The Editors of varnachitram.com had a long conversation with Music Director Deepak Dev recently. We discussed his songs, sound design, orchestration, the equipment he uses and generally about how the music industry. We woke him at midnight and fired off all these questions. He very graciously answered all the questions and spend more time with us than we expected. Finally as the interview progressed it became more of a conversation with Deepak asking our opinion on his music and what people on the net thought about him.
This interview would not have been possible without a generous donation of questions by two people who know music – KK and Jo.
varnachitram.com: For us music listeners, we are usually able to identify the music director of a song based on some characteristics in the song. You seem to use a lot of guitar (or guitar sounds) in your songs. Typically, that guitar pattern is either played with the lead melody (e.g. Minnedi Minnedi, Naran) or used as a filler (e.g. Parayaathe Ariyaathe). In fact, your songs are instantly recognizable due to that. Is there a special reason why you use so much guitar?
Deepak Dev: I was very fond of guitar right from my childhood days and started learning music on the guitar. Then my interest got diverted from guitar to keyboard playing and I couldn’t continue on the guitar. But still I have that passion for the instrument and I am also a guitar collector. It is mainly because I love the instrument so much that I tend to use it a lot more in my songs.
varnachitram.com: We felt that you also seem to use very very little “strings” (group violin) in your songs. Is it because of your philosophy to keep the songs simple?
Deepak Dev: That’s right. It is mainly to bring a difference in my songs, I felt that I should look at songs from a different angle. In Indian music there is so much of strings throughout, especially in Malayalam music. I though that I should use less strings so that it doesn’t sound like any other song.
varnachitram.com: Due to these two things, there is a definite signature in your songs. Another thing we notice is that the sound quality in your songs are terrific both for the vocals as well as the instruments. The sound is clear and crisp. You pay lot of attention to minute details like the fret noises of the guitar and breath sounds. Can you talk about this a bit.
Deepak Dev: I have so much passion towards good sound and normally I try not to take out these natural sounds like the fret noise. These days what happens is that when you get so much into electronics, things get so artificial. When there is so much of perfection happening, it takes out the life from the music. When you record voice, it is recorded line by line and things are so perfect. When you start listening to the songs a few times, you realize that it is too perfect and there is no life in it. So if there is a retake, I insist on the singer singing the whole stanza and not just the word or the line so that there is a flow. Usually in recording there is so much of fret noise and breath sounds that it is cleaned up. To keep the life in the music, I don’t delete the fret noises so that it sounds more lively.
If you notice at the end of Karale, the guitarist takes out his hands and the noise is still coming.
varnachitram.com: The vibration of the string..
Deepak Dev: Not just the vibration of the string, after the vibration when he takes out his hands, there is a fret noise in that song.
varnachitram.com: Malayalam songs never had this kind of sound quality before. We used to listen to Tamil songs and they had this wonderful sound quality and you have bought this quality into Malayalam songs as well. We hope it will usher in a new culture.
Deepak Dev: Very happy to hear that. I always wanted people to recognize it.
varnachitram.com: One of our favourite songs is Panimathiyey. The reason we like it is because the orchestration is minimal and hence you get to hear the sweet voice of Yesudas and Chitra and nothing else. Can you talk a bit about the origin of this song.
Deepak Dev: Panimathiyey started like this. It was the theme song for Symphony. The director wanted something haunting in the mood of the song. It has a haunting piano piece in the beginning and later in the melody it has a semi-classical touch. It also has lot of sensuous feeling to it. At times what happens is that over arrangement can mess up a song. There are so many cases where the song sounded good initially, then after the arrangement you realize that the song has not grown, but has actually shrunk. So I decided to keep myself under control and found that the music and piano works and decided to stop at that.
I also tried introducing the base guitar which is not very common in the Indian music scene. In Indian music, especially Malayalam music, I have never heard the solo being played on the base guitar. Usually this stays in the background. In this case I decided to make him the front piece and move the others to the back of the base guitar. So it gave a difference dimension to that song.
varnachitram.com: How much time do you take to compose a song? Does the tune come first? or the lyrics? If it is the tune, is there any instance you have tried tuning a pre-written poem? Example, Panimathyey Punarum seems to be a tuned poem, is that true?
Deepak Dev: For Panimathiyey, the tune was made first, but there have been cases like Minnedi Minnedi (Naran) where the song was written first and then tuned later. I was actually lucky to get permission from the director to compose music for pre-written lyrics. Both the director Joshi and lyricist Kaithapram Damodaran gave maximum support and I also wanted to give it a try. When I told my wish, they told give it a try. I was not confident about how much of justice would be done. Then Minnedi Minnedi did well and I could do justice to the lyrics. For example in the words Doore Poyatharanu, I could put the feeling of pain.
varnachitram.com: One of the things we hear is that songs are composed much faster these days now compared to older times.
Deepak Dev: I think it is better to put it this way. They are composed faster, becomes hits faster and gets taken out of the charts faster.
varnachitram.com: Do you have a special liking for rhythm-programming? In the theme music for Udayanaanu Thaaram, your rhythms take off for a while in the latter parts of the song. It seems you were enjoying doing that part?
Deepak Dev: Yes, I have a passion for rhythm programming and it happened by accident. For my first project I did not have a programmer and decided to take up the task myself. As I progressed, I developed as you said a signature for my music. I wanted to be different from others and continued programming myself.
At times you get really wild while programming and when it comes to composing theme music you are not bound by the director or other elements. You have the freedom to put the best into it. Sometimes when you compose songs there might be some space and the director will ask you to put some filling into it. When it comes to theme people notice that I give a different style to it. It is the typical me and I don’t have limits. For themes I have a different style of working out and that’s because that’s fully me and I am not under pressure.
varnachitram.com: Is that why the Rashtram theme has some heavy orchestration?
Deepak Dev: Do you mean to say you liked it or not?
varnachitram.com: If you look at Symphony theme it was a haunting tune, but Rashtram had a heavy metal feel to it.
Deepak Dev: Rashtram I would put it this way. It is a Suresh Gopi film. The director felt that it should be larger than life. Suresh Gopi films are filled with exaggeration on screen and when it came to music he wanted everything to make Suresh Gopi look larger than life.
varnachitram.com:It is not in the same style as your other themes, that’s our only comment.
Deepak Dev: It could have been made better if it was not so noisy and that’s why I thought I should work on albums other than film music. I am working on an album with my friend Vinod Varma and we have been sitting on it for quite sometime. It is a very slow album and Vinod has been with me since my college days and we hope to complete it in the coming year.
varnachitram.com: Actually that is one of our next questions
Deepak Dev: My wish is not to get stuck in film music. It always has compromises and when you want to think internationally it is always albums that work and you can show who you are. I wanted to do something internationally and I am on my way to start a Hindi project nationally. It is not very contemporary. I have a passion for hip-hop music and R&B and my combination with Vinod has given a new dimension to music. My sound design is mainly towards black music and he is from a country background. This fusion has given a new definition to our album.
(To be continued)