An exquisite amalgamation of members from the bands like Bhoomi, Thermal and a Quarter, Moksha and The Raghu Dixit Project, Peepal Tree is the hottest alternative, folk-rock Bangalore act of recent times. Singing their songs predominantly in Kannada and Hindi, these guys have garnered a lot of attention in a short span of time. Glazed with pop-appeal and heavily influenced with Hindi classical vocals, this classic four-piece act comprising of Sujay Harthi on vocals, Tony Das on guitars, Praveen Biligiri on bass and Willy Demoz on drums have been charming audiences wherever they go. The beauty of good music has always been the audio-visual atmosphere it creates that establishes a palpable heart-to-heart connection with the listener. Keeping this historic tradition alive, they have skilfully broken barriers with their soulful sound and wooed audiences like me, who might not necessarily understand Kannada. I may happily sing along to their track ‘Nayi Khushi’, but will also find solace in the ambient dark tone of ‘Tangi’. I’ve been lucky enough to see them live and have witnessed how gracefully they keep the audience engaged, which is a testament of the calibre that these talented scene veterans possess. Hitting check point after check point, they have represented India in ABU Radio Song Festival in Myanmar, played with the amazingly talented, world renowned drummer Jojo Mayer and recently released the video for their track ‘Rosahn-E-Kaafile’. The band’s clearly on a roll and have a lot more to offer with their unique brand of bi-lingual alternate folk rock.
We got to speak with Tony on the band’s journey so far and their short term future. Here’s how it went.
Q) What’s the story behind the name ‘Peepal Tree’?
We’ve answered this one a few times before so it might sound a little rehearsed, but it’s really the truest answer we could give! We liked the fact that it also sounds like “People” Tree, which kind of alludes to how we’re all connected, and rooted in one big human family. That in turn, connects to the idea that all the Peepal Trees in the world supposedly came from 1 tree. There’s a number of interesting facts about the Peepal Tree that we found we were able to connect with on some level, so the name stuck. Willy was the one who came up with it.
And plus, it’s always cool under a Peepal Tree B-)
Q) We can’t talk about Peepal Tree without talking about Bhoomi. You guys changed your entire sound. How important is it for musicians to stay true to themselves? What advice would you give to an act which is thinking about experimenting with new styles?
Yes we can. Haha! Seriously though, each band does what each band does, and that’s all there is to it! Neither band has changed its sound, because that would imply that one band has morphed into the other. But both bands still exist, so that disproves that theory 🙂
As for staying true to yourself, I’d say that that should be the prime goal of any musician. Any person, perhaps (But that’s a topic for another day!) Of course, first one needs to find oneself. Before going into deeper questions of who we are, perhaps we should just talk about music, or this interview will get very long! So in short, yes. Stay true to yourself. To your musical conscience, your tastes, your judgement. It’s all a part of how we grow. Be true to who you are in the present. Because in all probability, who you are will change. And then you should try to be true to that new version of you. It’s the best thing you could do for your music.
Experimenting is where the joy of making music lies. Everything we do is experimenting, isn’t it? Writing a new song is experimenting. Trying to play a strange new guitar lick you’ve never done before is experimenting. So when we talk about experimenting with styles, it’s just taking that idea and applying it to another variable, really. Again, continuing the ‘be true to yourself’, idea, don’t experiment just because AC/DC (random example, just for effect!) is doing it. Do it if you think it will make you happy.
Q) You guys have been in the scene for a long time. How has it changed over the years? How do you think it should progress?
Yes. We are old
But yes we were around when lots of changes started taking place in the independent music scene, and we were fortunate to be a part of these changes in some small ways, and some not so small ways.
The biggest change that comes to mind is the shift from a covers-only scene to an originals-only scene. I think that’s the greatest change we’ve experienced. Songwriting is a skill, as much as playing a musical instrument, or singing, or playing the drums (Sorry, drummers!). So how is a music scene supposed to thrive and grow and create anything original, if no one is allowed to perform songs that they have written? It’s great that it finally happened!
Of course many other things have also changed. Band management is really growing and helping artists, venues, and promoters get organized and synchronised; musicians are getting much more adventurous, simply because home recording setups now afford us the luxury (or curse) of endless tweaking and experimentation; people don’t look at you strangely any more when you tell them you’re a musician.
