That one sentence might speak volumes about Jeet Thayil, one half of the contemporary music duo, Sridhar/Thayil. Yes, he is forthright, avant garde and upfront. And Suman, with her subtle eccentricities, perfectly sets the balance right. Having come together in 2007 in Bengaluru, Sridhar/Thayil have garnered popularity for their performances, which are nothing less than spontaneously packaged acts; unnerving, wacky and punk in nature. Their new album STD has also gained an equal measure of positive criticism as their gigs for its innovative sound ranging from blues, rock, punk, rap and spoken word. The duo speak to Divya Naik about their journey spanning four years, STD and more in a freewheeling chat.
It’s tough to reply to the question that Jeet has put forth – do I like music labels? Well, I don’t know if there is anything to be liked or disliked about them. As a music journalist, I refuse to comment on that. I would rather move on to the next question or, wait for them to take this conversation further, something which they do with much enthusiasm, sarcasm and tongue-in-cheek comments, all combined. It’s tough not to be intrigued by their personas as much as one is, by their performance – a wonderful blend of theatrics, expressionism, musical experimentation, new-age poetry and colourful rhythm. It then feels criminal to call them a ‘band’. They would rather be termed as ‘performance artists’. But then, that too, apparently seems to do as much injustice! Suman quips on that one, “Music cannot be slotted. That’s how it is.” We rest the case there.
After they turned partners in music in 2007, the duo worked on their music, putting together thoughts, sounds and everything else possible to do their first gig in Sri Lanka at the Galle Festival. Since then, the journey has been smooth if nothing else, with Jeet writing and publishing Narcopolis while Suman kept touring with other bands and artists, both in India and abroad. Sridhar/Thayil was in the backseat with STD developing at its own pace till its release last month, “We took our own time. There’s no other way to do it,” says Jeet.
The groundwork and recordings thus took place in various settings and locations, right from studios to homes. And that’s what has given the album its own flavour as there are colloquial sounds of pressure cookers to aapoos-walas to cawing crows and the monsoon downpour. Suman emphasises on the same, “Traditional mix engineers told us they can’t use those takes. In retrospect, I would be curious to mix those takes and see what happens! We would probably end up with another take on STD!” However, all was managed with the album being mixed by Will Davies from London and, Sonu Sangameswaran and Suman herself working on the same in Mumbai. A lot of collaborations are also seen on the album with artists such as Dr Das (of the Asian Dub Foundation) to Kishore Sodha (from R D Burman’s original horn section) and excellent players from Mumbai including Lindsay D’Mello (percussion), Sonu Sangameswaran (bass), Dwight Pattison (bass), Shirish Malhotra (flute, bass clarinet), Jitendra Thakur (viola, violin) and more being featured along with the duo. However, Jeet is quick to point out that all the collaborations have been planned, none of them being random at all. Doesn’t that lead them to become even more niche? But then, drawing that fine line might never happen as Jeet responds by saying, “For better or worse, we are different. Some people say challenged, others say special. Well, call us what you want, just call us!”
The 12 track album sees innovative distribution methods being taken up by the artists with free download of the album made available on their official website and also, a policy of ‘You name your price’ purchase option open to those who wish to legally buy the songs. The policy allows one to quote a price, whichever the customer may feel is right for buying the tracks and the albums as well. Quips Suman, “As STD is entirely self produced, from recording to mixing, mastering, art work and manufacturing, we are distributing it via online platforms. The physical CDs are for sale at our concerts and via our website.”