Music

Chennai indie band Big Sam’s debut album

One-year-old band Big Sam’s debut music video titled ‘Phenomenal Woman’ centres around the story of two girls exploring their sexuality

Samuel Vijayan looks startled when asked if his band’s just-released track has anything to do with Maya Angelou. It is called ‘Phenomenal Woman’, after all, but the lyrics are of the sunny just-fell-in-love type. Not the woman-defiantly-celebrates-herself type, though the confident women in the official video do exactly that.

So was the title a deliberate parallel, or just a coincidence? “The latter,” says the Chennai-based singer-songwriter tentatively, acknowledging that it never occurred to him that he might have been making his listeners think of the iconic poet.

It is the kind of tune that creeps back into your mind when you least expect it, days after you’ve actually heard it, and demands to be hummed when you really shouldn’t. That could be the reason why the first track of one-year-old Chennai band Big Sam’s debut album, Stay, had crossed 1,000 views on YouTube by the fourth day. Or it could be because of the video. “The song and the video follow two completely different ideas,” says Sam. The artistes wanted the song to acknowledge the LGBTQIA+ community, since they had friends in the community who would often talk to them about their struggles. The crux of the video revolves around two girls exploring their sexuality, even as one of them is conflicted about her relationship with a man.

Chennai indie band Big Sam’s debut album

So the video features the band members: Sam, drummer Goutham (Healer) Balasubramanian, keyboardist Chintan Trivedi, bassist Adithya Gopi and guitarist Akshay Yeshodharan in slickly cut shots against the neon backdrop of a swanky city hotel — “We didn’t even have to add any lights to the shoot,” says Gautham in a nod to the hotel’s eccentric interiors.

All the tracks of the album are ready, as are videos for two more of them.

“We have seven tracks and we want to take our listeners stage by stage, from introducing the characters to heartbreak and moving on. So the first song is very upbeat: but from the second onwards the tempo kind of reduces. The fourth and fifth songs are the deepest [in terms of thought and lyrics], with mellow tempo. But in the end, the tempo picks up again,” adds Sam.

The band plans to release them month after month. “We have a saturation graph mapped out,” grins Sam, “We want the audience to be ready and waiting for them.”

Chennai indie band Big Sam’s debut album

They had originally planned to release only five songs, but everyone they asked for feedback said that it was too “down-tempo”. So two more tracks that Sam had written years ago were added in, “And that’s when he realised that the songs make sense as a story, if you put them in the right sequence. I still remember him calling me excitedly about it,” says Gautham. This, the five-track EP turned into a seven-track album, complete with storyline.

The months that saw the fine-tuning of songs, the recording of tracks and shooting of videos coincided with the steady, gradual rise of the band itself in the city’s indie music circuit. Selected as part of the 2017 Indie100 tracks release, an annual release of music by up and coming talent, by the minds behind IndieEarth, the band got a chance to play at the IndiEarth festival itself in 2018, as well as the One People Festival later that year. “That’s when we played the first set of these songs I had written in 2015-16, including ‘Phenomenal Woman’,” says Sam.

The rise, of course, didn’t occur in a silo. The band has a number of support systems they want to acknowledge, from Unwind Centre who first gave them a platform to fellow band-members in the circuit who helped them out. In fact, Urban Artists Network was the first to screen their video in a city pub. “The F16s keyboardist Harshan Radhakrishnan produced the songs in his studio. I asked indie artist Siennor if I could borrow his drummer when free, and that’s how Gautham joined us,” smiles Sam. Even now, with the album all but ready, the support and feedback is phenomenal and that’s what keeps them going.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 11:32:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/chennai-indie-band-big-sams-debut-album/article28339758.ece

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