Gaurav Dayal on the music of Sorry Bhai and more!

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Gaurav Dayal may not be one of the names you associate with Hindi film soundtracks but just wait and watch because soon you will. Only two albums old in the soundtrack trade, his newest work for Sorry Bhai! is getting rave reviews. As I said in my review, Gaurav composed tracks that were musically wonderful and created a soundtrack full of GREAT songs. I got the chance to interview Gaurav and we had a most excellent time chatting about all things music. We of course talked about Sorry Bhai!, but also about a myriad of topics to do with the music industry, though he never did give me an exact answer of the name of his favorite song. Here’s what he had to say to BollySpice in this very exclusive interview:

How hard is it to break into composing for films?

I started from a pop background. I did a couple of platinum hits – I did Jasbir Jassi’s ‘Dil Le Gayee Kudi’. I don’t know if you have heard of these tracks; they were massively big. I also gave Mika, another Indian artist, his career uplifting hit ‘Gabru’. Then suddenly that industry started kind of disappearing – it did not exist anymore and the only other way to showcase your work is films. And film music was changing because Bollywood is very typical of Anu Malik and Jatin-Lalit and all that kind of stuff. Suddenly, you were hearing a lot of rock and a lot of house music, dance and hip-hop and all of that. So that’s the genre I have been doing all the time; it is just that the Indian industry changed to accept those genres. I was working with a couple of ad agencies in Delhi, doing a lot of ad films and things like that. So one of those guys, one of those filmmakers, went on to make a small Bollywood flick last year called Say Salaam India, which is a film based on cricket. So I got the music and the score for that and I did that. The film didn’t really fare well and the music didn’t really come out. They didn’t promote it but outside the premiere of the movie I met Onir, who did Bas Ek Pal and did My Brother Nikhil, which is a great movie. Sanjay Suri was part of that earlier film I did and he thought my music was good so he introduced me to Onir. I was just carrying a rough sort of demo CD and I gave that to Onir. A couple of days later Onir called me. I am from Delhi, you know. I am not from Bombay. My studio set up, my whole thing, is in Delhi so I am sort of opposing the industry by being here – not really being in Bollywood. That is why most people say how come you are in Bombay. Onir was one guy who understood that I have my comfort level; I have a lot of equipment, a lot of gear. I have a state of the art studio set up here in Delhi so it is very difficult to haul all that, to go to Bombay, to a new town and set myself up. Thankfully for the Internet being there I am able to showcase my music and put stuff through to Onir. He selected some tracks from the demos I sent him and boom. I was supposed to do a couple of songs for the film, but then he liked everything and said, “Dude why don’t you do the entire flick?” and I’m like, oh wow that’s awesome. So then Sorry Bhai! happened.

What were those first two songs he chose?

The first one he chose was ‘Jalte Hain’, sung by KK and by another guy called Abhishek. Then he chose ‘Pal’ and then it was ‘Mere Khudaa’, which was specifically composed for the film. That one thing I didn’t have on my demo and I just got lyrics and I sat down and composed a fresh tune.

What kind of brief did you get for the film?

He gave me the entire script. Then he was narrating it to me and saying this is what I feel at this moment. This is like a sad kind of ballad or something. I’m like OK, cool. Let me just lay it down and see. Then he said I need a power rock song. So, initially like I said, from my demo he liked the feel of two tracks, which completely fit the scope of his movie so he took those as is. Then we composed new lyrics for that. Those scratches were recorded by a couple of artists I have worked with in Delhi. Then, finally we got some professional singers as well like K.K. and Sunidhi and they rendered the final tracks. For the other stuff, ‘Mere Khuda’, he gave me a brief that it is a Sanjay Suri scene, which I can’t disclose right now.

Darn! (Laughs)

Yea, I can’t do that but there is a scene in the film that requires that. So, then I felt it and I sent that demo to him and he instantly liked it and he is like dude let’s do that and I’m like great. So that is how that came about. Then he needed a jazz song and at that point in time I was in NY. I am sort of based out of New York; I have a house in Flushing so I have a few contacts. We found this singer on the very popular Craig’s List (laughs). I just started posting there that I’m looking for a jazz singer who can do blah blah. And I found this lady and she rendered that track for us.

