Agnee is one of the most dynamic and widely appreciated music bands in India. It is the country’s most loved Rock Band with over 50 million views on YouTube and over 5 lakh likes on Facebook. Both hugely popular and critically acclaimed, Agnee is known for its hummable tunes, live wire performances and deeply-rooted Indian sound - with rock songs inspired by Kabir's poetry, Vedic and Carnatic classical music.
Agnee has won prestigious awards such as MTV Video Music Award, GIMA Award, Spikes Asia Award and Goofiest 2013. The band has also been featured on MTV Unplugged and The Dewarists music TV series. Since the release of the debut album "Agnee" in May 2007, They have released more than 50 songs and used an Internet-based free distribution model to gather a large following in the rock music circuit. Agnee's music is a collective of individual styles of composing and performing: Koco with his Classic Rock, Blues and Indian influences, Mohan with his Carnatic and Hindustani Classical ascendancy, along with Hrishikesh on drums, Varun on percussions and Chirayu on bass.
RK : First of all, thank you for accepting our invitation for an interview. Congratulations on completing over 10 years of musical journey. How does it feel to have been active for so long?
Mohan: It feels great..Always has since the beginning of the journey. Music is its own reward, and as they say, if you love what you do for a living, you don’t need to work a single day in your life. We’ve had fun and will continue to do so.
Koco: It feels totally amazing! And it only feels like yesterday when Mohan and I decided to take this step. It humbles me and assures me that I am on the right path …for now and forever.
RK : Agnee has started their journey in 2007. Can you recall the moment when you thought you could be in this group together? How did you all first meet each other? Has anything surprised you about it all so far?
Mohan: Koco and I met at a friend’s wedding, and then off and on for a couple of years after that, though the exact moment when we decided to form a band together is sort of hazy. Koco called me on the 14th of May 2005 to ask me to come as a guest on a show where he was doing with a band called Sankara and I remember quitting the next day from my job at Deutsche Bank. He didn’t know I’d quit, and I didn’t really tell him. It’s only after the first few shows with Sankara that he and I had a chat about doing this full time. And the whole process took us two years.. We launched our first album on May 15th 2007, 2 years to the date from when I quit banking.
Koco: Yes, we met at a friend’s weeding! When Mohan and I decided to start AGNEE, it did seem like a risky proposal, as the indie scene in India had begun to slow down, but not making it was not an option for us. We both believed in our music and what we both brought to the table…there has been no looking back since.
RK : What do you believe are the musical influences for Agnee?
Mohan: I have a lot of classical influences in my composing or my singing, primarily because of my upbringing..being born and raised in a family steeped in the tradition of Carnatic Music does that to you. However, growing up, I heard a lot of music from Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Saab to Sting to Ghulam Ali, apart from the classical music I was part of. I don’t think any of their music really influences us on a conscious level, but their mastery over composition definitely inspires.
Koco: I grew up in the times of cassette tapes and vinyl’s. Procuring and listening good music wasn’t as simple as today. As I started playing and learning guitar from a very early age, I derived my musical influences from guitar-based songs- mostly blues and classic rock. My real teacher was Mr Arun Pathak who taught me the 12 bar ‘blues’ when I was 13 or 14 years old. He taught me to improvise and develop my own style of playing. Both of our styles combined together and I believe that gives Agnee it’s unique sound.
RK : Agnee has composed music for a lot of Bollywood & regional movies successfully. What professional expertise and learning experience did you bring home? How’s the experience and what’s the personal favorite track of Agnee so far?
Mohan: Composing to a brief started quite early for us as a band. Before we finished our first album, we already had an opportunity to compose music for the film ‘Dil Dosti Etc’. One of the biggest learning from working with films is to be able to translate a film maker’s requirement from his / her vision and language to the language of music, and that’s always a fascinating exercise.
Koco: We’ve been blessed so far to have worked with some truly wonderful people from the film industry. Although we haven’t really pushed for being music directors for films, but have largely worked on the projects that came to us. It certainly is a different ball game to create a song based on a brief where the visual medium is primary and audio plays the supporting role as opposed to creating our own music as indie musicians where the audio is the king. Creating music to a brief and to a stipulated timeline is a different experience; One that makes you think and action faster.
