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From The Vault: Soulmate On Ten Stories Up

features Feb 21, 12:26pm

With Shillong-based blues band Soulmate finally releasing their album Ten Stories Up for download online, we decided to dig into the RSJ Vault and present to you the 2013 profile of the band.

The sounds of Mumbai’s busy streets is a constant background hum to the languid pace of affairs inside the hotel room where Rudy Wallang of Soulmate is trying to ease into a late breakfast of sorts. His partner in the crime, Tipriti saunters in and out of the room absent-mindedly and the atmosphere does nothing to betray any premonition of the interview-stacked day ahead. Fresh off the 1st day of the 3rd Mahindra Blues Festival, the duo are not completely happy with their performance from the night before. Rudy laments the fact that the on-stage sound did not give him the kick that usually sets off a chain reaction in their well-rehearsed ecosystem. “I get my kicks from Rhudy’s guitar” explains Tipriti, “Cos he drives me. So if I can’t hear my energy, then the energy is low” she explains. Their performance at the Mahindra Blues Festival caps off their 10-day stay at Mumbai, a trip that has been a function of necessity rather than choice. During a discussion about their previous albums (Shillong and Moving On), he says “The complaint we got from a lot of friends and fans was that the energy that we have when we perform live and the energy that comes off the CD is not the same. So that’s one of the reasons we thought that this time we have to do it in a good studio with somebody else recording and maybe co-producing”. The trail that the thought set off, led them to Yash Raj Studios of Andheri fame (or the 9th circle of hell, with its potholes, congested lanes and traffic jams) and immediately we digress into a larger discussion about the chaos of city life.

Considering, this is the longest they’ve been in the city, I wonder how it feels.

“Longest ever. For me, I think a week max” says Rudy of his tolerance levels for the hustle and the bustle. “After that, I just wanna run back and climb up a hill,” he laughs. “Us coming from a small place like Shillong, we feel that the rat race is crazy here. And you have to plan. People who live here, are used to it. Okay they know what time they have to get up, move out to avoid traffic jams; or they can’t help it and they are used to traffic jams. For us, we are not used to that. Even in Shillong, if we have a traffic jam, we crib. So you can imagine in Bombay…” he trails off while explaining that their schedule has not allowed them any time outside the studio.

Soulmate were formed in 2003 and within the span of these 10 years they have carved out an indelible niche for themselves within the indie circuit. From regular gigs at Delhi’s Haze, to touring B-towns like Surat and Patna, sharing stage with the likes of Buddy Guy and Santana and playing at festivals abroad, Soulmate are the definitive Indian Blues band - a fact they’re well aware of. At the Mahindra Blues Festival, for example, Anand Mahindra, the curator of the festival rather graciously conceded that if it were not for Soulmate, there would have been no Mahindra Blues Festival! And you wonder that Tipriti, with the emotional depth in her voice and her electric stage presence, and Rudy, of the guitar that weeps and wails and bares its soul to you, would be far more deserving of celebrity status than so many undeserving musicians, who can’t tell a chord from a camel, and yet, hog the limelight across the internet and self-congratulatory circles. Surely they must have considered moving to a bigger city at some point of time? “No, I would never move here,” asserts Tipriti even as she professes to have a soft corner for “my Delhi”. But moving out of Shillong is out of the question, she concedes. “It’s (Shillong) our home. Our families, our inspirations are there,” elucidates Rudy. The laid-back charm of Shillong offers them a world away from the madness, a place where we’d love to shift our office to, but getting out of Shillong for gigs is always a fair amount of travel. And surely moving to the city would mean more gigs. But Tipriti has her reasons for turning a blind eye to such an allure. “I feel that if we move to the city we will get too much gigs and if you play too much also, you don’t play with that feeling anymore. You play for the money and then you start focusing on the money”. “I think the music will change”, she says, a perspective that Rudy echoes when he says “Our blues wouldn’t be the same then. I guess there’d be more angst. Yeah, I guess a little more tension in the music – more cribbing, maybe that kind of blues would come out; cribbing about this, cribbing about that,” he laughs.
 


