Interview with Ajay Mathur
Ajay, born in India, rocked through the music clubs of New Delhi and Mumbai in the 70s when he was a student of English literature. Rock musicians from the West, including Jimmy Page and Don Cherry, who were on tour in India or looking for enlightenment, joined Ajay on the stage for almost endless sessions that lasted through the night. In the 80s and 90s, Ajay celebrated success in his European home of Switzerland with his rock group ‘Mainstreet’. The group had an impressive four singles and two albums in the top 20 Swiss radio charts, month-long club power play in Tokyo’s Hard Rock Cafe and on various European radio stations all following on the heels of sold-out tours across Europe.
Musicperk.com Interview Questions
Tell us about your current release. What can listeners expect ?
Listeners can expect something unique. Each song is entirely different from every other song. Some are slow and ballad-like, some are faster. The lyrics range from serious to cynical. I think listeners can expect something special.
What is your writing process? Do you write lyrics first, then place them to music or does it vary from song to song?
My song writing process is almost always the same; first the melody. When I get a melody in my head it almost always comes with the theme of the song lyrics, sometimes even with big chunks of the verse and the chorus lyrics. What happens next is that I try not to record, write or save the melody straight away, but let it rest for a couple of days. If the melody sticks in my head for those couple of days, then I know that this could be a song. If it doesn’t, then it wasn’t worth pursuing anyway. I then record the melody in my head with whatever pieces of lyrics I have, with a guitar on my phone, just to keep a safe copy of it. This is basically the creative part of song writing. My approach to working out arrangements, final lyrics, grooves and licks, etc. vary from song to song.
How does your heritage play a role in your music and sound?
I guess you can take the boy out ofIndia, but you can’t takeIndiaout of the boy. I think my heritage plays a role since growing up inIndiahas given me a bit of a different understanding of the world than I would have had otherwise. My heritage does play a role, but I’ve always been a rock musician at heart.
What is the music scene in Switzerland like? Do you feel that Switzerland is your “home?”
Let me answer your second question first – yes, Switzerlandis my “home” and I love living here. The Swiss music scene is segmented and driven by the creativity of individual musicians. There are a number of talented musicians and bands in Switzerland, partly due to a large variety of music universities here. I’ve had the honour and pleasure of playing with some of the finest Swiss musicians on my current album A Matter of Time.Switzerlandis a small country, so there are limited opportunities, but people here really appreciate quality and the chance to get out and enjoy great music whenever they can. The summers are packed with outdoor festivals – from the famous Montreux Jazz Festival to small, obscure festivals that only the locals know about – which play out against the backdrop of the incredible Swiss landscape. In the winter, there are clubs and venues that regularly host live music, be it rock and roll, blues or even traditional Swiss yodelling.
If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would that be and why?
I would love to collaborate with some excellent living artists; John Mayer – currently my favourite guitarist and song writer. He’s my soul-mate when it comes to the themes in his songs. I’d love to write and record a song or two with him. I’d love to play with John Butler (John Butler Trio) is another thrilling musician and songwriter with a unique style. Tom Petty – to play live with him would be a blast. My favourite music poets are, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan and Don Henley. They have been a constant source of inspiration to me. Playing with each of these legends would be my musical life’s pilgrimage. If I could turn back time, my ultimate dream would be to play with Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon.
The market is completely over saturated by music these days, as recording from home has become so simple for most people. Do you still believe in the value of a studio recording vs. doing something on your own? Do you think there is a difference or has technology caught up with the recording industry?
I think it makes a difference to work with excellent musicians and experienced producers/engineers. Where you record an album or songs is secondary. Today’s technology makes it easy for an experienced producer to capture “magic moments” anywhere. This has always been the case. Some of the best albums in the past were recorded in somebody’s living room, basement or in the kitchen – Exile onMain Streetby the Stones or Paul McCartney’s early albums to name some. I think it’s that “magic moment” and the depth of the performance that attracts listeners.
If you could pick one song from your new CD for people to listen to in order to get the true essence of you as an artist, what would it be and why?
Because all of the songs are so different, it is really difficult for me to pick one that would represent my true essence. I think the combination of the songs shows who I am as an artist. If I had to pick one song, I would choose the title song A Matter of Time. It combines my Indian heritage with my European roots. The message is close to my heart. I believe that a lot of the struggles we have – personal, political and economical – could be solved with real, genuine dialogue and a belief that compromise is not only possible, but also essential.
How active are you on Social Media? Do you think it has a large impact on the success of an artist today? Do you think it’s growing or fading somewhat?
Social media is a good communication channel and does add to the visibility of an artist. I use social media for communicating with my friends and fans regularly. It’s important to keep in mind that there are a very large number of listeners and potential fans out there who do not use popular social media regularly or not at all. If you believe the statistics, social media is growing – yet there’s a big trend to “un-friend”! Since it is relatively new, it is difficult to say what the impact of social media really is and how many people actively use it. In the end, what I value most is interacting with people directly – being together in a room.
There are many magazines that for many years were online only and now are publishing hard copies again. What do you think about this and do you think the same will happen for the CD?
That is quite possible. Currently the good old vinyl albums are enjoying widespread popularity among young music buyers. Lots of artists are releasing vinyl products, in addition to downloads and CDs. Just like the vinyl album, which became pretty much extinct in the 80s – there’s a good chance that CDs might regain popularity amongst music buyers too. It depends on whether people care about the quality of their listening experience. ‘Mobile music’ simply doesn’t sound as good as a CD in your living room. The important thing is that people have a choice about how they want to buy and listen to music.
You use a wide variety of instruments in your music, including instruments from the East. Is this due to your heritage or do you feel that no matter what your background was that you would be drawn to these sounds?
I love to experiment. I have the advantage of having been exposed to instruments that other songwriters might not have. I am intrigued by the combinations of instruments that might not normally fit together.Tablasand electric rock guitar are a fantastic combination, for example. I think that whenever I am exposed to a new instrument, I am always intrigued. I can’t say for sure if it is because of my background or not.
What is your take on current Indian Pop music and Bollywood?
I think music and films reflect the times. Although I don’t have a lot of exposure to Indian Pop Music, I like some of what I hear when I spend time inIndia. It is difficult to say if I would listen to it every day if I weren’t on vacation! Bollywood is fascinating. Europeans love Bollywood films. They are colourful and fun, full of drama, singing and dancing. Just recently, I was at a Bollywood film festival inSwitzerlandand had a blast!
Thank you for participating in this interview. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to thank everyone for taking the time to listen to my music. I hope that it has added something positive to their lives and that sometime in the future they will hear one of the songs and say, ‘Wow. Remember that? What a great year that was!’