Swarathma’s Blog

“If You Want to be a Cool Violinist, Shave your Head” :: Sanjeev Nayak on his Weapon of Choice
March 22, 2011, 3:42 pm
Filed under: Live Setup, Music | Tags: , , , , ,

Sanjeev Nayak has been variously described as the ‘aathma’ in Swarathma, the Bald Genius and plain ‘hot’. Here he goes behind the scenes to decode what being a violinist in a band is all about. After all it is not every day that you find the bow taking to strings in a rock band setup! Read on for influences, gear, inspirations and more.

Why does a band need a violinist? The answer is quite simple – to play music!

I can assure you that the chances of you meeting a violinist that plays for a band, are not very high. Trust me, there are far fewer violinists out there than guitarists or drummers! Now, that’s a good thing, as it directly puts the violinist into a group of small but interesting breed of musicians!

A few months ago, I was in Amsterdam on some work and there I met a colleague who happened to be an amature musician himself. The moment he realized I was a violinist that played for a band, he thought it was cool and we joked about forming a band together. He was like “after I finish singing my first verse, mate, it’s time for you to unleash that wicked Bach violin solo!”. Quite cool indeed!

Traditionally, the Violin, and instruments that belong to its class, are what make up the string section of an Orchestra. Vioinists play different roles in an orchestra – the first violins play the melody, the second violin and the rest of the string section normally back up with harmonies. However, in a band setup, its role is somewhat different. Various people have adapted it to suit their musical styles. I believe that when the violin is used sparingly in a band, it stands out. In Swarathma’s music you can hear the violin playing different roles – during solos, it’s loud and takes the center stage, sometimes it whispers in the background playing harmonies. There are times when it plays nothing at all!

Jun Luc Ponty has a brilliant style of phrasing, and enthralled the audience in Bangalore a few years ago. I was there! And what is striking about his style is his total non-usage of vibrato!

Many technological innovations have occured since the times of Bach – one of them being the electrified violin. This again, was born more out of necessity. In an predominantly electric setup, to get the violin’s sound level up there with other instruments like electric guitar, without having to go through that nasty feedback loop on stage, choice of a solid bodied electric violin seems entirely logical. It’s not a new phenomenon, Jean Luc Ponty, a virtuoso violinist I totally admire, pioneered it in early 70s with his Zeta Jazz Fusion violin. Ponty was among the first to combine the violin with MIDI, distortion boxes, phase shifters, and wah-wah pedals. This resulted in his signature, almost synthesizer-like sound.

NS Design CR-5 Electric Violin

Electric violins come in different sizes, shapes and colors! Moreover, you can tweak their sound using pedals to add more textures. Many a times after the show, people come to me and ask what was the instrument that I was playing – is it violin they want to know. I’m almost tempted to say that it is an instrument from another planet!

I use two electric violins on stage: NS Design CR-5 (pictured) and Zeta Jazz Modern 5-string. Both are tuned differently. With a little reverb and acoustic blending, I get the  tone I like. But tone is again something one is never satisfied with for too long! I keep looking for new violin sounds and styles.

Finally, I don’t think its about what instrument you play. One can be a violinist, a guitarist or a pianist, but what matters most in a band is how the instrument is used to enhance the sound of the band.

P.S: Did I tell you this? If you want to be a violinist and look cool, shave your head 🙂


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Very very interesting and awesome Sanjeev!

Comment by Debayan


Comment by Manasi Panigrahi

Great work – Sanjeev & Swarathma!

By the way, I’ve a small doubt after reading your article. I understand that both the violins you use, are 5-string violins. The NS Design CR-5, is visible as a 5-stringed one, in the pic. And Zeta Jazz Modern that you use, is also a 5-stringed instrument, You mentioned that both the violins are tuned differently by you. Did you mean the tuning keys being at different places, or did you mean the strings being tuned to different notes?

What tuning do you maintain on each of the violins, and if any difference, WHY? I would love, if you could throw more light on the subject. Wishing you all the luck. God Bless! 🙂

Comment by GK

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