Sanjeev Thomas’ latest album, which is in collaboration with various artistes and recorded live in the city, will be released on October 5
Sanjeev Thomas’ rendition of ‘Chekele’ opens with beautiful shots of Kerala’s backwaters, open skies and rain drops, against the background of finger-plucked strains from his guitar. The Malayalam folk song tells the story of Chathan and Neeli, labourers who fear their landlords and fear for their crops. ‘Chekele’ is the title track on Sanjeev’s latest album, Epic s*** which features seven tracks created in collaboration with various artistes across the country and recorded live at Sanjeev’s pet project in Mattancherry — Springr Studios.
“The last time I put out an album was in 2010; so in early 2013, I thought it was time to get another out. I met with the team behind Springr around the same time, in February. And I instantly felt a vibe from the space Springr was housed in, which is when I decided to record my next album there, live,” explains Sanjeev.
From jam to record
The idea took root while Sanjeev was jamming to ‘Chekele’ in Springr and listeners suggested he make something serious of his experiments with the song. The final product is like a modern-day ballad with Sanjeev’s vocals built over his acoustic guitar rhythms, backed by Ralfin Stephen on keyboards. Baiju Dharmajan on lead guitar and Shreyas Bhargavan on various Indian percussion instruments lend the song its traditional touch.
The album features several collaborative efforts such as these. “Baiju, Ralphin and bass guitarist Roop Thomas are the musicians I will tour with once the album is out, so they feature on several tracks,” says Sanjeev. Other top-notch guest artistes include guitarist Warren Mendonsa on a song named ‘Feel me now’, sitar-player Asad Khan on ‘Electric Pranaam’, and singer Sayanora on ‘Palli Vathil’. “Warren and Asad are friends from Mumbai, the city out of which I work now, so it was great to have them on this album. Sayanora came on because we needed a female voice for ‘Palli Vathil’,” says Sanjeev. The album, interestingly, features several Kochi-based artistes whom Sanjeev discovered while in Springr. They include two violinists Herald and Francis playing on the track ‘Zamzayo’ and 16-year-old tap guitarist Achyuth, on ‘Mixed Emotions’.
Besides the collaborations, Sanjeev says his biggest takeaway from creating this album has been the experience of recording it live. “It’s something people don’t do at all these days. Artistes are so used to ‘produced’ music and listeners are so used to ‘produced’ material that it was a challenge to pull something like this off. If there are any errors on the final album, they’re only human,” says Sanjeev. He adds that the album holds a special touch created by the ambience and history which seeps the walls of the 200-year-old warehouse Springr stands in. “The place has a magic of its own and I could see that magic working on the artistes we were bringing in for each session. This album would sound very different if recorded elsewhere,” says Sanjeev.
Lyrically, the album traverses a “journey of the mind”. While ‘Chekele’ and ‘Palli Vathil’ are folk songs that go back to Sanjeev’s roots in Kerala, ‘Feel Me Now’ speaks of a collective human consciousness and ‘Zamzayo’ talks about loneliness which leads to a state of self-realisation.
“‘Zamzayo’ is a word I made up which is essentially a cry to be brave,” clarifies Sanjeev. What takes this album one step ahead of his previous album Freewill is its coherent sound as a whole, says Sanjeev. “I usually tend to get distracted while I’m creating things but I’ve managed to stay focussed this time. Since we recorded most of the album live, it has a raw, earthy sound to it throughout. This is what I want to sound like at live shows as well, at this point in my career.”
Lessons from age
The years of experience, thus far, on stage and in studios have moulded the musician in him in unexpected ways believes Sanjeev. As a guitarist, his playing has grown minimal rather than overcrowded. “When I was younger, the focus was on new techniques and fast playing. Now it’s about keeping it simple, and more natural.” As a singer Sanjeev says he has grown more comfortable with his voice, which he never quite liked before. He is currently working the score of Bollywood film Ikkatop, and will soon tour again with A.R. Rahman as his seasoned guitarist. The new album will be released online on October 2 and in Kochi on October 5 at a concert at Dream Hotel.