• Tue, Jul 27, 2021
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The Busking Man Speaks On His New Album And Offbeat Musical Journey

interviews Jan 29, 03:38pm

Debojyoti Nath left his life behind to do a two-year journey busking in every state in the country. Then he decided to put out an album. That’s a lot.

Debojyoti Nath just put out an album as The Busking Man, ‘Rolling On’; half an hour of music that has been written over a couple of years. This comes a while after he did his two-year trip busking in all of India’s states. Yup. Needless to say, that’s a huge undertaking not only from the sheer scale of the idea but also from the fact that he sat and busked to begin with. That being said, the album isn’t just some threadbare collection of ideas. There’s proper production here and he shows his love for rock’s subgenres and blues-rock. The seven tracks on it are loaded with good songwriting, great chords and his highly likable vocal delivery. ‘Rolling On’ is definitely worth a listen, but so is his story. So we spoke to him about both things.

 

You do a lot of things; you teach, write, perform etc. How has the pandemic affected your professional life?

When the pandemic hit, everything pretty much went down south. I lost my job, my laptop’s charging port blew out, my phone ceased to work. For about five months I was in a state of limbo .I couldn’t even apply for jobs as I did not have a working phone or a working laptop nor finances to fix everything. I couldn’t even work on my album.

In the meantime my girlfriend gave me her phone and I created a series on Instagram and Facebook called ‘5 Years of The Busking Man: A Pictorial Memoir’. That kept me going. I was also planning the start of my own initiative Musart Brigade with my partner Bhavika where we aimed at teaching 21st century life skills and intrinsic human values to children through the mediums of music and art.

Eventually I came back home to Kolkata and started it right away. Before the year ended we had two students. I also wrapped up my album with all the mixing and mastering and art. I set my release date in January as I wanted to start the New Year with something positive. And when it released on the 17th, it was a personal achievement.

 

The acoustic guitar obviously figures a great deal in your music and this album. There are also a few genres that stick out. What have your musical influences been over the years? You’re also from Shillong and thus have a bond with that part of the country; are there any influences from there you have had?

I was born in the quaint little jungle town of Umrongshu in Assam and moved to Shillong a few years later. Being in Shillong, you couldn’t escape music. In the mornings and evenings I would go to the tiny shacks for tea and momos and invariably find western music playing all day. My first brush with rock was the album Use Your Illusion I by Guns N Roses. That album changed everything in my life. I wore the cassette down till I saved some money to buy it again and all their work. I also started to learn how to play the guitar by myself.  Every cab in the city was a Maruti 800 and would have a rack of cassettes on the dashboard. Soon bands like Skid Row, Scorpions, Aerosmith, The Eagles, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath The Ramones, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, you name it, took over my life. Shillong’s beloved band Soulmate became one of my favourite Indian bands that I looked up to.

So, my ‘style’ was a mash up of rock n’ roll, hard rock, southern rock, blues, country, grunge, metal and classic singer-songwriters.

 

Your busking trip was a big undertaking and you covered 29 states, playing at so many places around so many different groups of people… How did you plan the trip (logistically) and how did you develop the confidence to just sit down and busk as people around you just lived their lives until they paid attention?

My journey as a busker began after a massive internal frustration of not being able to do my bit to promote Peace and Love in a world filled with hate and wars and violence and brutal rapes. After the Nirbhaya case that rattled the nation I was quickly filled with the undying need to do my bit to spread the message of peace and love through music.

Having been inspired by iconic movements like Lennon’s Bed-In for Peace and Woodstock, I knew I wanted to go out there in the masses and sing songs of love and peace. Also I was 29 and going to turn 30 and I really wanted to do something for myself. So one fine Sunday, I painted a couple of placards with the words Peace and Love and headed over to Connaught Place in Delhi; I busked my heart out. It was the greatest feeling ever. Initially people gave me funny stares but gradually people stood and heard the songs I was singing and even started donating in my little box.

Two weeks later, I almost instantly decided to quit my job and busk around the nation. I decided to start on the 1st of January 2015 from Kolkata and reach back home on the 17th of July on my birthday as I turned 30. I wanted to turn 30 on a train back home and that’s exactly how it happened.

