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International Business Times

Interview: Suraj Mani on being the thinking man's rocker

Bangalore-based singer-songwriter Suraj Mani, one of the founding members of Motherjane who went solo in 2011, recently released a compilation of 11 music videos that he had shot for Music Mojo Season 4, an indie music TV show broadcast by Kappa TV. The songs had been in the making for the past couple of years and Mani would play them time and again in his live gigs all over the country.

"When you release a song with a music video, it appeals more to the audience. So, instead of releasing them as singles, a performance music video seemed the way to go," says Mani. "Also, the live recording quality provided by the Music Mojo team is very close to a studio recording. So, the show was the best possible option for me," he adds. He also let slip that the 11 songs might be compiled into a studio album and released soon.
Mani's musical direction took a radical turn when he left Motherjane. He first started performing as a solo artiste, established himself as a singer-songwriter and released his only album, The Tattva Trip. Now, he also performs and records with his band, Suraj Mani and The Tattva Trip, which consists of Mani on vocals, Dinkar Nayak on bass, John Melvin on drums and percussions, and Naveen Thomas on guitars. The tracks that he did for Music Mojo Season 4 were performed and recorded with the band.

The veteran rocker singles out three tracks from the list as his personal favourites, namely "Mahabali," "You said, I agreed" and "Change." Mani says that "Change" was inspired by the Tibetan unrest of 2012 and that singer Mili Nair encouraged him to write it. "I was sitting in my office that day. All of a sudden, Mili called me and said that she saw a group of Tibetan monks standing and praying at Cubbon Park with an expression of deep sadness. I started watching the news and I was so deeply touched by the event that I ended up composing 'Change'," he says.

Fans know him by many names. Some call him the Singing Sensei, some the Thinking Man's Rocker and others call him the Tattva Tripper. He is also a man of diverse talents. Apart from producing music, Mani also owns Aum-i-artistes, an artist management company, and Suraj Mani Engineers, an engineering company dealing with centralised AC. "Whatever I do, I try to give my 100 percent to it, be it as an artiste or an entrepreneur," says Mani.

A trip to the Middle-East is on the cards for Mani. He will be seen performing in Dubai with his band towards in the second week of April. "I will also be going on a personal trip to Australia at the end of April. If everything goes well then I might perform there as a singer-songwriter," says Mani.

Mani is also currently working on the music video of a new song, but he refused to divulge any more detail. So, can we expect a brand new track from him soon? Let's wait and watch.

International Business Times

Minstrel Oddity: Things you probably didn't know about Suraj Mani

A weekly special conversation with musicians to get to know their life that is separate from music.

Bangalore-based singer-songwriter Suraj Mani is perhaps best known as the former vocalist of Kerala-based rock band Motherjane. Over the past few years, he has established himself as a solo artist and also performs with his own band, Suraj Mani and The Tattva Trip.

He is widely regarded as one of the most intense rock vocalists of the Indian independent music scene and is generally quite a serious man by appearance. But did you know that he had a light-hearted side too? Check it out in this up, close and personal conversation, and discover things you probably didn't know about him.

A cartoon character you adore.
It has to be Calvin from "Calvin and Hobbes." Calvin has a multi-layered character. You can understand and relate to him in so many levels. He is simply fascinating.
If you were a superhero, who would you want to be?
I would love to be Daredevil. He is one character who takes up a problem and deals with it very creatively. In life, I like to do that myself.
A book you cannot live without.
There's a book called "The Three Laws of Performance" by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan. It was life-changing to me. It actually puts so many things that we already know into actual workable techniques.
A movie you can watch over and over again.
"Shawshank Redemption." I am a sucker for people who believe that they can do more than are currently doing.
If you were an actor, which role would you like to play?
I would be honoured if I get to play the role of Watson in "Sherlock." And that is simply because he gets to observe one of the most fascinating human beings very closely. Come to think of it, what Watson saw was probably more fascinating than what Sherlock did.
Your teenage celebrity crush.
Greta Garbo. I remember having so many R-rated thoughts about her. (laughs)
Current celebrity you would like to date.
Megan Fox. Have you seen her? She's hot! (rolls his eyes)
Most embarrassing situation you have faced.
This actually happens quite a lot nowadays. When I go to public events, I often end up interacting with guys in their mid 20s who come to me, shake my hand and say, "The first Motherjane concert I ever saw was in my school days. You were simply awesome!" While that is quite a nice thing to hear, I feel quite embarrassed. It makes me feel really old. (chuckles)
Craziest thing you have ever done.
The craziest thing I have ever done was getting into a rock band. I got ragged in an engineering college and started singing.
If you weren't a musician, what would you have done with your life?
I have always wanted to stay in the creative field. So, I think advertising would have been my calling.
 

The Hindu

Suraj Mani: Worth the trip!

