Swarathma’s Blog

Behind The Real Firestarter: Pavan ‘Superstar’ Kumar
April 7, 2011, 4:24 pm
Filed under: Experiences, initiatives | Tags: , , , ,

' I am the Firestarter, I say!'

Those who know of The Prodigy’s recent India Tour for the Invasion Festival will remember the Real Firestarter video that went insanely viral with over 10,000 hits in less than a week. It featured Superstar Rajnikanth, or someone just like him. The man beneath the wig and the apoplectic dance moves percussionist Pavan Kumar speaks of his experiences as the REAL Firestarter. This is the first part. Watch the video here

It all started while I was watching the film ‘No one killed Jessica’ at the cinema theatre. I got a message from Vasu saying ‘Do you want to act the character of Rajnikanth?’ Suddenly I started seeing Rajni on screen! I immediately replied back to him saying that I would love to as I am one of the hardcore fans of the ‘Superstar’ and that it would be my tribute to him. Vasu told me in detail what this whole project was. I came to know that this was a promotion for the band The Prodigy’s India tour. The next day Shreyas (OML Digital) called me and said that I’ve to organise costume and makeup for my character. I made a list of the make up guys and after many calls, I found one guy at Yeshwantpur who seemed to have the kind of coat, wig and moustache I was looking for.

On the day of the shoot I along with Montry went to get the costumes. On reaching the shop I gave him the specifications and showed Thalaiva’s pictures and told him that the wig has to be as close as possible to that of Rajni’s. That man asked what was the shoot about and also who’s the actor. When I told him that it was me,  that man laughed and said you are the production in charge and also the actor! After trying out a couple of blazers, wigs and moustaches, I selected one white coat, a wig and told him to shape the moustache  according to my face, which he did. Then he told me what should be told to the make up artist, when I told  him I’ve to do the make up myself, he couldn’t believe it!

By the time I started from the costume shop Vasu had finalized the location. He along with a couple of  cameramen had reached the location. On the way from the costume shop Montry and I watched the Prodigy Firestarter video and decided on a couple of moves to be done in our own way. And I managed to shave in the car. The location was Ejipura, near Koramangala. It was right outside our earlier jam pad. This was chosen to avoid traffic. It was told that the whole shoot had to be done in about 20 mins. Before people start gathering we should finish the shoot. So I had to mentally prepare myself for it. After reaching Ejipura we parked the cars opposite to the Temple. People were busy in their work and had not noticed us yet. We knew the  moment cameras come out it would start grabbing attention. That’s what exactly happened when the   cameramen started taking test shots. The people – especially the kids, started gathering. I went inside the car and started the make up. Until I was outside, people were least bothered to look at me. Once I came out fully loaded with costumes, the kids first shouted “Ley, avne kanla hero!” (Hey, look he’s the hero!)

I concentrated on the act. Started imagining Rajnikanth’s moves. I also wanted to mix the moves of our own Rebel Star Ambarish. I had not rehearsed the moves at all. I decided what ever comes naturally to me, I’ll do.

Coming up: What shooting the Firestarter feat. Rajnikanth video was really like!


Live Photoblog :: Don Bosco Institute of Technology
March 26, 2011, 1:02 pm
Filed under: Tour, Tour Diary | Tags: , , , , ,

It’s a beautiful day. Overcast, drizzling. We gig today at Vismay 2011, the annual bash at Don Bosco Institute of Technology, Bangalore. Special guest today, the lovely Feli Geiger on the harp. There could be a bunch of djembe artists joining us on stage too!

Varun and Deb sort out stuff at the band's jampad at load-out. The lampshades are ghodi masks. The drum kit is resting. Pic: Prateek

The Ghodi crosses the road atop the sturdy shoulders of Vijay, road crew member. Sanjeev follows to make sure she's loaded in good. Pic: Vinay DV

Harp player and special guest from Germany Feli Geiger demos the air harp to an eager audience. She joins us on 'Pyaasi' tonight. Pic: Vinay DV

Jishnu cackles at something banal. Most of our jokes are. But then at the moment they're too funny to not guffaw at. Pic: Vinay DV

“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 🙂

Rhythm Gurus II: Montry Manuel on his Teachers
March 14, 2011, 5:12 am
Filed under: Experiences, Music | Tags: , , , ,

The heart of Swarathma’s feel-good vibe is powerhouse drummer Montry Manuel. In the second part of the series on his teachers, he writes about Jeoraj Stanley George, acclaimed jazz drummer from Chennai who has mentored Montry over the years.  Read on to learn more about Jeoraj, his life and music and impact on Montry.

My mentor, JEORAJ “Jo” STANLEY GEORGE was my second teacher who helped me take my skill set one step  ahead. I met him at the Unwind Centre, Bangalore where I had joined a class for Pro Sessions.

My Mentor Jo recording in studio

The most hardworking artist, he learnt his skills from the DRUMTECH Institute, UK and was awarded the best student, the year he graduated from there. He was also trained by Joe Boy for his advanced skill set before joining Drum Tech. He came back to India and settled in Chennai where he started his struggle as an artist. After all his achievements, he had to put in more hard work to get himself noticed in this industry and within a few years he made it big. He has toured with Keith Peters and Carl Peters, Madhav Chari Trio, Amit Heri and Group who specialize in Indian Fusion. He has also toured with AR Rehman. He is also a very well known Session Artist and has been called in as a Guest Artist on many occasions.

