Decoding the Enigmatic Journey of Motherjane

How many of you know that it was a band from Kerala that opened for Megadeth and Machine Head – arguably the biggest names in heavy metal – on their Indian tour in 2008? 

To those who follow the independent music scene, the name ‘Motherjane’ evokes feelings of deep nostalgia. The Kochi-based rock band, formed in 1996, blew many a mind at the turn of the Millenium, with their debut studio album “Insane Biography” (2001). But again, nostalgia is a word that is used in conjunction with things of the past – Motherjane, without any doubt, is still one of the biggest rock b(r)ands in India. And they’re back doing what they do best – touring whilst promoting their latest studio album ‘1 1 1’. We had the good fortune of interacting with the band as they geared up for a nationwide tour. 

So, what is the story behind this comeback album? “The process of creating this record started back in 2014 with the song – Clay Play. We ended up releasing the track as a single in 2015. Even though it was a drastic departure from our previous records and songwriting methods, the single had a good run and was accepted by our fans and a new audience”, they say.

“Each track in 1 1 1 represents our journey of awareness, surrendering control and finding our true self. It’s a long, continuous journey of self-discovery and as we evolved, so did the tracks. With Anubhav and Niranj on board, Awoke, Plane Man and Contact Sense were organically born out of the various contributions from different band members. There is a quote by Franz Kafka that we live by – You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

In the early 2000s, when the independent scene was still nascent, one of the major spots for jamming was the Ancient Mariner at Kochi. We asked them about memories from those days, and they smiled. “The Ancient Mariner holds a special place in our hearts. DJ Savyo introduced us to the owner, Niaz, a wonderful human being and a champion of good music, who let us jam there whenever we wanted. We are so grateful to him for those times. We had a great time playing there and associate a lot of good memories with it. Most of the songs in Insane Biography were made there. Thirty minutes of jamming together and Mindstreet was born. It was here, that Suraj chanced upon us jamming and went on to become a part of Motherjane.” They also expressed their excitement about the growth of such venues that support the scene – that provide an apt ambience to nurture talent and contribute to the bigger Indian indie picture. 

In what could be one of the most iconic “departures” from status quo music among Indian bands, Maktub (2008) stands out for its infusion of Carnatic music into a genre that is thematically distant from it (rock). A lot of creative decision making went into such ‘risks’. “Well, all credit goes to Baiju (Dharmajan) for that. His idea of infusing Indian ethnic elements into our music became a reality with Maktub”, they smile, acknowledgingly.  

The mention of Baiju immediately prompted us to ask them whether there are chances that Motherjane would collaborate with former members – the likes of Suraj Mani, Baiju Dharmajan, Rex Vijayan – in the future. “The past is behind us and we do not know what the future holds for us. So we believe, there’s no point dwelling on either. What matters is the present and we want to live it. We have a great set of musicians and songwriters that make up our band and we just want to make good music.”

But again, such collaborations are not completely out of the picture. “We would like to mention that ‘Clay Play’ is actually a collaboration with Rex Vijayan. Apart from producing all the tracks on 1 1 1, in Clay Play, he had programmed the drums as well. We think, it has the most complex drum parts ever written by any band in India and still grooves like a dream. He composed a lot of the Guitar parts in that track too. And it continues to be one of the most enigmatic songs we have done till date.”

Considering how the next few months are going to look like for the band – going from stage to stage – I asked them if they enjoy this process, as compared to recording the album in the confines of a studio. “Both are equally satisfying in different ways. The studio is all about precision. Having said that, sometimes, the small mistakes and synchronicities that happen there, result in beautiful pieces of art as well. It’s a joy to see some groove or a tune evolving into a song. It’s also the ultimate swat test for a musician where he or she realizes just how good or bad they are. Performing live is all about the sheer energy that flows from you to the audience and back. We thrive on that adrenaline rush and it’s always to joy to connect with the fans and the audience in general and initiate them into our stream of music. In both cases, we have these moments which will resonate with us for a lifetime and make this journey worthwhile.”

Something that really intrigued us about the band was how members have come and gone over the last 24 years, and yet they have maintained a signature tonality to their music – a sound that sets them apart from their contemporaries. “Motherjane’s sound was not the contribution of any one single member, but rather a meeting of the minds”, believes band manager Trinette Jackson. “Therefore, it developed on its own. And through the years, even with the changing lineups, the focus remained and continues to remain on making good music, rather than maintaining our signature sound. That happens on its own. It’s not a conscious decision. We are thankful to all who have associated with us in the past. Every single one of them has contributed to the success of Motherjane.”

I opine that Motherjane was an absolute pioneer of rock in the country, but they do not concede. “We are definitely not the pioneers of the rock scene in India. There were a lot of good rock bands before us and during our time too, that were highly influential. If you look at it, a lot of big names in the music industry were once part of rock bands. Noted names being AR Rahman, Ehsan and Loy Mendonsa, etc.”

For a band that has gained millions of fans, opened for the likes of Megadeth, Machine Head, Opeth, Ensiferum and Mr. Big, and released three pathbreaking studio albums, we wonder aloud what their biggest achievement has been so far. “Yes, we’ve had the good fortune of playing inside and outside of India and opening for the above names, but we believe that our biggest achievements are yet to come!

On that note, I just hope that Motherjane grows from strength to strength and continues to enthral audiences worldwide while keeping the Kerala kodi soaring high! 

Come act your dream in mindstreet. 

Do what you want, go where you please.

Kick the devil in his B’s

Stop living on your bleeding knees! 

Navaneethakrishnan Unnikrishnan
When I'm not working or sleeping, I'm mostly observing people and making notes on my phone for content. (Hope to be) Your go-to man for laughs, good music and useless trivia around movies.

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