For most bands in India, the journey to success is long and hard. But every once in a while, you get a phenomenon like Thaikkudam Bridge, where everything seems to fall into place almost as if by magic.
Launched in 2013 in Kochi, the 15-member band began as a one-time gig with a group of friends. But faced with almost instant success, the members of Thaikkudam Bridge stuck together to carve out a niche as one of the most popular musical acts from Kerala, whose fan base ranges across India and the world.
In an interview to TNM, members of Thaikkudam Bridge talk about how the group came together and stayed together to make their distinctive brand of music. Talking to TNM are guitarist Ashok Nelson, vocalist, violinist and music producer Govind Menon, and vocalists Anish Krishnan, Christin Jose, and Krishna Bongane.
It’s a big band of 15 members. What ties the band together?
Ashok: From the very first day we all got together, we found that everybody has their own taste in music, but there is a gelling factor. Everybody could just get along. We didn't try to mess with it too much. As soon as we come together, we scatter around, doing our own work. One of the major things is that we don't make sure everybody sticks together. Everyone has their own freedom. So, as long as it does not hurt the band, nobody intervenes.
Can you give us a sense of what Thaikkudam Bridge is like behind the scenes?
Ashok: We don't practice much, that's kind of odd. From the beginning, we had done so many shows. Usually when you are in a band, you don't get so many gigs. So, you get together (for practice) and play the same songs over and over. But with us, it has always been different.
For our first show, we had to prepare for a few days. And the drummer, in fact, joined on the last day. He came for just three hours, but he played the whole thing with so much ease. We were very surprised.
How did the band come together? Where did it begin?
Govind: At the time we launched, we didn't have any plan of doing live shows. Siddharth, my cousin, was staying with me in 2013 and we used to watch a show on Kappa TV called Music Mojo. He suggested that we perform on it. That was a break, a reunion for all of us. We didn't have any intention of continuing. We were just going to perform those 12 songs on Music Mojo and go back to our respective lives.
Ashok: Everybody had a decent career going on at the time, and none of this was planned. I used to do ads and jingles. Before that I used to work with music directors like M Jayachandran, Stephen Devassy. I was based in Chennai. Govind was also assisting music directors and was into films. Ashish was in Mumbai, working with BPOs.
Krishna: I was a teacher in Mumbai. Siddharth approached us and I thought, ‘I will try it out.’ Then I never left.
So, what changed your minds?
Govind: I had shared the link to our Music Mojo performance on Facebook, and I got so many queries and so much positive feedback on it. There were tons of messages that came our way. We thought, let's do one show at Model Engineering College in Thrikkakkara and see. That one show changed everything.
You were all pursuing different kinds of music and doing well. What was it about coming together as a band that really appealed to you?
Ashok: After the first show, we all felt like rock stars. When we came out of the dressing room inside the college, there were kids on all the corridors, screaming and cheering us. I still have goosebumps thinking about that!
It was a different feel. It seems too idiotic to dream that, at your first show, people will cheer your name like that. You expect your first gig to be in a pub somewhere, where the audience is half drunk and half listening to your music. This was different and it changed everything.
Christin: And we were all best friends in college. We studied Sound Engineering together at the SAE Institute. All of us found success together. Plus, the music is good, that's even better.
Govind: In films, you need to cater to many people and conflicting interests. But this is not a director's or an actor's world, it’s not at all like that. Here, master and slave – both are us. That’s the main difference of doing films and independent music.
You were earlier a group of 16 people, now down to 15. Siddarth Menon has left the team a few months ago. Has that affected the band in any way?
Ashok: It was a mutual decision we arrived at. He was also doing other stuff. We both felt that we were restricting him. We mutually decided that he should try other stuff too, within his interest. He wanted to pursue acting and a solo career. He wanted to do a different kind of music. So we decided he should take a break with us.
You sing in Hindi and several other languages. Your source material comes from films, folk music and elsewhere. With all these influences, what gives the quintessential element of Thaikkudam Bridge?
Govind: It must be the friendship that we share. Our music tastes are very different, but we know who can sing what. We know whose interest lies where and what kind of songs suit which singer. We decide our songs based on the singer.
We didn't expect any of this to happen. There's no written formula or anything for something like this to work out.
How has the choice of covering old Malayalam songs helped you connect with audiences?
Govind: Our Nostalgia covers have connected with younger generations more than the older. There are so many people who have first heard our Nostalgia covers and then went back to listen to the original old songs. So, the credit goes to the quality of the old songs.
We haven't done anything special to them – it’s just old wine in new bottles. Such songs are appealing to older and younger generations. The older generation already knows these songs and we are presenting the songs in a new style to the younger generation. And that seems to be working.
One of the things about Thaikkudam Bridge is that your videos are as characteristic as the music you are producing. Do you work as much on your videos as on the music?
Govind: Of course! It’s a reality now that people don't just listen to music, but watch it on YouTube and Facebook. If they are only listening to music, they will be doing something else on FB. They won’t have their full attention here. It’s better to make a video, which will ensure that the audience's attention is with us 100%. So, from the beginning, we made sure to put enough effort in the videos too. We spent a fortune on making the videos.
The thing with such music videos is that you can just mute the audio and watch the video purely for its aesthetic sense.
Ashok: We are all movie buffs. That's also partially the reason why we are into music. We got inspired from films and their background score.
What was the scene with the local band culture when you guys started off?
Ashok: At the time we launched, there were other music bands coming up. But to be honest, it was close to non-existent. After us, what I have started seeing is that people are willing to pay more. Earlier in Kerala, the maximum payment for a concert was Rs 15,000. That was it, even for the best musicians.
Even after Avial (one of the first major Malayalam rock bands)?
Ashok: Of course. Even after Avial. Avial was more popular outside Kerala than it was in the state. They became famous in Kerala after they did a Malayalam film. There are so many bands from Kerala that were more popular outside.
Why was that the case?
Govind: I don't know, but maybe it has to do with the way we treat music. We have 10 songs in a film, people don't need more. Now the number of songs in films is decreasing, which will obviously have a positive effect on independent music. The day there are no songs in movies, independent music will rise.
Ashok: Any art form is about revolt against the system. But what we see here is that music is used to contain. That's why there is more film music than independent music. We don't have any aids or awards or recognition for independent music. But that's not the case with movie songs, right? I'm not against movie songs, but this kind of crushing of independent art forms is because people are not voicing those revolts out. When Avial came out with their first song, it was about agricultural hazards in Kerala. How many people understand that?