About: The Extended Mix
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”
– Hunter S Thompson, “Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl”
The story of my life is really a series of whims. I suspect the earliest of these was my conception.
Music has fascinated me since I was a week old. My mother used to sing to me, and, when I encountered the electronic keyboard at the age of three, she asked me if I’d like to learn it. I didn’t know any better. I said yes.
As a child, I had lessons on and off but spent most of my time listening to the entire spectrum of Indian film music, whose sense of narrative and terseness of form define everything I do. I also read all the time, and was heavily into history and mineralogy (!) before the Great Indian Education System annihilated my interest in both. If it didn’t treat music so cavalierly, and if my parents weren’t so supportive, I would, like most of my generation, be an engineer today.
Thanks to another whim, my family moved to Dubai when I was eleven, just after my discovery of synthesisers led me to Western popular music. I soon picked up the fretless electric bass and became good enough at it to have played it in a few bands. I also began listening to Indian classical music, and became conversant in both Hindustani and Carnatic disciplines despite having no formal training in either. All this was in the background – academics still came first.
At the 2016 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon with Trigger, the previous incarnation of Agla Station: Dadar.
When I told my parents I wanted to be a musician, they insisted on a backup plan. And what lucrative alternative career did I choose? English literature.
We returned to my hometown, Mumbai, when I was seventeen, and three years of college gave me enough free time to juggle a band, the odd short-film score, and piano lessons. The last, which I’d taken up mainly to salvage my technique, plunged me into Western classical music and sharpened my latent appreciation of orchestration and counterpoint. Little did I know it would soon come in handy.
I had grown up watching – and loving – a specific branch of non-mainstream Indian cinema from the 1980s, most of which was scored by the venerable but little-known composer Vanraj Bhatia. In my final year of college, I wrote him a letter, and couldn’t quite believe it when he called me up and invited me to meet him. He must have been impressed that I knew so much about him, for he soon made me his archivist. Three thousand pages of handwritten scores and a hundred hours of tape later, I’m convinced the man is an institution. He passed away a few years later at the age of 93, and deserves better than remaining a footnote in the history of music – something I have been trying to change.
With composer Vanraj Bhatia at his residence, 2016.
And then I headed to Berklee College of Music, Boston, to combine my passions for cinema and synths – and learnt a lot more than I had bargained for. Quite apart from the music, I forged lasting relationships with faculty and friends from across the world, spent some of the happiest months of my life during a semester in Valencia, Spain, and somehow completed a five-year dual-major degree in three years (thanks, COVID-19). Most of all, I had to think long and hard about what I want to do and why I want to do it.
Blasphemous as it may sound, music isn’t everything to me. I’d like to earn a living making music simply because it’s what I do best: as a film composer, in a band, as a hired gun, or even by writing classical music on my days off. That doesn’t mean I can’t, or shouldn’t, do anything else.
The most I can tell you about my work is that I don’t create anything I wouldn’t like to consume – and I will read/watch/listen to anything once. All my major influences, musical and otherwise, were innovators within the constraints of a well-entrenched system. They straddled different worlds and idioms without making a big deal of it, and also tended to be brutally honest and/or laughably uncool. All this means they either became hidden-in-plain-sight phenomena or fell through the cracks of history: if you’ve never heard of something, it isn’t necessarily because it’s bad! I love showing people there’s always a road less traveled by – and taking that road myself.
Afterword: This bravado led me into a place I swore I would never enter: Hotel Academia ("you can check out anytime you like" etc.) My PhD in Ethnomusicology at Yale is underway...