One of the first Indie artists to be signed by an international label, Indian singer-songwriter Gary Lawyer is known as 'the man with a golden voice'.
His single 'Nights on Fire' was the first English song to be featured on MTV in India. Blessed with good looks and a deep resonating bass baritone in the tenor range, Lawyer studied music in New York City, only to return to Mumbai to help build the independent music scene, leaving behind a lucrative career in NY.
Apart from his album, he's also sung covers for musicians of international repute namely, The Doors, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Freddie Mercury. He has also served as the opening act for Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams and Def Leppard.
Team Planet Radio City was honoured to catch up with the distinguished musician as he shares anecdotes about his journey, takes on the bane of Bollywood music and talks about his brand new single, 'Heaven's Child'.
Please tell us about your new single, 'Heaven's Child.'
It's actually the first song that we've taken from an album by the same name. It has eleven songs. 'Heaven's Child' is one of them which is the title track. We've just released the video on Youtube and across a few music channels. We would be releasing the album within a month from now.
We must tell you that the video for the song is very touching. From what we hear, it's guitar player and music composer Claver Menezes who has directed the video. How did all that come together?
Well, I had done a song for a movie which Claver was composing for, called 'Sacred Evil'. So one day, out of the blue he called me and requested that I do a video and I agreed because I know that Claver is a very talented and a nice guy. So it was meant to happen and it did.
Parsi boy studying music in New York. What was that experience like?
Talking about the early 80's in New York, I would go about with my twelve-string guitar, singing at showcase theatres and nightclubs. So I literally started my singing career in New York because there was nothing happening in India back then.
What triggered the decision to relocate back to Mumbai?
Honestly, the decision was taken for personal reasons which I will not divulge about. But it was more for my daughter as I wanted her to have the Indian upbringing and stay closer to home. And I am a very family oriented person and I like having my friends around. Also, I never possessed an ambition to actually become a singer. I was content with pursuing it as a hobby that I enjoyed and that's how I let it be.
How would you compare the music scene between Mumbai and New York?
Honestly, I don't think there is any comparison at all. Because there isn't a scene in India as such. We musicians create that scene but apart from a few nightclubs and corporate gigs, there is little or practically no support towards Western music at all. I'd hate to sound this negative, but let's be factual. I feel so much for the youth of today, because there is enough talent but not the right kind of infrastructure. There is no support from the newspaper or television. The only thing we have happening for us is Bollywood. We can remain in denial and say that we have a scene but we really don't. Please don't get me wrong but I've always said, if Freddy Mercury was in India, he would've remained Farrokh Bulsara. There is really no escape into the international music scene. I'm waiting for that change to happen and hopefully it will happen through the internet.
You've been a headliner at festivals like Independence Rock for many years. You've also been the opening act for international acts like Bon Jovi and Def Leppard. Tell us, what have been your highest highs? What is it that keeps you going?
Opening for Bryan Adams was definitely one of my biggest shows. The Osho Communion, the fests like BITS Pilani, the Mood Indigos across India have definitely fetched me some of my greatest shows and moments.
Weren't you once touted as a Young Elvis in Kolkata?
See, I still do pay a tribute to Elvis each year. There are two artists, I pay a tribute to each year. One is The Doors, the other is Elvis Presley. But that doesn't mean I dress up like them or anything but I just remember them through their music. I really enjoy doing tributes for them not because I try to impersonate them but because it is from the heart and I try to celebrate their greatness through music.
What do you think of the current crop of rock and metal bands from our local landscape?
I think there is a lot of talent out there. I do keep listening to this young lot and I think that their talent needs to be harnessed well. I hope there is enough investment into the scene so that these guys can pursue a profession in this sphere. Because the bottomline is money. I've known a lot of talented musicians who take to Bollywood only because they need the money at the end of the day to make ends meet. That shouldn't be the case. I think on that count I can give myself a pat on the back. Because I've put my whole life and heart into promoting Western music, inspite of putting my family through a lot of insecurity. And it has worked. Eventually, it all boils down to believing in yourself. You must have faith in your own talent. That is what I regularly advise parents of kids. Your kids would have to be convinced of their talent than you. There are a lot of avenues out there to play at and I believe talent has to be nurtured within home.
You're a classically trained singer with very eclectic influences. Let us throw some names at you and have you react?
Jim Morrison – Oh my guru, my absolute guru. Ive never heard a voice with such aggression and sweetness at the same time. He is an absolute genius and everytime, I listen to Morrison I feel like I'm listening to something new. He is my God.
Freddy Mercury – Oh an absolute genius, again. For the world, he may be the best singer, but for me he is a composition. If you ask me, which is the best rock creation that I've heard, I'd say 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. Insanely beautiful. What a composition in a song like, 'I'm Going Slightly Mad'. Freddie's a genius.
Elvis Presley – The greatest force that the world has ever seen. I don't think there is any musician that has influenced the world, the way Elvis has. To my mind there is nobody who can come close to that.
