Null Friction is a Madras-based Indian rock band, started in 2005 by high school students Shreyans Jha, Abhishek Singhal and Ansh Sanyal. Rising in popularity after their first album ‘World Wide Quiet’, the band made it big in Chennai, performing live at the popular Unwind Centre. After a brief hiatus, the trio, studying in the US and Canada came together again for their second album, ‘Madras’. After an all-India tour and several performances in New York, lead vocalist Shreyans Jha and Ansh Sanyal (drums, tabla and bansuri) talk to The Viewspaper on their five year journey and their Do-It-Yourself style to success.
VP:When you started out, were your parents supportive of music at the possible cost of your academics? Did they consider it a passing phase or believe it was a passion?
AS: My parents are probably the most supportive towards the prospect of music in my life. They come from a musical background too, so, in a way they did empathize with my interests in music. However, they made sure that I maintain a balance and give equal attention to everything in life. They were good mentors in teaching me how to balance school with music.
SJ: My dad used to play in a rock n roll band when he was in high school/college in Bombay. And he’s the reason why I’m in music today. I grew up watching him and his friends jam and soon his records and cassettes became my best friends. I started playing the guitar when I was 10, and I was terrible for the first five years. But my mom would still listen to me patiently. I learnt from her that being a good listener is more important than being a good musician.
VP: Did the band separate when you went to college? How did you get past the distance hurdles?
SJ :Yes, after our 12th boards, we split. Being in Null Friction has taught me one thing – if you really want to do something, you will do it. And all three of us have always wanted to keep the band alive and existing. If this means taking 14 hour long bus-rides from New York to Ottawa to practice with Ansh or four hour long Skype conversations at six in the morning, or simply being responsible as musicians committed to a common goal – we are all in.
AS: We did separate for a year or so just to ensure that we found our own ground in unknown territory and to adapt to University on this side of the world. Six months in, we were all leaning towards getting back together and finally did reunite in the summer of 2008 when we toured the whole of India. At the end of the day, it’s all for the music.
VP: Your second album was released last year. How is the response to your music?
AS: It has been surprisingly great actually. We were among the top 15 most popular artists on www.gimmesound.com within the first week of our album release and it has helped us get ranked among the top 5 national artists on www.reverbnation.com. We’re really thankful and grateful to everyone digging our music. And humbled to say the least.
SJ: When I think of the album, Madras, I don’t think of the various accolades or chart positions, I think of what the album did for the band. Madras spoke to us not as three musicians, but as one single unit and it told us that no matter how big the distance, how tall the hurdle, we, as a band, can tackle the impossible and do whatever we want to do. It took us from being a highschool band to one that is exploding with potential and possibility
VP: Your single was called ‘Madras’. What does it mean to you and why Madras and not Chennai?
AS: ‘Madras’ to us is home. The song was written by Shreyans after he had this dream that was rather nostalgic towards the good times we had in city.
SJ: If you ask any one in the north, they still refer to people from this city as “Madrasis” – not out of disrespect but cause our identity has come to be encapsulated by that term. And there is nothing wrong with it. We can’t cure our colonial hangover by ignoring our past – the only way to cure it is by embracing the freedom that lets us decide our own identity. And Null Friction just happens to be a band from Madras.
AS: Haha… Madras is way cooler a name!
VP: You’ve played in big cities across the country. Which, according to you is most receptive to Indian rock bands?
SJ: There is always something special about playing in Madras because every single face in the crowd seems to be saying, “Man, we’ve got your back, you’re in Madras now.” And every city has its charm, Pune is crazy, young, loud , boisterous and energetic. Bangalore is wild – loads of folks in their IT outfits headbanging. Bombay is just Bombay, no other way to put it – it’s diverse, elegant and delightful.
AS: We had a good time performing everywhere and there was always a special moment to take from all the cities. In Pune, I remember we were playing at the Hard Rock Cafe and there were bus loads of people who had come to see us. Hired buses full of people all headed for Hard Rock Cafe to see Null Friction live. That was very heart-warming and humbling to see.
VP: How does it feel to play in New York City? Is the music scene entirely different over there?
AS : Its very exciting to be playing in New York City. To us, it marks the start of a new chapter in Null Friction life, and we are eager, enthusiastic and enjoying ourselves every step of the way.
The music scene here is rather different .There are tons of bands, artists, musicians who are all out there doing what they do best and its way more competitive. It’s not as warm as India where every musician in the city knows each other and there is a community feeling. Having said that, it really helps us give a 200 percent because we know if we don’t, there is this other guy right on our back, ready to trample us over the moment we slack off.
SJ : We have a joke in the band. Our first show in New York marked Null Friction’s entry into the outsourcing industry. But on a more serious note, New York City really is worth all the hype surrounding it and more.
VP: Do you have a producer for your music? Do you plan to sign with a label? If not, why?
AS: No. we do everything ourselves. We are not signed to any label. We did have a producer to help us out in our album. His name is Alex. Our goal is not to get signed to a label, its bigger than that. Its to spread our music and spread our message, and so far the Do-It-Yourself method, despite the toughness, is relatively working for us so lets see how far this goes.
SJ: So far, we’ve got by just fine without having the backing of a label or anything. Unlike most bands in India, we never really waited for a label to come find us – we’ve never looked for a reason to make ourselves less involved with our music. Even when we sign a label deal we’re going to make sure to be just as engaged with our music as we are now.
VP: Do you think that platforms like YouTube and MySpace are necessary for putting new bands’ music out there?
SJ :Almost 99 out of a 100 music industry professionals blame everything on the rise of piracy – but I get really frustrated when young Indian bands fall into the trap of this train of thought. The Internet is not guilty for anything – it has made it possible for users to listen/watch just what they want. It has made mass media a myth. Why schedule everything around your favourite TV serial when you can just download it and watch it on the Internet at your convenience? Especially in India, where rock music is still a niche market – YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter etc. have given us a tool to target all our marketing and information flow to a specific set of users thereby reducing distribution costs and encouraging overall audience participation.
It’s a win-win. So stop complaining about piracy, because it’s inevitable, like gravity.
VP: Who is your target audience?
AS: Each and every person who has a youthful mind.
SJ : Every single Indian who sees more than what is told to them. Who knows that the cultural restrictions imposed on them are just a myth and that they can define their own culture and in doing so, make the nation a more diverse one.
VP: After almost five years, looking back, is there anything you regret, or something profound that you have learnt about the industry, or about each other?
AS: No regrets. We definitely learnt a lot. Most importantly, be pro-active, involved and WORK towards goals. We have realised how much small details and tasks matter in order to achieve a big dream!
SJ: I have learnt that Abhishek Singhal(bassist) is an amazing human being in spite of the fact that he’s a really boring person. (Laughs)
Q : Is music your chosen career? What does the future look like for Null Friction?
AS:I like taking it one day at a time so lets see where things go. For Null Friction though, the future is packed with shows, a huge summer tour all across India that we are planning out as we speak and perhaps another album by 2011 and then.. maybe more..
SJ: From here, all I can see is the Superkings winning the IPL. We’re the best team in the country, and everyone knows that! To hell with Null Friction, I want to be MS Dhoni!