It was 5 in the evening, and I was tapping my toes frantically, a little bit on the edge about the next call I was supposed to hop onto. But I did anyway and was happy to find out that the voice on the other side was as eager and cheerful. The rest of it felt effortless.
The person on the other end was Suraj Mani, the multi-faceted genius from Kerala, who has been at the forefront of India’s indie music scene for more than 20 years now. After a year-long sabbatical, he is back with his latest album, ‘Rinse And Repeat’, comprising four soulful tracks that trace his journey through the vicissitudes of life, each song being a treatise on different phases of a relationship. Unlike his previous albums, this is more mellow and more of a singer-songwriter project than the ones before. The tracks are imbued with a tinge of Indian fusion, along with influences from rock music.
Mr Mani is the founder & frontman of a band called ‘Suraj Mani The Tattva Trip’. His public bio notes that it is “about a real-time, multi-sensory interaction between the artist, audience and a mythical traveller – The Tattva Tripper.”
‘Rinse And Repeat’ comes eight years after his 2012 album ‘The Tattva Trip.’ ‘The Tattva Trip’, through its various original scores, provided an insight into his journey as an individual, as well as a new perspective on life. (‘Tattva’ is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘the principle/essence’ of things.)
Mr Mani claims that although not much of a reader, he has been a passionate writer, right from his days as an engineering student at a college in Quilon, Kerala. So, transitioning from being the frontman of the band, Motherjane to being a poet-singer-songwriter for his own creation, Tattva Trip was just the next logical step. It spawned from the year-long break he had taken after a ruptured disc led him to leave Motherjane after a long journey with the band.
“In that year, I learnt how to play the guitar and wrote about 20-odd songs. Composed nine of them.”
“This is the first time I had to do everything by myself. I wrote my own songs and played them at will. That way, I have become very indie, as you call it.”, jokes the singer-songwriter.
“The Tattva Trip is not my band. I call it my journey because I am always looking out to delve into the essence of things, to form my own perspective of them. Afterwards, what I try and do, is share the perspective through my music.”
The Tattva Tripper, on the hand, is the muse to his poetry. In creating the Tripper, Mr Mani has envisioned an imaginary world where the muse, in being able to travel through space and time, is necessarily able to talk about almost anything.
“The Tripper actually helps me to take people on a journey where they are also able to find a side to themselves they had not known before,” he says.
In making people aware of the different aspects of their personalities, the Tripper engages us in a dialogue with ourselves by laying bare the different contradictions that we have within us.
“Embracing our contradictions is the key to arriving truthfully to every moment. If you can’t arrive appropriately to the moment, then you can’t arrive appropriately to your destiny.”
Mr Mani maintains the same philosophical ground through the tracks of his latest EP, ‘Rinse And Repeat’, which he recorded after an intimate musical tour across India. They performed in over 24 house gigs in various intimate locations like an old haveli in Nashik, people’s homes, and also a few hostels. He shares a personal anecdote of his encounter with a young crowd in Chandigarh who, to his surprise, was humming his songs – the ones he had recorded during his heyday as the frontman of Motherjane. “My fan following had always been slightly older, so I was pleasantly surprised”, Mr Mani confesses.
“And then I realised that there is something in recorded songs.”
He decided to go back and start recording them all. That was how ‘Rinse And Repeat’ was made.
On speaking about the title track of the album, Mr Mani talks about the journey of life, when, there are times we struggle to cope on a daily basis.
“When you go through something bad, you kind of feel that maybe you should just close your heart to people. But instinctively, I also realised that if you do that, you are blocking your heart to the beautiful people already in your life, as well as those whom you might meet later.”
However, testifying to his struggles in the personal space in the last one year, he confides that it is easier said than done.
So he lets himself do what ‘Alcoholic Anonymous’ does!
“They don’t tell themselves that they will stop drinking forever; they say that just for today, they would not drink. I thought, that okay, maybe I should write a song that says that just for today I would keep my heart open. ‘Rinse And Repeat’ is about that.”
The next song, ‘Sacred Ground’ is about coming to terms with betrayal in a relationship. His favourite lines in this song run, “It’s an age-old truth I share with you. Everyone gets what they’re committed to,” signifying a ‘pushback’, or a ‘powerful reaction’, to something unfavourable.
“Pardon me for saying this, but for those of you who need one, this is a happy fuck you.”
However, he doesn’t linger on to a particular feeling for too long. Immediately gathering himself up from the dregs of despair, he invites you to make love to the languorous, flowing lyrics of Le Petit Mort, only to make you ‘lose yourself in a realm of physical surrender’.
The album ends with the track ‘Samsara’, which is almost an Eliotesque rendition of one of the most beautiful poetry you would have ever heard. It gives you an insight into the beauty of life, which can only be enjoyed once you have a strong foundation to balance its highs and lows. “I don’t think any of us wants to live a mundane, boring life. But to dance through its highs and lows, you need a still centre,” says Mr Mani. That is the thought he has tried to give shape to, in this track.
The album as such takes you through a bunch of universal emotions at the intersection of love and loss. The songs are not just about romantic love; they trace the entire trajectory of interpersonal relationships at different points in a person’s life.
Reflecting on the ingenuity of his songs, he clarifies, “I have always told people that I am not saying anything new, I am just singing about something that you already knew. That is why you resonate with it. It is just that I put it in a new perspective.”
When you are talking to a multi-faceted genius like Mr Mani, it is hard to keep track of time. So, towards the end of one of the longest conversations I have had in a while, I took stock of time and shot one last question.
On being asked about what has changed in his journey from being a singer to so much more than that, he let slip, ‘I have just grown older... Just that.’
From behind the anonymity of my telephone, I was so mesmerised by Mr Mani’s philosophy that I wanted him to keep going on. However, there was an uncanny sense of perspicuity in his reply which prompted me to tie the loose ends of the conversation.
I was happy to let the smaller details slide by, and take back with me the story of a modern-day visionary and philosopher who has been an inspiration to one and many.
Do not miss the Apple-exclusive release of his latest album ‘Rinse And Repeat’, which might just be the perfect antidote to your quarantine blues.
Producer and mixing - Keshav Dhar (Sky Harbor)
First Three tracks mastered - Vivek Thomas
Album art - Sreejith PA
Vocals and Guitar- Suraj Mani
Bass- Harshit Mishra (Hashbass)
Tabla- Karan Chitra Deshmukh
Keyboard- Aman Mahajan
Strings- Cajetan Dias
You can check out the Apple exclusive release of the EP, Rinse & Repeat, here.
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