It was life-altering. I took trains and buses and shared taxis and even walked. I couch surfed and also took shelter in a café in the hills. My friends spread the word and through these connections, I always found a place to stay or find support. On an average I would earn about 800 – 1500 a day just by playing on the streets. The earnings from the streets would be more than enough to help me get three meals a day and even shelter in places where I had no contacts. People were extremely generous towards me as well. It was all like a dream.

 

“What really stood out in the forefront of my busking journey was the power of music. It did not matter what genre it belonged to or what state I was in.”
- The Busking Man

 

What was the inspiration behind making the album (Rolling On) where your ‘style’ or method of playing music which you probably almost exclusively performed live was now going to be put through a studio setup, be arranged and so on? How close did you try to keep the recording process to your busking atmosphere?

The inspiration behind making the album came from my busking journey. Since I did not use any form of amplification, I had to sing louder than the street noise just to be audible. I normally would sing loud but busking tested my vocal capacity every day. From wanting to write a song about my father who tragically lost his life at the 2011 Sikkim earthquake to empathizing with a Suicide Bomber pleading him not to kill himself to heartbreak to frustration, all the songs in the album are about my personal journey through life.

Rolling On was originally intended to to be an acoustic album. I partnered with my good friend and previous bandmate Laddu and worked on the songs with him. I knew I wanted to work with Anindo Bose (of Advaita and Shadow and Light) and have him record and produce the album. After hearing the music and after our first day at his studio, he suggested we make it into a full band sound.

 

Where were you surprised to find a community that isn’t widely known for loving the genres you play enjoy your music? And the opposite; were there times you were wondering where all the supposed music fans were?

What really stood out in the forefront of my busking journey was the power of music. It did not matter what genre it belonged to or what state I was in. Wherever I went people understood music, even if it was not in a language they understood or spoke. Initially I would only sing in English and literally in the second city I went to which was Jaipur, I was standing in front of the Hawa Mahal and singing English. People loved the music but did not connect to the words. So I instantly composed a Hindi song that said everything I stood up for. And as I sang it, I could see the people instantly understanding the words and they had smiles on their faces. So I made it a point to include multiple languages.

No matter what genre I sang, I made sure I sang songs that would make people dance or groove or casually headbang or simply bob their heads and tap their foot. Everyday was a performance. I did not want to be meek in my performance, I wanted it to be explosive and joyful and thought provoking. Even though technically I was giving a free performance, I personally did not take it lightly or take it for granted. I gave it my all and the audience gave me theirs. All I wanted to do was spread love and music and make someone’s day a little happier and brighter. And invariably they would give me back all the love tenfold. It was a win win for me wherever I went.

 

 

What about busking do you think sets it apart from any other kind of live performance to you?

Busking is taking yourself to the heart of the everyday common people and hope they accept you in some way, because they don’t need to. Even if one person stops and stands and listens to me perform, then my job as a busker is accomplished. And to have a crowd full of people sing along with you and cheer you on and then donate generously is a supreme achievement. In many live gigs, people are there to have a drink to wash away a tiring stressful day at work. In busking, people stop to listen if my music catches their attention and when they do they listen intently. That was one of the biggest difference. The other difference was the interaction with the people. The random interactions I have had with absolute strangers is something I will forever be grateful for.

I wanted to normalize busking in India as well. I wanted to make the streets my stage and the experience was overwhelming. People would stand and listen to me for the entire duration of my set. They would click pictures with me and the media would turn up. Strangers would wait till I finished my set and would offer to buy me tea or a drink and they would tell me their life-stories and in many occasions would burst out crying out of an emotional release. I wanted to reach the common people in the streets and I was fortunate to have had life changing conversations with total and complete strangers. I welcomed everyone with love and a smile and they welcomed me back with more love.

 

What are your future plans? Any more recorded material, live performances or otherwise?

I have started working on new materials which have been piling up on my phone and my diary. I would like to keep reinventing my sound and song-writing. I am itching to play live again and do shows and sing the entire album and newer songs to the people out there. I am also dying to start travelling and take my music to places.

Musart Brigade, the initiative I started with my partner Bhavika is another extension of me where I can take music and the arts to children from all walks of life. I want my life to be surrounded with music. Be it writing, composing and performing or teaching.

 

Listen to 'Rolling On' here.

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