In celebration of India’s 70th year of independence, INKLINE talks to one of the nation’s top up and coming indie bands, When Chai Met Toast.
by Nikhil Sreekandan
oh oh o o o o oh oh
Fighttt a different waaar (2)
I’ve been going on about this
Been holding the fight
-Fight, When Chai Met Toast
There is a certain euphoria that gets your feet tapping and your head nodding along as you listen to the upbeat guitar strumming and mad-happy lyrics of When Chai Met Toast. Known for their ‘happy’ genre of music and sing-along staple lyrics, the young band from the Indian state of Kerala has taken the country’s independent music scene by storm.
What started out as a two-piece, WCMT now has four members: Ashwin Gopakumar as the lead vocalist, Achyuth Jaigopal who plays the guitar and banjo, Palee Francis on the keyboard and Sailesh G Pai on drums. With their debut album, Joy of Little Things a major hit among indie music lovers in the country and abroad, they are currently touring around India for the video release of their new single, ‘Fight’.
We caught up with WCMT prior to the Bengaluru leg of their tour and got to hang out with Ashwin and Achyut, as they talked about the country’s indie music scene, their ambitions for WCMT and what it will take to leave their mark on the international circuit.
INKLINE: You guys are currently on the ‘Fight’ tour? How has that been?
Achyuth Jaigopal: Yes, we are on the ‘Fight’ video release premiere tour and have been touring all over South India, every show uses colourful sets and we wear the costumes just like in the music video. It’s entirely themed on the new release that we are doing.
Ashwin Gopakumar: There are some really good things that have happened to us since we started performing.
When we played at the Forum Mall in Bengaluru recently, there was this autistic kid with his sister at the mall and she came and told us that it is after a very long time that he started smiling and being happy and that he wanted to take a picture with us. So, that was one moment which triggers the whole positive fact that our music can actually make people happy.
I: At present, India’s independent music scene is gaining momentum. Do you think you guys came at the right time, was that a factor maybe?
AG: Now there’s more acceptance of things in general and now you have all the capability of bringing in the sound that you want to. Even if you say you are from India, you can put your time and effort and do things which have a quality of something which probably would come out from outside. We can actually do that, so I think more than the timing of things, it’s how the band works towards the timeline and keep that up with our effort and putting it out there.
I mean, yes the timeline kind of does work for us, because kids nowadays listen to a lot of English music compared to older times, colleges have bands coming in so they discover a lot of bands and a lot of that, and word of mouth obviously. From our knowledge, for us, a lot of it has been by word of mouth and which is really good to know.
I: What is your songwriting process like? Like who writes the lyrics? Is the melody added in later or you work around it?
AJ: It starts off with a Whatsapp recordings sometimes. It usually begins with a tune, except for in like two three cases, it’s always been the tune that comes first. But along with the tune, there are a couple of words that he (Ashwin) attaches to the tune according to what he felt when writing the tune. Then we try to build the lyrics around those couple of words and see what comes of it. After that, I set the guitar part or a banjo hook and then we take it together with the band.
AG: Then, Pai Sailesh, our drummer puts a structure to it and brings the whole energy and groove that comes with the track. Then it goes to Mr Palee Francis, who adds the magic to it with his production skills. So, it’s a combination of things that brings together the sound of WCMT.
I: Personally, Joy of Little Things was a beautiful debut album. How has the general reception been?
AJ: It’s been great because we always wanted to release content in the best quality that we can and in the best way that we can put things out. So due to that, we didn’t have to climb a lot of ladders that bands usually have to do, in terms of us being experienced musicians ourselves and also knowing how to put out quality content. In that way, Joy Of Little Things has received really good reviews from all around India – Filter Copy, Mens XP, and a bunch of online magazines and even the UK press – a couple of blogs have lauded it.
AG: The main thing we tried to keep in mind is the general point that people are watching and listening to stuff that you can’t even imagine now, with the quality of production which is from abroad. So keeping up with the pace and telling them we can also sound like a band which is from abroad makes a lot more sense.
People are so inclined towards the Western side of things or quality of production. If you put out a music video which is shot on a DSLR, which on a current quality basis is less, then definitely they will compare it with something from the West. So, the only thing we try to do is, we try to make sure that the quality of things is just right before we put things out.
I: Maybe it’s too much of a stretch to compare – but, maybe one day, like the Beatles from Liverpool, will the Indian music scene evolve enough to proudly represent itself with a WCMT from Cochin?
AG: Honestly saying, we want to be the band or rather one of the bands (the Indian music scene has a lot good bands and a lot of good music coming out) that go out and make sure that people listen to Indian music.
We hope that in the near future people identify Indians bands like this band is from that city and that from there, just like when they talk about Coldplay from London and when they say Lumineers from National Tennesse. It’s just a matter of time we feel, we are trying to put ourselves out there and let’s see what happens.
I: What’s cooking right now and what are your future plans?
AJ: Definitely the ‘Fight’ video release is one big thing that’s coming up, we hope to release it on the 15th of August. After that, there is a video for the ‘Beautiful World’ coming up in the next two months and we are planning to launch ‘Believe’, as a campaign towards the end of the year.
Apart from that, we have been booked in a number of festivals in Gujarat, Meghalaya and a couple of other festivals in Lucknow. We are playing different cities that we’ve never played before, all over India, that way we hope to expand our audiences.
AG: In terms of future plans, we definitely want to have a reach all over the world and get more people to listen to our music. That would vaguely set the future plan right because we are trying to get out of the country and trying to bring our music to a much more worldwide audience.
Let people hear it and learn what they have to say about the Indian bands. We just have put ourselves in India, so let’s see how receptive the international audience are of the Indian elements in the songs.
I: You are launching the new ‘Fight’ video on Independence Day, the 15th of August. What does freedom to mean to you?
AG: Freedom, I think is massive to the song ‘Fight’ we are launching on Independence Day. When we say “Fight for a different war”, it is basically about freedom for yourself, do what you feel like doing and work towards it, you’ll get there one day. That’s what freedom means to us.
I: What would your advice be to wannabe bands and artists in India and around the world?
AJ: There are different ways you can gauge success but for whatever we have done so far, one would be to believe in your music and release it in the best possible quality and invest in yourself.
I: Off the top of your head, 3 things that you totally love about what you do?
AJ: It’s the best job in the world, you get to dictate your own schedules most of the time. And the other thing is the amount of happiness we get from making and learning music.
AG: I think it’s about seeing every single face smile and feel good about our music. Even if it is like five people or 10,000 people making sure that everybody leaves with a smile, I think that’s what I love the best about what we do.