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'Find a style of your own'

December 21, 2004

A painter will paint, a musician will compose, a politician will exploit," says Remo Fernandes.

Remo FernandesThis statement, in a nutshell, describes what Remo is all about. In your face, unapologetic, pioneering.

In an e-mail interview, the singer shared his views on music with Salim Dewani.

Your first Hindi album, O Meri Munni, had a strong social message. Do you try to consciously convey social messages through your songs?

Well, I don't start the day saying to myself, 'I must write a song so let me look for a message for the day!'

The songs and messages come from things that happen in my own life, or from things that happen around me. They happen to everybody; it's just that each one of us reacts differently to the same things.

A painter will paint, a musician will compose, a politician will exploit.

Some songs don't have messages at all; they're just expressions of beauty, ugliness, depression, excitement... whatever.

What's new about the music in your latest album India Beyond? Where does your music draw its inspiration from?

India Beyond is the best, the richest, the most complex music I have ever created, if you'll forgive me for saying so myself.

It's a pity our record companies did not know how to appreciate and promote it.

India Beyond is music for the sensitive listener. It is meant to touch a chord within; a quiet, peaceful chord that lies dormant in the back of our minds and hearts.

One way to describe it would be to call it music for the morning after the party, not during the party... you know, when you don't want to look at another overflowing ashtray or a half-empty bottle and when, above all, you don't want to hear last night's techno! When you'd rather look at that clean, pure sunrise and listen to your soul.

I recorded it before I'd even heard of the Buddha Bar series -- precisely two years before they hit the market with such great force.

Did you ever look up to anyone in your college days and tell yourself, "That's how I want to be someday!"? What did you admire in that person?

In school, I admired The Beatles. What I wanted to do was to write my own songs, the way they wrote theirs.

When in college, the big influence, I guess, was the movie Woodstock. It was more than music; it was a way of life. They were all so truly American, singing about their pressing issue of the day, the Vietnam War.

That made me want to be truly Indian and I devised a way to tune my guitar to make it sound like a sitar. No one had done it before.

This was a few years before John McLaughlin did his sitar-guitar thing.

Unfortunately, India had no voice then. It was next to impossible to procure a passport, leave alone get foreign exchange and go abroad. There were absolutely no channels open here for that kind of music.

The whole scene was restricted to college fests that had a very niche, but very savvy audience of students of that time.

I was studying at the J J College of Architecture [Mumbai], but played at all fests -- from Xavier's to Elphinstone to Mood Indigo [all Mumbai colleges].

You play every instrument, sing every song, record, mix, and even design all your album covers. How about a few words to the young and aspiring singers out there?

I always have the same words of advice: find your own style.

The important thing is not doing everything yourself -- you do what you love to do, the thing you're passionate about, whether it is singing, playing, designing, or all of the above.

But in whatever you do, be yourself, not a clone of someone you admire.

We are proud to be known as the 'Indian Madonna,' the 'Indian Jim Morrison,' whatever. It comes from our colonial mentality, when we were proud to call Kashmir the 'Switzerland of the East.'

Get rid of those complexes and find yourself.

Use your heroes as a 'school' by all means; copying them is a good exercise in the beginning, to learn guitar riffs, drum rolls, vocal techniques and so on.

But, eventually, you need to grow out of copying them and find a style of your own. That's your ultimate destination.

What difference do you notice in college festivals then and now?

Then, everything from the artistes to the sound systems to the organisation was amateur.

We took a BEST bus or local train to the fest with our guitars and got back to our hostels the same way, usually the next afternoon.

Now we fly, everything is professionally and efficiently organised.

I'm glad we still don't really play for the money; we charge just a fraction of our normal fees -- whatever the students can afford through sponsorships. But the electric surge we get from playing for students more than makes up for all that.

What do you like about Mood Indigo?

IITians have always been a pleasure to perform for.

They have some of the country's greatest young brains, but they're far from nerds. They know how to party as hard as they work! That's a great combination.

Mood Indigo is a name that has an aura around it; I remember it from my own college days. It has always been considered the mother of all college fests in Mumbai.

Everyone is excited about your performance. Are you looking forward to performing to 15,000 students at Mood Indigo?

Now I'm excited, learning that everyone here is excited about our performance! It makes me want to give my best at Mood Indigo this year.

Of course I'm looking forward to it all.

Students are the greatest audience for our kind of music, because they let their hair down and let their feelings out.

The only thing better than performing for students is performing for 15,000 students!

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