Coffee and Conversations with Sulk Station
Sulk Station is a Bangalore based trip-hop duo comprising of Tanvi Rao and Rahul Giri. Their debut album ‘Till You Appear' has got rave reviews from audiences all over. And we at Musicfellas in particular are huge fans.
We met them on a cool saturday evening in Bangalore at a local coffee shop. What followed was 2 hours of conversations about music, existentialism, movies and of course Sulk Station. Eventually it became less of an interview and more of discussions on how we three see the world around us. Here it goes:
Please share a little about your journey to becoming a musician.
Tanvi: I’ve been in Bangalore for the last 15 years. I used to sing in my school choir. I also tried learning the piano and hindustani music but didn’t really happen. Then when I was in college I began taking music a bit more seriously. I was involved with 2 choirs, many acapella teams, bands, what not. My choir teacher was awesome. I learnt keys from him for a bit.
Rahul and I met in college, but it wasn’t until after we graduated that we started working together.
Rahul: She was all over the college music scene, from choirs to dream theater cover bands.
Tanvi:Yeah, I was just exploring and doing a lot of things, but I didn’t really get a sense of belonging. Then Rahul forced me to listen to some trip-hop ie portishead, martina-topley bird and that was one of the key things that got me thinking. He made me feel like it was okay to be exactly what you are and to just try and sing as naturally as possible. And Rahul’s got a good ear. Someone who has learnt music might not be able to make what he does. So it was a completely different thing between us.
Rahul: That’s the thing with training, it makes you think in a particular way. I am basically a sound guy. Music starts with sound for me. Once I have an interesting sound texture, then the notes automatically follow. Sound first then comes music.
What music do you like and influences you?
Rahul:Portishead and Massive Attack but not so much anymore. While the album was being made, I was really into minimal music ie arvo part, james blake, king creosote and jon hopkins and more. Some of the most important bands/acts for me have to be Radiohead, Sigur ros, Arvo Part and Burial.
Right now I am really into this producer from London – Kidkanevil. He samples a lot of toys and uses them in a hip-hop context. And he has massive Japanese influence as well, in terms of collaborations or even samples etc.
My listening is very limited now. Earlier when I was younger, I used to listen to a lot of stuff but now as I get older, it has become limited. Because you just run out of patience.
Tanvi: Fiona Apple - I really like the new album. I also listen to a lot of Hindustani because I have to learn it as well.
Rahul: Yeah she is in a total Hindustani zone now.
Tanvi: I become completely oblivious to everything else once I am into something.
I listen to western classical a lot as well. Something about classical music really gets me involved. When I come to Rahul’s place I listen to whatever he is playing. I listen to whatever is around me.
How did the name ‘Sulk Station’ came about?
Tanvi: He used to call me sulk station.
Rahul: You used to sulk a lot. And just as a joke, we kept it as the name of our band.
What is the theme of the album about and any particular reason for that?
Tanvi: It ended up being about yearning. Wasn’t a decision at all. Just the things I think about. And not just yearning for love, but just wondering if there is more to all of this (life). And sort of knowing that there is, but it feels almost out of reach, and then the next moment its right there. So..anyway.
Sometimes the words just come.
Rahul: Even the words are secondary – it is just about the emotional space.It just became a concept album, but more in terms of an afterthought. We didn’t decide on it. It just happened. We were pushed into a zone by ourselves.
Music for us is not a thought out process. It is very instinctive at the initial stage at least.
Tanvi: Some of the songs in the album are the first take (recording) I ever did. For Downlift, Rahul sent me a part of it and one day after lunch I wrote the whole thing and sent it back. I tried recording it properly but I guess I could never recreate the feeling. And it is the same version that you see in the album.
[Mayank] Yeah, the music feels straight from the heart.
Tanvi: I guess it’s a very personal album. And maybe everyone feels that way at some point of time. Even when you are with someone, you can yearn for something else. It doesn’t even have to be love between a guy and a girl. It could be anything.
You record everything at home?
Tanvi: I record in my room
Rahul: The whole album was mixed on headphones.
Was it a cathartic feeling after the album came out?
Rahul: I fell sick. I had fever for two weeks. Like a release. Because your body and mind goes through a lot of shit.
Tanvi: Yeah you are constantly thinking about the album. Your body is running , running and in the end when finally it is over it is like wow. It is hard to let go but you have to.
Rahul: Like you are sending your baby to school or something.
Tanvi: I like imperfections a lot. It makes it real. Makes it more endearing. More vulnerable. And also sometimes first takes are good because it’s the first time you felt it. Its raw and new. And you might sing it better later, but what’s the point.
Any fun gig stories?
Tanvi: Once someone called about a corporate gig asking us to play at their annual day programme. What? Why? How?!
Rahul: Drunk guys singing bindya at our gigs, louder than tanvi. Funny, endearing and annoying at the same time.
[Mayank] Highs are high
Rahul: yes but shortlived, it is about loving what you do. For me the whole act of doing is most important. Makng music/sounds in my room is what I enjoy most.
Tanvi: when you are down in the dumps, something good comes out of it. The process of struggle really makes you think. That’s what I enjoy. I can’t write all the time. Sometimes it comes.
You recently returned from a UK Tour. Please share your experience.
Rahul: We played at the World Event Young Artist festival, Nottingham, which was basically an international art festival which showcased works by over a 1000 artists from all over the world.
Tanvi: The response we got was great. We had taken just 50 CDs and they flew out in the in a minute or so.
Rahul: Our first gig was quite weird. We din’t know what exactly we were doing. Playing computer/electronic music in a live setting has been a big challenge for musicians all over.
Tanvi: At our first gig there were quite a few people, cos Lounge Piranha was playing after us. And when we got on, it was so weird. Because I would sing, and when the beat started people would start to move, and the beat would stop after 2 minutes. I just closed my eyes and got through it. Haha.
And there’s a funny story about your gig at Counterculture, Bangalore?
Tanvi: Yeah, at Counter Culture, I got into that mode where I didn’t say a word. After 2 or 3 songs when I hadn’t said a word, Rahul was like say something. And I said I’m sorry I really don’t feel like talking today. Sometimes I can’t.
Do you guys have a plan in terms of how you want to be remembered?
Tanvi:I realised that everything that I am today is something that I wanted to be at some point of time in my life. And now I feel like I don’t want to want anything. I just want to see what happens. And it’s completely ok to not be remembered at all. Everything is like a bubble only. Now you are there but the next second you might not be.
Rahul: For me it is living by the moment . Actually, whether you want it or not you end up setting goals.
Tanvi: How do you want to be remembered ?
[Mayank]: I just want to do something for the indie music scene and make some positive changes to it.
One last question, what do you guys do other than Sulk Station?
Tanvi: I teach music in a school.
Rahul: I am a freelancer. Work from home . Use my computer to make money.
Thank you Tanvi and Rahul for your time. It was a pleasure talking to you guys.
You can get Sulk Station’s debut album at Musicfellas here.
Also, a sweet surprise for those who have not got access to Musicfellas, you can use the invite code: sulkstation