So why did you choose a jazz track for the album? Can you tell me that?

Yea, I can reveal this. Sharman Joshi, who is playing one of the characters in the movie, is a musician – he is a sax player and he really is into jazz music. So, to make it very authentic we needed something, which was a pure soft jazz kind of feel. I come from a jazz background, in the sense that I play jazz keyboard. So, for me it was like something never expected that I would ever get a chance to do that in a Hindi movie. I was like let me go all out and I went to the studio near Madison Square Garden and they had a real Steinway piano and I did the whole track there. Onir was like go all the way, do whatever is required to make it as real as possible. It fits in the film, because like I said, one of the characters is a musician. It had to be very authentic to make it feel that way, not some Indian off jazz thing. I don’t think an Indian singer can execute jazz that particular way. It is not a genre that is done here.

How do the songs help move the movie along?

The special factor about these songs is that none of them are in lip synch. Like how it is typically in Hindi movies, you have the actor “singing” the song and all that. So, the full songs are featured in the movie but what is there is like a background score, which is [playing] while the scene is going on. So it features more like a soundtrack, like it is in Hollywood films. The progression of the scene, or stuff, which is happening in a particular moment in the film, the lyrics and the song play as background track to what is actually happening. It is story telling what is happening but without real lip synch. So I feel it works more like a soundtrack, which expresses what the character is feeling at that time, at that moment in the film. The songs are very very specific. They are not like OK, we have to do a song, which is rock, so lets put it there in the movie somehow. It’s absolutely not like that. Onir is a very intelligent filmmaker and he only works with what is going with the movie. He would never do something which is inappropriate or doesn’t fit just for popularity sake.
Since they weren’t lip-synched did you still choose voices that you thought would fit who the character was in the film? Is that something you take into consideration when you are doing the songs?

That is usually a factor when you are trying to put a Salman Khan or a Shahrukh and you are saying OK who is better? Sonu Nigam sounds better with these guys. In this case there was no lip synch – it was not an issue at all. Onir was all out initially for finding the new talent we had done the scratches with; we had done some scratch vocals here. The idea was to give those guys a break, but then you know there are many other factors like music companies and things like that and they sometimes want to go with popular artists. So, finally we had to render some. The ones we rendered really didn’t come out in the music videos but they are there in the film. One of the guys we have launched, his name is Abhishek; his version of the song is in the movie, where the promo has KK’s voice on it. Then Chayan is a guy who I think is the Indian Seal. I am doing another movie, which I am almost done with, called Kill Chhabra. It is a murder mystery and Chayan, the guy who sang ‘Pal’, is immensely featured on that soundtrack because he really sounds like Seal. Those tracks are very up beat and punchy and very much up to the fast pace of a murder mystery. So we used those guys and like I said Onir was very open to using people. It is not about who matches what for him, it is like a soundtrack. He treats his movies like that, not really like Bollywood. That is why his company’s name is Anticlockwork because he is going the other way around. (Laughs)

What was it like working with Onir?

Initially it’s pretty nerve racking because he is a very popular producer and he has given like two massively popular soundtracks before, one being My Brother Nikhil, his film was also internationally acclaimed, and Bas Ek Pal which had the platinum hit song ‘Tere Bin’, which was sung by Atif Aslam. So it was intimidating because I am like if this guy has chosen me then I better perform, I better come up with some real good stuff because I want this guy’s reputation to keep up. He has done great soundtracks and the third one has to be bigger and better hopefully than what he has done before. So initially it was intimidating. The fact is that he knows a lot about music. He is not like one of those I want this kind of tune… OK that’s great just go with it. No, he goes into all the details. Like lyrics, it would take like two weeks to finish one lyric because every word, every phrase he is like, ‘it has to be musical, it has to be phrased completely to the tune and it has to complete the lyric with the meaning’. So he knows what he is doing, what he is talking about. He also wanted a lot of changes. He’s like one guy, you pass him a hundred demos and he will select one song. He is not very easy to please, I can say that. So I have this bank of unused songs that I can now pass on to other producers. So that is how it is. But like the second movie I am doing with him is very comfortable and he has completely giving me my space and is like you do what you want to do. I feel I have proven myself in certain aspects so he sees that OK let Gaurav go with what he feels in terms of the arrangement. But initially in composition selection, he’s very hard to please. Extremely hard to please!

