Written By Ryan Donnelly
I have always respected musicians that play from the heart, the ones that focus on the stories of their songs and the importance of staying true to the source, and Ajay Mathur is one of those musicians that I speak of. His interesting and soulful album titled 9 To 3 is filled with many great lyrics and solid musicianship.
RYAN: The album 9 to 3 deals with some very serious topics emotionally, how would you describe your sound to anyone that has not yet heard your music?
Hi Ryan, thanks for having me here. You’re right about the topics on ‘9 to 3. I try to create a sound that would best build up the energy and the mood of the song and also capture the atmosphere of the theme. I mix, cross and morph different genres to get there. This mostly happens unconsciously. I guess that’s the reason why my sound is a combination of many different styles. If I were to put together all the genres mentioned in the album reviews so far, they would probably add up to #PsychedelicAmericanaUrbanBollywoodCountryRock <laugh>.
RYAN: The song writing process is different for everyone, can you take us through your song writing process a bit?
I have a selective process of writing songs. Let me explain…. the melody comes to me first. It generally comes with the theme of the song, sometimes even with big chunks of lyrics. I play it on my guitar and sing it till get to a key that fits. What happens next is that I try not to record, write or save the song right away. I let it rest for a couple of days. If it still sticks in my head after these 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 song and whatever pieces of lyrics I have on my phone and jot down the lyrics that came with 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 approach my production song by song and work towards whatever brings me closer to my concept of the essence and the 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.
RYAN: We all have influences, what are some of yours?
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, Neil Young, Jeff Tweedy, Beck, Adele, 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.
RYAN: It is clear that you take a very serious and professional approach to writing your songs, How long have you been a musician and have you always taken a socially conscious approach to your lyrics?
I grew up in a family of musicians and artists. I’ve been surrounded by music all my life and have been playing on-stage as early as the seventies. I’m convinced that music plays a big 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’ve never been shy about writing and singing about what’s going on around me or inside me.
RYAN: Speaking of lyrics that matter, what are some current events you feel are important to shed some more light on?
The lyrics are the crown-jewels of my music and clearly play an important role. I write most of them myself, but for some of my songs, I collaborate with Mary Lou von Wyl, a very talented and creative writer. My lyrical themes span from personal, romantic, circumstantial or cynically narcissistic to social, political and environmental. Surely the current exodus and the mass movement of almost entire population of a country seeking safety and refuge far away from their homes and culture, their faces, their stories, their journey, the plight and the political fallout they have been facing, especially in Europe and the United States. All this has been very disturbing and inspiring at the same time. Another theme is the culture of fear that is consistently been cultivated and induced into our thinking. We’ve been “drilled” into believing that we’re not “good enough”. We focus on our blemishes more than on our beauty. On a more cheerful note, there have been events in my personal life, where I’m sure that the universe conspired in my favour. It’s about love, life and epiphanies.
RYAN: Do you have any advice for musicians looking to enter into the industry or make an album?
It’s hard to give advice for musicians looking to enter into the industry or make an album because there’s no one way of doing it. There are some takeaways from my own experience as an independent artist who has gone through a few cycles of making and promoting albums, which I’d like to share. Making an album today is easy, technically speaking. Yet the most critical part of it is to write or get great songs for the album. Collaborate with songwriters. If you’re just starting out, get a producer; somebody who can sort things out for you and build you up on an emotional, musical and groove level for the album production. It has be more than one of your friends (or your manager) who happens to “like” your music or a technical sound engineer who’s recording and mixing your album, or a studio owner who’s might consider himself as being your producer, just because he’s “paying” for your studio time (I’ve seen them all, trust me). Good production is critical and a good producer does make a difference. Once you have the album with some great songs, well produced, then you’re ready to open the door to the music industry. That’s where the album’s journey begins and so does your hard work releasing, distributing and promoting your album. Take “ownership” of your music career – get help but don’t expect somebody else to take responsibility for it (they won’t). This is YOUR music, your career. Collaborate with industry professionals and other songwriters/musicians.
RYAN: Now that digital streaming and file sharing have overtaken the need for physical sales, how do you feel about the music market currently?
Prince said in a recent interview with The Guardian, and I quote “I was right about the internet – tell me a musician who’s got rich off it. Apple’s doing pretty good though, right?” That says it all for me. With so much free music and art available today on the Internet, one tends to forget that much of the music business and musician’s livelihood rely on sales to keep the lights and the heating on, and the microphones and amplifiers up and running. I am no exception to that. Without that support, it gets tougher and tougher to make things work. I encourage my listeners to explore my music on streaming platforms, like Spotify, Shazam, Google Play and even on my website, but do remember to BUY the album or your favourite songs out of it. Thanks for listening and (sometimes) buying my music from a store, including…
CD Baby http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ajaymathur5
RYAN: Many musicians enjoy the result from collaborative efforts, are there any musicians that you would like to collaborate with if you had the chance?
Since the beginning years of modern pop-rock music there has been a lot collaboration, jamming and experimentation going on among musicians, songwriters and producers. This brought us some of the finest music ever known. I collaborate often with other musicians and writers. If I could, I’d love to write some songs with Tom Petty and collaborate with Jonathan Wilson and Jack White on the production. That would be awesome!
RYAN: Lastly, and thank you for your time. Is there any news from your camp that you would like to tell your fans?
I thank you Ryan, it was a pleasure. I’m going through an extremely creative phase and I’m writing and recording new songs for my next album. 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!