Consider this, Warsha Easwar a psychologist, Arjun Nair a full time music director, Avinash Tiwari a businessman, Raj Verma a sessions beatboxer and keyboardist and Clyde Fernandes a budding producer, put all of them together and you get India’s most in-tune a-cappella band Voctronica.
If voice is God's gift, these folks have been hugely blessed to convert voice to instruments. And believe me, when you hear them, its hard believe its all music from their vocals chords.
Verus Ferreira met up with Arjun Nair to find out just how the five beatboxers get their act together, produce variation and modulation in voice that makes their voice sound like music.
Turning back the hands of time, how did the band come about? and each member come together. We hear that Sony Music and British Council had a part in it with about 8 participants. Can you explain? How did the name come about?
The first setup of Voctronica was put together by Sony Music India, British Council India and Shlomo (a UK based beatboxing pinoneer) through a series of online auditions and a workshop. 15 persons were selected to attend a workshop based on videos they had submitted with MC Testament (who is a part of Shlomo’s original Vocal Orchestra), 7 of whom finally became Voctronica, along with Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy as the frontman. That setup eventually dissolved due to operational difficulties, and the current setup of Voctronica began taking shape about 4 years ago by the members. Back then it was a 6 member setup, but for the last 2 years we have been a 5 member band.
Was any member in other bands, left and decided to form Voctronica?
Raj and Avinash were part of the first setup of Voctronica. I am a founding member of the Hindie band “Rang” which is still going strong. Clyde has played with different bands, and Warsha has also sung with various artists at different points of time. So no one left another setup to be part of Voctronica. It’s been all organic.
So coming back to what you said earlier, you were a six member group until two years ago when Meghana Bhogle left. What was the reason for the exit?
A change in lineup is common in any creative collective, when the direction is forward. Simply put, creative directions, effort, and ability factor in on such a mutual collective call.
Now as group of five, how do you compensate for a member leaving the group or absent from a performance?
The first thing we did was to tweak our arrangements for a 5 peiece setup. Immediately, everyone's role in the band got more intensive, because we all began doing multiple parts at different times to compensate for the missing layer and retain the balance in sound. It worked out really well for us, in retrospect, because we all leveled up in our roles and achieved a bigger, tighter sound than when we were 6 voices. There are times, albeit rarely, when we feel an extra voice could do more justice to a certain arrangement, but we do our best to make up for it within the 5 of us.
Did any of you undergo any vocal or specialised training to become a beat boxer?
Both the beatboxers are self-taught, having learnt the art off the internet, as have most beatboxers around the globe. It’s like a language, the more you speak it, the better you get.
What are the challenges you face making music without instruments?
There's a few things right off the bat; an instrument helps in keeping a key and pitch reference. Sans intruments, we work hard on our internal pitching and timing, to create the desired blend with each other. The throat tends to dry up due to vocal fatigue, so drinking water is essential. It can get extremely taxing at times when we're performing long sets.
People tend to think that because we're all voices and no instruments, we don't need a sound check to perform. This couldn't be further from truth; since its actually more tough to mix 5 elements within the human vocal range to help them sit apart from each other, and achieve the sound we strive for. A song or an arrangement sounds very different in an acoustic environment and very different on microphones, so that's a part of the process that also takes a bit of time and tweaking.
Each member is given a specific instrument to perform. Who does the sequences or role playing change at times?
This is the general template we follow: Avinash primarily handles Rhythms. I do vocal bass, Raj does electronic bass tones and beats, Clyde and Warsha handle the singing, as well as melodic and harmonic instrumental elements; everything from brass to wind and string instruments. However, this is not set in stone. We all do multiple parts and switch roles to accommodate a higher quality output. For example, Avinash takes over bass when Arjun is singing, or Raj may also sing lead or harmony in some tracks.
With a set playlist of covers, do you also do on the spot jams requested from the audience?
There's a concept called a circle jam where we take words from the audience and weave them with improvised beats and harmonies. The result is different each time and can never be performed again since it was all in the moment.
Do you guys do vocal modulation to enhance the quality of your voice?
We all have regular routines that we follow individually to get better at our performance and contributions towards the band. More importantly though, we’ve formed a routine that the band begins every jam with. It includes various vocal warm-up exercises that help improve pitching, range and other dynamics like volume and texture. And of course, an insane amount of practice. On a personal level, everyone has their own hacks to keep their voices fresh and their muscles healthy. Some hot ginger-lemon-honey tea is the best remedy for a sore throat. We try not to tire out our voices too much before a gig.
The band usually does cover songs of other artists, have you done original music of songs composed by the band?
Work on original music began after our trip to Ladakh in September 2015. Ever since, we have performed original music at a few gigs. Writing original music is a continuously evolving process for us, and we are working towards an EP release soon.
What are the most popular songs you have done so far, Indian and also western music?
The tribute to AR Rahman is definitely the most popular Indian Bollywood track that we have put out. One of our earliest releases was a cover of Fitzpleasure by Alt-J, which gained traction enough to get us to open for them when they played in Mumbai two years ago.
Have you done anything lately?
The ‘Sounds of Nation’ medley that we created with Amit Trivedi for his performance at the Radio Mirchi Music Awards 2017 is the latest Bollywood segment we have put together.
You have performed at many music festivals all over the country, have you done any shows overseas?
International opportunities to perform are currently in discussion, and we’re looking forward to testing our material overseas very soon.
Have you been influenced by beat boxers from abroad. Have you met any of them?
Shlomo was a big influence in putting the first Voctronica together, and the beatboxers have always looked up to him. As a band, we look up to a lot of vocal performers and artists, but haven't met them together. The beatboxers have met some of their favourites individually over the years.
What is it that keeps each member so closely knit to each other as a band?
We love YouTubing. (Laughs) Just kidding. It’s Game of Thrones. To be honest, there was a certain familiarity and common wavelength that just clicked from day one. Over the years, we have spent a lot of time with each other and as a band, through practices and gigs and just travelling together to so many places. While we have our own tastes in music and so many other categories of interests, at some level there’s a huge segment of favourites that overlap and the nature of this band comes down to holding on to that individuality yet always blending which makes our sound what it is. Our jams inevitably evolve into gaming sessions or youtubing or intense mimicry sessions when we take breaks. Most importantly, we all collectively love being able to jam anywhere. Be it an elevator or a bathroom or a staircase, just because of our common love for those acoustics and spontaneity, knowing something new comes out of it every time. There’s so much that’s brought us together as a family of sorts and honestly, meeting us together is the best way to understand why. Overall, being part of Voctronica itself has been a major learning curve in everyone’s musical ability and skills, especially in a setup of this nature.
To someone who wants to take up beat boxing, what are the pre requisites and what advice would you hand out to them?
Get online, watch videos, start practicing. Practice, practice, practice. Keep a towel handy because you will spit. The key is to train beyond that, and curb it entirely or almost entirely. Check out portals like bbxindia.com and humanbeatbox.com. Also pay attention to the basics of rhythm and time. Doing complex patterns and pieces feels great and is very cool, but you cannot run if you can't walk. Learn your basics thoroughly, and have patience. It's just like learning an instrument; you probably won’t be great overnight or even a fortnight. It needs time, dedication and drive. It’s like speaking a new language. Prepare to annoy your friends and family And always stay motivated and disciplined. Overcome the frustration and doubts of any new creative journey, and you'll get there.