When the singers come in how much of a brief do you give them before they begin the recording session?

It is mandatory that we read the script to them first because Onir asked me when we were recording, “Have you read the script to him?” And when I don’t, I am like looking here and there. Then he comes and narrates it himself; this is what he is feeling. That does affect it because like I said it is not more like a song anymore, it is more like a soundtrack so it is like the character’s singing that particular thing at that particular time without lip synch. And lip synch is an added visual advantage, which makes the song even more affective. So you have to work even harder on the emotions in terms of delivery of the vocals so that everything actually feels that way without the character actually saying that physically on screen. So it was mandatory that they read the script and really emote every line that way. He’s very particular about it.

What is your favorite song on the album?

‘Mere Khudaa’

How do you begin writing a song?

Various methods. My main instrument is a piano so I have this 88 key thing lying here, but I am also a techno guy so I have my Mac machines running with the various libraries already loaded. So what I do is with libraries in terms of sound is I sit down and start playing with chords usually and a pen and paper. I am not a lyric writer but I come up with some crappy lyrics like something which makes no sense but which has some phrasing sense to it, phonetic and phrasing sense. So when I give it to a writer he knows how the sound of the lyric goes so he can use the same syllables and all that kind of thing and just replace those lyrics with some real stuff. Initially I feel like I am some sort of idiot writing some wacky songs which sound good in terms of the tune but the lyrics are completely… well I have used words like sarfaraz which I don’t know what it means but because I like the z in the word sarfaraz I will use it or janasheen; I found some word of some movie title Janasheen. So whatever is playing around me I find and collect words and try to fit them to the tune which I do. Sometimes it can come from producing beats, like I use a machine called the MPC, which I use for producing beats and I get a vibe. Or like I get vibe of a particular track I am doing or something I’m feeling in the streets or whatever I am feeling in a club and try to recreate that vibe, or whatever I am feeling at that moment, and capture that whether it is a beat or a chord progression or a melody or a flute part or a string section. I have a particular habit; I have a laptop, which is always open on the side of my bed. So if I have anything coming in my mind I just have to hit record and I just dump whatever I have in my mind. I usually get my ideas like early in the morning so it is always on. Because once you lose that it never comes back, and sometimes good ideas come at night so that is how it works!

What are your thoughts of the use of English lyrics?

One word only. Unacceptable in Indian cinema (laughs). Completely unacceptable except for maybe it is a one off thing like Sorry Bhai. I know the jazz song is not going to be a song, which anybody notices. It is just for somebody who likes or understands jazz. Some people might be overcritical about it because they might not find it authentic enough, but some people might really like it because they like that space of it but in terms of mainstream I know its not really going to make it. It is really more for background or as a scoring part for the film to be effective in terms of the characters. Otherwise, I don’t think it is going to work. But one off lines, like we say Hinglish, kind of works. That is matching some hokey kind of lines like you have seen many directors use. That part is working but mainstream English lyrics, I don’t think will appeal to the up market audience so I think it is a no-no for now.

Why remix a song?

Why remix a song… because you don’t have enough tracks on the album and a producer wants to create value for the CD. So that is why.

Who is your favorite singer?

Can I be honest?

Yes of course.

Ok then. I really like new talents. One is Chayan who sang ‘Pal’. You haven’t heard the soundtrack of my next film Kill Chhabra but like I said he is all over it. He is the next voice. And I know once this comes out all the big music producers are going to call him because it is not even out yet and already I am talking about him. I think he is completely unique. I am fond of unique textures; I don’t like typical Bollywood sounds. I do like KK because he is pretty versatile. I have seen him sing stuff like from the Indian kind of things to very rock flavored stuff. I have done a very hard-core heavy metal kind of track for the movie Gustakh and initially he did not want to sing it because he is like ‘dude I cant do this, this is to hardcore’. I said you can do it. And we did and it actually turned out better than the other track, which he intended to do. We didn’t end up doing that track; we did this one so that is what I like about KK because if you spend time and convince him then he can actually be pretty cool at what he does.

