Recently Hezron Chetty and Girlfriend Julienne Fenwick Jumped on a plane and headed across India on a totally random, yet spontaneous holiday trip. This is the result of their holiday trip across India, where Hezron randomly wrote to several bands various genres to interview. Hezron then arranged to meet India's biggest Punk Rock band at present. 'TRIPWIRE'.
"Travelling the equivalent of a road trip from South Africa to Algeria, 6587km across India will redefine any preconceived ideas you might have had about pretty much anything… People, rich and poor (mostly poor), the extreme passion roused by music in the most unlikely places, and my definition of a holiday!
My girlfriend, Julienne, and I decided somewhat spontaneously to take a holiday to India, seeing as I am from South Indian descent (Chenai region), and have always wanted to go back to my origins; and as a musician I am always looking for inspiration in new places. Great, why not add in a mission for good measure: to interview a few local musos and find out what is happening on the scene and behind the scenes in the Indian music world.
On the way to the airport, I emailed numerous bands from various genres, and arranged to meet up with the few who replied. ‘Tripwire’, India’s biggest Punk Rock band at present, is a group from Mumbai. These guys reminded me of when I was with ‘Fruits and Veggies’ (South African Punk Rock band). The stories of debauchery on tour, near arrests and legendary raucous gigs brought on a wave of nostalgia. We met with the three band members in our hotel bar, where they were visibly uncomfortable. For the sake of authenticity, we opted to get into their car for a trip through Mumbai in the monsoon…grabbed some street food, imbibed copious amounts of neat whiskey and turned down crystal meth. In this more natural environment, Amey (vocals/guitar), Shaggy (bass/vocals) and Jack (drums/electronics) proceeded to prove to us that there is a lot more to India that just Bollywood."
How did you guys come to be Tripwire?
Jack: I am a self-taught drummer, and Amey is self taught on guitar. In 2002 we decided to perform together at the Livewire battle of the bands. We jammed together just before then, got on stage and blew people away.
What was the Punk scene in India like before you started Tripwire?
Amey: When MTV was introduced to India it showed us what other music was going on in the world. We were introduced to bands like Nirvana, which was probably the most popular western band in India at that time. We decided to start a band and to create our own scene. Venue owners had no idea about punk music and we received a lot of abuse from managers of bars because they could not understand why our crowds were jumping on tables and creating chaos.
What has changed over the years?
Amey: Now we have been in this industry for over 13 years and we have gained respect and have helped to grow the Indian Punk scene. We are seen as the founding band in the punk scene, so we have a lot of responsibility on our shoulders. We now run our own events where we introduce new punk bands to a new audience. We have a duty to give back to the music scene.
Do you guys make a good living from music?
F**k no man! We are punk rockers in India (The whole band laughs)! We do make some money now from gigs, as with time we have learned to choose our gigs better. When we started out the pay was shit, and we struggled. We fund our music careers now by our day jobs. Jack is a game tester, Amey and Shaggy are bankers. We realized that if we could not make a living from music we were going to find jobs and then pursue our dreams in music.
Who manages you, and are you signed to a label as yet?
Shaggy: We do not have a manager because so many people have tried to “manage” us and they just can’t!
Amey: Everyone wants to be the manager of a band, but few people understand how much work is involved. A large number of them also misunderstood our genre completely. It was after this that we decided to take affairs into our own hands and educate the people on how to run events for different genres other than traditional or Bollywood.
We now manage ourselves and we have set up our own record label CT Records. We also often swap CD’s with other bands and sell their CD’s at our merchandise stalls and they do the same for us.
How would you describe the effect that Bollywood music had on the music scene in India?
Amey: Bollywood has had a major impact; it makes it much harder for other musicians that perform different styles of music to get gigs and to introduce their style to a new audience. The majority of Indians support Bollywood because it is easily accessible. Imagine If Punk, Rock or even metal were just as accessible? The market will be open to so much more. Bollywood is generic much the same as Hollywood. Our goal has never been about selling music but rather selling a message.
Tell me more about the writing process of your music and how the band come together on decisions for what must stay and what must go?
Jack : We all come up with melodies and rhythms. We also all work on the lyrics together. If one of us does not agree with the song then we work on a new song. We are a family and we all need to agree with the music that we are making.
We never discuss religion in our music, India is full of religion and we don’t need to go on talking about religion to the people. We want to challenge them and to leave our audience asking questions about life, emotions and the universe.
You recently got back from a tour around Asia. What were some of the highlights?
Amey: We played to some amazing audiences in Malaysia. When we played our first song the crowd went mental! Guys created a pit in front of us and started shouting for more. You could see the passion in the audience’s eyes. They did not want us to leave the stage!
We then decided to take some acid before our return flight and we all started to believe that the taxi driver was a fake and that he was taking us somewhere to mug us! In the end we calmed downed and realized we were just tripping.
"Being a musician doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be one by profession. I also had some chance encounters and impromptu jam sessions that sprung from the question of what I do for a living. When people hear that I’m a violinist, they always ask me to play something - to which I always reply: only if you join me!
From behind the desk at his family-owned fuel station, India Oil, Manoj, seems reserved but very inquisitive as to the strangers in front of him. His cousin is our taxi driver and ‘tour guide’ across India, and he insisted on presenting us to his family for a cup of chai (and likely to show off his “VIP clients” as he called us) before continuing our journey. We were invited into his home, which is just above his office next to the fuel station. A very different way of life, I particularly enjoyed that the main bedroom also doubled up as an entertainment area, fitted with a round bed and 70’s style disco interior. He proudly whipped out his guitar (which had one string missing), and started playing some traditional Indian tunes to which I attempted to improvise
Having played only Western folk music in the past, it was very satisfying to finally play something from the country I was from. . I picked up several unique melodies from this ancient style, which have incorporated into my new work of late.
Every country has its gypsies, and I have always related to this faction of people in some way, travelling around the world with only my instrument to earn a living. I met Lucky Bhatt on a roof-top in Jaipur, where he was performs a puppet show every Friday evening. He is part of a ‘small’ puppeteer colony (6000 people!), settled outside of Jaipur. They function as a family business, some performing shows all over the country, others making and selling trinkets to bring in cash.
Lucky voiced his dismay at his fellow puppeteer and musician mate who bailed on him last minute, and now he had to settle for playing Shakira (the Indian version) from his phone while doing the show. “Typical gypsies man!” I went to fetch my violin from the hotel room and he nearly kissed me! He whipped out his Mridangam (a traditional Indian drum), and we created some beautiful tunes that made me feel like I could have been part of his clan that night…also likely a combination of King Fisher beer (5-8% alcohol) , and the gypsy-jut we were smoking.
After returning home to the relative safety and serenity that is South Africa, I have learned to appreciate the freedom that we take for granted: traffic rules, dogs on leashes and food generally free from diarrheal disease. But mostly, the amazing music selection that we have readily available around every corner in this country should not be taken for granted! We need to open our eyes to what is happening around the world, in order to fully appreciate how lucky we are in SA. India still has a long way to go until alternative bands become household names, but they are fighting the norms and courageously breaking the moulds (and tables/chairs) that society has prescribed - to show people that music can set you free to express who you want to be. I always wanted to return to the country of my origin, to discover my Indian heritage, but the one thing that became very clear is that I am not Indian… I am proudly South African!"
Take a look at some photo shots of Hezron's and Julienne's Holiday.
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By Hezron Chetty & Julienne Fenwick