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A story in every song

Indie artist Arjun Iyer has major projects this year, including two album releases. He speaks to Anu Prabhakar about looking up to AR Rahman for inspiration and his fascination for stories and folk tales

Arjun Iyer composed his first tune as part of an effort to memorise TS Elliot's Macavity for an English Literature class in school. Since then, he has graduated to launching three music projects over the years — Gumbal, eatshootleave and the solo, Barty's Path. Now, he is all geared up for the release of Barty's Path's eponymous album in May this year and has a couple of other exciting projects as well. In an interview, he talks about loving folk tales, stories and world music.

Excerpts:

Q. Tell us a bit about yourself. Who were some of your earliest musical influences?
A. I come from a fairly stereotypical Tamil Brahmin family. I love my morning filter coffees and curd rice. And like most good Tam Brahm families, mine's full of engineers too. My earliest influence, who continues to be one, is AR Rahman. His arrangements and instrumentation, especially in his gorgeous 90s interludes, were a huge aural stimulant. My favourite English music bands when I was a kid were, prepare to cringe, (laughs) The Backstreet Boys and Linkin Park.

Arjun Iyer
Arjun Iyer 

Q. How did you become a professional musician?
A. Right from when we were super young, I'd remember my family playing antakshari just before sleeping. My first composition was when I was 11, I think. But it was when I was around 14 that I started composing on my tiny casio keyboard and singing with it, recording the results in tapes.

Q. Barty's Path is a solo project. What is it about solo projects that draw you towards them?
A. I've always been a very private person. I'm not too great when it comes to jamming with people — It's something I've consciously been working on which is why I formed a band out of eatshootleave (his first solo project in 2005) and the new electro-rock project, Gumbal.

Q. How do you go about working on a project?
A. The six to seven tracks for Barty's Path are all stories based on places. I identify the region and then come up with a story around it. For instance, a song called Ittoqqortoormiit is about a place of the same name in Greenland. Most of us would find it gorgeous, but it has the highest rates of suicide in the world! Another song, called We Found Tyche! is like a Serbian gypsy rebellion song.

The artwork for Barty's Path
The artwork for Barty's Path 

Q. What themes do you usually deal with in your music and specifically, Barty's Path?
A. Stories. It's always stories for me. Barty's Path involves taking on an old folk tale or story and with it being a world-musicy album, is heavily percussive. I've made a conscious decision to use as little of the guitar as I can. I'll also be exploring more orchestral sounds.

Q. What are some of your upcoming projects?
A. Gumbal's been working on new material for an album as well as for a live set. We should be ready to start gigging in a couple of months. In terms of albums and projects, the Barty's Path and Gumbal albums should both find their way to the interweb this year. Barty's Path will be out by the end of May. Another album that just might pop up is a folksy eatshootleave album, comprising only an acoustic guitar and my voice.

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