The man behind songs like Khoya Khoya Chand from Shaitan and O Laal Meri from David, is in a good space with the release of his second album and turning full-fledged composer with Rohan Sippy’s next. McCleary speaks to CS about making Mumbai his home, learning Hindi and his fascination for old songs:
While living in London, I would keep coming to Mumbai for recordings and concerts. So I’d made friends and contacts here. Shifting here then wasn’t that difficult at all. Life is not a struggle here. My parents shifted to India 50 years ago and got married in Ooty. Now that’s different — India then would have been a very different space. But I like living in Mumbai. It’s hard to describe what’s nice about living here. I mean, it’s a busy, crowded place and there are problems. But it has a life, a soul and a very nice energy. The people are nice, so I love it.
I’m learning Hindi and it’s slow progression for me. Everyone I work with usually communicates in English, so it’s hard for me to practice. I’m making progress. I’ll probably be fluent in five years (laughs). As for understanding the lyrics of a song, they are still sounds that can phonetically be very pleasing. Sometimes I’m happy approaching a song without even knowing what it’s about. I just take an instinctive approach to it. Sometimes if you know too much about the situation or the intention of the song, then you do what’s obvious. When you don’t know, you can surprise yourself and others.
I love Geeta Dutts’s voice. That whole golden era of the 50s and 60s, it’s full of beautiful melodies. One of the things I feel when I hear those songs is that the melody used to be very prominent. As for the base lines and chords — you don’t hear them very much. The strength is in the melody. So I felt that there was a possibility of doing those songs and not only giving them a new vocal treatment but since people really enjoy the base lines and chords, I can keep the song true to its original soul, but give it a colour and warmth around it by chord progressions. That would enhance the melody. The analogy I draw is that the song is a beautiful woman but that woman is wearing clothes that are old fashioned. I’m just dressing her up, giving her new clothes and making you see her beauty in a new way.