I do love Sunidhi Chauhan also. I didn’t think much of her initially. I really thought she was a wannabe miss singer and she can’t really do stuff and thinks she is like really good but she is not. But then I worked with her and I completely changed my opinion. She was doing stuff, which is beyond. You know she took that song and she took it to some other thing. I composed it differently and she took it to a way better level of expression of taking the basic melody.

I know this going to be hard but what is your favorite song of all time?

My favorite song of all time? That is a hard one. It definitely is not going to be a Hindi song. It might sound funny. I like music from Flashdance. I like Giorgio Moroder. I like a lot of his work. I like ‘What a Feeling’ and some stuff from Top Gun. Lot of 80’s genre stuff. It was nice; a lot of really good music came out then. I am very fond of that kind of stuff. Recently, I like Craig David from the UK, his first two albums. I do like this guy John Legend. I like some stuff from what he does.

Many, many, many others. I like this band called the Thievery Corporation… I like their dubbed stuff so it is a mix of many types of genres.

Who do you count as your influences in music?

I think a lot of Giorgio Moroder because I used to be massively into vocoders, harmonies and electronic kind of stuff. He is the father of synths really, and I like that because I am technical guy as well. I have a degree in computer engineering so all I was doing was creating software that I use now. I like music that is very technically oriented. I like the soundtrack of Neverending Story. Like I said these are not very typical answers you might get from some people (laughs). But he is massively influential in the kind of chord structure that I use. I feel I get a lot from that and from the 80’s bands like aha, Van Halen, and Scorpions. So a mix of many, many of those spaces – 80’s pop.

Who is one director you would like to work with?

I am massively into background scores and I do use a lot of orchestral music so I do a lot of that. So for that, in terms of directors and films I would like to work with Mani Ratnam. AR Rahman works with him and I know that Mani Ratnam takes nothing else but class in his movies, in terms of the music and score and it is orchestral orientated. So I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance but I really respect him as a director. I would like to work with him. Maybe Farhan Akhtar because he has got a very fresh idea of sound. Definitely these two guys from the Indian films. Otherwise, Mira Nair because I do a lot of Punjabi stuff and a lot of that is really popular and she looks out for that kind of music. Mira Nair is definitely one person I would like to pass on some of my demos to.

A lot of fans really like to hear the background score is that a decision you could make to put on the CD?

No, not really actually. In India that is something that is not going to sell. India is more song oriented; it is not as evolved an audience as people are everywhere else. Slightly more hokey, hook line kind-of orientated audience. To them score is not something they can hum – it is too complicated. Whereas like for you and me it’s a feel good factor. You just put it on and really feel the mood of the film just by the score. That is not a concept, which is really acceptable here. Marketing wise everyone is here to make money. Music is not just a fashion-oriented thing; it is also the number it churns out or the number of downloads. As of now I don’t think it is ready… maybe 10 years down the line.

Which is your favorite Hindi song and movie this year?

I think for Hindi songs it was definitely Rahman’s Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, the entire score. I liked all the songs from ‘Kabhi Kabhi Aditi’ to all of them. It was very good.

Favorite movie?

I didn’t see many movies this year actually but in Hindi films the one I saw was Rock On!!. I really liked Rock On!!. It was a bit raw but it was nice. Like I said, I like Farhan Akhtar’s work. The colors in the film are very different. I felt like Bollywood has notched its standards up by 7 or 8 points. Suddenly, I saw another type of processing on film, the kind of stuff you usually see on Hollywood. That someone has actually put in the pains to color the film really well and shoot it like really, really, really well. So maybe that is one of the reasons I liked that film. It was nice.

