Machine keyboard player Zubin Balaporia and guitarist Mahesh Tinaikar have both guested with Zero on several occasions.

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The band practised at the Talwars’ jam pad in central Mumbai and nobody missed the four-days-a-week rehearsals. “We were just lucky that we had an empty apartment. Most bands didn’t have a place to practise back then,” says Bobby. Sidd still remembers how the band was furious with Carl Mendonca who stepped in on keys, violin, bass, drums and back-up vocals when he didn’t show up for rehearsals one day.  Like their music, the logic behind how a track finally made it to recording stage was pretty much simple. “If we remembered it at rehearsals the next day, the tune was worth taking into the studio. I still use that theory,” says Sidd, who also composes and arranges tunes for Bollywood. And like most talented Indian bands, they’ve also been through bouts of disillusionment. When the band won a major rock concert, it was promised a Europe tour only to be told that their sound wasn’t Indian enough for an international audience. “We put these albums out for our own sake,” says Rajeev of Albummed, Hook and Procrastination, “Now we weren’t going to add a sitar, tabla or alaaps to our sound even if it meant losing out on an international gig.”

It’s easy to second what Pentagram vocalist Vishal Dadlani said at I-Rock this year after Zero wrapped up its performance: “It’s a shame to let this die, man. Rajeev, just make all the money you need and come right back.”

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