 

James Taylor had once said that ‘Everybody has The Blues’ and while I quite didn’t seem to get it at the time I’d heard it, six months of paying the rent in Mumbai and that feeling is no stranger to the soul. With an intuitive swoop Rudy seems to catch on to my fleeting thought and says “I am sure in Bombay, they have solid blues over here man! I mean so many people that we met here, the way they talk, there is a lot of cribbing about the system or the lack of time. Everyone is in a hurry” he says while reflecting upon how that is the nature of city life and the rat-race. “That’s blues man, that’s what the blues are. I am sure if there was a band who got into the blues here and could write, they could write a lot” he reflects. I feel like a dilettante as I admit to him that for the longest time I’d thought that the Blues were about being melancholic and he’s quick to put it into perspective “You got your own tensions in life”, he half-asks. I nod in agreement as I think of that rent cheque once again. “That’s the blues. You got the blues”, he explains.

Traditionally speaking though, Blues is a genre that has always found it a little difficult to cut across youth-culture, per say. Even though, a lot of rock n roll and metal have their roots entrenched in the blues, the average 20 year old is most likely to call it ‘old man’s music’. And it was no different in 2005 when Soulmate were cutting their teeth in the live circuit through a series of regular gigs at the now-defunct Haze in Delhi. By Rudy’s admission, the first few months were all about people who were “35 plus” but slowly, word started spreading amongst the local musicians who’d come to check out the magic that the band were capable of creating and the ripple soon spread into a wave; before you knew it these ‘Haze-y nights’ were a claustrophobic affair and I know for a fact that some of the older folks had complaints about drunk youngsters spoiling their scene. But Rudy concedes that they had always wanted to spread the blues amongst the youth. “They (the youth) were ignorant about what blues is all about” he says. “It’s about feeling, it’s about emotion, it’s about saying everything within those three chords. Or just one chord; and giving all the energy… and it’s not about the chord” he explains further. “In the end it’s about who you are and whatever you have inside of you bringing that out in this form of music called the blues which is supported by these chords. So the chords are not important and they didn’t realize that. Now I think a lot of them realize what the blues are all about, because everybody has the blues – young, old all over the world. We all have the blues”. Soulmate has been the undeniable force behind this slow shift in the image of the blues within the Indian independent music circuit and Tipriti will tell you that there are not shortcuts to being “honest”. She is of the firm belief that music has to come from the surroundings one lives in. And feelings. “You bring your emotions out your voice” she says. It is thus, not surprising that the theme to their songwriting is love. Not the soppy, poppy love, says Rudy who’s done most of the songwriting so far. He refers to ‘Sunshine’ (from the album they’re recording) and adds that “you might not realize it’s a love song when you hear it though”. “Although, I have used the term ‘sunshine’ as a metaphor for someone you love”, he explains.

Tipriti on the other hand, is not willing to let any details slip about the four songs that she’s written on the album, a first in their partnership. She’s been quiet for most of our rendezvous and I try and prod her a little, to some success. “I write about general stuff” she says. “Like what makes me sad and what makes me happy. Sometimes when you’re really sad and something really brings you down, it’s the only way of getting out that feeling. You write a new song. Or when you’re so happy that you keep thinking about the happy feelings, you automatically write about it”. And just when I feel she’s going to shed her reticence, she retreats within her shell. “You have to listen. I don’t wanna talk about whatever I have written. I want people to hear me sing and feel whatever you wanna feel with that music. My feeling will not be the same as somebody else will feel,” she says, and my front row experiences remind me that indeed, such is a far better way of experiencing Soulmate.

Their relationship with Shillong is a key ingredient in their musical journey and crafting. When Tipriti talks of her voice maturing she reminisces her father’s cousins and the “deep, husky tone in their voice”. Interestingly, Rudy informs us that she never practices, and they share a laugh amongst themselves when she speaks about her habit of shouting out to people across the street, one that Rudy likens to “good practice”. I ask them if they have any advice for upcoming blues musicians and Rudy sums it up succinctly as “you gotta be totally, emotionally naked on stage”. Aware of the “connection” that they share with each other, he speaks of the gratitude that comes from touching people as an almost sacred kind of reward for the love of doing. Tipriti explains it best when she looks back upon her journey with music so far. “For me life is about meeting people, spreading love and doing positive things. I’ve been able to do that because of music. She takes me places; and I keep doing what I love to do and touching people. Then these people, smile on their face, when they come and talk to me. Makes me feel so happy man! Why? Not because I can sing” she says. “It’s the music that is making me do this. I would still have a good voice, but if it wasn’t because of music I would just be singing in my home or in church. But see where it’s taken me… across the world, man!” The weight of her words floats above our conversation, a vulnerable glimpse into the honesty that binds Soulmate to their music. The stuff of goosebumps, this; and that’s what Soulmate do best.  

Download Ten Stories Up by Soulmate from OKListen here.

This article was originally published in the March 2013 issue of RSJ.

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