Music was the first language I learnt, says alternative pop-rock musician Sooraj Bishnoi

When at the tender age of one, children learn to speak; Sooraj Bishnoi learnt the language of music as he began playing keyboards. At six, he started learning guitar and piano. Sooraj garnered recognition with his debut song Nemesis. He is inspired by the work of Mozart, Indian Raagas, and the Beatles, etc. At 24, he is a singer, 8th-grade Keyboardist, songwriter, music arranger, composer, and instrumentalist. Bishnoi is possibly the youngest 8th Grade guitarist from the Trinity College of London. In an exclusive interview with Music Beat, the Mumbai guy, who moved to Los Angeles to further pursue his musical career, talks about his journey, his songs, genre and music compositions; idols, crowd-funding, and more!

A singer, Keyboardist, songwriter, composer, music arranger, and instrumentalist; when did this multi-faceted journey of yours already start?

I’ve been into music for long as I can remember. I started out singing and playing the keyboard at the age of one and a half, passed my Grade 8 from Trinity College London in keyboards at age six, and picked up various musical instruments, songwriting, and production from then on. So music was the first language I ever learned, and the first identity I had.

How do you manage to juggle between your different skills? Do you get bored doing any?

I’ve always believed that you find the time to do the things you love the most. And so far, I’ve been on track with that. Sooner or later, things always work out. And if I was bored with any, I wouldn’t do them!

What or who is your inspiration?

My inspiration derives from my parents, who have nurtured me and gotten me through this journey and exposed and encouraged me to try new things all the time. My inspiration is everyone who I work with, and learn so much from. When doing music, you find inspiration all around you - it only takes a little open-mindedness to see it.

Indian Raagas to Mozart, John Mayer, and Beatles are a part of your varied musical journey. Can you tell us about their influence on your work?

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to listen to and meet several great Indian artists in person at a young age - including Ustaad Allah Rakha, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Birju Maharaj, Kadri Gopal Nath, and others. Their music and their blessings have played a profound role in my musical journey. On the other side, I’ve heard the greats of Western classical music such as Mozart and Beethoven played by some of the best orchestras in the world, in my hometown Mumbai with maestros such as Zubin Mehta. And of course, I love The Beatles, and John Mayer, and Porcupine Tree, and Ella Fitzgerald, and several other types of contemporary music. All of these play a huge role in defining my style and my approach to music as both a songwriter and a producer.

If you had to define your style of music-making what it would be called?

Alternative pop-rock.

Your debut single was ‘Nemesis’. Can you tell us about it more?

Nemesis is like an anti-love song, and it’s a song that I think I’m known the best for, to date. It’s a contrast of sorts - a groovy, catchy melody with very stern lyrics. The music video was shot by Anand Kamath of Pop-It Productions, based in Thane, India, and was a completely different twist on what I originally meant the song to be about!

‘City Beat’ is your crowd-sourced music video. First, let’s talk about the song, which is in your city – Mumbai

I wanted to capture the pace and the attitude of Mumbai, which I experienced throughout my life, in City Beat. Right from the drumbeat, mimicking the rhythm a local train, to the lyrics talking about various visuals of the city, this song stemmed from the emotion that I felt when I was set to leave Mumbai to study abroad.

Can you shed light on how crowd-sourcing can be used by musicians, singers, or any other artists for their benefit?

Crowd-sourcing is a wonderfully interactive and cost-effective way to build a music video. You ask your listeners/followers to send in videos and stitch them together to create a music video. In that sense, it makes your song more personal to your listeners - as they have been involved in its production. The music video - in a literal sense - was made by Mumbai, for Mumbai.

Your debut full-length EP ‘Here We Go’ was released in February 2019. Can you tell us about it?

Here We Go is a culmination of sorts of a lifelong musical journey. It was my first ‘big’ project and a goal that I had set for myself when I targeted studying music abroad. I released it with the help of musicians from all over the world (quite literally!) - Kazuki Tokaji from Japan, Kruttika Sequeira, from India, Phung Dang from the USA, Igor Kirillov from Russia, along with help from singer Raye Robinson from the USA, and put it together with producer and sound engineer Navneet Rao from India.

The 'Actor' song from your EP was noteworthy. Can you tell us about it more?

The Actor is a reflection of life as I saw around me in Hollywood. You see several people struggling to make it big in both the music and the film industry here, and slowly losing their true selves in the process. It’s a dissonance of sorts - how much of yourself must you truly lose to achieve your definition of success? That was where the song’s emotion stemmed from, to gently remind people to not be just another role to play. That was also when I first worked with music video director Jonas Gaida, of G-Studios, Hollywood, and have continued working with him on my future videos ever since.

Is there any element of music, you are yet to explore?

A lot! Music is always evolving and you can never explore it fully. One area, in particular, is learning wind and brass instruments - especially the saxophone, which is an instrument. I love the sound of it.

As an eighth-grade Keyboardist, how promising is this career? Are there more youngsters willing to pursue?

Your career is as promising as you allow it to be. You have to work with challenges and restrictions - but that’s true for any career. At the end of the day, you define on your own what success means for you, and don’t let anyone else define it for you.

You have worked with The Zodiac Mafia, Kruthi Singar, and Shay, etc. How was the experience?

It was life-altering, in the most amazing way ever. Working with other bands as a team player taught me so much about people skills, fitting in, and made me grow as a musician and as a person. Working to create a signature sound with such accomplished and dedicated musicians was a one-of-a-kind experience.

You are working on your music. Can you tell us about it more?

I’m working on some more music videos, and also a few new songs. I’m in the process of recording a new one now - perhaps have enough ideas for a new album too!

Having lived in Hollywood and California, how different is the music-making there when compared to here in India?

First of all, there is no influence of Bollywood here. So you have a music industry that’s evolving at a much quicker pace than what you have in India. That’s also a little bit of a disadvantage because the music industry here is very saturated and it takes a real special shot to make it even somewhat close to being profitable. In India, I feel that we are on the verge of an explosion in the independent music industry, because it’s relatively younger, and that is what I want to be a part of.

What are your upcoming projects?

As of now, no definite plans per se - there is a project in the works of working with folk artists from India and adapting their songs and tunes to Western styles. But that’s still in the initial phases.

Any Bollywood projects you want to talk about?

None so far! Maybe it’ll come my way in the future.

What’s your dream project?

My dream project would be either a world tour, or to work on the music for a box-office-breaking film, and not one that is driven by just item numbers.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

As a musician who flies or as a pilot who sings!

Lastly, any message you want to give to budding singers?

Be yourself. Be honest and be true to your idea of success. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, and keep realizing that it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. Never stop learning.

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