As part of the award-winning trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Ehsaan Noorani has composed some of the biggest hits in Hindi soundtracks. You have heard his work on Dil Chata Hai, Kal Ho Na Ho, Bunty aur Babli and Taare Zameen Par to name just a few. Ehsaan is known as the most energetic of the group and he takes his energy from the electric guitars he plays and adorns his walls with. Currently, on a high from the popularity of Rock On!! and the recent charity show with Magik and his partners in crime Shankar and Loy, we caught Ehsaan to talk hits and flops, past and future and many other raag things!
Tell us about your journey before the group Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy formed.
I began playing guitar just as I was completing school. In 1981, I played with my first rock band called “Pegasus” and then in 1982 I joined a great rock band called “Crosswinds” after which from 1985 to 1986 I attended the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles. Upon my return in 1986, I got into doing studio work as a freelance guitarist working with composers like Ronnie Desai, Shiv Mathur, Vanraj Bhatia, etc. I did a year’s stint with Louis Banks. Soon I began composing jingles on my own which led to me meeting Loy and Shankar, and SEL happened.
We want to get to know Ehsaan outside of music and composing. What do you do in your spare time? If you regularly watch films, which are your favourite?
I love films. My favourites are Bladerunner, Bram Stokers Dracula, Saving Private Ryan, and Schindlers List. I love TV shows like the XFiles. I watch a lot of documentaries about World War 2, UFOs, etc. I surf the net a lot!!!
Whenever we see Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, all three are smiling. How do you manage to work together without letting any egos in the way like other composer groups have?
It’s all about the music and having fun. That is the reason we are into it. The song is important and egos are best left at home!
What’s something unique that each of you brings to the group?
Our diverse musical backgrounds be it rock, jazz, classical, etc.
Your latest album, Rock On!! has become unbelievably popular. When you listen to the album, it seems like you guys had a fantastic time making it. Can you tell us how you went about composing for the album? What is your favourite track from the album?
We set up the live instruments like drum and bass in the studio and composed the music, as a band would be jamming. All the songs were cut live with few overdubs. I love all the songs because it’s all up my street being a guitarist, but my favourite song is ‘Phir Dekhiye’.
S-E-L has toured with the Rock On!! team. How was the experience?
It’s been great fun. The audiences love the music, and a whole new crowd is drawn into Hindi rock!!! Farhan is a star. That’s nice to see and he performs great!!!
After making Farhan Akhtar sing in Rock On!! who’s next on your list? Are there any actors or actresses you feel would make great singers?
Well, not anyone that I know of. I know that Priyanka sings.
When you look back on your earliest work, how do you feel?
It’s been quite a journey, and I think we have grown as a musician and I am happy that the growth continues! It’s been pretty progressive musically and we have kept pace with the technology available which today is very important!
You have composed music belonging to an immense range of genres. Which is your favourite?
My favorite would be rock!!! I love Rock On!!, but having said that I am sure Shankar and Loy would have their favourites too !
Personally I think Johnny Gaddaar is one of your most rocking albums. It had this new age kind of beat that is so rare in Hindi film music. Can you tell us about what went into this creative endeavor?
Well the script is what really dictated the creativity. We felt that we should go for a grungy kind of sound for the title song. ‘Move Your Body’ had a nice contemporary dance/underground sound! Nothing is really pre-determined. We jam in the studio and see what comes out!
This interview would be incomplete without mentioning ‘Kajra Re’. Could you tell us how this song was created and how do you think it caught on so well?
Well, it was song that just happened in the studio. We needed a song for both the Bachchans to sing on screen. We felt the whole qawali/mujra space would work well keeping the whole feel of Bunty Aur Babli in mind. The song was simple and catchy, and it rocked the nation!
You are also composing for films down South now. Is the experience any different?
South directors are very open to experimenting, and they are very fond of good melody even if it has classical leanings. It’s been a fun experience composing for the South and we hope to compose more.
What do you think is the best song you have composed? The worst?
I can’t point out any one good song , which I can say is the best because I love all our work but yes, ‘Maaf Bhi Kar Do Yaar’ from Mission Kashmir is my least favorite!
Name three songs that you think have been landmarks for Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and why.
‘Dil Chahta Hai’ was very different and it put us into the mainstream. ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’ is very special both melodically and emotionally, and it won us the National Award. ‘Maa’ from Taare Zameen Par is a very simple song that said so much and stirred up the entire nation.
Where do you derive inspiration to constantly come up with new tunes?
Well, the ideas come from where I don’t know, but like I said earlier, one has to keep broadening ones horizons and being open to all kinds of music helps.
Many are interested in the process that goes into creating an album. Can you give us some insight into this? (Example: What comes first, lyrics or composition?)
It can be either way. Lyrics or melody, but mainly it’s melody first. We first listen to the script of the film and get an idea of the requirement of the script. After that we get together and literally “jam” to come up with little snippets of melodies or motifs or a little instrumental bit that builds into a song.
Who are your favourite music composers and lyricists?
I like composers like Hemant Kumar, SD Burman, RD Burman and Shankar Jaikishen. Gulzar Saab, Javed Akhtar, and Prasoon Joshi are great lyricists and so are newer writers like Jaideep and Nilesh Mishra.
How do you feel about numerous composers that take inspiration from other tracks?
Well, I am against it but they need to live with their conscience.
In addition to film critics, there are music reviewers these days as well. How do you feel about this? Do you ever read music reviews? If yes, do you ever try and learn from criticism and praise?
Some reviewers are good, some not so good and some clueless. One reviewer said our use of saxophone in every song of Rock On!! was great. [That was] interesting considering there is no saxophone in any song. However, I think no reviewer, Indian or foreign, is qualified to give marks to an album like an examination score. Reviewers should plainly review albums and give audiences knowledge about the music as opposed to discouraging them from buying or listening to it. That is one’s free will and it should not be influenced.
Is there any album that you have composed that you feel didn’t get enough recognition?
Often when a film bombs the music goes down with it, and it’s what happened to Jhoom and earlier films like Armaan and Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai.
S-E-L also have a private album in the works. When is that going to release?
I will announce it to the world the day we start recording it!!! But I hope it is soon.
Now this is a question for the fans; Is Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy composing the songs for ‘Don 2’ and if yes, can you reveal any information about the album?
I guess we will be but it’s still a long way .
You have worked extensively with Karan Johar and are working with him in My Name is Khan. How does it feel to be composing for the legendary duo of Shahrukh Khan and Kajol? Can we expect any romantic ballads?
Well, we compose music for the film and the script and not for the actors. I cannot reveal much about the music as of now.
Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming albums? What can we expect next?
Chandni Chowk to China and Luck by Chance will be the next couple of releases.
With expectations running high, we’re sure the popular trio is going to continue busting out more groovy numbers and beautiful ballads for their fans to enjoy for years to come. As for now, Ehsaan has left us with our feet tapping and tunes in our heads. BollySpice looks forward to their upcoming releases and more awards in the future!