Agam’s lead vocalist Harish Sivaramakrishnan talks about their debut album, which is set for release next month
It’s interesting that MTV, of all the outlets, is proving to be the source of a big boost for independent artists in the country. Right next to all the shouting matches on their reality programs, there’s MTV Roots, which showcases artists from India regardless of their genre, and then Coke Studio, which provides arguably the best performance stage for artists.
Agam’s lead vocalist Harish Sivaramakrishnan describes the band’s performance on MTV’s Coke Studio in one word: “Electric”. They played one of their classic compositions ‘Malhar Jam’, which was aired recently on the channel.
After Raghu Dixit last year, Agam is the only band from Bangalore to have featured on the show’s second season. Even more special for the band is their performance on the show has racked up nearly 40,000 hits and counting in the span of one week.
“It's unbelievable! Arguably the biggest and one of the most special gig that we have played in our entire time of existence. The atmosphere, the vibe and the musicians that we shared the stage with makes it one of the most memorable experiences for each one of us as musicians,” Harish says.
Their highly-improvised ‘Malhar Jam’ is known to stretch on to over ten minutes, but this version clocks in at the six and a half minute mark.
“We infused flute and Esraj into the instrumental set up and wrote a whole new section towards the end, with some intricate time signatures. Coke Studio gave us complete freedom to work the way we wanted. However, we thought a 6.00 - 6:30 minute song would be ideal to capture the essence of the sound that we create, together,” Harish says.
The response for the song in terms of YouTube comments and personal congratulations seem have the band feel a bit overwhelmed. Harish says, “It’s extremely heartening to see the way our song has been received. We are humbled that our effort is recognized well by the listeners.”
Speaking of the local scene, Bangalore is moving towards become one city with the most eclectic range of bands and Agam fits right in. Harish explains: “In our set-up, we have majority of the guys doing the western side of music, predominantly playing progressive rock / metal. Its me (on vocals) and Shiva (indian percussions) that bring the Indian element, which is mostly carnatic music inspired melodies and rhythm structures. I wouldn’t call Agam’s music fusion in the classic sense. What we play is a 20 to 80 percent mix of carnatic music and prog rock— hence the genre of Carnatic Progressive Rock.”
Coke Studio has featured a whole host of mostly electro/fusion/rock artists such as Karsh Kale, Advaita and Nitin Sawhney, and also big names such as Shankar, Ehsaan, Loy, Shantanu Moitra, and Kailash Kher. Harish says meeting the likes of Shantanu Moitra, Piyush Mishra and Hitesh Sonik was “a huge honour” and that “hanging out with them was great fun”.
Up next for the band, is an album release set for early October, according to Harish. “We are working on finalising the actual dates. After spending almost two years recording and re-recording, we are finally ready to release our debut album. It is being produced by Ashish Manchanda, who in the past has produced the likes of Avial and has done a bunch of work in Bollywood with folks like Amit Trivedi. We are also looking at an album launch tour across the country after we release.”
Agam knows that even 40,000 YouTube hits won’t necessarily put food on the table. “All of us have day jobs, which brings its own set of challenges when it comes to playing music. But the stability that a day job provides monetarily gives us a clear mind to write music and improvise, without having to worry about ways to pay our bills when we are not playing gigs.”
He adds: “This in no way suggests that full time musicians do not have the ability to write great music. It’s just a reflection of our state of mind and not be extrapolated across. Our employers have been supportive of our pursuit in big ways and we do see many of our bosses and colleagues at our gigs, cheering for us! It is a delicate balancing act, but it isn’t that bad!”