All of our compositions are very close to us, as each has a story and a memory.
RK : How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
Mohan: This is such a cool question! In an Indian classical (Hindustani or Carnatic) concert , a lot of music performed on stage is improvisation led, the composition, however, is set for the most part. In the popular / rock / film music format, however, there is a distinct difference in the scope of improvisation. The primary motive is to emote the song and the lyrics, and not to show skill or to expand on a raag. There are many times when we dub in the studio and realise that while a certain idea sounds wonderful, it doesn’t do justice to the meaning of the word or the overall emotion of the song, and we take a much simpler take as the final one. On stage, we explore variations a little more. Sometimes, quite rarely, a complex improvisation in the studio may find its way into the final mix because the lyric might justify it, and then that particular improvisation becomes a part of the composition. We’ve honestly had more situations where the simpler versions have found their way into the song. Koco keeps saying this: “The delivery of the composer while singing or playing is always markedly different from that of a musician who’s been called into the song” and that’s primarily because of the understanding of the song in its entirety.
Koco: I believe improvising is an essential part of composing although you could differentiate the two by the nature of how impromptu they can be ...composing is usually a thought out process where you look at the total structure of the melody/song and keep tweaking it till you get it right whereas improvising is something you do impromptu in a solo section in a live or stage setting ...having said that, it's also possible that a song melody can come to a composer out of the blue in an almost impromptu manner ...in music in my experience , there are no rules and so I just go with the flow ...what is most important is that you need to keep yourself tuned in to receive the impulses that create melodies in your head and quickly put them down by recording the idea on your computer or phone which is what I do every time it happens.
RK : What was the concept behind your debut album “Agnee” which is a massive hit and for which Agnee has won a lot of prestigious awards?
Mohan: The concept was clearly to have no concept really. We chose the best songs we had composed at the time and put them in the album. I think, more than anything else, it was an honest expression of who we were at the time.
RK : Agnee had been shortlisted for the Spikes Asia Award in the branded category. How was the feeling when you heard the news?
Mohan: It was a super interesting project for which we were nominated. We had created a song for a brand called Danone, for their bottled water, “Blue”. The tag line for the brand was “Reveal Yourself” and instead of just creating a song, we wanted to take it a little further and try the reveal the song in stages, or even better, get the audience to have the power to reveal the song. The agency, Scarecrow, was outstanding, and handled the entire back end to it..we gave them the song with the vocals split into single words and they then mapped all the words to text and put up a software on the video asking people to guess the words. The video would start with the voice completely muted and as people got the words right, those words would be heard. It turned out to be an addictive game and I remember people were going quite crazy playing it and listening to the song. The award nominations and wins were just the icing on the cake, honestly.
RK : Since you are on the scene for quite a long time we are sure you went through many challenges. Do you think in India perusing music professionally specially in band circuit is still not a preferable option for all?
Mohan: We did go through all the challenges that one would face normally in the music industry: the struggle to get known, then to get paid according to what we thought we deserved, getting more shows and more projects etc..and that’s what makes the entire journey and the result so much more worth it. I do think Music is not a preferable option for all..mostly because you can’t really be an average musician and hope to make an average living. You’ll typically find extremes here: either people who are really struggling or people who are really successful. In a regular corporate industry, it is a valid assumption to be average and to get average rewards. Here, you have to be super sure of your talent and your ability to persevere to get somewhere… but if you have that, this is definitely the place for you to be, there’s no place that’s more rewarding too.
Koco: Yes, Its been a rewarding journey. We did face our own set of obstacles on the way, but its all well worth it.
As for music being a preferable option; it is not for all. It may seem easier from the outside, but one cannot expect to be in the indie music business and take it for granted. You need to learn your music, your instrument and focus on making good music, original music and take it to as many people as you can.
RK : Let’s talk about Agnee’s hit single ‘Aahatein’, theme song of Splitsvilla 4, for which Agnee have also won GIMA Award for best Pop Rock. What was the creative process behind the amazing track. What was the story/concept behind the track?