Q) Over the years, we as a country have become more westernised. Singing or even speaking in English is considered to be ‘cooler’ than say, doing the same in a regional language. For a predominantly bi-lingual band, what do you have to say about this? What advice would you give to artists who want to sing in their native language, but might be a bit hesitant?
I really don’t think that’s that case any more! Look at how well artists singing in many Indian languages are doing. You’re ‘cool’ if you’re making your music work, and lots of English and non-English bands are doing just that. Again, being true to yourself plays a big role in the direction you decide to take. For example, if I decided to start Peepal Tree, and sing in Kannada and Hindi, I would be a complete fraud. I’m terrible at both languages, and if I were to go out and sing words that had no meaning to me, that would be completely disingenuous. I did not grow up speaking or learning either language. Why would I decide to sing in either, unless I was just jumping on a bandwagon?
In reality though, my role in the band is entirely different. I work on the musical side of things and leave the lyrics up to those who know what they’re doing. Similarly, Sujay has grown up speaking Kannada, and learning Hindi, so he can deliver every phrase with the meaning that was intended.
So I’d tell anyone who wants to sing in any language in which they feel they can express themselves without restraint, to go right ahead and do it!
Q) Sujay, you’re trained in Hindustani classical singing. In earlier interviews you mention that the lyrics to your songs have been inspired by Kannada poets like Shishunala Sharif and Kuvempu. How important do you think it is to preserve our rich musical history?
Kannada literature has contributed a lot to the Indian philosophical thought. It’s come in various forms and poetry is at the forefront of it all. Some of the poems can stun you and shake the very foundation of one’s thinking. As a band we’ve always wanted to sing songs that are about philosophies of life and to be able to do it in languages that a lot of people can understand is great. We do have elements of Hindustani classical music, which is an ocean in itself. We mix this with elements of funk, pop, folk and even electronica to create an interesting mix. It’s very important for us to not just preserve but continue the thought itself. Music and poetry have for long complemented each other and it’s one of the best ways to carry forward both in our own, albeit small way.
Q) Last year itself you represented India in the ABU Radio Song Festival in Myanmar. You’ve performed with Jojo Mayer, Christian Galvez and Paolo Di Sabatino. Are there any other special moments or memories in the band’s history?
Well we’ve had quite a short history, really. But that being said, we have had a number of memorable moments, including the two you’ve mentioned.
•Launching our first demo, Chetana, on SoundCloud
•Our debut gig at BFlat, Bangalore on the 8th of August, 2014
•Recording vocals for Roshan E Kaafile with Sandeep Chowta
•Doing the video for Roshan E Kafile and watching it air on MTV Indies for the first time
•Playing the 2014 and 2015 editions of the NH7 festival
•Launching the Ford Mustang in India
Q) You always connect to your fans on social media pages and that’s one of the many reasons why you’ve garnered such an audience. For musicians who have been in this scene for a long time, how important is modern social media for a band? Is there anything you would want to improve in the overall section of independent artist promotion?
Well it’s a big part of forming some sort of relationship with your audience, that’s for sure! When we think of ourselves as fans of the bands we grew up with, we love the idea of knowing what they’re up to, or when the next release is going to happen, or when they’ve gotten new gear, etc. So we just try, as far as time permits, to do the things we’d love to see, as followers of other bands.
As far as improving artist promotion… It takes a lot of time to manage your social media presence, and that can take away from the time spent doing what you set out to do primarily – make music. Right now we’re managing to strike a balance, but as we grow, that’s going to be really hard. I’d say we just need more manpower, because everything is growing.
Q) Your last activity was releasing the official video for ‘Rosahn-E-Kaafile’. You are also rumored to release your self-titled album this year. What’s 2016 like for Peepal Tree?
Well that’s definitely happening this year, although it’s too early to say exactly when. Apart from that, we’re hoping to put out a few more videos, and to play as many shows as we can. Simple plans. We’re easy to please 😀
A huge thank you to Peepal Tree for having that interview with us! Do check out the link below and don’t forget to like Peepal Tree’s Facebook page, follow them on Twitter and subscribe to their YouTube channel to get the latest updates.
Check out Peepal Tree’s official website.
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