Please tell us about yourself
Ashwin Gopakumar stormed into limelight as the melodious vocalist of Indie band ‘When Chai Met Toast’. However, for many he is a metalhead, courtesy his college band ‘Purple Blood’. In between his packed schedule, Ashwin finds time to open up about his musical journey with Cream Life.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
I used to sing even as a child but it wasn’t something I took seriously. I remember being part of group song performances in school, as a singer who stands at the end of group with no microphone reaching there (laughs). It was during my engineering days in Trivandrum that a group of friends and I decided to put together a band, just to play around with music and have fun. Little did I realise that over time, this would emerge as the only thing I want to do! Though I tried working in some companies, my mind was hardly there and I soon quit my job. All through, despite the continuous disappointment, my family was a great source of strength.
Let’s start with your college days and ‘Purple Blood’. How different were those days? Do you miss the band and the ‘Rockstar’ image?
Engineering college days are truly memorable in all ways. ‘Purple Blood’ played a huge role, and is the sole reason I took up music as my profession. Purple Blood is my stepping stone to becoming a musician and the motivation to move forward. Yes, I definitely miss my long hair and the times, however more than the image, Purple Blood is a feeling.
After a hiatus, you came up with the band ‘When Chai Met Toast’. There was a drastic transformation in your music. What made that change or how did the change happen?
I wanted to pursue music as a career and started writing songs. It was a long process indeed. During the break, I tried different projects, worked as a music industry professional, also did my associate degree in music business from Musicians Institute, LA and McNally Smith College of Music, Minneapolis. Simultaneously I was searching for a sound that would fit me right. And then one day 18 year old guitar prodigy Achyuth Jaigopal walked into my life and from then writing became serious.
About your band and the beautiful music you guys create?
As the name suggests, it’s basically a bunch of South Indian boys who love chai and playing English folk meeting Indian roots. We are a bunch of happy guys trying to make the world a better place by inspiring good in people. We hope to remind people to smile and glide through life.
Your playback singing career started with the song ‘Home’ from ‘Jacobinte Swargarajyam’. How did you land it? How was that experience?
To be honest, it was indeed a surprising experience. One fine day after the release of ‘Beautiful World’ (When Chai Met Toast) Vineeth Sreenivasan shared the song and I was so thrilled. The next day I got a call from him asking to write a song for his new movie since it needed English lyrics. Then I and Achyuth wrote something for the tune of Shaan Rahman. Home is the first track with my voice on it ever to have come in a movie screen, was quite a bit of goose bumps seeing that.
‘Payye Veeshum’ was one of the most talked about songs of last year. Your voice added a prolific magic to it. How has that song influenced your career?
Payye Veeshum is my debut in playback singing for real. Sachin is a good friend, and we became even greater friends through this journey called ‘Aanandam’. First Ganesh met me to talk about how metal life was in college and what my story was in general being from an engineering college. While we were talking, Sachin said “I have a song for you in Malayalam” and I instantly replied “Wow, I am not a great Malayalam singer”. However, he was persistent in making me sing and that’s how the song happened. I’m so happy that it reached millions of people. It’s just a starting point. When people call me for who I’m, I try to give my best.
Latest to your list is ‘Roshomon’ from ‘Solo’. The song is already a hit and has garnered over 1 million views on YouTube. How was it working for a peppy music director like Prashanth? Are you excited to have sung for Dulquer Salmaan?
OMG, Prashanth Pillai is an amazing human being. Walked into the studio to shake hands, he put me on the spot and gave all the freedom to do what I want with the track. I gave my best both in Malayalam and Tamil, making this my debut Tamil song too. He’s always one I’ve looked into, with experimental compositions in all sense from the acapella ride ‘Ee solomanum’ to the folk render ‘Theeyame’. I’m super excited to see Dulquer giving out his rave moves for the song and can’t wait for the movie.
You are one of the promoters of independent music in Kerala. Do you believe that the scope of independent music has changed a lot in recent years?
It’s all about how you give in as an artist. Independent music scene is gaining a larger base in the state as well as in the country. More people are exposed to parallel music, thanks to channels like Kappa. Also bigger names are tying up with smaller bands and promoting them. Kerala movie industry has also taken the effort of finding talent which in turn is great for the independent scene.
How do you balance between live shows and playback singing?
There isn’t as much hassle as you think; it’s a fun and happy life.
Band has two new video songs coming out in 6 months time. Our latest video ‘Fight’ was released last month. Personally there’s some news I’d like to break after everything goes right.
“Strong belief and one’s family makes you who you are”. All credits to my mom, dad and sister Anjana for tolerating a weird kid and his dreams.