Otherwise I liked No Old Country for Old Men. I don’t know if many people like it but I like it.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

It’s the satisfaction of seeing, you know when you do something good and people react to it and they react in a good way. For example, this year I did an album called “Groove Punjab”. It has become the most downloaded and most selling non-Bollywood album this year. You must check it out! I got calls from people from Australia, Germany, people I don’t know and they are like are you serious? You have produced this in Delhi? What kind of equipment have you done it with? I am like why are lay people asking me what equipment. Why do they have interest? It took me completely by surprise because the company didn’t promote it. We had horrible videos. I got conned by a video producer. He really conned me into doing very bad stuff, which was funded by the company, which was not good. But the song was so good, we got massive hits on YouTube and NDTV covered us as one of the most downloaded albums and sales so I was completely shocked. That was great. When I heard that people have heard this album, I realised that the Internet has become a massive medium to promote something. I felt like this was fate. Like I put all my effort and love into this album and nobody really cared for it. Then I realised about two months later that everybody knows about it and everybody heard, and I got like amazing reviews. And I got an offer for Universal Music to do GP2 which I am doing now, “Groove Punjabi 2”, which is at four times the budget and with all the best artists I can look for and the best video guys behind it. So, that is what I am very pleased about, when you do something with a lot of passion without any expectation attached to it just as work. You can say OK I did that, and then you find your audience. And today’s the day when you actually do find your audience so that has been proven. So I am like extremely happy about that part of my job. You do something, you put your heart into the particular line of work. There is no way you don’t get remuneration, you do in some form, in some way. It reaches out and touches people because there are people out there who want good music, who are not just completely awed by great advertising or by great publicity. They go for good stuff. That is what has made me happy that I am in the right industry.

What are your thoughts on things being on iTunes? Do you feel that has helped the music industry?

Yea in fact I do because number one I am a massive fan of Apple. Everything I own is Apple. I am completely mad about these machines. I have about 15 of these machines in my house. I am completely mad. Even my kid, he is three and half and he is hooked on videos and Youtube. It’s easy; they are great machines.

iTunes is great; my album “Groove Punjab” is on there. Apple has maintained a sort of copy protection thing, which I really appreciate, you know. You can only have songs on 5 computers. So it encourages people to buy stuff and pay for stuff and have the feeling of owning something. When you pay for something you feel good about it and it is not very expensive. The other thing is I was able to put up the album on my own; I was able to retain the digital rights. I could put it up on my own, which is great, completely by passing a music company for my digital rights, which is awesome. So I can be an artist, produce something, populate myself on the net and sell my records on iTunes. So I just love that aspect of iTunes, I just love it!

What’s next for you?

The good part is that as soon as Sorry Bhai was released I got this call from the producer of a movie called Dasvidaniya named Guneet Monga. She just offered me a movie off the table. She told me they are doing a new movie called Love Talkies and she just offered me the score off the table and I am just sending them the proposal. After hearing Sorry Bhai!, that is reward enough!

There are many other things happening. I am doing three films this year. One like I told you is called Kill Chabbra, which is a murder mystery. A big budget movie happening with a star cast. I can’t reveal any of them right now. Onir is the producer on that and there is another director called Ashwini Malik, who wrote Sorry Bhai!; he is the one who is directing.

I am doing another movie called Kashmir. I am doing “Groove Punjab 2”. I am doing Love Talkies. I am also doing another movie with Onir, which is still in conceptualization, but the music has been finalised. I have signed the music. [It] is a remake of “Hamlet” that has got a massive star cast, like all the top people you see. So that is going to be my first big blockbuster.

And I am working with people like Wyclef Jean and others. I will tell you about that in detail later.

I have produced an album for an artist called Neha Bhasin. She was earlier part of channel V Popstars group “VIVA”. She has recently sung ‘Kuch Khaas Hain’ for the film Fashion and also has won many awards in the South film industry. She is also singing for my upcoming films… Wyclef is on that record.

And hopefully, which I really can’t talk about it right now until it happens, is I have been offered to produce two tracks for Shakira’s new record by Wyclef, who is producing the record.

As you can tell, Gaurav Dayal is a new musical voice in the Hindi film industry and certainly knows his profession. I had a great time talking to him about all the great work he has done. I am certain we are going to hear some amazing tunes from this fabulous composer and music producer. I can hardly imagine what he will come up with next. Till then I will just put my Sorry Bhai! and “Groove Punjab” albums on replay in iTunes!

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