'An Evening with The Supersonics'

9th Feb 2009
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by Sandeep Mancha
You know that band that everyone’s talking about? The one from Kolkata that’s doing something different, something original? Yeah, yeah, they’re the ones who refuse to play ‘Summer of ‘69’ and yet their shows are sold out. Umm...did I mention the gorgeous groupies? YourStory gate crashed a practice session, cornered them with a recorder and made them talk! Find out what really makes The Supersonics tick!

Now it’s quite possible that many of you may have already heard of The Supersonics. In fact, you might even be a fan. And then there are those who’re slowly becoming fixated with everything to do with The Supersonics. Now it’s quite alright to pick up the autographed t-shirt, the limited edition keychain, cap and zippo lighter, it’s quite something else to roam around wearing the Supersonics face mask.

But then there are those who’re taking fandom to an entirely different level – think a 21st century bylane connecting A Hard Day’s Night and Gimme Shelter. What is that supposed to mean? Picture a Supersonics buff curling up in bed, smiling stupidly because his head rests on some band memorabilia – namely the lead guitarist’s missing shoe. Elsewhere, another crazed fan is being rushed into the ICU after attempting to place a listening device on the band’s homicidal Doberman. According to recent reports, a few individuals have even tried stealing their trash in order to retrieve cigarette buds. Why? Well, look no further than the Top Ten Hottest items on eBay.

Okay, okay, so you’re not buying any of this but you should know that it won’t be long before the band will have to make its own mockumentary on fandom. I suggest something like this.

So what makes The Supersonics the hottest ticket in town? Well, we’re not telling you because you’ve got to go to a gig to find out! Promotional gimmicks aside, we really do think that they’re worth the fuss. The Supersonics are structured in a quartet arrangement of lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass and drums. Their music is a heady mix of retro and contemporary that weaves it way around the head bobbing, sing along lyrics. Think The Ramones meet Coldplay.

The band is fronted by Ananda Sen, who was probably peeled off a United Colours of Benetton billboard and handed a microphone. Every once in a while, a little Alex Kapranos (Franz Ferdinand) creeps into his vocal chords giving their sound a distinctive and refreshingly eclectic tinge. As a performer, Sen is a spectacular blur of pure energy that keeps the fans buzzing till the very end of every gig. In my opinion, he’d probably own the Duracell bunny if they ever went head to head.

Up next, on lead guitar, is the uber cool skinhead who sucks the listener into a time warp with his blend of classic and contemporary riffs. Although he was schooled in the tradition of the blues, having played for the Saturday Night Blues Band, Rohan Ganguly goes further with his musical explorations into the sounds of indie and punk rock. While he leaves the bulk of the singing responsibilities with Sen, it must be said that he’s a more than decent bathroom singer on backing vocals. He misses his shoe and would like it back sometime soon.

Alongside the other two is this inconspicuous man who goes about building the framework holding the vocal and melodic schemes together with a Zen-like focus. While you won’t find bassist Mani Mani rummaging through the size zero jeans rack (unlike Ganguly and Sen), you’d be a fool to doubt his ability with the bass guitar. At every gig, Mani is most likely culpable for all the extreme cases of foot-tappyosis or neck-hurticitis. Off the stage, Mani has another, equally important job in the capacity of Official Band Jester. A word of advice for all you gullible groupies – beware of Mani’s free Malayalam lessons!

At every gig there is this one guy who rarely gets off his ass but you can tell he’s totally into the music. You probably know him as Chotu, The Supersonic’s drummer but his visiting card claims he’s ‘Chordia Chordia’. Quiet, shy or reserved are perhaps words that best describe Chordia’s off stage personality but you’d never guess it was the same guy in full flow on the drums. Most impressively, he passed the YourStory Drummer Test having steering clear of any statement containing the phrase ‘drumming is a metaphor for life’ and actually gave us an insight into the economic factors that govern record labels in India.

Now you should know that the average Calcuttan is familiar with the various Bangla rock outfits and English cover bands that have flourished over the years in the city. Unfortunately, if you’re not from Calcutta, chances are you wouldn’t have even heard of these English bands. This is because only a handful of bands have ever performed in other parts of the country. Calcutta still remains a large unexplored region on the rock map of India for rock aficionados and this raises its own set of questions. Is Calcutta wilfully hoarding its talented musicians? Or does the truth lie deeper?

