Acclaimed Indo-Fusion guitarist, Rahul Mukerji, released his debut album “Ma De Re Sha” in May this year. Rahul has been performing live in dive bars, weddings, and gigs across USA and India for over 15 years now. His compositions have frequently featured in indie films and animation videos. In 2008, he made it to the Editors’ Picks of the Guitar Player Magazine.
Rahul is also a professional visual artist, who loves doing wood engravings, pencil sketching, spray painting, and digital renderings. We caught up with him to find out more about his debut album, personal life, and his future plans.
Congratulations on the successful launch of your solo album “Ma De Re Sha”. How does it feel having released your own album? Are you happy with the way things are moving?
Thank you! I’d always wanted to release an album, so seeing it come to fruition has been exhilarating. And I’m beyond happy with its release, reception and success. I’ve been fortunate to have the album featured and favorably reviewed in some major international magazines and other music outlets.
What inspired you to come up with “Ma De Re Sha”? Did you have any plans to become a producer?
A few years back I finally decided to pursue my dream and release an album. The original intent was to take all my orphan song ideas and compile them into an album. Somewhere down the line, I decided to align the album thematically and have a common thread bind the album together. This lead to the underlying theme about different people I have met, and musically, a strong Indo-Fusion presence on the album. We then selected the tracks that best met that underlying theme.
The Producer aspect came purely by happenstance. It hadn’t really crossed my mind since this release was originally intended to be a homegrown project released for free on Bandcamp. By the time I decided to release this album commercially, Bruce M. Ng, who became my Co-Producer, and I already had a great longtime musical working relationship. We just happened to become producers. I will say that producing the album has been an immensely rewarding experience and I’m very grateful we did it, as we learned a lot about the entire process and the music business.
It seems you started working on the album in 2011. Why did it take so long for its release?
Traditionally, for full time musicians, when you put money down, book studio time, line up all your session musicians, you can knock out all your tracking in 2 weeks or so. Then you hire a Mix Engineer who can mix it down and pass it on to the Mastering Engineer. From there it goes to the CD production phase. Generally, this can be accomplished within a few months. That does help put schedule constraints on your timeline and you can release an album with a year.
However, I’m a full time IT Professional so my art and music work is relegated mostly to weekends and the odd weeknight. Bruce, too, is not a full-time musician. So, family, travel, other obligations sometimes took higher priority. The geographical separation between Bruce and me also played a substantial role. Living in different time zones, a simple email exchange usually took 3 days. That slowed down the album progress substantially. We spent a lot of time perfecting the album to the best of our ability. That took a few good years. The Bass tracking, Mixing, Mastering and CD/Vinyl printing took about a year and a half. That too was coordinated across Spain, France, Germany, and the Czech Republic!
The making of “Ma De Re Sha” involved coordinating with musicians and artists from different countries. How did you go about picking the people on the album and what was it like working with them?
I had told Bruce, back in 2010 that I had planned to work on a solo album. He was very eager to contribute to the project, and since our taste in music is aligned, he seemed like a good fit. We used to be in a band together in Washington, DC and he moved to Germany just as I was starting to really focus on my solo album. Looking back at it now, I couldn’t have picked a more perfect Co-Producer. So initially he signed up as the drummer for the album, but his discerning ear and his attention to detail made him a prime candidate for Co-Producer. He’s been involved from the very start of the project and his contributions have been immeasurable.
When it came time to pick a bass player, I wanted someone who was adept across multiple genres since we had an eclectic mix of metal, jazz, rock and ethnic elements. We were suggested Ruben Rubio by Javier Abril, who was the Mastering Engineer on the album and a mutual friend of Ruben and Bruce. Ruben, quite frankly, took the songs to a whole new level with his playing. His bass solos are stunning and make an excellent statement in the album. His groove and timing are impeccable, and he had the perfect mix of all genres to fit into this project. He did a fantastic job whether it was playing the fretless, or adding slap and pop sections or harmonizing guitar lines! A brilliant musician with formidable technique!
