Sid Sriram Curated
Indian Playback Singer, Music Producer
CURATED BY :
How was your experience singing via skype?
Are you a sketch artist?
What is the Sid magic potion, that creates hits after hits?
What do you miss about Chennai, when you are at U.S.?
How was your performance at Echoes of Earth?
We actually performed the whole album at Echoes. It felt amazing. The stage is probably my first love, so to bring the album to life on the Echoes of Earth stage was exhilarating.
Even though your genre is pop-soul music, is there any other genre that you would like to experiment with?
I wouldn’t say my genre is pop-soul. The way I describe my original music is a cross section where pop/soul, my Carnatic roots and alternative/ambient electronic music all clash together vibrantly. My influences range from M S Subbulakshmi to Jeff Buckley to AR Rahman to Kanye West to Radiohead. I’ve internalised so many different influences since I was young, and they all come out subconsciously in my own music.
You were introduced to the world of music at a very young age. Has your perception of approaching music changed over the years?
My mother started teaching me Carnatic music when I was three years old. That genre eventually became second nature to me.Over the years, I made it a point to dig deeper and I got into R&B/Soul. I think my perspective has gained a lot of dimension over the years. I’ve realised the power music can have on so many occasions.
What is your album ‘Entropy’ about?
The album is like a map that brings together different points in my life that affected me in a profound way. Each song is like a snapshot to a different point in my life, delving into the emotional textures and memories that I associate with each point in my life, delving into the emotional textures and memories that I associate with each point. This album was my way of allowing people into my mind and my story. It’s a very vulnerable album and my hope is that the music will encourage people to re-connect with some of their dormant emotions. I am a firm believer in feeling through our full spectrum of emotions.
How would you describe working with A R Rahman, and what are the few things that really excite you while doing so?
In all my recordings with AR Sir, I’ll internalize the main melody and then during the recording Sir will throw ideas at me at a rapid pace; all I do is trust in him during the process and the product comes out the way it does. I am and will always be in complete awe of AR Sir and what he does. The way he hones in on the smallest of vocal details, the way he follows his musical instinct, and countless other aspects of his artistic genius bring songs to life; it’s really magical.
Who would you say your musical inspirations are?
I’m constantly influenced by different artists and kinds of music. Currently, my biggest influences are Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer (legend of Carnatic music), Philip Glass (film composer), Kendrick Lamar (hip-hop artist), and MK Thyagaraja Bhagavathar. I think from these different artists, I’ve been soaking in their approach to composing and rendering music and the honesty with which they express themselves. I’m always listening to music, reading, watching films, look at art etc. Different aspects of all these experiences settle in my subconscious and end up manifesting in the music I perform and create.
How do you deal with the word Musical Duality?
I operate with 3 musical streams: Carnatic music, Film music, and original independent music. A little while ago I came to the conclusion that though the forms are vastly different, for me they all come from the same source: honest, emotional, humble and inquisitive creativity. I represent a coexistence of my different influences, my different passions. At this point, I am blessed to be expressing this coexistence by way of all my musical endeavours, without ever letting one unintentionally cloud the other. It’s quite exciting to rock out on stage with the crowd singing Thalli Pogathey with me one night and to launch into a Karaharapriya aalapana during a kucheri on the next night. Music is music.
Where does your musical journey start? How does someone who comes from a Carnatic background break into commercial and yet unconventional vocal presentations in Movies?
My mother is a Carnatic vocalist and teacher. She started teaching me when I was 3. I think she recognized that I had a natural ear and affinity for music. My early years were dedicated to rigorous Carnatic music practice. I grew up in the US but we would make yearly trips to Chennai for me to further my Carnatic music. When I was around 10 I started listening to Jazz and R&B genres; I was self-taught in those genres of singing. I think the fact that I’m deeply entrenched in Carnatic music, and have a strong grasp of R&B/Jazz/Soul has given me a natural inclination to experiment, to be open to it. From Adiye to now, AR sir has created such unique contexts in which he’s used my voice, where the music becomes both experimental and commercially very viable. When I sing for other music directors or when I write my own music, I try to keep in mind the lessons I learn from Sir.
