Singer, songwriter, producer and audio engineer Rohan Solomon is back making waves with his latest single ‘We Demand Change’, released on June 15, 2021. The lead vocalist of the erstwhile alt-rock band Cyanide, who was once “shy to sing because he thought he didn’t have a good voice”, is today a musician to reckon with. He was part of the group ‘By Chance’ when he lived in New York and upped his production skills while working at the biggest studios there.
If in 2019, while in Delhi, he had composed a trilogy — ‘Blue Sky’, ‘Hard to Breathe’ and ‘Time’ — in 2020 the pandemic triggered intense and reflective numbers such as ‘Keep Holding On’, ‘Victoria Secret’ and ‘Without a Trace’.
This year’s first release ‘We Demand Change’ is a compelling track that stirs emotions of “outrage, despair and hope”.
Connecting with us through an email, Rohan shares high points of his journey, his inspiration, collaborations and why Cyanide was disbanded.
The acoustic guitar and solo vocals of ‘We Demand Change’ touch a personal chord. What was the process involved ?
That is usually the root of my songs; I always start with just an acoustic guitar, my voice, a notepad and a pen to write the lyrics. I was frustrated not only due to COVID-19 but also the incidents of racial hate and violence all over the world. I was clear I wanted to write a song that talks about these issues.
I decided that I can’t use ‘normal’ chords in this song. Every chord has to be interesting and have a few extra notes. I didn’t use a standard guitar tuning, instead used DADGAD, which is a chord in itself. Those chords got the emotion right and then the melody of the verse started popping up in my head.
All of this worked out just with the guitar and my voice. Everything else was added later. For instance there are no drums in the whole song, but there is a beat, a rhythm that is formed by sounds of stomps and gunshots. This immediately sets the tone for the song. The final piece is the symphony orchestra (co-composed by Harshit Verma and myself) that envelops it.
You released three tracks during the pandemic – was that the free time or the angst of the situation that inspired you?
I would say that the process of putting those songs out stemmed from both. Having more free time allowed me to work on these songs and give them a little extra attention for which I would have needed external help in a normal situation. The process of doing it yourself, including the video made it tiring but rewarding. The angst of the situation definitely got my emotions bubbling, which I needed to channel.
Cyanide was a successful rock band, why did you all branch out on individual paths?
At Cyanide, we were all very close friends and had a lot of fun playing music together. There was never a defining moment where we decided that “we are disbanding Cyanide”. It just felt like a natural next step for all of us. Everyone had other musical aspirations that they wanted to explore and they would not have fit for Cyanide. We have no regrets.
As for me, I just felt like I needed a break from the stage and performing live. I was extremely excited about being in the studio environment and making records. I knew nothing about the technical aspects of producing music, so I went to New York City to learn music production.
How did your New York stint help you grow?
It was an amazing learning experience and certainly shaped me a certain way. It exposed me to multiple local “scenes” and the type of artists that I would meet there. Everybody has their own cliques and circuits. Manhattan has got its own scene, ditto for Brooklyn and Hoboken. The more shows you attend, the more familiar faces you notice in those areas. The talent is amazing and so diverse.
Also, working at one of the biggest mainstream studios in Manhattan, I was exposed to artists such as John Legend, Toni Braxton, Anderson Paak, Immortal Technique and many more. Just being in the room with these artists either in the form of a recording engineer or assistant engineer, I would learn so much. It is like being a cab driver driving George Lucas and Mario Puzo and overhearing the entire storyline of Star Wars and The Godfather before they were even released. Seeing the drive and vision of the artists at that level is amazing.
Rock musicians who thrive on live shows must be missing all the action during the pandemic. How did you sustain your passion and creativity?
Well, even though I went into a zone where I wanted a break from performing live, I have lately been getting a little excited about the possibility of getting back on the stage and playing live. Since the lockdown will not allow that, I would go live on Instagram once in a while and just perform with my guitar for a few people who would join and chat with me. It is a good way to connect with people and it gives you a sense of how your last single may have affected someone.
As far as sustaining my passion goes, I am more passionate about making music in the studio than I am about going out and performing (at least as of now). I love writing and producing my own songs and producing songs for other artists. It is such a gift to be able to take someone else’s vision and get inside their head and make it come to life.
Who are your musical influences?
There are so many! I guess the top five are Michael Jackson, Foo Fighters, Bryan Adams, The Beatles and Daughtry, among others. For instance, I was always confused about what I wanted to do musically. I was shy about singing and didn’t think that I had a good voice, so I figured I’ll pick up the guitar and work on that. I was never able to become a lead guitarist. I didn’t want to just be a vocalist without a guitar because the guitar was like a security blanket for me. Then one fine day, I watched a live video of Metallica and saw what James Hetfield does; he plays the rhythm guitar and sings. Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters does the same thing. All of a sudden, a light bulb went off in my head and gave me the idea that being a vocalist/rhythm guitarist was the way to go for me.
I love vocal harmonies my songs have a lot of them. This influence came from vocal groups starting with The Jackson 5, The Temptations and The Beatles to the 90s vocal groups such as Backstreet Boys and Hanson.
Did you train formally?
My first exposure to music as was when I was 12 and my cousin taught me a few chords on the piano. It was such a life-changing moment for me and I went on to figure out the rest of the chords myself and transcribed them onto the guitar with the help of some chord books.
My mom was a music major trained in Indian classical music and she used to practice every morning. I remember waking up at 6 am every day and singing with her. That was my informal training I guess. On the whole, I am self-taught.
Your future works and collaborations?
I am working towards putting together an album. It is coming along slowly but surely. I will be putting out a Christmas song in December this year. I also have two tracks that I have sung and produced for an organisation ‘Students for India’ who are a bunch of school kids helping society by making and distributing masks, arranging food and milk for the underprivileged and sanitary pads for women.