Sid Sriram: Music cannot be controlled or owned
Sid Sriram, who has turned music director with Vaanam Kottattum, opens up about his challenges, Ilaiyaraaja, and AR Rahman
As the interview is about to begin, Sid Sriram requests us not to make him sing, citing a bad throat. I reassure him that it was not in the plans, and he replies, “Now that's music to my ears (smiles).” The singer who started his film career by singing Adiye in Mani Ratnam's Kadal in 2013 has now turned composer with the ace director's production venture, Vaanam Kottattum (VK).
‘Doing Vaanam Kottattum was a huge challenge.’
"It was a challenge I embraced. To compose music, I have to know the scene, characters and the overall spirit of the film. I have to be a team player but also be confident with what I am contributing. I am a huge hip-hop fan who grew up listening to Kanye West and Jay Z. I think I found my style because of that. I don't want to compromise on that journey. That's not to say I don't want to try new sounds. I try to push boundaries. Even in Vaanam Kottattum, the track Thinam Thinam is a sound I have never done before. The situation demanded a happy, peppy song, which is worlds apart from the existential and dark music I usually create."
‘We wanted one singer through the album, to act as a narrator.’
"It’s not a new idea. SPB sir and Mano sir had sung full albums. I compose in a stream-of-consciousness way - it begins with the piano, and mumbling gibberish, or I come up with a beat and freestyle over that. Sometimes, it’s a combination of all this. In the first couple of takes, magic happens as it comes from the heart. Getting that magic to happen again with the final lyrics is a challenge for me and the singer. Singing all the songs in the album felt right to me. I didn't want to think about what the public might think about it. We discussed it and they encouraged me that if it worked for the song, we should go for it. That said, I am looking forward to recording other voices.
Recording Anthony Daasan was such a joy. When making Poova Thalaiyaa, I sang the rough vocals but I wanted Anthony's voice to lend magic to it. I gave a new treatment to his voice and got him out of the zone he is known for.”
‘Mani Ratnam sir is god-sent.’
"Working with him, on a conceptual level, is a dream come true. Beyond that, every conversation, every piece of advice and feedback he gave me, the jamming sessions, every interaction with Mani sir, had a certain gravity. It gave me confidence and the skills to add more emotion to a scene or how I can use a song to bring a scene to life. I was initially apprehensive because of the huge work involved and I knew I was creating music for something beyond myself. When I met Mani sir, I think he had an idea about my Entropy album and how experimental I am. He wanted VK to have an experimental album that could be juxtaposed over a family drama. Two weeks into the process, I played him a sketch and he did not react. I think that sketch was far too conventional. I gave him a second sketch, and this time, he got excited. That became Poova Thalaiyaa."
‘I can't compare Ilaiyaraaja sir and AR Rahman sir.’
“They are unique and different creative voices. They have built a legacy for themselves and continue to make insane music. Working with Raja sir in Psycho was a dream come true. I am a Rahman sir addict and got into Raja sir's music a little later. I got obsessed with it. When I met him, I sang a Carnatic song and he didn't react. A couple of months later, he gave me the brief for Unna Nenachu in Psycho. I saw a certain fire in his eyes and I knew there was potential for something special. I was also able to explore a lower range of my voice and a softer vocalisation. I am proud that my first songs for him are Unna Nenachu and Neenga Mudiyuma."
‘I see my concert as a way to spread love.’
"A few years ago, I didn't fully realise the power of influence. I keep saying 'All love and no hate' for a few years now and that's been a mantra whenever I am down or feel negative. I used to find the word 'love' to be either corny or ambiguous. But music is a powerful form of energy that can heal people and change lives. That's the goal behind my show that's happening on February 8. Music is not something that can be controlled or owned. That energy coming together with thousands of people is something I am excited about.”
‘I see both appreciation and trolling.’
"I saw a video of me last year and it was not something I liked. I spoke to Rahman sir and he told me to keep going. He said that it did not mean I have made it but that I was doing something right that got people talking. All my heroes hold strongly to their convictions and if their beliefs are pure and grounded in love, they just keep going. Sometimes, the videos people make are funny. For instance, I move around and jump a lot during concerts as I get lost in the moment. Someone compiled that and mashed it up with a gaana song. I loved that (laughs). You can tell when someone does something with malice in their heart. Irrespective of your success, it affects you. But I remember that I am here to positively impact the world with my work.”
‘I want to push new boundaries this year.’
"With Vaanam Kottattum coming out and the upcoming show, it feels like it's going to be a crazy year. There will be plenty of music; I will sing, I will also be composing. I want to take the heart and soul of Indian music and amplify it throughout the whole world. I want to make a statement avbout who we are and what we contribute to the world. One of my favourite moments in the last decade happened in 2010 when Rahman sir won the Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire. I saw it from a college dorm room on a laptop with a bad internet connection, and the event changed my life. When he got it, I screamed in my room because it was the first time that someone whose looks I could relate to, who spoke my language, was on stage winning an award. It has been an inspiration since and I want to make my mark too. I don't know when that will happen but I am working towards it."