Award winning singer-songwriter and composer Suraj Mani on making Bengaluru his home and the inspiration it gave him to embark on a new musical voyage

You haven’t really experienced what it is to lose yourself on a merry music trip until you have met Suraj Mani. The popularly dubbed city-based rock poet, was also a writer, composer and frontline vocalist for the iconic rock act Motherjane. He is now on a journey of a lifetime enthralling audiences with his showbiz perspective of life through his poetic rock music. Dabbling in the independent music scene in Bengaluru’s soundscape with his new act titled Suraj Mani & The Tattva Trip, the 42-year-old music tripper is carving a new niche of acoustic rock poetry.

On the Tattva Trip, Suraj explains that it is the essence of things – a philosophy in Sanskrit.

“At the centre of me, I’m about perspectives. I write about life the way I see it and sometimes the way I would like to see it. Each song for me is a celebration of beauty or a way of seeing beauty in everything. I was tripping on them. And it became a Tattva Trip that I ensure even the audience experiences.”

Often performing with a half-painted face, he points out that it is perspective again. “Each way of seeing life is the tool and not the journey itself. Learn to use it appropriately and you will learn to enjoy it. The half-painted face on stage says there is a side of me that is defined and a side of me that will go anywhere I want to.”

Describing his musical journey as one full of coincidences, Suraj recalls that though he never officially learnt music, his music expedition kicked off at a very unlikely encounter.

“I was in engineering college and some seniors tried to rag me by making me sing. When I was done, they ended up complimenting my singing. That was a revelation and I was inspired to put my thoughts into music.” He goes on: “When I started working, I went to a floating restaurant with a friend in Cochin. There was a band playing without a vocalist so my friend introduced me to them as a singer and they asked me to sing a few songs with them. After the gig, they asked me to join the band, which was Motherjane! We recorded two albums and became probably one of the biggest bands in India.”

“That was the second coincidence – going to drink tea and joining a rock band!”

After shifting to Bengaluru in 2001, Suraj continued his musical excursion by travelling to Kerala for the next 10 years to practise with the band. “It was a good 28-hour bus journey. However, three years ago, I suffered a spinal injury and had to quit. But, as luck would have it, another coincidence happened and I couldn’t let go of music. So I picked up the guitar, started writing new songs, did an album and have written four albums worth of new material and have now embarked on a new eventful soundscape.”

During his journey, Suraj realised that he has been very lucky. “But, I also realised that many other artistes aren’t so lucky. That led me to start a record label called Aum-i-Artistes where the priority was to ensure artistes get paid for their music. That led to the concept of Music Mojo for Kappa TV. We started small, but it spawned a whole lot of bands that have gone global, including Thaikkudam Bridge and Masala Coffee.”

He further elaborates that in these three years since he picked up the guitar, he has thoroughly enjoyed the new format. “It took a lot of guts to scale down to this level from an arena big-band space. I found the rest of the players at various other shows and formed the band. I also realised it was time to start the Bengaluru angalore chapter of Aum-i-Artistes since it was doing well in Kerala. So I converted my office space into a studio floor that doubles up as a shoot floor to attract photographers who can see bands and be seen by bands. This will be a space for them to connect.”

On transitioning from Motherjane to becoming a rock poet, Suraj laughs and says: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” He adds: “I was in a band that had guitar legends and I used to write music. When I reached the stage when I didn’t have a band, I picked up the guitar myself. It hit me what a joy it was. I checked out a chart on Carnatic scales and in theory it was like engineering. So it made total sense to for me. So I found ragas, created chords and put together music that was not conventional. I can do a show on my own now. It’s been exciting and that’s always a good indication that I’m on the right track.”

Agreeing that Bengaluru has always been good to musicians and all kinds of immigrants, Suraj says any city like this is great and spawns a lot of creativity. “It’s got musicians from all over the country and a nice pub culture. One reason why I started this space is for children and teens, who can’t go to pubs. They can come here and experience Indian independent music.” He adds that what artistes need today is infrastructure. “They will take advantage of it and do well. So I’ve put this space up. I’m going to succeed. Others are going to succeed. So why not succeed together? We can ensure our industry rises to the top by seeing success in one another.”

