Getting Toit with Dhruv VisvanathThe guy with unreal skills keeps it real.
We think good food, good beer and good music make for a great combination, and that’s what the Sunday Simmer Down at Toit is.
As a part of this initiative, we feature musicians from around the world, and each of them have a great musical story to tell.
Last Sunday we had Dhruv Visvanath sending a stellar vibe here at Toit.
For the uninitiated, Dhruv is a singer-songwriter and composer, who specialises in the percussive style of guitar playing. He also happens to be listed in the Acoustic Guitar Magazine, as one of the ‘30 Great Guitarists under 30′, alongside names like Ed Sheeran and Newton Faulkner. Also, a child prodigy. Also, signed onto V.L.T, Vishal Dadlani’s label. Yup.
We sat down with this multi-faceted fellow, who among all those things, also likes to keep it real.
What is the most annoying question you get asked as a singer-songwriter?
Uhh…I really don’t like answering questions about my influences. Because I get asked this a lot and people seem to answer for me.
I think that’s one question I really don’t like. Because for me, my influences are completely different from what people expect.
And of course, the other one, about how I was thin once and why I’m so fat now. *laughs*
And of course, the other one, about how I was thin once and why I’m so fat now.
So what are your influences?
Oh my god.
I’m joking. You’ve been doing this for a while now, tell me a little about how percussive guitar playing became the thing for you.
The thing is that I really liked the guitar as an instrument. My whole sense of learning came from the fact that the guitar had so much to offer.
And it’s going to sound so weird, because honestly when I read interviews like these back it seems like people must think, “ wow, this guy must be really crazy or really attracted to his guitar.”
When I was much younger, my Dad was a very encouraging fellow. When I started learning the guitar, my parents were of course a little averse to it. They said everyone learns the guitar, stick to the piano and do that.
I was in Hong Kong, an average Indian kid, around Chinese nerds. I went for a Grade 4 exam once for the piano, I must have been 14 or 15, and before me was an 8 year old kid going through and I was like this is just not what I want to do.
Like, is this what I’m up against? Two years later, that guy is going to know more about Calculus than me.
When I was much younger, my Dad was a very encouraging fellow.
I wasn’t scandalised or anything, but I knew this was no way to grow. Or learn.
So I decided to pick up the guitar which just became an exercise in learning more than anything else. An exercise in being patient. An exercise in learning to deal with your own frustrations.
When it came to that percussive step, it came out of necessity and boredom. Because when I was stuck on the guitar, and I had no where else to go on the instrument per se, it came to a point where I just had to innovate. And that’s how it came about. It’s about making people love the guitar, and songwriting.
Have you managed to make people love the guitar?
I hope so. I mean, I teach. I’m not much but I have a few students.
…it came to a point where I just had to innovate.
To be honest, there have been one or two students that I have taught who have been absolutely outstanding. And like everything, you can’t expect every student to be a star.
This is a lesson I’ve learnt after many years of being an average student in school. The one thing that I’d like to take away is that I could have given up at one point in time.
When I thought I was bored and done with it, I felt this urge saying try. Just try, and don’t give in to an easy exit. I think that’s when I realised that if this is all it took for me to keep going, then there’s plenty ahead if I keep following the passion.
In all the shows you’ve done so far, has there been a favourite?
There’s quite a few actually. To be quite honest, I’ve done close to 500 shows. I can’t believe I just said that, because that number didn’t cross my mind until you asked me that question.
One of my favourite gigs, and probably one of the worst moments to ever happen to me, was at the launch of my album in the Habitat Centre in Delhi. There was this very nice amphitheatre, and there was a wonderful setup we had in the middle, to squeeze in as many people as we could.
For an event I thought barely 100 people would turn up, I couldn’t believe there were more than 500 people that night.
Some of the music I run through a computer, and it crashed, on the last two songs I was supposed to play. I was extremely disappointed by that. But, having said that, it was one very special moment.
There are also funny moments when guys in the crowd will shout that they want to marry me and I’ll just have to say they’re not my type.
What about the women? Get a lot of shouting from them?
I mean, not so much. I can’t show off and say if you play like me, you’ll definitely get girls. Because it’s not true. I think more guys come up and ask me questions.
One of my favourite gigs, and probably one of the worst moments to ever happen to me, was at the launch of my album
But also, guys tend to have the confidence to ask questions about this stuff.
And it’s nothing against girls, I mean I wish they did try and ask more questions about the guitar. I have spoken to a lot of girls who want to play the guitar the way I do, but I guess they just seem a little shy to ask questions.
