Formed in 1996, Thermal And A Quarter or TAAQ has grown to become one of the top Indian indie acts. They recently travelled with their Bangalore Rock Tour considered the biggest international tour by an Indian band. TAAQ was also a part of the Fringe Festival at Edinburgh which is one of the largest art festivals in the world. soundplunge_test exclusively caught up with the band in the middle of back to back gigs. Here are the excerpts from the interview over email where the band talks about their music and about telling compelling stories from the most interesting, chaotic, mad, terrible, wonderful, frustrating and magnificent country in the world.
soundplunge_test: Thermal and A Quarter is doing one of the most extensive tours any Indian band has done. How did you manage to do something every band dreams of?
TAAQ: The music. Sheer bloody-mindedness. Some madness. Lots of luck. The support of good people. Since 2006, after our first UK tour and the great reaction we received from all kinds of audiences here, we’ve tried to put together one international tour every year. That drive has taken us to many places now – from Seattle to Hong Kong, Glasgow to The Maldives, Jakarta to New York…And everywhere we go, the music always seems to work with the local folks – we get super reviews from the local press, and if we play long enough in one area, we begin to pack venues.
The ‘Bangalore Rock’ tour has been four months in planning, and we figured the best way to make the impact we want is to play in the same place for a long period – and where better to do that than in the largest arts festival in the world – the Edinburgh Fringe. By happy accidents and, again, the support of good folks like Air India and ProFx, we managed to expand the Fringe run and play a few more gigs, and include four cities in Ireland as well making this the biggest tour ever by an Indian band.
ST: What do you think is the USP for TAAQ for an international, primarily a British, Irish and Scottish audience? Have you noticed any difference in the kind of crowds that are turning up at these venues vis-a-vie Indian venues?
TAAQ: Our USP is who we are – a band playing mixed-up jazzy rocky bluesy music telling compelling stories from the most interesting, chaotic, mad, terrible, wonderful, frustrating and magnificent country in the world. Our idiom is western, international. Our perspectives, voice and ideas are Indian. It’s quite an interesting mix for people here – many of them are firstly surprised that there’re people like us in India making the kind of music we do and they relate to it well thanks to our musical, literary and lingual references many of which are familiar to them already. We just played an unexpected gig here a couple of nights ago (yes, another addition to that tour figure!) and the reaction just blew us away…warm and supportive and eager to know and hear more.
Indian venues are getting better all the time – it’s been years since we’ve played at a venue there and been harangued for not playing Hotel California or Enter Sandman or suchlike – there’s a keen, evolving audience that is interested in the kind of work that bands like ourselves are churning out – and having been around for a bit now, it’s nice to see that people all over the country seem familiar with our music. But the ‘culture’ of going out and watching bands do their own thing is still something that’s not all-pervasive, as it seems here. Another thing with India is just the incredible mind-boggling diversity – so given all of that, we’re doing pretty well even back home.
ST: Is there a change in your set list when playing at international venues, such as Edinburgh Festival? If yes, what are the considerations that are taken into account for the set list?
TAAQ: Not really – at our Fringe run, we’re pretty much running through our entire ‘live’ catalogue, playing something like sixty songs across every week (a unique set every night!). We find that audiences here can be more accepting to the subtler, more nuanced portions of a show. We can take more chances and do something adventurous, try something with more atmosphere than groove – I don’t know, if we do it honestly and well, it’s going to work. The considerations are basically just how well we play the songs and how we connect and engage.
ST: Do you think Indian artists have a lingual disadvantage to break into the international market? Is there a disconnect that exists between Indian artists and the international?
TAAQ: Not at all, actually. I think a disconnect, if any, is more in the way we work. The Indian work ethic is quite different, to say the least, from the western one, and this is not disparaging to either– it’s just that we have to find a way to work together, a way that allows the idiosyncrasies of each culture and society to fit together in mutually beneficial ways. This has happened quite well in other industries – it’s only a matter of time before the arts and music catch up.
ST: You often have session artists and instrumentalists joining you on stage, like a flute player and Sax player. Any such plans for the Edinburgh Festival? Are there any considerations to jam with any local musicians?
TAAQ: Nope, nothing like that for this tour. We’re doing the whole thing as a trio. Got some extra gizmos to fill everything up – a Guitar Synth, two vocal processors… We’re trying to make connections with local musicians to jam with, let’s see what comes up!
ST: Why have you named your tour The Bangalore Rock Tour?
TAAQ: The band name – ‘Thermal And A Quarter’ – while a dependable conversation starter, doesn’t (yet) say much about where we’re from or convey some idea of the flavour of our work. We figured ‘Bangalore Rock’ would spark some images, some ideas of what and who we are.
ST: What has the experience on the road been for you till now? Any fun stories you want to share with the fans?
TAAQ: Too many to recount…road trips are always amazing. From being picked up in ambulances (gig at a medical college) to leaving all the gear in a taxicab, from playing surreal midnight gigs for an audience of 3 to running through all the ‘heavy stuff’ for a crowd of 20,000… the stories are always there, and with every gig we play, we make some new ones…
ST: When can your fans see you live in Delhi? Any plans for a new album?
TAAQ: We have been writing some new stuff, though we haven’t really had the time to put the material together. We’re back from this jaunt only mid-September, so we’re not sure if we’ll have the time to write, record, produce and release another album this year. Let’s see! Delhi – Delhi’s always been amazingly welcoming to us, and we love to play there. Something should be on the cards – perhaps October.