Looking ahead, the Tattva Tripper says his journey will continue. “Sometimes even a conversation sparks a song. People like an artiste who represents them. So I will continue to find people like me and play for them. I will go out and embrace the world every day. I also want people to take away perspective and power from me. The charming thing about life is you have the power to change your situation. I will ensure the spark of awareness,” he sums up.

radioandmusic.com

Suraj Mani & TTTrippers to re-frame their journey with the first gig in the north

MUMBAI: It would be ignorant and unfair to treat a Suraj Mani album in a typical manner- few tracks sewn together with a uniform mood wrapped around every track, gradually emoting the essence of the entire soundtrack, as a story. Nope, in fact, Mani's compositions reflect out as individuals attempting, desperately and beautifully, to share an important story. Mani and The Tattva Trip intend to carry these stories and perform for the people in Delhi and Gurgaon on 20, 22 and 23 January. Call it a habit or forte, Mani manages to steer his lyrics towards a poetic conclusion without sounding too intricate or pretentious. With over 50 poetries on his official blog, it is difficult to deny the magnitude of lyrical importance that has occupied Mani's musicality and the journey so far. Mani's 'Motherjane' days are history- a remarkable one at that- but what continues to follow the 'artist poet' post- Motherjane days could be shortlisted to evocative songwriting, the distinctive voice, and the desire to express in the most natural way known to him.

Before the frontman boarded the flight with the band for their first gig in the north, Mani spoke about The Trippers, lack of lyrical creativity and what inspires him to write.

What attributes have you managed to explore about yourself that you couldn't/didn't with Motherjane, if any?

"Well, I don't know if I could say I was limited with Motherjane because at that time, I wasn't. As of today, being solo allows me to just think up something, watch it turn into a poem and then a song. I think the big plus is that playing the guitar frees me to compose and capture what the poems mean to me." 

Mani belongs to 'that' set of musicians- the Eddie Vedders, the Bob Dylans, and the Raghu Dixits. The emphasis remains on the lyrics, although the rest of the composition does not fall into the 'second' priority. Mani is an 'artist poet' and there's a vital difference between the two, as Mani points out.

How different is an artist poet from a songwriter?

"A very small difference and essentially one of direction. I'm a poet who puts a melody to poetry whereas sometimes songwriters put words to their melodies".

Running a solo project is a completely different ballgame. The success through Motherjane guaranteed several bonuses, but what Mani counts as 'one of the best bits' of the journey with 'The Tattva Trip' does boil down to compatibility and the unified goal of, ultimately, depicting the song as the hero.

'Mahabali' has a lot of positive, dance-y vibes to it. On the other hand 'Tribes of Babel' has a very intense, dark vibrations to it. And then there are Trippers' tracks that cover the other moods. What message (of your sound and identity) are you conveying? Or is there no conscious decision taken, instead follow what naturally comes to you? 

"For us, the song is the hero and the writing, composition & instrumentation is all about serving the song, hence the diverse directions of the trip. In many ways The Tattva Trip is a symbolic representation of life itself and hence step in if you are open to it."

The lack of lyrical creativity or serious songwriters in the mainstream space would fail to come as a surprise to many, but does that extend to independent musicians too?

"Unfortunately, you have a point. One that is rectifiable though. What India needs are serious lyricists and poets offering up their work to bands that can put music to them. I recently made this point to renowned author Anita Nair and as an experiment took one of her poems 'You said, I agreed' and made it a song. It's been a successful experiment and I'm hoping it will inspire more such music."

Mani leaps through cultures and resources to find inspirations, and more often that not, literature always reach out to the songwriter in the most effective fashion. Be it a book by a renowned German author or a relatively lesser known writer from Kerala, Mani never hesitated to share good art through the element that Mani knows best- singing. One of Mani's recent tracks- You Said, I Agreed- originally a poem by Anita Nair, carries an interesting story. 

"I interpreted what it meant to me. The moment I read it I sensed a bittersweet song with a lot of unstated regret in it. And it has a blistering solo at the end that somehow states all that is unstated. Gives me the goosebumps."

So who does Suraj Mani could listen to all day?

"Junkyard Groove, Lagori, Mad Orange Fireworks, Mahesh & The Mix, Masala Coffee, Parvaaz, Peepal Tree, Raghu Dixit, Soulmate, Thakara, Thaikuddam Bridge. There are enough artists for aspiring musicians to look forward to. What we want and deserve is the occasional mainstream appreciation." 

On a lyrical level, the scene may still need to grow, but Mani believes the rate at which live music is consumed has definitely impressed him.

Have things finally begun to be a bit pro-artists these days- with the arrival of channels like Music Mojo, Balcony TV- where any talent could express itself? Plus, the number of festivals are doubling every year.

"Oh yes. I feel that we are on an upswing. There is a definite appetite for classy music festivals and given the no of states we have, 50 odd festivals will be easy to pull off. I think the important thing is to make meritocracy drive all these efforts. It's not the cheapest talent or sound guys or production team or sponsors that are gonna attract the finest audience, it IS the ones who are pushing the envelope. One corporate shift that I'd like to see happen in India is the embrace of excellence and I think, once we as a music industry can make that a given, we would have done our countrymen proud."

The recent deaths of some of the biggest musicians have come as a shock to many, and Mani is no different. Although, when asked about how he deals with the deaths of idols, Mani replied through painfully and poetically honest lyrics of one of his creations 'Fields of Sound' - 'you're not here in body/yet your songs with us remain/like waves that will not weary/to claim these shores again'

"On behalf of my fellow musicians, I shouldn't pass the opportunity to say this, "Piracy doesn't kill, Pirates do". And a lot of great musicians are dying even while alive."

