In Conversation with Shankar Tucker

Shankar Tucker. Shruti Box. For the past few months this has been one youtube channel I have looked at with most anticipation. Right from the first song I heard of Tucker, the instrumental cover of O Saya from Slumdog Millionaire, almost every song of his, be it a cover or an original, has been a piece of work, a great part of the allure owing to his arrangement. By the way if you have no idea of what I am talking about, shame on you! Go check his channel here, right now! And while you are listening to the wonderful tracks (Mann Mohini, O Saya, Jaa Jaa Re personal favs), here is an interview we had with the man about his music, his life and so on. Oh, and a big thank you to @musicdipblog for their help with getting in touch with Shankar, without which the interview would not have happened.

You have primarily learnt Hindustani music (from such stalwarts as Hariprasad Chaurasia, no less!). But your fusion works have a lot of Carnatic infusion also. After all that you went through to adapt to Hindustani in the first place, how easy or how difficult was it to move to carnatic as well?

Hindustani Music and Carntic music have a large crossover area. If you listen to the best Indian singers and instrumentalists, many of them can live in both styles effortlessly… for example musicians like Shankar Mahadevan and Zakir Hussain. That being said, I am more comfortable in the Hindustani realm while I am playing clarinet. When I work with Carnatic music I pretty much stay in the production side of things.

You have been featuring songs from different genres, different languages, different times. How do you go about choosing/composing your songs?

Good question… I don’t have a set method, I guess I try to keep doing different things, whatever I find interesting and available at the moment. Also, it depends a lot on the singer and other musicians I am working with. In most of the videos I try to highlight the skills of the singer, so whatever styles / songs they are comfortable with usually determines the style and pace of the song.

You have so far mostly given a skip to what people would call the mainstream line of singers, instead going for lesser known voices. Any particular reason behind the choice?

Yes, I can’t afford to hire professional singers. Everything you see of my work on YouTube is done on a minimal budget.

How different was the experience of working on Bollywood music (Tucker had played for Pritam in Mausam), given that it obviously would involve less freedom as compared to the kind of work you do on Shruti Box?

I haven’t worked much in Bollywood in the composition / production area. I’ve done a bit of session work as a clarinetist. It was really great fun, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Of course it’s not really my music, I was just lending my clarinet to the different composer’s songs.

Any more movie projects that have come along after Mausam? Composing, or performing for other composers? Would you like to take the Bollywood route?

Bollywood is an intimidating industry. I’m not sure that I’m the best fit for being a composer in Bollywood. I think I prefer to stay a bit on the outside of the mainstream. Although, that being said, if any opportunities come up I will surely take them.

I’m in conversation with MTV India right now about the possibility of taking theShrutibox to MTV. I’m not sure anything will come of it at this point, we’ll have to wait and see.

You are a self-confessed fan of ARR. Ever met him, or got any feedback from him on your covers? Tell us about how you became a fan. Was it after you came to India?

I’ve been a die-hard fan ever since I saw Slumdog Millionaire in theaters. I know many Indian people were offended by the movie, but I found it incredibly inspiring… the music most of all. After that I searched out all his other work. Whenever I listen to it I find it absolutely mind-blowing. For us new composers, he constantly sets an impossible standard. I’ve never had the opportunity to meet him, but I would definitely like to!

How was the TED talk in Mumbai? What did you talk on?

The TED talk was great! I thoroughly enjoyed everything about that experience. The best part was getting to hang out with a bunch of absolutely brilliant thinkers, inventors, and social entrepreneurs. These guys were seriously geniuses. First I played a short piece, then I talked a little bit about my experience learning music in India, and about how independent musicians around the world can use the internet and social media as the basis of their business model.

So when is your much awaited album out? What can we expect in it? Is it going to be a compilation of the youtube performances or is that entirely new?

I am currently selling an album online on iTunes a well as on my website. It’s basically a compilation of everything I’ve done with the Shrutibox so far. If you’re looking for a physical CD, you might have to wait a little bit longer. Because my music has a very international audience, it’s not very practical to sell a physical disc at this point.

You had plans to form a band and start performing. What is happening with that?

It’s in progress! I’m hoping to have a group together by next summer in time for some shows. We’ll see how things go. Right now my priority is really trying to record and compose.

Do you record your music in Mumbai as well, or is it all abroad? Do you have your own studio here?

I sometimes record in Mumbai, but it’s not my own space. I have a couple of friends who have great studios in Mumbai, they are generous enough to let me use them. Some day I’ll get a studio!

And we leave you with a couple of those earlier-mentioned top favs.