Shakthisree Gopalan: I don’t evaluate my songs based on likes and views
While discussing her new original, Nee Podhumey, Shakthisree Gopalan touches upon the independent music scene, the state of songs in cinema, and more…
By the end of the telephonic interview with Shakthisree Gopalan, who has released her new original Nee Podhumey, it seemed clear to both of us that the conversation, that tangentially slipped into different topics and in which she would often deliberate at length before arriving at her responses, could make for a decent podcast. For the purposes of this piece, I have tried to piece together the most interesting bits from the long chat, in which she talks about not caring about the number of views, the slow disappearance of songs from Tamil feature films, and the rise of the indie music scene...
What’s the story of Nee Podhumae?
I wrote the song last year during the lockdown. It feels weird to say ‘last year’ because it doesn’t seem like we moved on from that episode yet. It was the phase when all our lives shrunk to only those people we really cared about. Nothing else mattered. We understood how many of us were leading a life of excess. This song is specifically about two people, who tell each other that they are loved. These are the thoughts that went into Nee Podhumae.
Are the lyrics personal notes on someone in particular?
No. I was just trying to capture the bond between two people. It is easier to explain an idea through a narrative rather than explaining the story itself. I am reminded of a line from the song, Nature Boy (by Nat King Cole): “The greatest thing you will ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” To be loved encompasses a lot of qualities like forgiveness and tolerance. So, in my song, I wanted to capture the feeling of being content with love.
How different is it for you to sing your own lyrics?
Quite different. When I am writing my originals, it becomes a bit of an outlet for me. It becomes a self-portrait at a certain point in time. When it comes to film music though, there is already a story out there and the characters come with their own baggage, which is all part of a larger narrative. The interesting part there is how I might have not been through such fictional situations… Take Enga Pona Raasa from Maryan, for instance. I get to put myself in their shoes and try to imagine how I would react in a similar situation. I become an actor there; it becomes more of a role-playing exercise.
How do you go about choosing collaborators for your originals?
Every artist has their own style or vibe, and you intuitively know who is likely to be a good fit for the track you are making. I have known Akshay Yesodharan (who has arranged and performed guitars for the song) for a while now. We worked together on the song, Payanangal, from Dharala Prabhu. I was so moved by his work in the song, which has his brilliant guitar solo. When I wanted to make ‘Idhu Podhumae’, I asked him if he wanted to collaborate and he was game.
Nee Podhumey has become the most successful song on your YouTube channel. What do you attribute this to?
I am not really looking at my songs through the prism of views and likes, which I think are in the hands of the algorithm gods. A song could get me limited views, but still hold a lot of meaning for me because it let me tell a personal story. It is more about the process. I might have pushed boundaries with certain songs, but that might not have translated into numbers, and that is totally okay for me.
Do you believe indie music is finally getting its due?
I think it is in a constant process of evolution. I think indie music was great during a time… like when Avial broke into the scene. There were many amazing Chennai band who were doing live concerts back then. I think the streaming platforms weren’t around then; this has really made it easy for artists to share their work with the world. I think it is always a good time for independent music. Currently, with the rise of the Tamil hip hop scene and Tamil rock, things look set to get better.
How do you feel about the diminishing of songs from Tamil mainstream cinema?
I think it is all right. On one hand, you have films that don’t have songs and have only a background score. But then, there are also the musicals, and films that use songs as montage tracks. It all boils down to the vision of the filmmaker.
You are an architect as well. Does it help your music and vice-versa?
It does influence it, even if I try to compartmentalise… Or maybe I am bad at compartmentalising (laughs). With music, one needs a sense of composition and rhythm. Designing has a certain empirical quality about it. It also involves composition. These two careers influence each other. I think this applies to any skill set… like cooking or painting.