An interview with Thermal and a Quarter
Winner of the WorldSpace Radio Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Indian Rock’ and ranked #48 in Blender magazine’s ‘100 Ultimate Rock Bands’ among top international acts, Thermal and a Quarter is the only band to have supported Deep Purple, Jethro Tull, Megadeth and Machine Head on Tour in India. Rocking India for 14 years, TAAQ is not an everyday rock band. Strongly independent in their music, they defy genres to create beautiful pieces that talk about passionate causes and beliefs. Their latest anti-corruption song KICKBACKISTAN, takes a dig at the Commonwealth Games 2010 (besieged by controversies) and has been appreciated by many.
Of Indian Origin caught up with Bruce Lee Mani (guitars & vocals), Rajeev Rajagopal (drums) and Prakash K N (bass), the trio who form TAAQ.
1. It has been 14 years since you guys started playing, how has the journey been?
TAAQ: Much like the grand highway networks of our fabulous country, sometimes we’re on the ‘Golden Quadrilateral’, sometimes we’re on (or is it in?) the potholes of suburban ineptitude. The music we make, however, seems to have its own ideas of continuity, and we’re still very much along for the ride. Bangalore Rock is here to stay, we think!
2. After 14 years together, how have you managed to keep away from getting jaded?
TAAQ: We think the answer to this goes back, once again, to the land we come from. India is the kind of country that constantly keeps you on your toes – whether it’s the daily chaos of your commute, the unending tedium of passport queues, the twisted corridors of corruption – the list goes on. Basically, we’re all too busy surviving and just too bloody-minded to get jaded. There’s plenty of fodder within all the above unpredictable random chaos for new songs as well! And this status (un)quo doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.
3. The changes in Bangalore, your hometown, have inspired some of your best music. Is that a fair comment?
TAAQ: Indeed! Our sound has evolved from this city (that’s why we call it Bangalore Rock) and it reflects the grand and sometimes-murky sometimes-beautiful tides that wash over our long-suffering citizenry. As a city, Bangalore is quite a bit different from anywhere else in India – perhaps the Raj hangover is strongest here. Bangalore has always thrived on its visiting population, has been accepting of all kinds and mores of culture, language and tradition. That’s the same stuff that percolates into our music.
4. Who were your early influences and who are they today?
TAAQ: More than anything, we believe we’ve found a sound now that’s truly our own, and everything we’re listening to and inspired by now, somehow finds its way into our music. Back in 1996, our influences were quite varied – everything from AC/DC, The Beatles and Sting/Police to Blood Sweat & Tears and Dave Brubeck; Led Zeppelin, Yes and Deep Purple to Dave Matthews and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. As we made our way into the 21st century, we find ourselves identifying with bands like Steely Dan, Phish, Jamiroquai, John Scofield, John McLaughlin and so on…
5. Your music has been called Progressive Rock to even Jazz-Blues. Would you ever label your band’s music? If yes, what would that be?
TAAQ: Bangalore Rock!
6. What’s one of your most bizarre moments on tour?
TAAQ: Being detained somewhere in the Middle East, awaiting cultural ministry approval… Being in a pitch-dark auditorium in an engineering college somewhere near Chennai, the power’s out, it’s pouring rain outside, and a few hundred people are screaming… Playing to four people in a massive college venue after some city-wide strike had locked everything down… Getting fed identical bad Chinese food breakfast, lunch and dinner (which inspired a song, btw)… Having some CXO-level dude roll a joint on stage during some enormous corporate gig… A car-chase a la Bollywood through the streets of Ahmedabad after we refused to play on JBL (Jai Bhavani Limited) sound… Playing our prog-rock stuff to 60-somethings at some tish-tosh club… ah we could go on.
7. Which international venue has been your most favourite? Why?
TAAQ: Two immediately come to mind – At Java Jazz (Jakarta, Indonesia) last year, we had the opportunity to play alongside some true jazz stalwarts – including Vinny Valentino, who guested on a few of our tracks. Being in the same room with guys like Dave Weckl, Simon Philips, Roy Ayers and other luminaries was just something else! The other has to be our gig at Nice N’Sleazy, Glasgow. It was the last gig of our UK tour (2006), and we had locals who’d come to some previous gigs singing along with our songs, buying CDs… We got a 5-star review in The Herald the next day. That gig was
8. You never signed on to any labels and have remained independent. That must have been a long and hard journey, right?
TAAQ: In today’s hyper-competitive world, everything is a long hard road. The good thing for us is that we still feel we’re just starting out. We’re still hugely excited about that new song we just wrote. We’re still raring to play gigs – to 200 or 20000 people. We’re still very keen on being present in the future!
9. You have been campaigning against a lot of social issues with your music. How has it been received?
TAAQ: Well, we usually campaign because we strongly believe in these issues and we’re not really concerned with how this is ‘received’. We’re only concerned about how much of an impact we’re making, and how much of a change we might inspire. We’ve received bouquets and brickbats from various corners – and that’s the way it has to be. We’re very sure that we want to stay socially and politically relevant. Many of our inspirations in music were, or still are.
10. Talking about anthems, what do you think of AR Rahman’s CWG theme song?
TAAQ: A song is a song – it has its own life, its own energy. Some folks will like it, some won’t, and there no reason to be apologetic or worried about it. If it came naturally, if it felt good as it was being written, that’s the most any artist can expect. A.R. Rahman’s CWG song is one such – while we personally may not believe it’s his best work, who are we, really, to say? And can every song be an artist’s best work? Obviously not!
11. How has the international audience received your music?
TAAQ: Going by the response to our NPR broadcast in the US, the audience reactions in the UK, Dubai and South-East Asia, the few 100,000 downloads of our albums, and the regular interactions with our global community of fans, we’re doing something right! People have some difficulty labelling our music, thanks to its eclectic nature, but we’ve just made it easier for everyone: TAAQ’s music is Bangalore Rock.
12. You have supported acts like Megadeth, Deep Purple, Machine Head etc. Who would you like to open for you?!
TAAQ: The Rolling Stones would be nice. That way we’ll get 500,000 folks to hear us next, ha ha.
13. Lastly, where do you see yourself in rock history when all is said and done? What would you like to leave as your legacy?
TAAQ: If someone can listen to a TAAQ song 40 years after we’re gone and it still makes a connect, is relevant in some way, or sparks some genuine emotion, we’ve done our bit well! As storytellers or musicians, what more can we expect?