The Bartender Speaks – In Conversation with Mikey McCleary

It was early last year that this Coca Cola ad featuring Kalki Koechlin and Imran Khan came on air, featuring a wonderfully reimagined version of Madan Mohan’s Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho. And it happened again, towards the end of 2010 when another Coke ad came out, which featured a similar reinvention of RDB’s Aaj Ki Raat. While both ads gained massive popularity, a large part thanks to the music, but the man behind the music wasn’t fated to get limelight until Shaitan happened this year, bringing with it two more such reinventions – Hawa Hawai and the blockbuster hit Khoya Khoya Chaand. The obsession with classics was taken to the next level when the composer came out with an entire album of 10 such remixes called The Bartender. A must-listen, by the way. So here is Music Aloud’s interview of the composer – the multifaceted Mikey McCleary – where he says he is far from done with his work on classics. ๐Ÿ™‚ Read on.

A lot of people would think you are European. But you were born in India. Mind telling us a bit about your family background?

My father first came to India in 1957 and I was born in South India, spending the first 6 years of my life in Chennai and Bangalore. My schooling and University was in New Zealand and I then moved to London were I began my career in music composition and production.

When did you decide to take up music as a career? What inspired you?

I used to drive my parents crazy tapping out rhythms on the dining room table so they bought me a drum set at 13. I moved on to guitar and piano around 15 and started composing songs at 16. I was influenced by great songwriters like Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and Bill Withers. I always liked a mix of styles and appreciated well written songs from many different genres.

After completing music school, you had initially done some music production in London. What made you shift back to India?

India captures some peopleโ€™s imaginations and I happen to be one of them. I had been thinking about living in India for many years before I finally decided to shift here. I wish I had come earlier.

Your first project in India was Lucky Ali’s Sunoh which was quite a hit. You have given music to a lot of ads and produced some fantastic music. Tell us more about your career.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to create music in many different styles. You never know when something is going to be successful. I wasn’t really aware of the success of ‘Sunoh’ while I was living in London. Getting into music for TV adverts has been great for my work ethic and musical mind. It’s perfect for a ‘jack of all trades master of none’ type composer like me.

The reason you are talk of the town today is “Khoya Khoya Chaand”. Tell us how you landed up with the job and about working with Prashant Pillai and Bejoy Nambiar.

I haven’t worked with Prashant, I’ve only met him once. Bejoy is a fantastic guy to work with, but I made Khoya Khoya Chand a year before Shaitan was made. Bejoy came over and listened to the songs from my album and he chose that song because it worked amazingly well with his gritty shootout sequence.

On to the album of the moment โ€“ The Bartender. Tell us about how you got the idea for such an ambitious project of reinventing 10 classics. Two of the songs are from your past works, one from the Coke ad. So were you working on this right when the ad happened, or did all that spur you on to this project?

The Coke ad with Imran and Kalki on the bus was my first reinvention of a Bollywood classic. Then I started listening to a lot of vintage Bollywood, in particular Geeta Dutt. My girlfriend encouraged me to make the album.

So how did you go about selecting the songs for the album?

Purely by listening, enjoying then playing around with chord progressions and grooves and bass lines. I chose songs that seduced me.

The inspiration behind choosing female voices for all songs, considering there are songs like Pukarta Chala Hoon Main which have male-specific lyrics?

Hearing females sing male songs can be refreshing, plus I think it makes the album sexier, at least for me.

Suman Sridhar is a terrific singer. And she seems to be your choice collaborator. Tell us more about your works with her. How did you first collaborate?

Our first song was that same Coke ad ‘Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho’. We work well together. I often record her with a very basic track and then change all the music after. She has a very striking voice, totally unique.

What current and future projects apart from the album? Any complete Bollywood soundtracks in the pipeline?

The album launch and the upcoming live gig have kept me busy along with TV ad music most days, plus I am working on a new Bartender album.

Have you had international collabs too, or have you just focused on the Indian scene?

I’m working on the songs for my own international film script. Other than that, I’m happily focused on music in India for now.