Ajay Mathur recently released his album '9 to 3', reviewed on contactmusic.com. Mathur's style of music defies categorization and is usually described as eclectic or diverse. His voice is smooth and distinctive, and his songs appeal to listeners' ears and demands for a catchy melody. Contact Music tracked him down and requested an interview. He was kind enough to acquiesce. His description of his songwriting process was enthralling.
Contact Music (CM): What's your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?
Ajay Mathur (AM): There are a number of songs that I have fun belting out in the car. When I'm on the road with friends, we usually sing 'Walking On The Water', 'View From The Top' or 'Password Love'. These songs have great harmony lines to sing out loud. I do catch myself belting out 'Nothing Really Matters' when I'm alone, especially the gothic choir near the end of the song.
CM: What kind of guitar do you play, and why?
AM: I have quite a collection of guitars that I regularly play. Currently my favorites are my red Telecaster and my Vintage "Summer of Love" Stratocaster with left-hander's neck and Jimi Hendrix Monterrey Festival psychedelic artwork. The Telecaster has a really smooth fret board. It also has two humbugger pick-ups with pull-up knob to switch to single coils. This guitar gives me a very wide range of sound from the clean rhythm guitar sounds on 'Walking on the Water' to the heavy crunchy rock guitar riffs on "View from the Top" and 'My World (SOS To The Universe)'. My Vintage "Summer of Love" Stratocaster is a signature limited edition (mine is #40 out of 40 that were built). This guitar not only looks and sounds awesome; it also has excellent electronic components and mechanics. This guitar can be heard on almost all the songs on '9 to 3'. I also own a wine red 1972 Gibson Les Paul Custom and a brown sunburst 1975 Fender Stratocaster. The jazz guitar solo and the fills on 'Latin Lover' were played by my friend and guitarist Christian Winiker on my Les Paul. The guitar-fills on 'Walking on the Water' were delivered on the 1975 Stratocaster. Another beauty that I'm proud of is a 12-string Burns that can be heard on 'Sitting By Your Cradle'. Most of the acoustic guitars on '9 to 3' were played on my Guild Jumbo and a 1978 Martin. I'm also a proud owner of a 1971 Fender Mustang Bass that I played on 'Tell Me Why'. I also have a good selection of amplifiers. Although my first preference for recording is a Kemper Profiler, which is an amazing invention, I occasionally use a Bugera Combo, a Mesa Boogie Class A and an original vintage Roland JC-120.
CM: What musicians influenced you the most?
AM: I guess if I had to name a few, they would be really excellent songwriters like Don Henley, Jackson Browne, Lennon-McCartney, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Adele, Neil Young, Jeff Tweedy, Beck, just to name a few. The musical craftsmanship of musicians like The Beatles, Jack White, Steely Dan, Jonathan Wilson, Derek Trucks, Wilco, Jimi Hendrix and many others have had a strong influence on me. I certainly can't claim that I've taken on the sound of these amazingly creative artists, but they have definitely left their mark on my life and on my music.
CM: Of the many places you have performed, which was your favorite? And why?
AM: My favourite recent memory of a live performance was on the International Day of Peace, September 21st where I performed with a school choir and school kids' band in Lucerne. The energy of this performance was awesome and the kids were so excited and proud of themselves. While performing 'My World (SOS To The Universe)' with these kids, I had a moment of joy and contentment like I never felt before. Listening to the kids sing the choruses along with the whole audience in the hall, gave me a feel of what these songs of mine mean to other people. This performance also sort of re-defined what these songs really mean to me and what positive energy my music is capable of spreading.
CM: What music have you listened to lately? Does listening to other bands and/or singer-songwriters tempt you try something completely unusual? For example, let's say you listened to Shania Twain. Would you ever consider doing something with a country western flavor?
AM: I listen to artists and albums all the time and some of them just stick with me for a while. Currently I've been listening to Beck's 'Morning Phase', Wilco's 'Star Wars', Jackson Browne's 'Standing in the Breach', Martina Linn's 'Pocket of Feelings', John Hiatt's "Terms of My Surrender" and Tom Petty's 'Hypnotic Eye' - excellent albums, all of them. I have listened to Shania Twain, not lately though. I also have a song or two with distinct country western flavor. But I doubt the influence of Shania Twain on my songwriting.
CM: In my review of your album, '9 to 3', I describe your musical style as eclectic, i.e., you don't have a style that you can be slotted into. How would you describe your style?
AM: You're absolutely right. If I were to put together all the genres mentioned in the album reviews so far, they would probably add up to PsychedelicAmericanaUrbanBollywoodCountryRock. (He laughs.) I guess my style is best described as a combination of all these. I mix, cross and morph different genres while working on a song. This mostly happens unconsciously. I approach my music production song by song and work towards whatever brings me closer to my concept of the essence and atmosphere of that song, regardless of a style or a genre. When I work on a particular song, it becomes the centre of my universe and gets my undivided attention until it's finished. Then I move on to the next one.