But there is one Calcutta band that is doing things differently. In October, 2008, The Supersonics took yet another historic step by making a foray into the Mumbai music scene. Back to back gigs, first at The Hard Rock Cafe and then The Blue Frog sent Mumbaikars into delirium, earning the band high praise, not to mention the endless list of rave reviews that trotted faithfully after.

Join me in this exclusive YourStory interview with The Supersonics as we uncover their roots, explore the phenomenon of Kolkata rock and justify the need for originality in the music sphere. We also look at the financial side of running a band and try to answer the all-important question of sustainability. Plus, the band passes its verdict on ‘Death Melodic Active Jazz Metal’, fashion in rock and the top secret CTF project!

PART I : Starting Out, The Question of Originality.

What made you decide to become musicians?

Ganguly – I always believed I was going to be one.

Sen – I did B.Com Hons for a bit and I realised I was crappy in studies and wasn’t going to make it in the corporate world. So I decided to go with what I do best.

So how did The Supersonics come together?

Ganguly – He[Sen] and Mani [Mani] were playing in another band called Soundcheck. I was doing nothing. Everyone wanted to write originals so we got together. It was just fun in the beginning.

Sen – Up until then all of us were playing for cover bands. But we eventually got tired of it.

Mani – I was playing covers like ‘Purple Haze’, etc. It really wasn’t my style of music.

How long did it take you to find your sound?

Sen – For any band making their own music, it takes a year or two to know how to be able to make music together. You learn what the other’s thinking. If you look at our early songs they’re very different from what we’re doing right now. The music we’re doing now is written and made in such a way so as to compliment everyone’s playing styles.

Ganguly – It’s now a collective thought process.

Sen – I can say that it has influenced my song writing. From stage 1, I now know what’s going to happen so I make adjustments accordingly. I hope that in another 2 years or so, we can take that process even further. I know we want to be recorded, but we need to implement these details in our recordings.

Is there any song that is inspired by a book, film or another artist?

Sen – [Rolls his eyes] All of them! They’re like blatantly stolen – it’s so badly stolen from so many places that you’ll never know!

[Everyone laughs.]

Sen – Jokes aside, we don’t follow any particular band or artist.

Mani – Actually, all of us listen to very different things but we respect each other’s tastes. Sometimes I purposely don’t listen to the kind of music he[Ganguly] listens to because we’d start thinking along the same lines. It’s normal to be influenced by music. That is why when we play together we sound a little different.

Have you jammed with anyone else? Perhaps to bring in another dimension to your music?

Sen – Sure! We’ve had mandolin players, keyboard players, percussion players, singers. Sometimes a song might need something extra or there maybe someone who’s so good we’d love to play with him.

Mani – We have a friend who is very good mandolin player who did an acoustic set of some 7-8 songs. There were mandolin pieces that worked for our songs. We wanted them and he decided to play with us so it happened.

Ganguly – In fact, there is a link on our Facebook community where you can actually listen to it.

Is there any political angle to your music?

Sen – Little bit. Some songs. Maybe 3-4.

Ganguly – But not like out and out. Not completely political.

Sen – They’re democratic songs. Let me put it this way, not Republican. They could be Indian politics, whatever.

Ganguly – Its actually a personal opinion on politics, not directly derived.

Sen – But yeah, any opinion on politics is political.

You have taken a huge risk by only playing your originals in a city where most successful English rock bands play cover versions of famous songs. What made you so sure you’re music would be accepted by the local audiences?

Sen – We never knew! We didn’t think we’d even play one gig! We were doing it cause we really wanted to do it.

Ganguly – We had initially done one or two covers but then we stopped. We didn’t want to do any more. We wanted to write our own stuff. Now other Cal bands are doing the same.

Mani – We’ve been fighting very stiff odds from the very beginning. For starters, 90% of all bands in Kolkata play Bangla rock. You won’t find any Hindi or Marathi rock scene in Delhi or Mumbai. Of the remaining 10%, nearly all of them play English cover tracks. That in itself is fighting ‘Hotel California’ and ‘Summer of ‘69’! So we’re at the bottom of the food chain so it doesn’t get any worse than this.

Sen – I don’t want to be 40 and be playing ‘Summer of ’69’ and that too for 20 years. I’d go mad! I wouldn’t want to do that with my own songs – let alone Summer of 69! [Everyone laughs]

Ganguly – [About cover bands] At the end of the day, they look at their jobs as security.

Sen – Take a cover band like Hip Pocket – they’re not looking to cut an album and they’re happy doing what they’re doing. I have no problems with that. I’m sure that if we all collectively liked the song, we’d probably do it. But there should be a bigger picture if you’re an artist. You should have something to say. It’s a pointless endeavour to put in time and effort to learn an instrument if you’re trying to copy Hip Pocket or any other band. There will be no music scene in Cal!

