Agam’s album out

(From left, standing) Swamy, Harish, Siva and Jagadis. (Sitting) Praveen, Yadhunandan and Aditya.

Thunder, lightning and raindrops combined together to create a mysterious and magical backdrop for a chat with Praveen Kumar and Swamy Seetharaman, members of one of India’s most well-known Carnatic progressive rockers, ‘Agam’.

It was only fitting; the prelude to their sophomore album ‘A Dream to Remember’, an ambient adaptation of M D Ramanathan’s ‘Sagara Shayana Vibho’, was set in a similar setting of rain, darkness, dim lights and ‘Theyyam’, the ritual form of worship of North Malabar in Kerala which has been Agam’s defining logo.

Talking about their second album, Praveen, lead guitarist, explains the five-year gap after the first album. “We took our time to figure out how to reinvent our music while still keeping brand Agam intact. More time went into song selection and presentation.”

Swamy, keyboardist and lyricist, adds, “It has been in production for last three years. We wanted to keep the core Carnatic progressive sound intact but we didn’t want it to sound like the last album; this was more experimental.”

The defining factor is the sound, says Harish Sivaramakrishnan, frontman and musical maverick, over the phone. “We were figuring out ideas in the first album but here we spent a lot of time thinking what our sound should be. The way the compositions were laid out, the way the orchestration was done, the soundscape we created — we had much stronger opinions this time.”

The sheer scale of the task they had on hand was enormous. A full-fledged choir, around 100 musicians and technicians and authentic instruments like ‘edakka’ and chenda gave a much wider musical canvas to the 1000-year-old compositions that the band presents in a new light.

“We have been able to create a reinterpretation of these traditional Carnatic compositions that is our own; unique and specific to what we are known for,” says Harish.

“The collaborations were a challenge but we felt that the songs deserved that rich sound,” says Praveen to which Swamy adds, “When we played the songs ‘Rangapura Vihara’ and ‘Manavyalakinchara ‘ on the guitar for the first time, we heard a choir in our heads. So we wanted to see how far we could push the envelope.” 

So how will they manage to replicate these varied sounds during live performances?

“Most of the songs are guitar-centric. While writing the songs, we made sure that we will be able to replicate them live. Rest depends on the artiste’s ability,” notes Swamy, adding that they had initially planned on adding a bagpipe sound while arranging ‘Koothu over Coffee’, which was dropped later to ensure that the song’s feel could be replicated on stage.

Praveen adopts a technical mode. “Swamy’s keyboard skills have progressed with time. His second keyboard has five octaves and three octaves have a different patch for certain portions of the song. The tonal editing is what makes our songs sound the same on stage.” 

A brand new logo launch through Facebook Live and an emphasis on videos with stunning cinematography, Agam’s style has underwent a major change.

“It is natural evolution. As a band, we are growing, learning, exploring; the makeover is a natural extension to that. The focus is on videos is because it is a reliable channel to reach as many people as possible and make a greater impact. Without Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, it is really hard to reach people these days,” points out Harish.  

So for a band comprising entirely of friends and college-mates, do they fight over creative differences? “Oh yes, we fight a lot. The studio is always heated up during recordings,” laughs Praveen.

“That is because we are the biggest critics of our music. If I come up with 10 tracks or ideas, only three might stay. But we are mature when it comes to our music. When there is a difference of opinion, we will speak about it but none of us takes it to heart,” says Swamy. “We agree to disagree. We say ‘I don’t like it, but I think it’s fine.’ And we take time to agree to this fact,” says Praveen.

What does the band do in its free time?

“ We talk a lot about business ideas, startups and more. We also tease each other about the goofups we made during the last show. We never speak about the good things; reflecting on mistakes is a lot of fun,” says Praveen.

Trivia

Most of the band members are not playing the instruments they started out with. Ganesh Ram Nagarajan (the band’s long-time drummer who is now settled in US) switched from keyboard to drums, Harish used to play the violin and Praveen moved from keyboard to guitar. “We shifted according to what instruments the band needed,” Swamy says, confessing that he himself did not know he could write lyrics till he joined Agam.

See who tweeted!

The legendary A R Rahman himself tweeted a video link to Agam’s song ‘Mist of Capricorn (Manavyalakinchara)’. The band members were ecstatic, especially because the group was formed for Rahman’s show ‘Ooh La La’ in 2007. It also happens to be the band’s favourite song.

 

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Agam’s album out

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