 

 

The Hindu

Spandan 2016 gets off to a magical start

Suraj Mani and The Tattva Trip enthral the audience with a memorable performance

Bright serial lights lit up the Lister Square in JIPMER on a pleasant and starry Monday night. What else could be the ideal place to start off the much-anticipated annual cultural, literary, quizzing and sporting inter-college festival Spandan 2016 organised by JIPMER Students’ Association?

The painting on an outer wall of the reception room close to the ground reminds of the Middle Eastern folk tale of Aladdin and his magical lamp, giving away the theme of Spandan’s inaugural night.

It was ‘The Arabian Nights’ at Lister Square in JIPMER campus. Before the formal opening of Spandan 2016, JIPMER Director SC Parija inaugurated the dimly lit reception room where walls were covered with glass paintings and paintings on huge cardboards of moon, star, magical lamp, Aladdin and the princess.

Following the formal inauguration, the desert, lamp, palm tree from ‘The Arabian Nights’ was recreated on sand by international award winning sand artist from Mumbai, Manisha Swarnkar.

Opening the week-long festival, JIPMER Director S.C.Parija said this festival gives an opportunity for all the students of the institute and from different parts of India to showcase their talents in fine arts, music and sports.

“We all believe in the holistic development of the students. I congratulate the JSA and members of the committee who have been working hard every year to organise this event. Like the previous years, I trust this event will also be successful,” he said.

He stated that for medical students who are engrossed in a gruelling curriculum, this festival provides a breather.

“Students are not only good in academics but they also perform well in arts, music and sports. This event helps in honing the leadership qualities of the medicos, which is important when they start their profession,” he said.

Nearly 1300 medicos from 60 colleges across India have come down to JIPMER to showcase their talents.

Suraj Mani and The Tattva Trip with their music enthralled the audience. Award winning rocker, poet and songwriter Suraj Mani took everyone on an incredible journey of rock poetry that celebrates his work with Motherjane and embraces the new world of The Tattva Tripper.

 

The Hindu

Musical travelogue

After leaving Motherjane a year ago, Suraj Mani is back with his first solo album, ‘The Tattva Trip’

Suraj Mani left the alternate rock band Motherjane in December 2011 when “a ruptured disc in his lower back, made it practically and physically impossible” for him to be part of the band. But, as they say, you can’t take music out of a man. So, on 12.12.12, Suraj returned to the music scene with his first solo album, ‘The Tattva Trip’, online.

The album is unique in many ways – it is a combination of a music album and an illustrated coffee-table book. “This album has a small story based on important moments of my life. It chronicles a man’s journey through different phases until he reaches his destination. It has nine songs, all on current topics. The essence of the songs go hand in hand with the essence of the journey,” says Suraj.

While Suraj has handled the vocals, lyrics and composing, joining him are Suresh Peters on the drums, Keith Peters on the bass guitar, Aman Mahajan on the keyboard, Alwyn Fernandes as the guitarist, and producer and Cajetan as the programmer.

The album is available only online at www.smattt.com. In fact, Suraj stresses on the product as a collectible, a gift. “Because people who buy CDs are supporting musicians,” he says. Disappointed and disheartened by the scenario “where there is too much choice in music with hundreds of bands releasing free songs on the Internet daily and people taking whatever they wanted for free,” Suraj points out that his album is not on YouTube.

“My message is in the text and music. So it should involve the attention of a listener. We are demeaning music by not buying it. It is human to not value something in which you have not invested. When you pay for a song, you are not paying for music since music is priceless but for the people who create it. I have brought it out through my recording lable (Aum – I Artistes) and didn’t approach anybody to release my album because I’ve lost faith in the corporates. They are clueless about music and by giving it away for free they cheapen it,” Suraj says.

Naturally, he was discouraged when he suggested the concept. “I was told not to do it. But if you believe in something you have to do it. I had fun making it and I also know that not everybody will like it. But there will be people like me. The mistake we often make is that we try to cater to others. We make an even bigger mistake when we don’t cater to ourselves,” Suraj says.

He is releasing the nine songs as digital audio files as well. “Today it is almost a norm that a song has to be accompanied by a clever audio. But I don’t have one. In fact most of the songs that I love don’t have videos,” he says.

The coffee table book has illustrations by Prakash Miranda.

“I know I’ve taken a huge risk. This is a time when musicians are not able to sell their CDs. And here I am trying to sell a CD and a book. But, I’m fighting for what I believe in,” Suraj signs off.

The price of the album depends upon your choice. The CD-coffee-table book combo is priced at Rs. 999. There is a separate price if you are purchasing a single song.