Ganguly – Yeah. You could stay home and turn on your CD player or pick up that song on an instrument. But how does that make you an artist or a musician? What do you have to contribute? Nothing, really! Music is an art form after all. We are probably the only [English] band who plays our own songs at every show at the moment – definitely in Kolkata.

Are there sufficient platforms promoting original bands in Kolkata?

Sen – There are only two or three live spaces to perform. One is in a 5-Star hotel, one is a club that opens its bar area two days a week and calls itself a pub, and one is a little hole in the wall – which is okay.

Ganguly – But that’s the best of the three. Your other option is a college fest.

Sen – But then college fests and corporate parties all want their cover bands. They’re still stuck in that, you know? However, colleges are now slowly breaking away from that.

Ganguly – Even some 5-star hotels have started. But there has been a change for the better. We’re now looking at a scene where people diversify and listen to new stuff.

Do you think you have made an impact with your originals?

Sen – Definitely! Earlier bands were told not to play demos.

Ganguly – We were told not to play demos. Back then, only Cassini’s Division would play their stuff but it would be mixed up with some popular covers.

Sen – Live, original English music was right at the bottom of the priority list until two years ago. But now it’s almost at the top. If you want to play music, you’ve gotta do your own thing too – at least in Cal.

How many times have you reached the point where you’ve told yourself “I need to quit this. I can’t work with these guys. I need to move on.”? And what has kept you together?

[Everyone laughs]

Mani – How many combinations do you want? Me fighting with Ganguly, Ganguly with Sen, Sen with me, Chotu [Chordia]with Ganguly. All combinations have happened!

Chordia – You’ve gotta understand, for two years we haven’t been making the sort of money we need to live off. So it gets very difficult to do this for the love of doing it.

Sen – Realistically speaking, we ask ourselves if this is a viable option to live off. You start thinking cause everyday you wake up and go ‘Fuck, I’ve got no money. I’ve got no job. I’m growing older. I’m playing English music in a country that is naturally not inclined to that genre and I’m doing it from Kolkata. What are my chances? So everyday we’re on the verge of quitting.

Ganguly – But it’s okay. It’s not too bad. We now know that things are moving upwards. At least we know we’re going somewhere cause we’re playing more gigs.

Mani – For example, last year we played 20 shows but in the last four months we’ve played more than 10 shows. In your head you know that you’re doing something good so it brings you back each time you’re losing faith.

Sen – True. Every month we keep saying that things are getting better and better. But I’m there will come a point when we slip back into that rut but we will have to push through that as well. All we can do as musicians is to ensure that our music is good.

Which was the first song you guys wrote? What was it about?

Sen – ‘Moving’?

Ganguly – Blotter was before that.

Sen – But ‘Moving’ was complete first.

Ganguly – Yeah. Yeah.

Sen – It’s basically about getting the fuck out of home. Every creature has to leave its nest at some point in their lives.

Where was your first gig? What was the response like?

Sen – Someplace Else [at The Park]. We haven’t played there in a sometime, but we had our first gig there.

Mani – Most people didn’t know we were playing our own songs. They didn’t believe us! Someone went ‘Your song?’


PART II : Redefining the ‘Cal Band’, Sustainability and the Parameters for Success in the Music Business

The Supersonics have now been together for more than two years. How much of a financial struggle has it been so far? Is sustenance still an issue?

Sen – We have a band fund that we constantly dip into which is built from a percentage of our cheques. All of us are working part time as well so whatever money we get, we use for gear or something.

Mani – What we’re making is just about enough to cover all our expenses related to music. But it’s not yet enough to get us bread and butter.

Ganguly – Which is why you don’t leave your day job.

Sen – So each time I drink a beer, I’m thinking ‘Fuck I can’t buy strings tomorrow!’

Ganguly – We’re struggling to be honest. At the moment, we’re only getting gigs because of goodwill and because we’re pulling in the crowds. But things were quite bad up until a year ago.

Sen – When we started no one used to come unless they were friends. There were times when we’ve played to like zero people.

Chordia – But that’s something we worked on. We started publicizing our gigs and tried to create a scene wherever we play.

Sen – Yeah. But Cal’s still like a little village man! How many new people can you find here? If we had 2 gigs a week, I’m not sure I would come for both.

