In an exclusive chat with G20, singer-songwriter Rohan Solomon speaks about his third release, Without a Trace, what went into its making and how the future of independent music scene looks like.
Singer, composer and former vocalist of Delhi-based band Cyanide, Rohan Solomon, has kept busy during the 2020 lockdown, producing three singles and winning high praise for them. He speaks about the third release, Without a Trace, what went into its making and what is the way ahead for indie musicians. Excerpts:
Q. Tell us a bit about what inspired “Without A Trace”.
A.The genesis of this song stemmed from my own insecurities and self-doubt. This is the first time that I got this personal in a song. The story talks of doubting whether we’ve achieved anything in life, which is not really uncommon, but how many open up about these feelings? So, when I’m talking about my emotions and experience, I’m also encouraging folks to be comfortable in doing the same.
Q. The song has a contemplative feeling, which is accentuated by the solo vocals and acoustic guitar. What led you to compose it like this?
A.The core of all my songs is a combination of guitar and vocals or piano. I have to get the core structure and story of the song going by keeping it simple in the beginning. Once I have sorted that out, the rest of the layers start to pop up in my head. This was just one of those songs where the feeling warranted for it to be ‘sparse’. But when I heard it with just guitar and vocals, there seemed to be something missing, which was a small symphony orchestra. Once we pieced that together, the song felt complete.
Q. How did you produce the song, given the pandemic situation?
A.“Without a Trace” was produced completely in my home studio with collaborating artists recording things in their studios and sending it over via the internet. The orchestral parts were done over video calls with Tiffany and Matt (7th House Strings, NY) and then with Harshit Verma (additional orchestration) for the additional layers. Writing those parts together on video calls was a little new to me, but I adapted to the situation and kept the process moving forward.
Q. The aesthetic of the music video for “Without A Trace” also complements the theme of the song. How did you go about the process of shooting and producing it?
A. The main emotion I wanted to express through the video was a feeling of loneliness and solitude. That is why being out in the middle of a jungle seemed perfect. Given the COVID-19 situation, I knew we had to put it together with a minimalistic crew. I contacted Arya Jha (who directed my previous video) and did all the pre-production via video calls. We had one cameraman for the 5D and one for the drone. We drove a little outside Delhi till we reached some forest area where we could film. Filming took about six hours and we got some key golden hour shots in a short 30-minute window. To get the best out of that limited footage, I contacted Cheilean Jacob in Tulsa, who did a great job with editing and colour correcting the video.
Q. Has the pandemic influenced your songwriting in any particular ways?
A. I would say, yes, it has. It has given me time to reflect and look deeper within myself and find some of the stories that are hidden beneath the surface. It’s almost like songwriting is my “therapist”. Also, given the limited resources, it has forced me to adapt and develop new ways of producing these songs.
Q. You have released a couple of tracks this year, despite the lockdown? How have you been mixing and recording your music?
A. I love mixing and I’ve been taught by Michael Brauer himself. I have a home studio and I mix pretty much all in the box (within the software) but I have a couple of pieces of analogue gear that I run the final signal through and then print it back into the software. In the current climate, it is very beneficial for all the musicians and songwriters to have some basic knowledge about this, like microphones, EQ and compression, to be able to arrive at a desired sound.
Q. As a singer, musician and vocal coach, in what ways have virtual platforms proved to be a boon and/or a bane for you?
A. It’s all pretty much a boon because we can do pretty much everything through video calls and screen sharing. It saves time and costs as well. My studio is ten steps from my bedroom and it’s amazing. However, a major bane while I’m producing an artist is that I cannot be there physically in the studio. A huge part of being a vocal producer is choosing the right studio, microphone, outboard gear, etc. to dial in the sound that suits the singer, and getting the right emotion out of the singer.
Q. With live gigs being dealt a blow by the lockdown, a lot of indie artists and groups have suffered. What does the way ahead look like to you right now?
A. It’s difficult to say at the moment but all I can say is that people are going to adapt. A lot of friends are getting home studio setups, learning basic production and doing “session work” from home. Some are doing shows through live streaming. From personal experience as a music producer, I have had more projects that I’m producing for other artists during the lockdown than I did before.