CM: How did you come to write the songs on '9 to 3'?
AM: I have a "selective" process of writing songs. Let me explain.. My song writing process is almost always the same; first comes the melody. When I get a melody in my head it almost always comes with the theme of the song lyrics, sometimes even with big chunks of lyrics. What happens next is that I try not to record, write or save the melody straight away. I let it rest for a couple of days. If the melody still sticks in my head after a couple of days, then I know that this could be a song. If it doesn't, then it wasn't worth pursuing anyway. I then record the melody in my head with whatever pieces of lyrics I have, with a guitar on my phone, just to keep a safe copy of it. This is basically the creative part of song writing. My approach to working out arrangements, final lyrics, grooves and licks, etc. vary from song to song.
I had twenty-six completed songs to choose from for '9 to 3'. Initially I intended to put 11 or 12 songs out, but decided in favour of the overall flow of the album to put out 15 tracks. The songs that didn't make it to the album were not inferior by any means. I like them and I think they are good, but they just didn't fit into the context of '9 to 3'.
CM: What kind of acceptance has '9 to 3' enjoyed?
AM: '9 to 3' has been very well received and all three of my single releases have been and continue to be on several Airplay Charts. The Airplay Charts rankings are a huge recognition and an honour for me. It feels really, really good to receive this kind of airplay. It is a validation that all of the hard work put into the album is being noticed. I have no words to describe how good it feels. I'm thrilled by how well the media has accepted my album and the reviews have been extremely well researched and written with such great love for detail, anecdotes and humour. The use of social media by the music bloggers, especially Twitter has been very helpful to rapidly build awareness for '9 to 3' and to share the reviews. I've put a selection of my favourite reviews, the ones with charm, love for detail and great sense of humour on my website. That includes the review that you wrote.
CM: Where do you find inspiration for your songs?
AM: A lot of the songs from '9 to 3' relate to my life's experience. My lyrical themes span from personal and circumstantial to social and political. For example, 'Sitting By Your Cradle', whose lyrics were a collaboration between myself and Mary Lou von Wyl, talks about the daily grind, the struggle for money, while one's life and loved ones just pass by unnoticed. 'Nothing Really Matters' is about love lost, betrayal and the blame game. 'Latin Lover' celebrates life full of passion and fun, living it up as if 'fun is going out of fashion'. They all have an element of my own experience. In my opinion, the combination of music and message play a huge role when it comes to opening up new perspectives in the minds of listeners. Music may not change the world or a system, but it does help to make us dream, give us hope, make us feel strong and even loved.
Music can evoke powerful emotions in people. I am a part of the society we live in and everything that happens in this society effects me and my creativity, directly or indirectly. I'm not shy about writing and singing about what's going on around me or inside me. My music, especially the lyrics, reflects that. 'View From The Top' is about social struggle and growing mistrust in the status quo. 'My World (SOS to the Universe)' is a cry for help. It's about attempting to escape into the unreal, virtual world of cyber space because fading ethical, ecological and emotional values is becoming unbearable. Writing this song was a culmination of various personal epiphanies and experiences. It is the recognition of great self-deceit and surrender to the technologies of self deception and distraction. Even so, there is hope and the children's voices embody this hope.
CM: Are you touring now?
Yes, I have concerts as well as live radio shows and interviews.
CM: When will you go back into the recording studio? And when you do, do you foresee the next album being another eclectic collection or might fans expect something more stylistically confined?
AM: I'm writing and recording new songs for my next album. At the moment, I'm going through an extremely creative phase. The release is planned for the fall of 2016. I'm excited about the songs and I'm having a great time playing around with them. My next album will be exciting. That's all I can say for the moment. I don't think it will be stylistically confined, but perhaps a bit more coherent.
CM: My favorite song on the album is 'Nothing Really Matters'. How did the song come to fruition? In other words, what was the inspiration for the song?
AM: I'm happy that you like 'Nothing Really Matters'. It's a personal song, coming out of my own life experience. It was my way of getting even with a long, destructive and exhausting break-up battle. I think you can feel the tension, the frustration and the relief in the song. It was critical for me to write and perform this song. It has been therapeutic.
CM: I'm a sucker for good drumming. Who played the drums on the album and where did he learn his style?
AM: I'm so happy that you asked. My drummer and dear friend is Fausto Medici. I've been playing with him since my first album as an independent artist and longer. Fausto is Italian-born and a very seasoned groove artist who's capable of thinking completely outside the box when it comes to grooves and drum sounds. His roots are in Jazz music. He has been playing in various Jazz and Blues combos for decades. Fausto is also deeply engaged in the legendary Jazz Festival Willisau, Switzerland, which has taken place every year in August since 1975. In the course of his involvement with the Jazz Festival, Fausto has played with so many exceptional Jazz musicians. I think that's where he got his distinctive style.
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