Yanni was my inspiration, says Grammy nominee Arun Shenoy

An Indian with a nomination at the Grammy Awards is not common. Even less common is  when the Indian is one who has spent most of his life, including his formative years, in India.

At the nomination ceremony in Nashville on 5 December, 2012 and broadcast live on the CBS Television Network , Arun's debut world fusion record titled Rumbadoodle was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Pop Instrumental Album. Also nominated in the same category are Chris Botti, Larry Carlton, Dave Koz and Gerald Albright & Norman Brown.

Arun Shenoy was born in 1978 in Manipal in Karnataka. He did his schooling at AFrank Anthony Public School in Bangalore from 1982-1993 followed by his pre-university education at the St Josephs Arts and Science College, Bangalore from 1993-1995. Subsequently he returned to Manipal for his engineering degree at the Manipal Institute of Technology (MIT, Manipal). After graduating in 1999, he entered the corporate world with a job at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Bangalore. He switched jobs to IBM Global Services in 2000 and in 2003, left for Singapore to pursue his Master's Degree by research in Computation Audio from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and has since lived in Singapore.

Less about Arun, and more about Rumbadoodle, the album that’s been nominated. This is how Arun describes it: “Recorded over many years across the Globe from Spain to Pakistan, from the UK to Canada, from India to LA and New York, this world fusion debut of Arun Shenoy explores a bold new perspective of the Gypsy Rumba Flamenco. Combining elements of the traditional art form with a myriad of popular music forms, this record is an explorative journey, doodling across genre boundaries as we know it today,  creating a unique and true masterpiece along the way.”

Firstpost caught up with Shenoy over the phone. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

 

Arun Shenoy. Pic courtesy Firstpost.

Q: Can you describe your early musical influences? What got you excited about music?

A: If I look back, I would say the time I started to get seriously involved in music was around 1993-1995. This was the transition phase, of my pre-university years, when I was exposed for the first time to many artists and bands who would go on to be a major influence on my music.  Some albums that come to mind are for instance Painkiller by Judas Priest, Adrenalize by Def  Leppard, But Seriously by Phil Collins and the Use Your Illusion I and II by Guns N' Roses.  That was the time I picked up the guitar and started aspiring to do something on par, something that would leave a mark behind. Of course, aspirations are one thing, but without perseverance and hard work, this does not translate into anything. So I am glad that after so many years of struggle and hard work, and despite the very poor odds and numerous setbacks, my new record has actually been recognized by the Mecca of recorded music, the GRAMMYs. Has been an incredible ride.

Q: What was the music you listened to as a teenager?

A: I suppose the most significant phase in this period would be my late teens when I was in university at Manipal (MIT), pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science. The college rock scene in Manipal (or maybe the whole of India I should say) has always been very vibrant.  Every second person was a guitarist I would assume. Or some other instrumentalist at least. This is the time when everyone's musical horizon really expands with lots of new music being shared around the hostels and everyone having a great time. Really. Life was just one rock show to the next with jams and exams in between. haha.

I actually do listen to a lot of varied musical styles. As a musician I have always identified strongly with rock and roll, but I do tend to listen to a lot of World Music (as is probably evident in Rumbadoodle) and a lot of Classical music too. In fact my follow up record is an Indian Fusion record that dips deep into Indian Classical and Folk forms and also though the rich lexicon of Indian instruments, percussive and string. Personally I am very excited about what we have in production now and personally believe this will be my best work to date. I hope to release it sometime mid of next year 2013.

I also do thoroughly enjoy all forms of electronica and dance music too (EDM). I have dabbled quite a lot in it myself and do intend to create some music in this space in the future. Have always been a big fan of The Chemical Brother, Prodigy etc and I also do listen to a lot of DJs and others artists in this space.

Q: What got you interested in music from all parts of the world? Was it an album, a musician?

A: This one is easy. Yanni. Yes sir, he is the man. I have always enjoyed World music yes, but seeing what Yanni did on Live at the Acropolis and subsequently with Live At the Taj and the Forbidden City inspired me to actually work in this space of world fusion. Rumbadoodle was my first creative exercise in this space and the follow up Indian Fusion Record in 2013 will be the second. I remember the time when I used to listen to his music on loop and have it playing at night, while I slept, to a point where it was a part of my sub-consciousness. Of course, my musical aesthetic and production style is very different, so it does not sound anything like him really. Strange as it may sound, thrash metal giants Sepultura were another influence too. That intense native percussion they incorporated into their style of heavy music would just get my heart racing. There were a few others too like Enigma with his numerous early records and Steve Vai (with what he did on the phenomenal song, The Blood & Tears)

Q: When did you first think of doing an album?

A: I had planned it for a long time but never got around to it. It is just one of these things you keep putting off for another day. I believe it was in 2009 when American rocker Tanadra approached me to help her write and produce a rock record.  So I started to put together a serious production crew and that was how it all started. The record was released in April 2010 and garnered quite a bit of press and critical acclaim. After this I started to focus on my own record Rumbadoodle.

I have always loved the Spanish Flamenco. The very intense nature of the music with its rapid flourishes has always excited me, so I decided to start with this as the thematic component for the music. Flamenco of course, is traditionally a rather complex art form with its various palos or musical forms and time signatures that can make it hard for casual listeners to comprehend the music. So I went with the Rumba flamenco or the gypsy rumba. Unlike traditional flamenco, rumba flamencas may be played in any key, major, minor and modal and it also follows the simpler format of 4 beats per bar.  So I find it to be a more democratic form of flamenco, giving room for experimentation with fusion styles, like what I have attempted here.

Then the delicate fusion element with all of my rock and roll influences which is also quite evident in the music, primarily via the rock solid drum and bass groove section that runs through the record. This style of production is something that has to be very carefully done as it is easy to make a complete sonic mess of it. On the other hand, if done properly, all of the elements can be made to come together so beautifully and in harmony, like they were always meant to me.

Q: Why did you publish the album yourself? Did you have any difficulty finding a publisher?

A: I had never really thought about this much at that time. I had figured I would fund the whole thing myself, hence never really thought looking for a publishing deal or record deal at the time, preferring to focus rather on the music. This also gave me complete creative freedom with the end product. I have also spent a lot of time learning the business of music (which I firmly believe every musician should so. It is incredible how little most musicians seem to understand about this). After this I decided to set up my own publishing company that currently owns the rights to my music and I am slowly but steadily building my catalog with the music of other artists and bands that I am currently looking to promote.

Q: Can you share with us the most played songs on your playlist?

A: There is no song I can single out as a favourite, which I think is a great problem to have. It would be really bad is one song was popular and everything else seemed like "filler" tracks. Many of the tracks seems to have equal appeal to listeners. Rumbadoodle, the title track (of course), The Violin Song, Rock and Rigmarole, Fireflies and Blue Sky Happiness I and II come to mine. Actually Prance and My Ballad Days too. Haha. That is a lot of tracks already.

Q: Of all the nominations at the Grammys, which are the songs you are looking forward to winning?

Again a tough one. Probably Blue Sky Happiness Part II.

Firstpost wishes Arun all the best. Hopefully, he’ll go back to Singapore with a Grammy on February 10, when the awards are announced.

To know more about Arun Shenoy and get an idea of the music he listens to, click here.