How Lojal’s ‘Controlled Fluidity’ Is Breathing New Life Into Indian Indie Music

How Lojal’s ‘Controlled Fluidity’ Is Breathing New Life Into Indian Indie Music
Image Courtesy: Lojal

Every time you step into a Lojal show, there’s an incomparable, electric energy of anticipation. No matter how many times you’ve listened to his songs, there’s always something new that he introduces to each of his performances. Since his debut on the indie music scene, he’s set himself apart from his contemporaries by channelling a sound that is both fresh and dynamic, yet somehow intimately familiar.

Every chord, lyric and melody he puts into his music is an amalgamation of his life experiences, the world and the people around him, as well as his eclectic musical influences that range from all the way from jazz standards to Gospel classics to blues and folk mainstays. The poignancy and emotional weight in his songwriting reels you into a live show; taking you on a sonic journey that peaks and troughs like a raging river; leaving you with the unshakable feeling that you’re witnessing something rare and magical.

There are not a lot of artists that do it quite like Lojal, so we decided to find out a little more about the hows, the whats and the whys of the man behind the magic.

You occupy a unique space across the Indian music landscape and the way that you’re able to amalgamate a retro, almost bohemian aesthetic with a sound that’s remarkably fresh is something that not many artists are able to do. How do you define your sound and what are some of the things that have influenced it?

Firstly, thank you for having me. It’s an honour and also for the kindly framed first question.

When I was a little child, around three years young, my parents would often be away from home and for the most part, I’d spend time alone between waiting for them to come home or having relatives come over. That’s where I first remember singing to the wind, sky, rain, etc., and naturally began to place my emotions in melodies. It was where I would run to every time the real world became too real or unlikeable — when my parents fought, or a relative died, or my parents whooping my ass, or when I felt insecure and scared, angry and apprehensive. My emotions became music before I even realised how music would influence my life.

I wanted to share that bit of myself to help you and the dear readers understand that for me, my music is heavily emotionally driven. Most of the time, that comes first for me and definitely heavily drives the defining factor of my music and my identity. My sound is an escape to silence, a resounding scream in a busy street, a dance of celebration by a lifeless body, a warm touch in burning ice, and that escape becomes the voice of silence. All inspired by many, many forms of music, voices, feelings, people and ghosts that have become a part of me.

Thus, it wouldn’t be fair to the emotions, experiences and the feelings I had and the ones that are to still to come to limit my sound to a definition. My human influences are constantly growing and changing too and to be really honest, most of my favourite ones are one phone call away and they are all freaks. They’re fucking awesome people doing their own little experiments and living. I love them all very much.

How do you see your music evolving going into the future? Are you an artist who believes in constantly changing things up from album to album or do you prefer to let things happen more organically and go with the flow? Are there any new styles or genres of music that you’re looking to explore?

I’m an overthinker and an overachiever, so I obviously think and try to plan far into the future (whenever I find that time) but there’s also a bunch of ridiculously big dreams and goals that I have and hope to accomplish. So as a way of balancing all that, musically I focus on what I feel is intended in the moment and do my best to be the channel for art and feeling/s irrespective of the sort of genre any version of myself might be in at a particular time, while of course keeping up with and developing my skillsets. I’m very careful and try my best to think ahead when it comes to the music business side of things because eventually, I’ll have to provide for the family and my fantasies. I believe in consistency, change, fluidity and being still. My art will always reflect my state, my growth and the world we are in.

I don’t know how many albums I’ll be allowed to do during my time in this world but I do hope I keep learning and growing and so does my work. Controlled Fluidity. I’m also constantly exploring sounds, different set-ups, musicians, styles and genres to piece into my little universe. Due to latencies in between ideas and actual production they usually take years to formulate sometimes. I wish to continually surprise and inspire the crowd or really even a single person with each show.

Image Courtesy: Lojal

Could you talk a little about how you came up and your journey as a musician? How big of an influence do your home and culture play on both your musicianship and your artistry?

I was born in Manipur into a loving family of hard workers and enthusiastic educationists with a poor upbringing, so it always felt like it was set in stone that I had to become someone great to be able to provide for the family and make my people proud, for there was an overbearing wish to do our people proud. We are a small village back home. It took a lot of courage, trials and failures to be able to stand on my own two feet and now do things that I wouldn’t even have thought of before. That kind of journey indeed really toughened me up and my constant need to find myself in difficult situations helped me push through many other harder times, ones I would prefer not to speak of yet.

