Meet Tony Das. One of the most talented guitarists that the Indie scene in India has witnessed so far.
His journey as a guitarist began in 1999 and since, Tony has been part of bands like Thermal and a Quarter, Moksh and has also worked extensively with music producer Sandeep Chowta. What makes Tony so great to work with, is his friendly and down-to-earth attitude inspite of all the talent and wealth of experience he brings with him. He loves teaching, performing live and cracking people up with his PJs (which you will soon witness).
(Tony Das Live in Bangalore)
We decided to talk about his journey as a guitarist so far, and this is what he had to say.
1. You’ve been hailed as one of the best Indian guitarists to look forward and listen to. Tell us about how it all began.
I don’t know about being one of the best guitarists to look forward to…Maybe one of the best to look at though. Haha! But jokes apart, I used to sing a lot when I was a child, and I’ve always loved music. The turning point for me was the festival of the National Law School in 1998. I used to play guitar then, but I used to do it mostly to accompany myself while I sang. I used to think that after 20 years of playing the same chords, etc, I’d be able to play like Steve Vai. Then I went to this NLS gig, and guys who were a little older than I was, were totally killing it on stage. I thought to myself, “Man. I need to be able to play like that”.
So in January 1999, I went out and bought a Joe Satriani cassette ( Flying in a Blue Dream - Great Album) and together with my Best of Extreme album, started seriously listening to those songs and working them out. I also used to go down to the nearest “cyber-café” and download text files (this was in the days of dial-up internet, WAY before YouTube!) of a bunch of music theory, and started learning all of that stuff. So I was working out music to help train my ear, and studying theory so I could understand what I was doing when I worked out those songs.
2. Bhoomi, Peepal Tree, The Jason Zac band. Tell us about the bands you have you been a part of. How different have the sounds been for each of them?
So the first real band that I used to play for when I was still in college was a band called Mixed Fruit Jam. As the name suggests, we used to play a wide variety of music; mostly covers, but a few originals too - music ranging from No Doubt to Metallica!
Then came Bhoomi after I finished college. Bhoomi started off as a very old school thrash band. But now we play stuff that’s a lot newer, and a lot more in keeping with the sounds we all have in our heads, instead of pointlessly trying too hard to stick to a particular genre.
Then there was Moksha, who were already huge when I joined. I played bass with them, and they were a hard rock band who played a mix of covers and originals. That was a challenging gig for me, because I wasn’t technically a full-time bass player. They were a super talented, super tight band, fronted by one of the best vocalists the independent music scene this country has ever seen, Leon Ireland.
Then happened Thermal and a Quarter, who were also huge when I joined. I was really lucky to join all these bands that had already done all the hard work that was needed to build up a repertoire and a fan base. So I just stepped in and pretended like I had something to do with all that hard work. Thermal of course have their own sound. If I were to describe it, I’d say it was largely rock/blues/alt/funky-pop/ with a heavy dose of the jam band sound thrown in.
Then there was Karma6, which was a band of some great musicians assembled by Sandeep Chowta. Karma6 didn’t last for very long, mostly because of conflicting schedules. We played covers, but were supposed to also work on originals. In fact, I wrote a bunch of demos, which then went on to be a lot of the material we ended up making into full songs in my next band…
Now I'm playing with Peepal Tree. This project brings my old Bhoomi collaborators together once again, this time playing a mix of Hindi and Kannada songs that are largely based on a contemporary rock sound. But there are elements of all kinds of things in our music - funk, disco, electronica, Indian classical and folk, etc.
3. You’ve worked extensively with Bollywood producer Sandeep Chowta on his projects. Tell us a little more about it.
Sandeep is a music lover in every sense of the word. His heart beats for Jazz and Jazz-Rock fusion, but he loves all kinds of music, which is a great quality especially considering his line of work. I’ve learned everything I know about sound and production from working with him on movies. I’ve also gotten to play on his album with 50 of the most amazing musicians alive. I’ve gotten to meet, learn from and record with some of the world’s best because of him. We’ve also written some music together that some great players are going to play that I’m very excited about, but I won’t say more for the moment. But most of all we’re best buddies and that makes working together so much fun.
4. What have been your biggest musical influences? How have they influenced your guitaring?
My biggest musical influence was probably pop and rock from the 80s and 90s. That’s the stuff i grew up on, sang along with, and learned how to harmonize with, and all of those things go a long way in shaping one’s musicality. But if you mean guitar players, there are way too many to list. But my biggest early influence is definitely Nuno Bettencourt.
5. What does it take for a guitarist in the indie scene to become of prominence?
Firstly, I think it takes an approach that is not based on trying to be a star. Just do your thing and try to do it well. Be pleasant to work with, give everyone your best, and leave your attitude at the door, you know? This is with regard to working as a session player, etc. If you’re talking about becoming someone everyone wants to listen to in a band situation, all the rules still apply I guess. And play for the music.
6. What are the different roles you have to juggle between to help sustain your career as a guitarist?
I might not be completely aware of all the options available, but I personally find that I can sustain myself with a mix of teaching, performing with my own bands, performing as a sessions guitarist and doing studio sessions.
7. Who are the top 3 Indie artists/bands you are currently listening to?
In alphabetical order, that would be:
8. What are your plans for 2015? What can we expect to look forward to?
Just to do as much music as I can, really. Live, and in the studio. I had taken a long break from playing live actually. It was not voluntary. It just seemed I was doing lots of studio work and no gigs were happening. Last year, 2014, was the year I got back to playing, and I had an absolute blast. This year, I hope to really push myself to play more, write more, with Bhoomi, Peepal Tree, Sandeep, and also work on some of my own music.
9. When and where can we catch you live next?
Well as of now, Bhoomi plays on the 30th, and Peepal Tree plays on the 31st at Bishop Cotton’s Boys School, Bangalore. If this does come out in time, please do make it both days people. We’re working our butts off to make these gigs as entertaining as possible!
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