Chilling out at his Yari Road apartment cum workplace was Kalyan Baruah when he humbly welcomed me in. Woohoo.. it was one hell of a place.. computer screens, guitars and speakers galore. “Get that stool here”, he said and we were away. All the nerves were gone in no time, that’s how gentle and humble he is. He’s been the mainstay of Bollywood and Indi-Pop for a long time now and is very content with what he’s achieved in life. He respects KK and all his fellow band members a lot and says we’re family and our relationship is beyond business. Sipping through his coffee, he tells us that music is all he wanted to do and how passionate he is about creating good music. His way of speaking only defined his personality – simple, modest, straight-forward and frank.
When did you start playing the guitar and who were your influences as a child?
I was always fond of music and started playing the guitar in 1981-82.. my family also has a musical background. I initially couldn’t afford a guitar and learnt the tabla for a few years but eventually got bored of it. Some of the Guitar Players that have influenced me are.. Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, BB King, Roy Buchanon, Jeff Beck, Larry Carlton, Scott Henderson, A.J… and many more.
When did you get noticed and which brand of guitar do you use?
I started playing with a band called ‘Friends’ in 1982 which was a very established band in the north-east and played for a long time with them. We played various genres of music there, including regional. I’ve also played with major artists like Rudy Wallang and Lou Majaw.. who were great to work with. Briefly, I was also part of a band called ‘The Great Society’, which still is a major band there. Alongside, I tried to do a job and kinda worked with anyone and everyone then. But, I soon quit my job and decided to take up guitaring as my profession. The Guitar that I use now for my studio and live playing is a Gibson CS336.. (thanks to Heena of Gibson India!!) I was playing the Fender Strat a lot before that.. live as well as recordings.. besides these, I have PRS, IBNANEZ vintage series, Fender Telecatser, Aria Pro2, Taylor accoustics, Talkamine and few other hand made nylon string Guitars.
How and when did you meet KK?
Ohh.. this was purely by chance. We first met at Anu Malik’s recording studio in 1994.. both were fresh faces then. We just started chatting casually and would often bump into each other at recording studios. I’ve liked his singing from the very beginning. The early part of KK’s career was purely based on jingles & other ad work.
How did ‘Pal’ happen?
Well, I used to play for artistes like Lucky Ali.. and we (as in Karl, Kurt and Rinku) had a house band for Channel V at that time as the channel was newly launched. There, Leslie Lewis approached us to work for this album called Pal, in which he was launching KK. We readily agreed and this was how we got our first major break. Leslie wasnted to make it lively and didn’t want all that programmed stuff in the album, so we enjoyed a lot during Pal and really started coming close.
Do you have a special fondness for an instrument, a particular guitar? Which other instruments do you play ?
I primarily like playing the guitar. But I do play the keyboard, the tabla and various other string instruments.
Playing guitar commercially has always been considered a selfless job.. why did you choose this instead of going for a rock band of your own, or did you ever want to form your own band?
Ohh.. I’ve always wanted to and I still do.. I think of it all the time (laughs).. but yes.. I agree with you on that. It’s indeed a selfless job. But the time when I started, I really didn’t have much to choose. I decided to sell my talent and wherever I went to play I got instantaneous feedback and I loved that, it helped me in many ways.. and more importantly I was loving what I was doing. I do keep writing stuff and who knows, I may compile everything one day and come up with something of my own.
How do you prefer to go about a recording? Bass, acoustic, electric.. in what order?
It all depends on what kind of work I’m requested for. If the director wants me to do acoustic I go for it and the same applies for bass & electric. I don’t have any preferences as such.
What is it like working with music directors in general? Favourites?
It has been wonderful. I’ve had the good fortune of working with several talented music directors. I’ve worked with artistes like Adnan Sami and I even did the music for Lucky Ali’s second album ‘Aks’. I’ve known Salim since the day I came to Bombay. The great part about Bombay is that if you seriously are good at a particluar thing, you definitely get good work and all music directors have been fantastic to work with.. don’t really have a favourite (smiles).
Which song do you enjoy the most when you’re performing live?
I never get tired of playing Pal and Yaaron.. though we’ve played it for like a million times together.. but these two are indeed special. We also enjoy the fast, peppy numbers on stage and basically enjoy a lot when we’re performing live.
What’s the secret of keeping a band together, now that it’s been over 10 years that you all have been together?
It’s really a matter of respecting the opinions and views of one another. You also need to give every member his space and ultimately you should be really passionate about it. I feel the main thing lies in feeling your music to the fullest and having faith in your band and in your music.. be it any genre. You should feel you’re playing the best music in the world.
Does KK get angry when you miss a beat/tune during your gigs?
Oh not at all.. he’s as calm as ever and very down to earth. In fact, we should all learn from him, how to stay cool and composed even if things aren’t going your way. He’s a great friend and we’ve shared some wonderful moments together.
What’s your take on band culture in India? What message would you give to budding guitarists who look up to you?
I personally feel, if you’ve formed a band.. you must take your music seriously. It’s a different thing whether you want to pursue it professionally, but you’ve got to be passionate about your music and I’m sure there are great bands in India. For the young guitarists.. keep loving your music and have conviction in what you’re doing. Believe that you’re playing great music.
What are your hobbies & other interests? Favourite music?
Well, I love photography (he showed me some of the pictures he clicked.. trust me, they were AWESOME!!). I do painting and love travelling. I basically like rock/jazz/blues.. I also enjoy bollywood numbers and of course KK tracks.
What would you be if you weren’t a guitarist?
I would definitely have been doing something related to anthropology. I did my graduation in anthropology. I really like exploring things and it fascinates me as to how people from different regions have different body structure.. basically study of human beings. I once also thought that I would be a lecturer in some college (tongue in cheek).
‘Cineraria’ has been liked by so many.. do you all plan to launch an exclusive English album? And how long is KK going to make us wait this time for his next?
Ahh.. we haven’t thought about it like that.. ‘Cineraria’ was like a tribute to KK’s old days, when he did rock & other english stuff.. it has a nostalgic feel for him. We still do english stuff during our jam sessions and it’s awesome. Look, an album takes a lot of time.. if you sit down and think that you’re going to make an album, you’re under immense pressure which will certainly not help. It should just happen. I’ll tell you how ‘Ye Kahan Mil Gaye Hum’ happened. KK and I were returning from a concert and were waiting at the airport.. there we misread our flight time as 8:35 which was actually 18:35.. we kept on chatting chatting.. till we realized that we had actually missed the flight. Our wives got very angry when they got to know this. We went to a hotel and just sat there in our rooms. I picked up my guitar and started playing the tune which you now hear in the initial part of the song.. and the lyrics too were very apt at that time.. ye kahan mil gaye hum.. (laughs).. So, it’s really not a programmed thing.. it just happens and great music is made.