For our Mixing Engineer, I had shortlisted a few candidates, but Tower Studio was at the very top. A friend of mine, from a band called Shumaun, had their album mixed by Brett Caldas-Lima from Tower Studio and it sounded phenomenal. So, when Brett agreed to reamp and mix the album, Bruce and I were thrilled. The mixes were unquestionably superb. The clarity, the richness and depth to the mixes were amazing and the overall album sound became very polished. There is a reason why Tower Studio works with the giants of music like Devin Townsend, Cynic, Ayreon and Pain of Salvation amongst others: Quality! There is no doubt the album’s sound quality is a direct result of Brett’s work.
Javier is Bruce’s friend and had offered to master the album for us. He has worked with numerous TV productions, national and international artists in Spain. He put the final touch on the album and set it up for production with all the details required. At that point the album sounded like a professional product, and had similar levels and clarity as a commercial album.
Working with Bruce, Ruben, Brett and Javier has been an absolute dream. I owe a lot of the album’s success to their efforts and hard work.
Surely working with artists across the globe must have been a challenging job. Would you like to share any specific instance?
Well, the biggest challenge was the time difference. Living in different time zones results in lags that run into days, between emails, and consequently decisions. Also, since we were not all at the same place, the email threads ran into thousands and finding specific versions of mixes or takes over email and such, became a challenging task. And since most artists and studios work with multiple clients and generally expect to complete projects in a certain time frame, these delays can add significant overhead to the project both in time and cost.
Which song in the album do you love the most?
Ah! The proverbial “favorite child” question! Frankly it changes from time to time. Presently, it’s Sinner.
The name of your album “Ma De Re Sha” sounds similar to the musical notes “Sa Re Ga Ma”. Does it have anything to do with them?
Well, I can’t say that for sure as the phrase was from a two-year-old (at the time). I’m fairly positive she didn’t cherry pick the Indian solfège and make her own anagram. But it certainly is an interesting twist of serendipity that the album name has the Indian notes Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni.
You’ve played a number of gigs across USA and India. Which one is your best and why?
The best gig I’ve had so far was back in 2015 with Iritis. We played Rams Head Live in Baltimore which is the venue where all the international artists play. We were on hallowed ground where Mastodon, Devin Townsend and other have played. We had an amazing set, with a great fractal video backdrop and a massive stage. The sound was great, the crowd was great, we encountered no technical issues during the set … it was just perfect!
What do you love the most about being a guitarist?
The ability to communicate with the audience. There’s something very satisfying about being able to move an audience with certain signature riffs. That, and the fact that a guitar allows you to use it in percussive, harmonic and melodic settings, so it’s a very expressive instrument.
And what sucks most about being a musician?
The entertainment industry is hard to break into and even harder to financially break even. Most musicians I know now have full time jobs and even with album releases, you barely break even, less make a profit.
You’ve been a guitarist, instructor, visual artist, and now a producer. How do you manage so many roles?
I’ve been lucky and grateful to have been able to do all this and seen various levels of success. I guess I’m always seeking new avenues to express my creativity. I was exposed to art and music at a very young age and took to it eagerly. It became second nature for me to draw, sketch and create music as the years went by. I can always seem to make time to satiate my creative needs.
Painting, sketching, engraving, or digital rendering… which medium brings out the better visual artist in you?
I would have to say that it’s the digital fractal renderings, for sure. I love creating fractal videos since they are mathematical forms that evolve organically. And even though there is symmetry in the structure sometimes you get very unpredictable results and the scene can switch from stark barren landscape to a rich ecosphere of familiar yet alien patterns. I’ve found in my exhibits that the fractals videos garner the most attention.
Since you are an accomplished visual artist, what kind of art do you think best represents your music?
Again, the fractal renderings I think best represent music. Mainly because they seem to fit really well with music, whether it’s psychedelic or heavy or ambient. And because, just like music, fractals offer a rich palette of choices and patterns, you can almost always find one to fit any kind of music genre.
What next after “Ma De Re Sha”? What are your future plans?
I’m looking to play the album live so I’m presently scouting for musicians to help form an ensemble. I’d like to get out and play ethno-fusion with a heavy edge.
Thank you, Rahul, for taking out time for this fantastic interview. We wish you good luck in all your endeavors!
Thank you for the opportunity and the insightful questions!