Ganguly – I wouldn’t. Saturating the market is not that difficult.

Mani – Don’t think Calcutta. Try to develop your name across the country. Maybe there are bands across India who’re tired of playing in India and want to move on to the next level. So you need to keep pushing the bar to take those places. The time has come for us to stop thinking Calcutta. Then maybe we can sustain ourselves.

Ganguly – It won’t be a cake walk, but it will be easier.

You have been quite popular in the Kolkata circuit and fan following seems to grow larger with every subsequent gig. How has brought about this meteoric rise in popularity?

Mani – Firstly, you have to try to keep bringing back your audience. To do that you have to constantly add songs, freshen up the old set list. If you have music for 2 hours no one will listen to it for the next 2 years.

Chordia – But its also an exciting challenge. It keeps pushing us to experiment, to try out new stuff to create that excitement for you people.

Over the past few years, a number of events, including Rock festivals, have helped bands export their music across the length and breadth of the country. However, unlike The Supersonics, the majority of Kolkata bands have never ventured outside their city. Is this city wilfully stagnating in its comfort zone? Or is there no market for Kolkata rock elsewhere?

Sen – Cal has been doing covers forever while a place like Delhi has had its own scene for a while now. You only need to ask yourself if you’re willing to fly a band down, pay for their stay and then have them play ‘Roadhouse Blues’. Aren’t you better off getting some Delhi band to go and do that there? So, essentially, Cal has been completely sidelined by the rest of the country. If you want to step out now it’s tough cause everyone’s thinks like ‘Oh..that’s a Cal band. Are they up to the mark? Cal is not known for their original music as such.’

Mani – But that doesn’t affect our plans. We want to move out of the city and play on the national stage.

Sen – Again, if you’re playing in Cal, you’re already a year behind the rest of the metropolitan cities.

Who do you think is to blame for this predicament?

Sen – Both sides. We still encounter people asking us to play ‘Summer of ’69’ and then there are bands who willingly pick up ‘Summer of ’69’ and play it shamelessly. You really can’t point a finger at one person. It is now a scene and two different groups of people are responsible for that.

What are your immediate requirements?

Ganguly – Money! [grins]

[Everyone laughs]

Chordia – More gigs which pay us more money.

Ganguly – Also, outstation gigs. They really count!

Mani – I think if an album was released we’d have greater market value.

Chordia – I think an album would link us to better pay at more venues.

Mani – You know, there are Bengali bands in our city who have about 20-25 of their own songs and they earn 10 times more than what we earn?

Ganguly – They play in Manchester City. They play in New York. Its true!

Mani – Here we are with our 40 songs and we have to deal with the disparity.

So what’s stopping you from doing a few Bengali songs?

Ganguly – [Laughing hard] We’re thinking about it!

Sen – In the international market, the first thing is that everyone wants to see is an Indian band doing something ethnic. Now that’s something we don’t do.

Chordia – But that doesn’t happen if there is a German band playing.

Sen – Yeah, India has so much culture, right? Its hard not to feel pressured because, at the end of the day, we want to match up to their standards because we’re Indians playing Western music. So for us, its important to do well, if not better.

Ganguly – But then, I believe I can relate to this music on a certain level which is why I’m doing this.

Sen – But its also true that if we played an Indian instrument we would’ve been big news abroad. You know we had a chance to play outside when this French guy had come to see us. We thought of calling ourselves CTF or Chutki to France. He totally loved our music but he was like ‘Damn! I wish you had something Indian’.

Ganguly – If we just had a tabla or a sitar we’d be there.

Sen – He just wanted us to sit there with the instruments and it didn’t matter if we could be heard. That’s what his bosses said even though he really, really liked our music. But, honestly, we wouldn’t do it unless the song required it.


PART III : Impact of Cyberspace, Musicality, Fashion and Maby Baking!

You have been quite active on the web with your site and other social networking platforms like Facebook, Orkut and Myspace. Has it really made any difference?

Ganguly – We’ve not done too well on Myspace, but things are better now.

Chordia – We use Facebook and Orkut to put the word across the community.

Ganguly – Facebook has been great because they actually have an event creation option.

Sen – But anyway, I wouldn’t say that these sites have made us but they’ve definitely helped us build on what we’ve started. Several big magazines have featured us on their pages so people do know about us from there. That will only get better once the album is out. But until then, this gives people the opportunity to hear us even if they haven’t been to our gigs. But now that we’re entering the national scene, we’ll need all the help we can get.

