Thermal and a Quarter (TAAQ) is one such band. Although fundamentally a rock band, TAAQ blends jazz, blues, funk and sounds from Indian streets into their music, creating a heady concoction which they proudly label as ‘Bangalore Rock’, paying homage to their city of origin.
The band has just returned after an exhausting global tour and have dived headlong into recording their next album. The tour, which was a resounding success, also gave the band some precious insight on the perception of their music beyond Indian shores. Bruce Lee Mani, the lead vocalist and guitarist, says, “We’ve always had a great time performing abroad. Folks there ‘get’ what we do almost immediately. They perceive our Indianness (or just Bangalore-ness!) and our particular oddball rock sound as unique and different, while being able to identify with our influences.” Talking about their experiences of performing abroad, he adds, “In Singapore, we sold a record number of CDs after our first set, and the CEO of the Esplanade Festival commended us on what we were doing. In the US, playing in both bars and theatres, we had 18 and 50-year-olds up on their feet and singing along.”
Over the years, TAAQ’s music has wrestled with the overriding theme of urban angst, one which persists still, although their lyrical expositions have matured. Their perspectives, along with their collective influences have galvanised them into guitar-clad poets. And yet their lyrics, much like their sounds, flow mellifluously. Ire and pathos is beautifully voiced through glib humour and wit. Even the name of their next album — 3 Wheels 9 Lives — is a cheeky jibe at an exceptionally crucial and equally dangerous aspect of our lives; one of the strongest symbols of urban Indian streets, our best friends and worst enemies — the auto rickshaw.
Indian rock itself is in a transitional phase, as audiences wanting to listen to original Indian music are on the rise. However, names such as TAAQ, which persist, are still few and far between. The band has an interesting take on the phenomenon. “You can’t be bothered with exploring risky avenues when the CDs of your best-selling artistes are all being ‘shared’ online, eh? As the scene matures and finds more takers, we’re likely to see a few artistes break on through, as it were, and start being able to pay the bills without having to hang on to day jobs. For now, everyone’s making do in various ways — and you’ll find it isn’t so different around the world — nothing wrong with that.”
Paying dues has not been merely a financial exercise for TAAQ. Over the years, the band has witnessed quite a few changes to its original line-up. From their class of 1996, merely two members remain — Bruce Lee Mani, and drummer Rajeev Rajagopal — while Prakash KN, the band’s bassist has been with them for the past couple of years. In fact, it was the original lineup that inspired the band’s quirky name, one which has persisted. Thermal and a Quarter initially stood for Three Mals (Malayali) and a Quarter Mal, hinting at the ethnicity of the original members of the Bangalore-based college band.
So what can Mumbai audiences expect from this reinvigorated and highly enlightened version of TAAQ that visits Blue Frog on Wednesday evening? “Selections from our four released albums and many released singles, lots of jams and far out stories, some philosophising and ruminations on man and the universe, oddball humour and 360 degree entertainment. Without the dancing girls,” he laughs.