Bengaluru band Peepal Tree on making multi-lingual rock with their debut album Chetana

Anurag Tagat

October 28, 2018 10:15:10 IST

Unlike most bands who came together in the last four years, Bengaluru-based Peepal Tree have a lot more experience on their side. More than a decade’s worth, at that. Vocalist Sujay Harthi, guitarist Tony Das, bassist Praveen Biligiri and drummer Willy Demoz had between them projects that ranged from Bollywood scores to playing with Raghu Dixit and of course, their metal band Bhoomi.

Which is why Peepal Tree introduced themselves to the world not with a huge launch gig, but with four songs released across two months, all of which have now been polished up for their debut album Chetana. Das says, “We've been doing this long enough to have observed first hand, that nothing connects like familiarity. So we thought that even before we could get on stage, if we could get people to know at least a handful of songs, if not the whole set, that we'd already have gained for ourselves a little bit of an advantage.”

Bengaluru-based band Peepal Tree

Bengaluru-based band Peepal Tree

Four Kannada songs — the vibrant “Chetana”, the electronic-leaning “Tangi”, the funky-dance vibed “Konevaregu” and the quick-paced “Bhuviyidu” — were the first glimpse of Peepal Tree’s versatile sound that got even more diverse as they clinched corporate and club shows as well as festival appearances to quickly become multicultural rockers. They went on to write songs in Tamil and Hindi, dexterously recreated songs like “Minds Without Fear” (from British artist Imogen Heap’s collaboration with Vishal Dadlani for The Dewarists) and now have the 10-track Chetana, which released last month.

Harthi goes from balladeer (“Nayi Khushi”) to Tamil powerhouse saluting actor Rajinikanth (“Magizhchi”) and stays at his emotive best on songs like “Roshan-E-Kaafile”). All this from a singer who primarily indulged his inner Axl Rose for Bhoomi for all these years. “I knew I could deliver a punchy performance if the song fell in this space but other genres or other languages, I was not very sure,” Harthi says. Peepal Tree was going to decidedly be a local band in its aesthetic from its inception and the band has been fluid in the choice of language ever since. The vocalist says, “Now we write the melody first and then decide based on the tune, which language the song would sound better in and then work with the lyricist.” They even had two versions of one song — “Chahat” is in English and Hindi while “Bayake” is in Kannada and English. According to the frontman, both versions sounded convincing, which is why they made the cut.

When they had to break the language barrier and release their music video for “Roshan-E-Kaafile”, Peepal Tree had already performed a full multi-lingual set for audiences across the country — including the Bacardi NH7 Weekender. Das adds, “I think people already knew we came from this multi-lingual space. But yeah, I think for new people it's always a pleasant surprise when you can identify with one extra element of someone's music.”

There are even more elements of Peepal Tree’s music that shine on Chetana, even though the band says they didn’t make major revisions compared to the demo stages of songs. Das explains, “Once we had made all the demos, we used the synth/sample/loop backing tracks from the demos to play along with at gigs because we realized a substantial part of the 'sound' of the band came from these sounds which were largely 80's throwbacks... because we're old.” But they did call in Parth Chandiramani (formerly of The Raghu Dixit Project and now part of his own duo, Bryden-Parth) for a guest sax solo on “Konevaregu” and violinist Adarsha Ramakumar to open “Nayi Khushi” on a stirring note. Where they employed backing tracks before, they now have keyboardist and ace synth player/guitarist Siddhart Kamath. “He's helped make the live act a little less reliant on tech by playing a bunch of the stuff that would previously run off of the computer,” Das says.

Was there ever a problem of breaking stereotypes that a band from South India can’t do a good job singing in Hindi? Artists like Raghu Dixit, Swarathma, Lagori and tons more have done well to dismantle those preconceived notions, so Das strongly believes that “people don't assume these things very much anymore.” He adds, “I think modern India is so diverse, that there's a place for everything, and widespread acceptance of everything.” With the album topping Apple Music charts and other music platforms, it’s safe to say they’re right.

Listen to Chetana here.

Catch Peepal Tree live on October 31st at Unscene w/Amrit Rao and the Madrascals and Oorka, at Fandom at Gilly’s Redefined, Bangalore. Event details here.

Updated Date: Oct 28, 2018 10:15 AM