Interview with singer Siddharth Basrur

We first met singer/composer Siddharth Basrur when we interviewed him for a short documentary we were making about Live From The Console – one of Mumbai’s best live music nights. He was very candid about his journey as a musician, the struggles along the way and his plans for the future. He was also a kickass vocalist, as we discovered that night and at many other gigs after that.
We thought it was time to catch up with him and see what his life as a musician is like now.

How’s it going? Tell us what you’re working on at the moment and what bands you are in right now.

My main focus is my new band Last Remaining Light’s debut album. We finished recording with Tejas Narayan at Arbit Random Studios a while ago, and the mix process is underway.
Another project I’m excited to be associated with is Gaurav Raina’s (Midival Punditz) solo project, Grain. I’ve done a couple of gigs with him, and we’ve even written a couple of tracks together. The album should be dropping soon, and there will be a bunch of gigs to support it.
The Library is an instrumental project that I started with Vishaljit Singh (Amogh Symphony). He stayed with me a couple of months, last year, and we ended up writing a bunch of material together. He’s away, at the moment, but will be back soon, after which, the writing process will continue. I love making music for The Library, because I get to use instruments apart from my voice. It’s currently just a studio project, but we definitely want to take it live at some point.
You’ve performed live at so many venues across India – which venue/event do you feel has been the best match for your voice?

I can’t really zero in on one venue. I’ve had great and not so great experiences at the same place, sometimes. But my absolute favourite is the original Live From The Console venue, [the live recording room at Mehboob Studios]. Nothing to beat playing in a properly acoustically treated room. I also really enjoy doing outdoor gigs. Usually, these aren’t at venues and are mostly at festivals, or one off gigs.

The last time we interviewed you was over three years ago – you talked to us about getting back into the indie music scene and as an independent singer, how difficult it was to get producers to take a chance on someone new. How has the indie music scene changed in these three years and what have things been like for you as you ventured into singing for ads and films?

It has become more of an industry. That’s good in a way, because things seem a little more streamlined than before. But the flip side is that it’s become a lot more competitive, which is bound to happen with any growing industry. But I’ve seen a lot of half arsed attempts at trying to do shit, which doesn’t fly well. It’s like everyone wants a piece of the indie pie, and sometimes, all that’s left are crumbs.
It has been quite a good experience. The first one and a half years was really hard, because I couldn’t even make enough to pay the bills. But things started changing for the better from about October 2012. I started getting more work, and the work was more constant. It has been really good since then.
What is the experience of singing for an ad like? Tell us some stories – have you had to sing something completely outside of your comfort zone, what are the quirks associated with the industry, how do you figure out how to deal with production houses etc.

There have been times that I’ve had to step out of my shoes and into ones that aren’t as comfy, but they eventually loosen up. As for dealing with production houses, that’s almost always a pain. Either they’re haggling with you or finding a way to delay payment. I’ve also learned to deal with rejection. There have been many times that my voice has been recorded, but someone else’s has been used. It used to bum me out, earlier, but now I’m used to it.
What are the top 3 kinds of jingle that a singer needs to have in their showreel to be considered legit in the ad world?

Initially, everyone thought I was a ‘rock singer’, because of my background with bands, but some people, like Clinton Cerejo and Sameeruddin heard me sing other kind of stuff, which gave me different kind of ads to sing on. So now, I have emotional stuff, edgy stuff, electronic, dancy stuff on my showreel, and in nine languages.
If you were to give an aspiring singer advice on navigating the world of advertising, what would you say – especially regarding contracts, payments, and dealing with the “this is good for your career” speech?

Psht. What contracts? I can’t remember ever signing a contract for anything. It’s all on someone’s word. All you gotta do, is watch out for the slimeballs. A lot of times, I’ve had to bend a lot, but there’s some times when your instinct says ‘no’, you just go with it.

What are your three favourite songs to sing of all time and why?

I can’t choose just three. I only sing songs that I love singing.
When we first met you, you said you only played enough guitar to accompany yourself on stage but the last time we saw you perform live you were really good on guitar. What kind of practice has gone into this?

I’ve started composing a lot on electric guitar, which has led me to playing a lot more. I try and step out of my comfort zone, as far as possible.
For the technical part of this interview, let’s talk about your voice:
– which mic do you prefer to use for your voice?
I usually use a Shure SM58 for live gigs, but I love the SM7B for studio work, although it needs to go through some good preamps. I also love the AKG C414; very versatile mic, and doesn’t cost the earth.

– are you a ‘practice vocal exercises everyday’ kind of guy or do you just wing it and let feeling do the work?
I only practice when I know I have a lot of intense singing to do, or if I know I have a bunch of recordings, back to back.
Most of the time, I can wing it, but sometimes, a conscious effort needs to be put towards what I’m doing so that it all doesn’t start sounding the same and contrived.

– what is it like for you in the beginning to sing in a studio which is very different from singing live right?
Both have their moments. The studio gives space and time to create. Live is all about the energy and spontaneity.
What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?

I make sure that I’m at least a little proud of most of the work I do. Here are some:
I loved the last few gigs I did with Goddess Gagged. That is when we were the tightest and had most fun on stage.
I also did an ad campaign for Cadbury that won quite a few awards, last year
Singing in 9 languages
Writing and releasing Chasing Rain, Chapters 1 and 2
Writing a new album with my band Last Remaining Light and recording for the first time in a proper studio.
Working on my first instrumental project, The Library with Vishaljit Singh
The list goes on…
From your social media feed it appears you are a serious cook! Share a recipe for a meal you really enjoy making and eating.

I just made some prawns in honey chilly garlic the other day. So far one of my best experiments. It’s also really easy:

400-500 gms prawns – cleaned properly and deveined

5-6 tbsp water
2-3 tbsp soy sauce
1-2 tbsp honey
1-2 tsp ground chilly powder
1-2 tsp grated ginger

Mix this up to make the sauce

3-4 spring onions, diced long
2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 tbs olive oil

Fry the spring onions and garlic for 30 seconds, add the prawns, let them cook for about a minute, and then add the sauce.
I usually let it cook till the sauce becomes really thick. Note, that the sauce is usually made to taste.

What’s next for you in terms of your own music and other commercial projects?

Commercial projects are usually on the DL till they’re out, so can’t comment on that, but here’s what’s happening with the indie scene:
– The release of my band Last Remaining Light’s album, which will be sometime, this year.
– I will be a part of Bombay Punk United at NH7 Weekender, this year, curated by Rohit Pereira aka P-Man.
– I will be doing a bunch of gigs with Gaurav Raina’s (Midival Punditz) solo project, Grain
– Will hopefully record with my instrumental project, The Library; probably an EP.
– There will be one more collaboration with a kickass musician. More will be revealed soon.

If you haven’t watched our original interview with him, you can do that in the video below as well.

For more from Siddharth Basrur:

Photos: Elvis D’Silva