In Conversation with Sanjeev Thomas: Chekele, VIMA Awards and More
Sanjeev Thomas has seen and done it all over the last few years. Playing as the in-house guitarist for AR Rahman, belting out rock solos in Bollywood movies, making ads and jingles, and ultimately, his solo album EPIC Shit. As a prolific musician endorsed by Gibson and Laney, and with a versatile database of contacts in the commercial music realm, his debut album has been received with critical acclaim. Besides his involvement with indie music, Thomas has been the guitarist behind many of Rahman’s successful compositions that include Bollywood films like Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, Delhi 6 and Rockstar, and Tamil films like Azhagiya Tamizh Magan and Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa.
Two tracks from Thomas’s album have been nominated for the VIMA Music Awards . The track Chekele and its remixed version by DJ ViV3k have both been nominated for the ‘Best Dance Song’ and ‘Best Pop Song’ at the awards set to happen in March 2014 in Kuala Lumpur. Based on an ancient Malayalam folk tune, Chekele was also covered by fellow Kerala old-school rockers Avial in a brilliant up tempo track. Sanjeev’s versions however are extremely different – softer, soulful and equally intricate. soundplunge_test caught up with Thomas to talk about his recent nominations, expectations and future projects.
soundplunge_test: Sanjeev, congratulations on the nominations. Did you expect Chekele to become a song of such high public status?
Sanjeev: Chekele is a folk song that has been around for generations. Many versions have been done by various Malayalam bands and artists, and for this reason (obviously) the song was bound to not do so well. But the reason I chose to do this song is because it was a natural jam which occurred from the spaces of Springr into the studio. It was purely based on instinct and with the video showcasing my surroundings and journey here, it all just came together so perfectly. When I shared the video with AR Rahman Sir, he said that he really loved it and the next thing I see is him sharing it on his social networks. That really boosted the viewer-ship and mostly the respect that came from a man like him. He appreciated the fact that the songs from the album were completely recorded live and that I think is the core of this album. This is a live album.
soundplunge_test: How sceptical were you on the release of EPIC Shit, and how well do you believe it was actually received?
Sanjeev: Well, you’ve got to be sceptical on indie albums as indie music is a very small niche and has a very poor support system as compared to commercial music. Despite that, EPIC Shit has been top on the album charts during its release on OK Listen and has created a good buzz in the media. The promotions of the album will still go on with new videos of the songs releasing soon, which will focus on the new material on the album.
soundplunge_test: Do you think that playing the leads for Rockstar has helped catapult your solo music due to the immense national popularity of Bollywood?
Sanjeev: Being a lead guitar player for AR Rahman has surely brought me a very strong audience base. It has definitely helped me get more people to listen to the independent music that I create. But having said that, I’ve always created indie material even before it and I always push myself to do it very often. This has kept the interest in the music alive for the audiences. Most commercial musicians and singers, refrain from doing indie music as it’s a lot of time, money and effort. This is something that needs to change.
soundplunge_test: Are there any other categories you feel you should have been nominated for?
Sanjeev: Awards are always a bonus. A recognition is always accepted. I’m not greedy in this matter and also do not scrutinize it.
soundplunge_test: Why the remix of Chekele? And does this open up the scope for more electronic in your music, or some DJ-ing from your end?
Sanjeev: When DJ ViV3k approached me to go ahead with the remix of Chekele, I was all for it. Collaboration is always something I’ve vouched for my entire life. Collaboration is a great way and medium to bring artists of all genres together. There is another remix being done by DJ Ofro from Australia on the track “Palli Vathil” too which is to be released soon. When it comes to me, producing commercial music for many years have brought me closer to my love to all genres. I’ve never been genre specific for a very long time. Every genre has its expression and culture which needs to be understood. Every genre deserves its respect. You can always expect electronic music from me from time to time.
soundplunge_test: What other local acts are you into? Which other artists do you think have stridden forward with their sounds in 2013?
Sanjeev: I have keenly been watching the progress of a few indie bands and artists who have caught my attention and interest. Artists like The Bicycle days, Dualist Inquiry, Sulk Station, Skrat, Sean Roldan etc have come a long way to creating a niche of their own.
soundplunge_test: In light of the EPIC Shit release, will you no longer be doing the numerous jingles and corporate/commercial soundtracks that you have so many of? Or will they be running in parallel with a full-time indie music career with touring?
Sanjeev: Commercial music is my bread and butter. Apart from it being my staple, it has always been a great journey to work and produce music for many projects, be it jingles or Film music. Indie music today is still not in a state where it can support an artist entirely. The scene has grown considerably over the past few years in terms of platforms, but still is lacking in dependence for an artist. Most indie performances till today are almost free of cost bearing only the expenses. We still have a long way to go.