What was the experience like while doing Vaanam Kottattum?
Doing Vaanam Kottattum was a huge challenge. It was a challenge I embraced. To compose music, I have to know the scene, characters and the overall spirit of the film. I have to be a team player but also be confident with what I am contributing. I am a huge hip-hop fan who grew up listening to Kanye West and Jay Z. I think I found my style because of that. I don't want to compromise on that journey. That's not to say I don't want to try new sounds. I try to push boundaries. Even in Vaanam Kottattum, the track Thinam Thinam is a sound I have never done before. The situation demanded a happy, peppy song, which is worlds apart from the existential and dark music I usually create.
What do you feel about doing concerts?
I see my concert as a way to spread love. A few years ago, I didn't fully realise the power of influence. I keep saying 'All love and no hate' for a few years now and that's been a mantra whenever I am down or feel negative. I used to find the word 'love' to be either corny or ambiguous. But music is a powerful form of energy that can heal people and change lives. That's the goal behind my show that's happening on February 8. Music is not something that can be controlled or owned. That energy coming together with thousands of people is something I am excited about.
How can you compare Ilaiyaraaja sir and AR Rahman sir?
They are unique and different creative voices. They have built a legacy for themselves and continue to make insane music. Working with Raja sir in Psycho was a dream come true. I am a Rahman sir addict and got into Raja sir's music a little later. I got obsessed with it. When I met him, I sang a Carnatic song and he didn't react. A couple of months later, he gave me the brief for Unna Nenachu in Psycho. I saw a certain fire in his eyes and I knew there was potential for something special. I was also able to explore a lower range of my voice and a softer vocalisation. I am proud that my first songs for him are Unna Nenachu and Neenga Mudiyuma.
What was it like working with Mani Ratnam?
Working with him, on a conceptual level, is a dream come true. Beyond that, every conversation, every piece of advice and feedback he gave me, the jamming sessions, every interaction with Mani sir, had a certain gravity. It gave me confidence and the skills to add more emotion to a scene or how I can use a song to bring a scene to life. I was initially apprehensive because of the huge work involved and I knew I was creating music for something beyond myself. When I met Mani sir, I think he had an idea about my Entropy album and how experimental I am. He wanted VK to have an experimental album that could be juxtaposed over a family drama. Two weeks into the process, I played him a sketch and he did not react. I think that sketch was far too conventional. I gave him a second sketch, and this time, he got excited. That became Poova Thalaiyaa.
Which kind of music gave you your identity?
He reiterates that Carnatic music gave him his identity. Born in Chennai, he moved to the United States as a newborn. “I don’t know if things would have been the same if I had grown up in India. I come from a musical family and Carnatic music made up so much of my childhood, my upbringing and my musical transition. Growing up in the US, music became a way for me to find my roots and anchor points. My mom, Latha Sriram, is my first guru. Carnatic music was around me all the time,” he says. When he came to Chennai, he learnt from P.S. Narayanaswamy. The turning point was joining Berklee College of Music, Boston, in 2008. “I realised that I could pursue music as a career. My dad, Ram, encouraged me to go in that direction. He has been like a life-coach, pushing me to take harder decisions. It is kind of a cliche that many Indian parents, especially in the US, want their kids to become doctors or engineers. But my parents encouraged me to turn to music when they found that I had the passion and talent,” he says. He did graduation in music production and engineering. By that time, Adiye... had released. “I didn’t know how I was going to pay my bills. But God and the Universe work in funny ways. Adiye... happened right when I was about to graduate. The timing was perfect,” he smiles. Every year, Sid spends six months in the US and the rest in India, with Carnatic concerts, recordings and performances with his band taking up most of his time here. He gave his first stage performance as a three-year- old in the US, singing a Thiruppugazh his mother had taught, and his first concert in Chennai was at the age of 10. Ask about the energy he brings on stage and he replies that it is a natural process. “When I see