A one-on-one talk with Suraj Jagan : Suraj Jagan gives an interview to Media Cell before his electrifying performance during Pro-Nite at Echoes 2013
Q. Welcome to IIM Kozhikode, Mr. Jagan. How has your experience been in Kozhikode so far?
A. So far it’s been a great experience. We went boat riding yesterday and loved it. Kerala is a beautiful place especially coming from a city like Mumbai. The food here’s great too. I’ve been to Goa lots of times and it’s similar, but not as green as Kerala.
Q. How do you like our IIMK campus? We call IIMK “God’s own ‘K’ampus”. Do you think it lives up to that name?
A. It’s a beautiful campus! It’s quite unlike any other campus. Yes, it has everything to live up to its name. You students are really lucky. I don’t know how much you can enjoy it because of your study pressure, but it’s really beautiful, on top of a hill in the midst of the greenery.
Q. Everyone is looking forward to your performance tonight. What are your expectations from the IIMK crowd?
A. I’ve only performed one show in Calicut- at NIT. It was amazing in terms of crowd response, and also in terms of the sound. Everything was great. The crowd was one of the most amazing crowds I’ve seen. So if it’s anything like that I’ll be more than happy.
Q. What is your favourite song and is there any specific reason for that?
A. It’s very difficult to pick out a single favourite song. But there are certain songs which have stayed with me through the years. Out of my own songs, Sadka Kiya is my favourite because I really like the melody. Even if someone else had sung it, it would have been my favourite. Of international songs, I 3 favourites- ‘29 Palms’ by Robert Plant, ‘Sleeping Satellite’ by Tasmin Archer, and ‘Baker Street’ by Gerry Rafferty. There is also ‘Until the End of the World’ by U2. However they haven’t influenced my music that much, like Whitesnake, Led Zeppelin, etc have.
As for why I like these songs, I really can’t point out the exact reason. There is something in the songs which takes me back to a place… almost like déjà vu but not quite. It almost feels like a past life connection. I’ve never really thought about it till now that you’ve mentioned. I need to think more about it.
Q. You have been in the music industry for over 2 decades now. How has your journey been?
A. To be precise I’ve been singing since 1987. The film industry happened to me later though. I have always wanted to be part of a rock band. I didn’t have any other aim. But it was a tough thing maintaining rock bands. For example, the old members kept going out and new members kept coming in, till I realized that I was the only founding member of the band left and would have to dissolve it or change the name since there would be any point of keeping the original band name anymore. So this way I have been in a lot of bands.
But then the Hindi Music Industry happened to me. I started getting offers for doing solo songs, and in a way this has worked out for me. My dream never was to get in to the film industry. What really mattered to me was to have a band, perform in front of an audience and most importantly, write songs. I was happy doing that. But my break in the film industry happened as a consequence of that. I started off with advertisement jingles.
Competition with other musicians never mattered to me. Only my passion for song writing mattered. But in the late 1990’s a challenge I faced was that people weren’t open to original songs. We were booed on the stage. Things have however changed now. My last band ‘Dream out Loud’ creates and performs only original songs.
What I really love is to see the crowd enjoy themselves. For me, the crowd comes first and then the performance. I don’t like to see the crowd sitting down during my concert. In a rock concert if you sit, you just don’t get it.
Q. How has the music industry in India changed over the years? What about opportunities for independent musicians?
A. The film industry has just woken up to rock music. The credit goes to Farhan Akhtar and his film ‘Rock On’. It gave me my first opportunity to do hard core rock songs for a film. This opened up many people’s eyes to rock music. Everyone immediately connected. A. R. Rehman had done it before- that way South India was more advanced. It took time to reach Film City.
There are many young people coming into the industry and that’s changing the face of music. The thing is the crowd for this kind of music always existed but were subdued. Someone just had to take the chance and Farhan did that. This way the rock scenario evolved. So you see, acceptance of original compositions came late because the audience was starved. In those days they only had Doordarshan and the only way they could listen to rock music was through pirated cassettes. So in live concerts they wanted to hear only that. Now that they have greater exposure to all kinds of rock music they are open to new, original compositions.
As for opportunities for independent musicians, honestly, you need to have rich parents, otherwise it’s hard to survive in the industry doing it all on your own. In India, only a small fraction of bands, even popular ones, get paid enough to survive or paid at all for their gigs. In the US or UK the initial struggle for start-up bands is high, but once the band becomes popular, even if it’s only in its own town, there is hope. It has been very difficult for me without any kind of support system. I went broke. But that’s how I got in. I’m hoping things will change. One has to depend a lot on luck.
I’ll give the example of Woodstock. It was all about passion, not about money. This doesn’t exist now. Everyone’s caught in a rat race in this dog-eat-dog world. You can’t convince anyone that you’ll be able to survive doing something creative. But if you have the single minded passion for it, you will survive.
Q. Your Hutch jingle is considered an iconic achievement in the Indian advertising industry and it has become one of your most recognized tunes. Did you expect that it would become so popular? What was your inspiration behind it?
A.No I definitely didn’t think it would become so famous. I usually don’t think about whether a song I perform will become famous or not. I just go and sing. I used to hold lots of expectations before, but have been disappointed, so I’ve grown immune to it now. I don’t expect anything anymore. But I loved the Hutch song and video. They will always stay with me.
I didn’t have any such inspiration for it. See, no one can ever predict which song will become a hit. It was composed by Rupert Fernandes and I just sang it. They tried 6 other singers before me. When you go to sing jingles it happens too fast to be inspired by anything- it takes only about an hour. But you could say that that video with the boy and his pug inspired me the most.
Q. How do you think marketing and brand management have helped the song become famous?
A. Yes it definitely helped the Hutch song especially since nowadays people have too many choices. No one has the time to hear everything. But there are exceptions. For example, ‘Give Me Some Sunshine’ was hardly marketed as compared to ‘Zoobie Doobie’ and ‘Aal Iz Well’. But it was a song which really connected with the youth, especially engineers. It’s a very simple song and became a hit on its own. I like it when that happens, because I don’t like thrusting my songs on people, like “Like it or hate it, but you will know it”. In fact most of my songs, except ‘Dil Dharakne Do’, have not been promoted.
Many students in IIMK want to be entrepreneurs and start up something on their own. As an independent musician, what advice would you give someone starting his/her individual journey?
Like I mentioned before, you should be full of passion for what you are doing. Don’t be afraid of failing. You will fail only when you give up. Only if your fire, your passion grows bigger than you will you keep drilling till you get there. And most importantly, you should know what you want in life. If you have the slightest doubts or questions about what you’re doing, then you shouldn’t be doing it. You might not go after your dream out of fear. What you want may not be practical but you have to let go of that fear.
Every time I am faced with a choice, I ask myself if I am taking my decision out of fear. If the answer is yes, I go for the other, more courageous step no matter how foolish.
Thank you so much Mr. Jagan for your time. We hope you have an excellent experience here. We are looking to your stellar performance tonight.