Mohan: This song started as a scratch with no words and was just a love song composition, Koco and I made over a period of 5 minutes. We knew it was a good song and that it deserved to be recorded and released, and then we got the idea of releasing it with a contest. We had just realised that physical sales were not the way to go (this was 2008) and had returned the advance that Sony had given us for the second album, so we could release singles online. Then we went to MTV and met up with Ashish Patil and asked him to help us run a promo on air asking people to write lyrics for the song. He then suggested that we allow MTV to use it as their theme song for Splitsvilla, and that’s where it all began. Aahatein, in its final version, had lyrics by Neeraj Sharma and Khurram Nissar, the winners of our contest.
RK : Where do you think you are all happiest: In the studio recording new music, on stage performing or elsewhere?
Mohan: I think we have always been happiest on stage… the energy of thousands of people cheering you on or singing your songs back to you is addictive. However, over the years, I’ve grown to enjoy my time in the studio, as I’m sure Koco has too… we love composing and the rigour of recording too.
Koco: Stage is where all the fun, action and rush is. Even after three decades of being a rock guitar player, I still look forward to performing live. The thrill of it is the most precious feeling.
Having said that, I have been spending a lot of time in the studio, arranging and programming tracks. Studio is where the real hard work happens, but the stage remains my happiest place.
RK : Any other Indian bands that you appreciate?
Mohan: Indian Ocean, Parikrama, Pentagram, Soulmate, and so many others.
Koco: Black Strat Blues, Soul Mate, Indian Ocean, Parikrama…There are some really nice bands in the scene and I like the fact that a lot of bands are writing their own material and exploring newer styles.
RK : Who are some of your favourite artists right now? Who would you love to work with in the future? What would be a dream collaboration for Agnee?
Mohan: It’s always been a dream of mine to collaborate with Sting. I think Koco would love to collaborate with David Gilmour. Maybe we’ll get them both together!
Koco: Mohan has summed up our collaboration dreams beautifully. Absolutely certainly David Gilmour. Mark Knopfler, Richie Blackmore, steve Lukather are also some of the guitar playes I’d like to collaborate with.
RK : If you had all the money and time in the world, what song either yours or someone else’s would you love to re-create?
Mohan: No specific song, really..we do tributes sometimes and we love certain artists and their songs and do the songs our own way… but no specific song that we would love to recreate.
Koco: Intense! All the work that has inspired me since my childhood has been from the legends of rock music and guitar world. They are such great pieces in themselves; each one unique and magical. I don’t think I’d like to re-create or even touch those creations. But yes, if I do have all the money in the world, I would most certainly go, hang with those amazing musicians!!
RK : Any current plans for future releases?
Mohan: We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we should be able to release at least a couple of our songs before October 2019. The songs are ready; it’s the business side of things that we’re taking time to get right.
Koco: Yes, lots, we are working on it and as Mohan said, we will be releasing new content, hopefully in the near future.
RK : What advice Agnee would give to fellow bands when picking up a studio?
Koco: Bands should remember that selecting a studio for recording should not necessarily be based on how fancy or large the studio is. There are studios, which have a lot of fancy gear, but the most crucial element is the man behind the machines, i.e. the sound engineer. One must look for a great tracking engineer who pushes you for better and better performances at recordings. Also make sure that the engineers who track you or mix your material are into the genre of music that you play. Above all go, well rehearsed with your material so that it’s more about performance and not about working out parts, especially with the clock ticking.
RK : We (Retro Kolkata) are trying to build one single stage for all the artists, because we believe that artists are the most beautiful creation of God and geographical boundary can never break their unity and harmony. Please say something about our initiative and any special message for your followers.
Mohan: Cheers to you guys at Retro Kolkata.. I was born and brought up in Kolkata, and I know the special love that artists of all kind get in Kolkata… and I’m so glad that you guys continue to show that love.
Koco: Wow that’s absolutely delightful to know. Kudos to you, team Retro Kolkata for this initiative and for your inspiring ideas about artists. Keep up with the great work. Keep listening to music and spread the joy.