the audience, I just take off. That’s what I have really lived for and I think that has stayed with me,” he explains. He admits that there was a phase where he “felt kind of disillusioned”, trying to understand music more. “Carnatic music is interesting, it is such an improvisational form. I was trying to analyse and internalise the manodharma side instead of just memorising and singing,” he says. It was a painful process. But once I went to college, I started asking questions and went deep to explore raga constructs and more abstract aspects of Carnatic music,” he says. And he gives credit to his family, mentors and many artistes for shaping his musical journey. Known for his profound observations on music, Sid mentions P.S. Narayanaswamy, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, G.N. Balasubramamaniam and Madurai Mani among others as among his inspirations. “When I listened to them, Semmangudi for example, I found an unbridled joy in the music, there was this abandon. I wanted to know how he did it! I would hit these blocks every time, both in terms of vocal capability and in terms of ideas. It is here that the conversations with my mom, dad and my sister, Pallavi, a Bharatanatyam dancer, helped. Then there were several artistes with whom I interacted when they came to the US, including Sanjay Subrahmanyam, T.M. Krishna and Aruna Sairam. I watched them perform, the fun they had... all that formed by approach to Carnatic music,” he says. Diction has not been a problem even though he can’t read or write Tamil. “Sahitya is very important. Carnatic music has helped me in handling the language and my mother is very strict that I don’t sound like an American boy. I write the songs in English and then get the phonetics right. I have sung in Telugu, where also Carnatic music has helped a lot,” he says.
What do you think of Rahman's Magic?
Love for film music happened because of A.R. Rahman. “My mother introduced me to his music. When she drove me around, she would play songs from Roja. Little did I know that I would sing for him one day! I have always had a thing for melody and his music also has this bounce, which is so natural and organic. My grandfather, R. Rajagopalan, a Carnatic musician, had also worked in films, but he never got his due. So it was always there in the bloodline,” he says. What inspired him to get in touch with Rahman was his win at the Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire. “Till then, I only wanted to meet him. But his award was a big deal for us. It was the first time someone who looked like me got that level of validation. So I sent him an email with two of my original compositions. He replied in a week’s time and things just took off from there,” he beams. He considers himself lucky to have begun his playback career with a genre he has been specialising in, R&B. “Sir [Rahman] had this vision in Adiye... and it was pathbreaking. Songs such as Ennodu nee... or Yennai maatrum... (Naanum Rowdy Thaan) also had the same flavour. The first number that showcased my classical side was probably Maruvaarthai... I was waiting for a song like that... It feels modern, but it is also grounded in Carnatic music,” he explains.
How was your Margazhi singing experience?
Performing during this Margazhi season was amazing. The energy was electrifying with each concert; I got to play with some amazing musicians that also happen to be my good friends. I also provided vocal and nattuvangam accompaniment for my sister, Pallavi Sriram's Bharatanatyam performances. She conceptualized, choreographed and curated the shows and we worked with some incredible musicians. It was especially inspiring seeing how the city of Chennai came together after the floods and to feel the positivity through the festival.
How do Carnatic and Western music learning help in your playback singing?
I put my Carnatic and Western training into every one of musical experiences. With playback singing, I think my ability to do both gives me a unique musical perspective to bring to the recordings. With my Carnatic music, the vocal and breathing techniques I learned while I was at Berklee allow me to utilize my voice fully and properly. With my original alternative soul/pop music, I take all of my influences/training and create an eclectic blend of music that is unique to me.
How do you manage your Tamil pronunciation?
I speak Tamil often with my family, and singing Carnatic music also keeps my pronunciation sharp. Tamil is a beautiful, complex language. I plan on studying it more closely, and learning how to also read/write in Tamil. At some point, I want to incorporate into my original song writing.
What was it like performing live with A R Rahman?