I did, however, grow up around lots of music. From the backseat of my parent’s car listening to Southern Gospel music, Country or Bluegrass, to the Hymnals and worship songs in church to my really cool grandfather who is a choir director and has actually toured the world. So in a way, there were always inspirations everywhere and whispers of music and ideas by the Muses that eventually led me to this unknowable path that I love so much. That being said, secular music is still quite shunned back home and also is quite a culture clash sometimes. I definitely feel the stares and doubts creeping whenever I’m home but I also know that in the end I’m still doing this for my people back home; my family and supporters and the next generation. That keeps me going; the idea of new dreams, ideas and positive excitement for the future and the youths and the idea of another young kid travelling unknown worlds in pursuit of his dreams and love, knowing it can be done.

I was lucky enough to catch your set at the NH7 Weekender this year and there was a palpable electricity that permeated the entire arena while you and your band were playing. Could you talk about that a little bit? There are often improvisational elements to your music. How much of that did we see of that during the Weekender and how much was planned out?

I’m so glad you were there for that one and that you remember how it was. I draw a lot of blanks when I try to think about that gig because of the lack of sleep and the stress I had inside but I definitely recall the energy that made me and the band do that show without holding back; that made me fall in love with the stage and the audience all over again. I remember it was special. I had literally all my favourite musicians I could get on stage there playing with me to my music, accompanied by some of the best dancers I’ve known, shit’s surreal! We worked really hard for that set and put in a lot of time and money, I’m proud of what we did.

On stage, when it hits you, it hits you. No matter how prepped we are for a set we eventually try to have fun on stage and experiment/improvise within reasonable means. A good band knows the ‘whens’ and wheres’. The entire Weekender set was improvised but we all knew exactly what we were doing.

Image Courtesy: Lojal

Could you talk a little about your songwriting process? How does a Lojal song become a Lojal song? What influences your lyricism and the narratives you weave through your music? Is it based on real-life experience or is it largely abstract or fictional? What are some of the key elements of your music from a production standpoint and how do you make your compositions stand out structurally?

I’ve tried answering this question in various interviews but I confess that I do not have a process, per se. I mostly just try and see if it works. Sometimes I do find myself in situations where inspiration does not strike and I have to rely on my imagination and go through numerous pages of writing before I eventually throw them all out. There have been times where I couldn’t write for over a year. Sometimes it’s a variant of writer’s block, most times I’m just busy trying to make a living and pay bills. I believe what matters is pushing through and believing in the art that you live to bear and to share.

Have you ever been in a situation where you’re going through your playlists and just can’t find the right song to play for your state of mind or emotion? I have, many times. I think it’s mostly my lack of artist G.K to blame but basically, I like to work on the kind of music that I wish to listen to and for people going through similar or relatable circumstances to be able to find their own role and storyline in my art. To be honest I don’t think I’m doing the best job yet but that’s the fun part you know, getting to know where and how far one can go. Besides, no one does it like I do.

I mostly write about things I’ve been through or of subjects and experiences from my POV. That being said, I do love fiction and anything abstract as well so I try piecing in imaginative suggestions or metaphorical subjects in various ways, but subtly. The people and relationships in my life also play a huge role, I try my best not to hurt sentiments or people through my expressions though when I’m writing or performing but in the end, pain is inevitable.

‘Space’ is something we always talk about and try to use when performing or even in the studio. It’s important for me to not over-produce, layer or perform etc., or get too many people in the same room with conflicting ideas. I get the space from my producer/s to do my thing and I give them theirs when necessary. So that’s a physical and musical predominant in our work ethics.

On my records, vocal production is a very important part for me because that’s my favourite God-given instrument and it’s crucial that I work with people I trust. I’ve had collaborations in the past where I’d be so unsatisfied with the vocal production but didn’t know how to put my foot down and ask for better. Now that’s changed ever since I started working with my co-producer Nis Murphy (Maaya Sound) who produced my debut album ‘Phase’ and most of my next album materials. Finding new sounds and fresh ways to flow and write is always a constant challenge but one we like doing. We make sure we don’t get lost in trying to sound ‘new’ and ‘different’. I learnt to trust my inner voice and soul and there have always been good people who’ve got my back.

You can follow Lojal here.

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