Further Down the Rabbit Hole With Randolph Correia
“Music is the best politics. If you want to make change then singing songs and having people sing your songs with you can actually induce that–you can make that difference.”
Randolph Correia’s stage presence is electrifying–almost wired. It was 18 years ago as the lead guitarist of Pentagram’s crowd-chanting shows and it continues to be today as the guitarist/producer of electro-pop duo Shaa’ir + Func’s strobe-strewn live acts. High octane stuff as it is, you only need to be toe-deep in India’s music scene to know that these are two of the most demiurgic musical acts to emerge from this country. And Randolph, a veteran in these parts.
Its taken me close to 4 months of chasing to get this interview and I’m tempted to match his elusiveness with some of my own. But even as the door to his studio-cum-apartment swings open, the feeling dissipates. His laid-back demeanour is as welcoming as his spacious pad and any illusion of ‘rockstar airs’ is swept under the rug where other cliches belong. Besides, he gets points for cracking the chase joke before I’ve had a chance.
Nestled into his beautiful balcony, chai cups and nicotine highs intact, the endless greenery is oddly out of place in a city that’s mostly devoid of it. That should have been my first clue that this wasn’t to be an interview of quotidian standards. Amidst rampant armchair philosophising and talks of elevating consciousness through EDM however, some insight into his musical processes was inevitable.
Where and how did it all begin for you?
I think my artistic side really took off when I was in college. I went to art school (JJ School of Arts) and I guess we thought of ourselves as the cool kids. The ones who really wanted to make a difference.
Is that how you perceive yourself and what you do?
Absolutely. In our way, as artists, you tend to experience a lot more than the common man which inevitably makes you feel as though you have to give back a lot more too. Coming back to college, all those idealistic conversations we had drinking chai, smoking cigarettes in the back-lanes stuck with us. For me, I chose music as my mouthpiece. Pentagram was an important beginning too, back in 1994. All you have to do is believe. There’s no scene, no industry, you do it for the love of it. And you find like-minded people. That’s what pentagram was about and its lasted 19 years.
Still bumping into fans who’ve been watching Pentagram right from the start?
All the time! And it never stops being amazing.
You’re a musician of many monikers. Tell us a little bit about all your projects in this realm of melody-making.
Well, Pentagram’s a rock band, 19 years old now. Monica (Dogra) and I met 6 years ago and that was the beginning of Shaa’ir + Func. Cut 2-3 years before that I was more focussed on my individual moniker, FUNCinternational, which is more representative of me as a producer.
You cut two stellar dub albums – Dubba and Mushroom Maratha – at a time when no one in the country was even aware of dub music. Was that a hindrance to you in any way?
Not really. You do things because you love it. You fall in love with a sound just like you do with people or food or anything else. Again, in my own way it was about making a small difference. I just made a 100 copies, thought about who the 100 most important people are to me right now from all walks of life, and gave it out to them. It became a community thing because I always believe you start from the community. It’s like a tree. You have to branch out naturally from community, to state, to country to world. Then you can poke the system. From within.
Anything new in the works?
I’m working on 5 albums simultaneously so I just want to get done with those first. Not that I’m complaining. Time management’s a bitch but life is great aside from that.
At least now I know why it was so hard to get this interview. How intensely does your writing process vary with each project?
Personally, I think a writing process is nothing more than vibing with whoever you’re working with, vibing with your surroundings and ultimately it crescendos to vibing with yourself. That’s the most important one. You have to make sure you’re comfortable with the sound you’re creating because you want it to be pure. Not because it’s some monster that people now love and so you have to keep chasing the monster.
Give us some insight into your graphic art ventures. Any future plans to combine your visual and aural talents into a single, cohesive project?
I can’t say I’ve really thought about it. I did just do a drawing for Rolling Stone’s cover art (Shows me a resplendently colourful sketch, animal-heavy and enough to convince me to keep an eye out for next month’s issue). It’s all really the same thing. I didn’t give up on art, I just chose another medium to tell the same story. Painting was a gift, definitely, but I found painting a very grown-up thing to do and I wasn’t ready to grow up. I guess I still haven’t. The idea of this incessant digitization of everything doesn’t sit too well with me.
In that vein, do you find social media’s made interaction with your fan base more superficial than in the past?
It’s a complicated question to answer. It’s just a tool at the end of the day. I don’t believe technology necessarily means moving forward, it’s just something people can use any way they want to use it. The virtual world’s become some kind of stabiliser, an escape, allowing people to feel like they’re not alone but I believe it’s better to get out and just face reality. Emotionally, there’s a lot of digital karma building up.
Sounds like a good name for an S & F album. But back to the fan aspect of it…
Right..so I think we have 6000-something fans but it would be far more if social media worked the way it’s ideally supposed to. The truth is there’s a lot of injustice in it. Like everything else it equates down to money and power and those who have the ability to use it to their advantage. I still think the true beauty is in word-of-mouth. I’m old-school like that. The human element should never go.
And for that you’re considered a veteran. Which makes you one of very few people who’s well-equipped to break down the current scenario. Has it become easier to make a sustainable living out of it?
I think it’s going incredibly well right now. People are aware, people are showing up, it’s a good time.
This is what keeps people inspired and working towards better stuff. Has it become easier? Monetarily, yes. But being an artist has never been easy and it’s not going to be out of our own accord. You tend to put yourself in a difficult spot because that’s where the best stuff comes from. The searching and the naiveté. That’s the best story.
You’ve dabbled in a wide variety of genres over the years. It would appear the constant oscillation fuels your creativity but are there any new sounds you’re keen to try your hand at?
This is why I say my beginnings were in art school. It allowed me to have an open mind. Genres have always been for the media, a way for them to box you up and sell you better. As far as anything new goes, I don’t want to be fit in any category but I do have immense love for Drum n’ Bass. It reminds me of how important the dance and fun element can be.
The whole idea that it’s bringing people together without lyrics, connecting people through frequency, is a really progressive one in my opinion. If people are perceiving it like that, it means the culture’s getting healthier.
Production, instrumentation and songwriting. Which process is the most fulfilling and which is the most challenging for you personally?
Basically, whichever one puts me in the most unchartered territory at that point in time is what I find most inspiring, challenging and fulfilling.
What’s been the single most defining moment to your career within this long haul with the Indian music industry?
That’s ridiculously hard to pinpoint but I’ll go with right now. The infrastructure is being built now as opposed to 18 years ago when the biggest thing was getting people to openly accept original music. The advent of something like NH7 and this whole festival culture of the last few years has been huge and is making all the difference.
Finally, what should we be keeping our eyes or ears peeled for next?
Definitely very excited about Shaa’ir + Func’s new album. That should release in August/September but we’ve done a lot of work on it already. And then there’s the ‘Best of Pentagram in Reggae’ album I’ve been working on which should finish up soon too.
[Note to readers–I got a sneak listen to both and they promise to be worth the wait.]
The hour’s up, the studio smoke is heavier and the last grooves of a new S & F track die down. It would appear this interview has been worth the wait too.
written by Mandovi Menon