Song of Surrender

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Sid Sriram: Entwining realms

By Varsha Varadan

“Independent music is my way of creating a holistic experience for a world that I can invite the listener into”, shares Sid Sriram, a renowned singer/songwriter. With Carnatic music being his fountainhead, he hopes to venture more into the realm of independent music. 

As a frequent collaborator with A.R. Rahman, you would have had a lot of conversations about music with him. Can you share a few moments where you bonded more with him?

Most of our conversations have been about music. He has been my hero since I was a child and even now, when I am around him, I am awestruck. He is fully engrossed in and is always thinking about music. The most stimulating and interesting conversations have been about the universality of music. Some of them also actually have been about Carnatic music. I had initially sent him some of my original music and also let him know that I was a Carnatic musician, after which I met him. The time we met, I sang the composition that I had sent to him and he also had me sing a kriti. We talked about how the two forms are so different but there is something that brings them together, and how emotions and spirituality, in some cases, play such a vital role in music. I also always go to him for advice, whenever I have creative roadblocks. 

Do you prefer being called a playback singer, a Carnatic musician or an indie artist?

I just prefer being called a musician. I think of them as different outlets for my creativity. My fountainhead is Carnatic music. It is the one form that requires me to practise everyday and is a constant journey and exploration. There are a lot of parameters that you have to operate in, but at the same time, there is a lot of freedom and liberation within the framework. So, this form takes up most of my mental space.

In independent music, I write my own lyrics, and produce my own music which allow me to create this whole new experience. In Carnatic music, we take age-old compositions and add manodharma, whereas, in independent music, I have the absolute freedom to experiment.

In playback singing, I get to occupy someone else’s mind during the course of the recording and when the song comes out, because it is for a situation in a film that I probably would not be in otherwise. So, they are three completely different modes of creativity, but Carnatic music still provides me with an overall framework of how I approach music.

Your song Moments of Weakness was well-received. Tell us more about your individual ventures.

I have been working on an album called Insomniac Season for the last three years. It was supposed to release in April this year but we pushed it back a little. This was the first time I was working on my original music, with a team of producers and musicians in Los Angeles who have established themselves over the years. This was also my first time collaborating with a group of people for my own music. The album mainly deals with the idea of existential crisis, with one trying to figure out one’s place in the world. It also deals with a few more habitual issues like heartbreak. I would not call it a dark album though; I would say it is a fairly serious album. It really delves into my thought process and Moments of Weakness is a really good example on what I wanted to put forth, lyrically. I figured out how to take the Indian classical elements and embed them in my independent music and this is the first time I feel like everything coexists seamlessly. 

It was a lyrically-heavy song and the music was not overpowering. So, it did get that thought across.

Yes. The focal point of most of my music is the voice. In Carnatic music, that is already the case. In a concert, the voice is what is taking the most focus. I have also grown up being trained by my mother, to be a full-throated singer. So, in indie music as well, I try to make sure that the depth of voice be the principal focus. The production elements are to just facilitate the voice. 

How is the independent music scene in Chennai? Do you think it is received well enough?

Of course. The past couple of years, especially last year, was when I started to gauge the level of reception of independent music in Chennai. There definitely is a certain population that has the thirst for different forms of music and there are a lot other people who are not aware of indie music yet. Currently, I am in a very interesting position because of my experience as a playback singer, which has given me plenty of exposure and a fan base. So, I feel that independent music can be equally as impactful; or even more, in a few cases. I think there is massive potential for indie music to flourish here and there are a lot of good bands out here as well.  

Do you think there should be more indie artists?

I think there should be more outlets for artists to expose their talent. There are many independent artists who are skilful. If one or two artists break that initial barrier, the floodgates will open because the city is very musical and there are a great deal of talented people, especially the younger demographic. 

Will you collaborate with Tamil indie artists in the future?

Yes. I am definitely open to it. I am actually a fan of this band called Kurangan. They are independent artists from Chennai who, I think, do only Tamil music. I want to also collaborate with lyricists across the board. Music need not be put into specific boxes all the time. There are certain forms however, that should not lose their purity. There are Carnatic musicians who are very experimental while still keeping the core vocabulary and the music form intact. I have not thought of ways to experiment in Carnatic yet, but in independent music, for sure. 

Does being from the Western world give you an edge over the others with respect to indie music?

I don’t know if it has given me an edge, but it definitely does give me a different perspective. It gives me a different way of approaching my musical endeavours. But, that’s not to say that someone from here isn’t going to come up with something, because, in this day and age, especially with the internet, you have access to absolutely anything. You can even learn to play the guitar on Youtube. Someone who might have grown up in a village outside of Chennai,  who wants to do independent music, might have a completely different perspective as opposed to someone who grew up in the city, and that is what makes it beautiful. The fact that individuals with different outlooks towards music can come forth and make their personal statement, in any form, is incredible.

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