Jo's drum setup


He had helped us a lot during the recording of our first album. He was the one who helped me polish my sound, my drum beats and rhythm for songs like Patte Saare, Jaana Kahan Hai Mujhe, Bolo Kya Hai, Yeshu Allah aur Krishna and Barsenge. He taught me the grooves of rock and reggae and the basics of samba beats which have helped me develop better sound for the album.

Get a taste of his music here

On his various visits to Bangalore, we always get together to discuss music and get some tips to learn new tricks to develop a better and more refreshing sound.

Text and Illustrations: Montry Manuel, Edited by: Hafsah Parkar, Pics: Facebook profile

Forward March Tour I: Live Photoblog
March 10, 2011, 10:58 am
Filed under: Tour | Tags: , , , , ,

The Forward March Tour began withVarun having a bad day. We forgot his gutiar at the time of load-out. Then the anal security officers at the airport thought his Orange guitar amp head was a weapon of mass destruction (which it is, if you look at it). But then we lived to tell the tale. In pictures.

Day 2 in Pictures:

Forward March Tour: Live Photoblog - Montry Manuel has issues. He heart is fragile. He is emotional baggage. Pic: Jishnu.

Forward March Tour - Live Photoblog: The Lunatics are on the Grass. Sanjeev and Varun decide to crash on the little green patch outside the arrival lounge at Mumbai airport. Pic: Jishnu


Day 1 in Pictures:

Rikshawalla Dixit: The picture of the hardest working member of the band. On the Cycle of Life. The Pedaller of Tunes. Carrier of good news. Pic: Sanjeev Nayak

After having successfully negotiated our way to Kareem's, House of Food from Paradise, Tour Manager Young Deb and Engineer d'Sounde Niranjan share a point between mouthfuls of magic. Pic: Varun

The Aftermath: Massive quantities of wholesome goodness were polsihed off. Mutton Seekh, Chicken Seekh, Dilpasand, Mutton Korma, Chicken Makhani, and Rotis that were more pillows than food. Dessert was Firni, Shahi Tukda and Kulfi. Whoof... Pic: Pavan

Ab Dilli Door Nahi: Show Poster
March 9, 2011, 4:12 pm
Filed under: Live Art, Tour | Tags: , , , , , ,

Gig poster! Design: Montry Manuel. Click to enlarge

Behind the ‘Rockstar’: Varun on Life as a Musician
March 5, 2011, 3:55 am
Filed under: Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I am writing this blog article listening to one of my favourite artists – Amy Lee (Evanescence). I spend most of my time listening to a lot of music, playing guitar and taking guitar lessons. In the course of teaching I come across lots of people, kids who enjoy every bit of music, working people who come to unwind after a hard days work. And in one such class when I met a friend/student of mine, he asked me what does it take to be a full time musician. I was not quite sure what to tell him. All I could remember was me asking Bruce the same question.

“Guns n roses cannot be the same with just the name, it’s the members who made the difference” - Slash

If I scratch my head trying to think a bit, I can say it was not so long before i decided to pursue music as a career. It was around my 2nd year of pre-university that I got more inclined towards guitar playing. I’d see guitars as my best friend than just an instrument. After dealing with a lot of difficulties playing in a college band, I soon started looking for a good tutor. After a couple of years I met Bruce Lee Mani  and I knew he was the right guy. I cant help mentioning his name in most interviews or blog articles cuz he really crafted my playing and introduced me to different genres of music. Although I must admit that a lot of other guitars players around me have helped crafting my skill.

“If you ever get professional jealousy, then you're losing it. Do not criticize anybode else until you know you can do better, and even then do not do it” - Ethel Beck, mother of Jeff Beck. Pic: Gibson Guitars

As far as my experience is concerned after choosing music as my career, it has been definitely hard but I love doing this . Right from those days doing free gigs just to get it all going, giving all your time for the band, rehearsing to sound better everyday and finally doing all the backstage work from carrying equipment to sleepless nights and being totally broke. Its all been good fun. The band eventually became a family and having said I prioritized it more than other things as a result of which some people thought I literally ignored the rest. But those who really knew me believed that I was doing everything for a reason.

“Playing guitar is like speaking, don’t always play fast and blabber something, then nobody will understand what you spoke” - Alwyn Fernandes

Everything in the band is just like any other family. Yes we fight too! We argue, we crib about things sometimes, we support each other and though we can’t say we are the best of friends with each other, there is still a love hate relationship that keeps you going. And the longer you stick, the better it only gets. I always treat the band with great care only cuz I know what a small mistake can lead into. There is a lot of learning  from the big international bands I admired. I d still say, Slash’s autobiography says a lot, teaches a lot.

I don’t say I follow the quotes that inspired me 100%, but yes I am trying to. This is the way I keep the rock n roll going.

Text: Varun. Pics: Facebook profiles