Bongrong: When did you start playing, professionally and otherwise?
Surjo: When I was 4 or 5 years old, my mom used to practice singing on the harmonium and one day I sat on it and played the song she was singing by ear. My parents thought he should be trained, so I was trained in Hindustani classical music from the age of 5. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t take to it and quit at age 13. I’ve been playing guitar for 19 years now and writing songs for 7. I’ve been playing professionally for 6 years right since the time I got out of college.
Bongrong: What drove you to experiment with the looper?
Surjo: I’m from Jamshedpur and it’s a city of 1.3 million people, but I’m the only person there who pursues music professionally in the manner I do, which is to write songs and try and perform them. I didn’t have a band I could play with there, so that’s when the looping idea first came in. What I could do with it from a creative standpoint was much later in the game.
Bongrong: You shifted to Kolkata fairly recently. How has the city been treating you?
Surjo: Oh great actually, I have been exposed to a lot of great talent here and I am taking it all in to amp up my game. I’ve also found a nice space for myself, and I mostly stick to myself, so I’m getting to live in a super disciplined environment and my progression has been most encouraging.
Bongrong: What can we expect from you live? Something akin to your performance on Friday Night Originals?
Surjo: Friday Night Originals was the perfect platform for me to start a new journey and to push myself. I’d never played like that before; 5 instruments and loops and so forth and there was a massive chance I’d wind up looking the fool but I didn’t, which is good. But that’s done, and I’m looking ahead, already writing a lot more. I am just going to be creative - with a band, solo, just writing, instrumentals, whatever. That’s my main focus now, to be creative.
Bongrong: Your music is pretty dynamic in that you have instrumentals that are great as stand-alone tracks and then you have an album out, with 12 songs, that is just guitar and vocals. What is the plan here on out?
Surjo: I don’t want to go up on stage with the same old same old -one guitar ‘sensitive singer-songwriter’ gimmick or the ‘blues-rock band’ gimmick. The songs need to be written for the next album and written in a manner that facilitates the movement of my head, and then I have to translate that to the stage, so I’m some way away from being on stage the way I envision it. No real point in just going on for the sake of being on stage you know, it’s not satisfying that way.
Bongrong: What went into your debut album ‘The Key Has Turned’?
Surjo: It was released on November 14th, 2014. The recording process started on November 10th and into November 11th for a total of about 8 hours and then on the 12th was the mix and master which took about 10 hours and then 13th was all about getting it online.
The album has 12 songs. 10 of those songs were written in the period between August 2014 and November 2014, ‘Blank Page’ was written slightly before that and ‘Scream’ was 2011.
What led to the album was, well, I’d been playing in a Bollywood band for 3 years. I was the guitar player and later, the tour manager for Shilpa Rao. And I got burnt on that process and quit after 3 years because I wasn’t getting any peace and quiet to write my own stuff. So I quit around July 2014 and voila, November 2014 the first album was out.
What was special was the rush that I had to do it in, being a simple acoustic guitar vocal album, there wasn’t much to it in terms of creative production. I just wanted to put the songs out, that was the main goal and I just remember that entire process being the most hectic 3-4 day period in my life ever. The payoff was great, so it was well worth it.
Bongrong: What would you cite as influences?
Surjo: Oh so many, because I felt that pretty much everyone is an influence, either an influence on what to do, or what not to do, you know. But let's just say songwriting because that's closest to my heart. Dylan was the first, because from him I learnt that you can communicate the greatest sentiment using the simplest words. John Mayer after that, from whom I learnt the importance of detail in the song, Joan Baez, for her intensity in her words, and to be unafraid to pour yourself out on the page.
The sport of pro-wrestling, where people for years have been working hard so that their audiences believe what is essentially scripted to be real, that's been a great help songwriting wise. And now, Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray, for I'm foraying into writing in Bangla. So yes, these would be the major ones, and then there are a lot of minor ones along the way too.