Ganguly – Yeah. You can also check out our official website – www.thesupersonics.net

What kind of sound would you never ever want to produce?

Ganguly – Death Metal!

Sen – Melodic Death Metal!

Mani – Symphonic Orchestra Metal! Death Active Melodic Jazz Metal!

Ganguly – Then again, if it sounds good and people bug us badly we might. [Chuckles]

Sen – If it sounds alright, its okay!

So who will be singing the Death Metal song?

[Everyone points at Sen]

Sen – Which is why we’re never going to be playing Death Metal. I guarantee it.

Mani – No. No. We might not even need a vocalist. I’m told some bands are all about the frequency. I haven’t reached the stage where I can really appreciate it!

[To Ganguly] But then, we’ll need hair as well. [Winks]

Ganguly – [Laughing] That’s alright. We’ll do Bald Metal – Rammstein types!

If you do plan on influencing fashion trends, what would be the step forward?

[Everyone bursts out laughing]

Sen – You’re asking us the wrong question!

Ganguly – Everyone went to buy clothes today. He [Mani] came back with coffee. And he[Sen] and I ended up eating lunch and coming here.

Sen – Well, I almost bought a frock. I was very tempted!

Chordia – I didn’t get my size. [Grins sheepishly]

Sen – Then again, we could just go up in underwear. It would be great! [Smiling from ear to ear]

Ganguly – As you can see, we’re really low on the glam part. We’re fashionably unfashionable, although, I do like suits.

Mani – I’d wear a white sweat band with a white Kylie.

Sen – I used to have this raincoat that I used to think was an overcoat as a kid. It was grey. It gave me the false impression that it was trench coat but it was actually a Duckback raincoat. I was really small. I didn’t know any better. [Makes a sad face]

You have just completed recording your debut album, Maby Baking. What was the recording experience like? How much extra preparation goes into making an album?

Ganguly – We had previously recorded songs at home, but not in a studio. That was a whole new ball game!

Chordia – We were lucky to work with two industry legends in Neel and Miti Adhikari. Miti, of course, has previously worked on records by Nirvana, Manic Street Preachers and The White Stripes so we knew we were in good hands from the beginning. [Beams]

Mani – Yes. Both Miti and Neel [Adhikari] are fantastic producers and great professionals. Things just began clicking together ever since HMV [Saregama] signed us on.

Sen – I think we’re all happy with it [the album] so we hope you’ll love it too!

Ganguly – Yes, a good one. Not something substandard or half baked. [Grins]

Only a handful of Indian English rock acts have so far managed to convince a label to sign them up for an album. Do you see that trend changing in the near future?

Sen – See, India’s a very Bollywood centric – specifically in terms of music.

Chordia – For the record companies, the sure shot return would be from a Bollywood soundtrack. You can predetermine your profits. On the other hand, a band has a very small market which cannot generate enough alone. That is why most record labels cringe while spending the extra money on promotion, marketing and distribution. But I’m not trying to judge them, its just the way they operate.

Ganguly – True. How much money is made from CD sales anyway? How many people actually buy CDs? Not many. But don’t use that as an excuse for not buying our album! [Laughing] It will be out in mid 2009 so make sure you grab a copy!

Do you have any advice for people starting their own bands?

Sen – In a place like India, if you’re dedicated to your music you will reap the benefits. I’ve noticed that every band that has been around for a considerable amount of time, whether good or bad, has achieved something. Remember that it’s like a mind game. You have to tell yourself that everything is fine although it may not be fine.

Mani – Every time you play, you must give 110%. One day someone could be watching you even if you’re playing at a small place. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing in Mumbai or Delhi as long as you’re putting in that little extra.

Ganguly – You have to be personally convinced that this is what you want to do. You have to keep trying. If you’re not you’re only looking for excuses. And be yourself.

Sen – It’s great if you want to write your own music but don’t start a band to do two or three originals. You should want to make your own music. That comes first and foremost.

In Memory Of : About the video

Chordia – It was shot in this old theatre in north Calcutta which was on the verge of shutting down. Luckily, we also managed to get that lovely round stage you see in the video. It is actually pulled by hand and it also goes really high!

Ganguly – Making the video itself was a lot of fun but it was also tiring and very hot. The problem was that there was no air conditioning and we shot it in May.

Sen – Can you imagine wearing those suits along with make up and cooking under those lights?

Mani – And you’ve heard the same song 10 times. Your brain starts shutting down!

Sen – 10? I’d say it played 200 times!

Ganguly – That is why we never listen to our own songs. [Laughs]

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