Frank Sinatra – Sinatra is possibly the only name I could think of after Presley in that league. He was the first to take songs and give them, their own phrasing. Because before there were great voices like Bing Crosby, but it was very regimented. But Sinatra came and gave meaning to each word. Which is why Morrison is often quoted saying that his two favorite singers were Sinatra and Elvis. I am kind of drawn to people who have broken new grounds in music.
Rupert Fernandes – A great guitar player. I've had the pleasure of meeting him when he was a very sweet, shy, gentlemanly type of kid. He is a phenomanal guitar player and an exceedingly intelligent man. A package of talent.
Derek Julian – Very top of the line. You'd be hard-pressed to name them one above the other. They are all extremely talented.
Claver Menezes – A very passionate guitar player and a great composer. He did a very good job with the compositions he did for 'Sacred Evil'.
Christopher Fonseca – Woah, another great player. He is a part of the current line-up and there can't be a show without him.
Mahesh Tinaikar – Brilliant musician, brilliant guitar player, brilliant producer and a highly intelligent guy. He produced my album 'Unbelong' which we will put up very soon on the net. He has played a lot of slide guitar and has done a fabulous job at that.
You've had a band for more than three decades. How do you cope with line-up changes?
I think I'm very adjustable in that regard. I do not get into politics at all. Though I would raise my concerns on what I want, I would not interfere with anyone else's course. Which is why even after my band members moved on owing to their own reasons, they've always remembered me which is very rewarding because I've enjoyed great personal relationships with my bandmates. Which is why I cannot wait to pay my next Elvis tribute with my young band from Pune. They play with such dedication that it brings tears to my eyes.
You've had a high-flying career spanning several decades. You've seen LPs make way for cassettes and and cassettes make way for CDs and CDs for MP3. Trends have come and gone. Yet here we are, celebrating your music. How would you summarise your journey?
It has been a miracle, a powerful driving force. Ive fought odds like parental pressure and have often been told as to what was I doing. I should get myself a job and so on. By the way, I am a graduate in Economics and Political Science, so I was not a kid who bummed out of school. I did become a graduate just to please my family, but I knew that was not my calling. But its nothing short of a miracle. So I knew that this was what I was meant to do. I had certain attributes attached to my voice which gave me a plus point. I was attracted to all genres of Western music. Name it and I enjoyed all of it. But it has been a miracle because there were sleepless nights when I would wonder what am I doing here because there was no scene as such. But suddenly Rang Bhavan happened and then there would be a line extending upto Metro cinema literally. Then the tours to Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi made us create our own scene in India. So, its been a wonderful journey.
Record labels versus the independent music scene. How would you compare the two?
It's the first time that I'm doing something independently. I could've gotten onto a label. But I realised that I've done six albums on labels. They all have their hands tidy. They've given me seven videos which are all up on Youtube so I did not shell out a pie on it. So they've extended support wherever possible. But even then, they've been through a rough weather when it comes to Western music, because there is no market for it. If there is, it has remained untapped. I believe in India, there is a huge amount of listeners for Western music but it needs to be harnessed well and supported with the right infrastructure. What's ironical is, we boast of the highest circulation of English newspapers, the best English Universities and even our constitution recognises English, but when it comes to music, English is not our language. So that is the whole hypocrisy of the whole situation.
What are the big lessons that the music industry teaches independent artists?
Actually not to depend on anybody but yourself. (laughs) Basically over the years, I've been well connected so I have pulled myself a couple of favours. There was a time when you would do a show and there would be about five jounalists waiting to interview you. But now even to get a line printed, you have to pay for it, I believe. Now the only good thing that we've got to our disposal is the internet, which is something I've neglected for a very long time. I keep saying that technology is not my thing.
Now the lines between the independent music scene and the Bollywood music scene are getting blurry by the day. What was your stint with Bollywood been like?
I remember when I did the title track for the movie, 'Road', I did it just because I really liked the composer, Sandesh Shandilya. But once it released, it received such immense airplay. Yet, I called up the station and told them not to mention my name as I did not want to be known as a Bollywood singer. Not that I have anything against Bollywood, but I just did not find myself associated with that tag. That way I feel very lucky to have released my own albums with labels that have faired pretty decently. But one day my own friend from a label advised me to do it independently. 'Heaven's Child' is my first independent release.
Constant tours and erratic schedules often affect the voice. What tips would you give young singers about keeping their voices in shape?
I'm a very good patriot of salt. I endorse the idea of gargling as we live in such hazardous and poisonous environments. When you ride a bike, always tie a hanky around your face. Personally, I don't like drinking anything cold as well.
Most of readers are young musicians and singer-songwriters. Your message for them, Gary?
Be true to yourself. Give you heart and soul to what you believe in. Go the distance as far as you can to achieve your dreams.
The interview was first published on: http://www.planetradiocity.com
Pics: Prabhas, Tamannaah Bhatia at 'Baahubali 2' first look launch at MAMI
'Ae Dil Hai Mushkil' photos: Aishwarya, Anushka, Karan get candid at MAMI
Photos: Huma Qureshi, Neha Dhupia and other celebs at MAMI
Photos: Amy Jackson, Daisy Shah at Mumbai airport
Photos: Sridevi, Irrfan and other celebs at 'Mughal-e-Azam' screening