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Avial’s self-titled debut album turns 10: How the Malayalam rock band changed the music scene

“I came to know when you told me,” Avial guitarist and ace producer Rex Vijayan says with a sheepish laugh when asked about their debut self-titled album’s 10th anniversary.

Released on 8 February 2008 by Phat Phish Records, Avial remains timeless for its genre-bending, moody brand of Malayalam rock which arguably influenced the next generation of rockers who weren’t afraid of incorporating traditional elements. The band – which then comprised Vijayan, vocalist Anandraj Benjamin Paul, turntablist and current vocalist Tony John, bassist Naresh Kamath and drummer Mithun Puthanveetil – were active since 2003 and composed their lead single ‘Nada Nada’ after songwriter and guitarist John P Varkey brought the song to Vijayan.

Vijayan explains, “Everything started with that song. He composed that song years ago. When I met him, I told him, Why don’t we produce it again, as a proper band – make it more alternative, modern. That’s how it started. Everyone liked that song – friends started telling us, ‘Why don’t you start a band, do it live?’ That’s how the idea of the album came about.”

Avial. Image courtesy Facebook/@avialindia

At the time of recording, everyone in the band were full-time musicians, performing session gigs or hotel shows to get by. Tony John and Vijayan even had a separate project in existence called Thoran – note the name also originates from a south Indian dish, like avial – which leaned into electronica with a few “classical guests,” according to the guitarist. A lot of songs on Avial originally took form as electronic music and morphed many times over. “As time went by, we thought, why not keep it more classical – since we’re all instrumentalists. We thought we’d make an electronic version later of the album,” Vijayan says. Turns out in the process of recording, every song had three to four versions. The guitarist adds, “Some songs have a drum and bass version, like ‘Aranda’. In the end we thought to be more grounded to our instruments.”

Recorded and mixed by the band at Trivandrum’s Karma Audio Station (the band asked Ashish Manchanda at Flying Carpet Productions to master the album in Mumbai), Vijayan says without hesitation that the album took about four years to complete. But that’s not because their mix of frenetic folk and alternative electronic-rock was difficult to nail down. “We didn’t sit from morning to night. Most of the time, we were chilling and maybe three or four hours we worked each day and after that, we didn’t touch the instrument. We’d spend the whole day away and then we’d go back to it,” the guitarist explains.

Friends and fans of the band, who had so far been majorly impressed by songs like ‘Nada Nada’, prodded them to release the album. That’s when having a record label certainly helps. Vijayan recalls, “We didn’t have a plan – to release it and have a hit record. A lot of people just told us, ‘Stop it now and just finish it’. Phat Phish was one of the people who gave us a lot of time and finally said, ‘Come on guys, stop it and let’s release it’.”

With the album, Avial wanted to create an offering that “someone should have done,” referring to singing in a regional language and laying over rock riffs. The philosophical outlook, the poetic, impassioned vocal delivery and the mammoth bass grooves matched with the occasional scratch of the turntable record – and it all seemed to recall bands like American alt rock act Incubus. Vijayan is a very big Incubus fan, but points out that they were introduced to the band only midway through recording Avial, in 2006. “We had already done things that sounded like Incubus and then we heard The Morning View Sessions and thought, ‘Oh sh*t, man.’ I was very surprised – it was so artistic and (a) liquid kind of rock. I’ve never heard something like this,” Vijayan says.

Apart from widely popularising the Malayalam folk song ‘Chekele’, Avial brought a never-before heard brand of rock to the front and people imbibed the emotion and its stick-in-your-head refrains more than trying to understand the lyrics. Of course, it was extremely popular with Malayalam speakers – and considering they’re spread in different parts of the world, the band drew a full house regardless of where they played. Vijayan feels that before them, Indian rock bands from the south didn’t garner too large an audience because they sang in English. “Once you get into your roots strongly, people around you should like your music first. If your neighbour likes your music, then everyone else probably will. It’s not a strict thought – you can make amazing English songs too,” he says.

Folk/groove metallers The Down Troddence, fusion collective Thaikkudam Bridge and many more Keralan rock bands count Avial as an influence on their songwriting. Vijayan laughs and says he never heard the album after it was released, which explains why he also changes up his guitar work every time they play it live. “What we tracked on the album is what came to me at that time. Every stage I play according to the crowd,” he says.

With the lineup change right after the album released and about seven more singles since, Avial haven’t exactly worked to match up to something as timeless as their debut album, but they have no intention of stopping. With shows in Bengaluru (9 February), Mumbai and Pune (22 and 23 February, respectively) set this month, Vijayan says there’s a new single and their first “proper” music video in the works. Vijayan says, “We had a big gap and there are a lot of musicians coming out – so we need to see what the audience thinks and then we’ll decide what to do ahead.”


Published Date: Feb 08, 2018 17:25 PM | Updated Date: Feb 11, 2018 15:56 PM

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