Saving the blues – the beginning

After spending most of my adolescent years head banging to the then heavy metal and classic rock, playing in a bunch of bands, sporting beards, weird hairdos, earrings, everything but short of a tattoo (thank God), I asked my long time buddy Aum Janakiram who taught me everything I know about music and guitars – “Why doesnt anyone play the Blues in Chennai?”

We had just finished college and starting off a career in Graphic Design when we decided to save the blues.

From left 1. Traveling unreserved from Goa, 2 & 3. Headlining the show at NIFT

We decided to show Chennai that Blues is not ‘sad’ music, even though the Blues is a genre that was created from sadness. Singing the Blues would have the opposite effect to the singer and the listener, as these songs were about the everyday woes that man faces – sex, deceit, anxiety, heartache, masculinity, feminism, you name it. The point was to talk about these issues and relate to the listener in a familiar beat which ultimately drives your blues away. Granted that a little whiskey and reefer can elevate the experience a little further.

One day, Aum brought in some enthusiastic college kid called Neil Smith (who is one of the main men in the company I started), who shared our same vision. While Aum and I were listening to everything under the rock & roll sun, Neil grew up listening only to the greats of Blues and Jazz (kids, you always need to thank your parents for the kind of music you listen to). We came up with the name Blues Conscience while we were “smoking the blues” in my bathroom.

We started small, played our first gig at a Cafe Coffee Day which a friend had set-up for us. Neil was thrilled, he loved Coffee Day. But the crowd that visited didn’t know squat about the genre of music we were playing. And that’s where we really began our journey. To our luck people dug right into our pudding. It was our first gig, we were sure we could pull this off. After, we played 3 more Coffee Day gigs.

1. Practicing at home, 2. First gig at Cafe Coffee Day

 

As a vocalist, I always felt the need to introduce the context of the song the audience was about to listen to and try and connect it back to the society and the modern time we lived in. These were songs written back in the day and still relevant. I mean, “The Thrill Is Gone” and “Born On a Bad Sign” were things anyone can relate to. Sometimes, I would forget to introduce the artist, and people would think it’s my song, that’s how clueless most of the audience was. In other cities though, the situation was a little better, there were other Blues bands and audiences had been conditioned to the music. But in Chennai, we had to really work the audience, we started wiring in routines into the act – we all suited up even at the hottest venues. We started writing stories of our own woes, “Perfectly Reasonable Girl”, “Morning After”, “Kamasutra” and “Shagging My Dog” were quirky, sad and at the same time, fun songs that gave us a good following in the old city of Madras.

We also wrote “Blues Santa Claus” a song for the kids on the street and took Christmas to them by organizing a show, organizing  gifts and spreading the joy, check out the video below.

 


The Blues was being saved! We were playing 4 shows a month touring other cities, bars loved us because we got their audience up on their feet, which in turn led to more alcohol sales. We were young, fun, and had nothing to lose.

When the Blues started saving me

Somewhere around the time when we had first started jamming, Shaun D’sa (a college friend) and I decided to quit our first jobs where we worked for only about 2 years, to start our own Graphic Design agency. On an evening ride to Mahabalipuram we stopped to satisfy the munchies and came up with Whoa Mama Design. Not knowing the seriousness of the situation – and honestly we thought we’d do this for a year or two before we went abroad to study further – we quit, set up shop in a studio above my house, bought two computers and a hammock, and started the agency.

1. A mural painted in our home studio, 2. A random one from back in the day, when we probably hit the coast

 

We were innocent, naive, and talented, and we had a blast. We hadn’t seen this kind of money before, granted it was small but much higher than what we were getting paid in our previous jobs. We expanded our organisation, we made mistakes, we went into debt with our taxes, but we continued to do great work. We stuck to our guns and kept growing, learned from our mistakes, got out of debt, and started making a profit. 

1. On the roof of our new office, 2. A picture with the third wheel, Nishant John, who ‘almost’ a partner, that we put him on the website, and gave him visiting cards

 

There were a lot of great days, but there were also lots of shitty ones. From managing funds, employees, clients, putting out fires and doing the actual design work, we would often burn out and that’s when getting together with Blues Conscience and playing the Blues started saving me. It would let me take out any negativity or tiredness and leave me feeling like I just came back from a holiday. It gave me a sense of calmness to continue being an entrepreneur, and taking the business to new heights.

The second time the Blues really saved me, the agency was about ready to shift from our second office to our current office, ready for all the challenges with renovation and hopes for achieving a bigger dream in the new space. That’s when I started having issues with my family, for a girl I wanted to marry, I was still living under my dad’s roof, and he was still calling the shots. Long story short, there was a lot of stress at home for six months before my parents finally gave in and accepted the woman who is my wife now. They love her. She loves them.

But the only thing that pulled me through all of that unnecessary stress was the Blues. I wrote a song to my then American girlfriend – “Barack Obama” – which turned out to be a great song. The Blues gave me the strength to numb the pain I was going through at home. I wish my parents had something for the pain too. It helped me gain meaning for my life, and it showed me the way through that stress. I would only want to spend time at the office or at the jam pad, where I could sing my heart out.  It was the only thing that pulled me through to achieve my goal, today I’m happily married for 7 years with a 3 year old toddler.

The company grew from a 2 member organisation to 25, with an office in New York and clients in some major cities in India. We have the best talent there is, and some really great clients. And between the company’s compliances, the occasional fires to put out, client relations, new pitches, employee engagement, and a wonderful family, I have started neglecting the Blues. All the members of the band got married and most had kids. And every once in a while when we decide to get off our asses and jam or play a gig, it feels like the biggest relief, like a breath of fresh air, that gets you so high and brings you back to the real world feeling ever so refreshed.

I started off saving the Blues 11 years back, while all along it was really saving me.