I love it when people heckle me, in crowds. I like to get them involved. Instead of them being the centre of attention, it becomes a great challenge for me to make it come back to me again as a performer. I guess there’s always some crazy people in the audience at every show and you learn to deal with them.
What changed after you signed with a label?
I think the change wasn’t so much in the performance as it was in the presence of the music.
I had put one recorded work four years prior to the release of my album, and I was afraid of my progress stagnating.
The moment that Vishal (Dadlani) stepped in it became a labour of love. And it became something where it seemed like the music could now be slightly larger than life.
I think that is what changed. The facility to want to explore, and the facility to widen what would simply be just me with an acoustic guitar, singing, seemed so much wider on a recording. A solid stamp on one’s identity, like Dhruv Visvanath is here to stay.
I mean I wish (girls) did try and ask more questions about the guitar.
I guess it sort of re-established a sort of pioneering aspect to the music, which is not what I intended, but it sort of gets people inspired to do something different with something that seems so conventional.
And who knows—maybe 5-10 years down the line, this will seem conventional.
Let’s hope not.
Being an artist in this industry, in India, what do you find most challenging?
Money. No, no. I’m joking. I mean money is everyone’s problem. Not just artists.
The reason why independent musicians complain about money is because we’re terrible with money. Generally. Managing it, we can be quite flamboyant.
And we have to invest in our own success. Most non-musician jobs do not require them to invest back in their own skill. They would rather invest in their futures, savings, houses, all that, which is something all artists would also like to have. But we also have this added pressure of maintaining success. And then that means to make money, you need to spend money.
I mean money is everyone’s problem. Not just artists.
In that sense, we’re all entrepreneurs. And because our product is not profitable to others, more to the individual performing it, it’s very difficult to feel like you can get outside funding like many start-ups in other industries do.
I want to be honest here, money is not the first thing you should look at, purely because the moment you start doing that, you become less creative, and less incentivised by the fact that music is such an amazing thing in it’s own way.
You get to travel around and meet people, get to sit down at a brewpub and have a conversation like this. The moment you put money into the conversation, it becomes awkward. There’s a certain sensibility one ought to have where money is concerned and how it needs to be reinvested into your own success.
But you should also maintain a sense of dignity—be happy and do good work, because nobody is going to pay you if you’re doing shoddy work.
The longer you maintain your standard of producing and creativity, the more likely you are to create something sustainable. Which in turn is likely to empower you to do better things and maintain your success. It’s a challenge.
…be happy and do good work, because nobody is going to pay you if you’re doing shoddy work.
To be an artist or musician who doesn’t have to go to mamma and ask for money, is a very valuable lesson in growing up. And is a very liberating feeling.
It needs to come from a place of sincerity first.
What’s the best and worst thing about working with Vishal Dadlani?
The worst thing is that he never answers his phone. *laughs* But I guess that’s true for a lot of people.
The best thing is, given how busy the guy is, he’s always willing to meet, always willing to talk about what I think is good. He wasn’t a hands-on sort of mentor, but more of a very good spirit guide.
A lot of people can be very vocal, but the best thing about him from where I am concerned is that he puts his money where is mouth is. And he just trusted me.
I hope in some way, shape, or form, I have repaid that faith.
So, what is the best and worst thing about being Dhruv?
Best thing is that I freakin’ love food. And the worst thing is also that I freakin’ love food.
What I really like, which I don’t think a lot of people expect, is that I really like to make people laugh. I don’t know why. I think because my Dad was a funny guy, and so was my grandfather. My dad was such an intellectual when it came to delivery and stuff.
I think what’s great about what I get to do is that I get to make people smile and laugh. I really enjoy that. I’m not saying this in a disingenuous way or anything.
I have really crappy jokes in the first place, but the sentiment that makes you feel like you’ve connected with the person, makes them a part of the performance.
I think what’s great about what I get to do, is that I get to make people smile and laugh.
Would you say you’ve reinstated your parents’ faith in the guitar as compared to the piano?
Unfortunately, my Dad never got to see me perform. He passed away when I was 16.
But my mom is a typical proud Punjabi mom, “Hai mera beta, kaleje de thandak pey gaya” types, or God knows what they say. I think it means you give me goosebumps or something. But there’s a lot of affection and pride that comes across, and that’s more valuable than anything.
For me now, it’s about repaying that faith they’ve shown in me. Especially with someone like my manager Rajeev. I’ve never had someone around me telling me what to do, 24/7. It’s crazy.
So it just comes down to repaying that faith, and being the best version of yourself that you can be.