Performing with AR sir is an exhilarating experience. I’ve had the honor of performing with him back in 2013 for his Thaimanne Vannakkam show in LA, then in 2014 for the I audio launch, and most recently I joined him on 4 dates of his US intimate tour. Similar to the recording process, performing with him is all about being in the moment. I switch my mind off, and just let the music guide me. My favorite part about performing with AR sir is probably the on stage music interaction with him; if he shoots me a quick smile I know I’m doing something right.
Naanum Rowdy Dhaan – Enai Maatrum Kaadhalae. How did it happen?
Anirudh and his team contacted me for the song. I was in San Francisco at that time. I heard the song and was immediately drawn to it. We recorded it remotely via Skype over the next 2 days. It was a great experience and I love how this song came out.
Staying far away from the scene of action, how do you handle? Do you have plans to shift to Chennai?
I think music, whatever the genre or language, sees no boundaries. I operate and immerse myself in a few different musical streams: Playback, my original music and Carnatic. All three are equally important to me, so I split my time between LA and Chennai.
Tell us something about working with Rahman. What did you learn from him?
I think the most fulfilling aspect of working with AR sir is how he is able to capture the moment. The environment that he creates is spiritually uplifting and calm; every time I work with him I feel completely at ease. He really pushes me to emote to the fullest when I’m singing. From him, I’ve learned how to sing with respect and humility. I’ve learned that you can never stop learning when it comes to music. From him I’ve learned how music can be truly divine.
How did Kadal happen?
I had met AR sir for the first time in his studio in Chennai, in December 2011. This was a dream come true in and of itself. About 2 months later, I was informed that he wanted me to record Adiye for Mani Ratnam sir’s film, Kadal. I was in Boston and AR sir was in Chennai at the time, so we did the recording remotely. Even though we were on separate ends of the world, the way he got that vocal performance out of me during the recording was incredible; he really pushed me and we finished the recording within 4 hours or so. I’m honored that this incredibly innovative song was my introduction to Tamil film music.
How did your musical career begin?
I first started singing Carnatic music at the age of three, learning small compositions from my mother and performing them. Around 2001, once I turned 11 is when I started taking music more seriously. Apart from my Carnatic training and performance, this is also when I started picking up R&B/soul styles of singing. I’d listen to artists such as Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross and teach myself how to sing different songs. In 2008, I started attending the prestigious Berklee College of Music (Boston). There, I started composing and writing original music. I started releasing music independently through YouTube in 2010 and gradually developed a strong fan base globally. In 2012, I got the call from AR Rahman sir to record Adiye which set off my career in playback singing. About a year and a half ago, I began work on my full-length album titled “Insomniac Season” with Grammy award winning producer DJ Khalil in LA. The album is set to release in early 2016. All this while I’ve been performing and refining my Carnatic music rigorously.
Tell us something about yourself and your family
I’m a playback singer, Carnatic vocalist and independent soul-pop singer/songwriter. I was born in Mylapore, Chennai. We moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the US where I grew up. My mother runs a Carnatic vocal music institution there, so I’ve always been surrounded by music. My father is a business entrepreneur. My sister, Pallavi Sriram is a Bharatanatyam dancer; I sing for her dance performances and have also started doing Nattuvangam for her. So, my environment was always one that truly allowed me to pursue music intensely.
What were you like when you were a child?
Has anyone ever told you that you don't have good voice?
What kind of unbelievable responses have you gotten from your songs?
What did you do when you didn't get any chances?
How does it feel to be a sensational singer?
What do you want to tell your female fans and which song will you sing for them?
Which song will make you remember your childhood
Name a song that you can relate to yourself?
What are the songs that you listen to make your day better?
What does music mean to you?
What was your experience while the doing the song Thalli Pogathey?
What was your experience was like while doing the song Yennai Maatrum Kadhale?
How was your experience doing Ennodu Nee Irundhal?
How was your experience doing Adiye adiye with A R Rahman?
How was your first time meeting with A R Rahman?
What was your journey till here was like?
Does fame really invade one's privacy?
When are you going to genres other than melodies and classical?
Any idea to act in the movies?
Have you ever faced rejection in the music industry?