Harsha Iyer – a multi-talented personality with distinctive traits

A vis-à-vis conversation with Harsha Iyer, a music composer and freelancer, based in Chennai.

All one needs is a good pair of ‘ears’ to produce music from scratch.

Harsha Iyer

‘As a person who strongly believes that experiments and experiences are a part of life,’ Harsha Iyer is a notable figure, who seeks out for opportunities with pragmatism. He has also shared spaces with The Hindu, News18, Bangalore Mirror and many more. Below is an insightful conversation with the music composer cum freelancer!

Tell us about yourself. Were you always interested in music or was it something that inspired you to pursue it as a career?

Reflecting back to childhood days, I have always identified as an artist above all other things because I was never particularly good at academics in school. ‘Art’ – I think is a paradise that many kids escape into, a world they dive into, where they find a sense of belonging, peace and joy. Often some of the most influential artists/ creators in history be it painters, filmmakers or musicians have been misfits in school without being too interested in studies, and I have often found myself on the same track. I have been drawing since I was three years old, later experimenting with photography before I picked up the guitar in 10th grade. Soon, I started writing my own songs, recording through a small headphone mic on my Garage Band Software when I got my first computer around the same time. I have parents from an artistic background who let me follow my passion, with no interference. I already had a great mentor in Kishore Krishna, the Singer Songwriter of ‘Adam & the fish eyed poets’ from Chennai. So, by the time I neared 12th grade, I decided that I was going to pursue music and went ahead chasing my dream.

Covering everything under your umbrella, from being a musician, photographer and producer to being an artist, what among these gives you content and satisfaction?

I think each art form has its own beauty, and you learn something different from exploring each of them, even if it is just for a shorter period of time. It changes you and makes you grow in a lot of ways. When I was reading a book on Leonardo Da Vinci, it talked about how Da Vinci was constantly on the search to explore everything he wanted to dive into. It also emphasized on how, back in the renaissance period, you were encouraged to immerse yourself into a variety of explorations versus now, when you are told to limit yourself and specialize under a specific category. I think a lot of young people nowadays believe in specializing under various fields at hand. Experimenting is a healthy choice to make, as we happen to know our area of interest. Even when I compose the lyrics of a song or engage in photography, both give me satisfaction in their own different ways.

After you finished schooling, why didn’t you think about attending a music school to receive further exposure?

I was never a big fan of school to begin with, as the concept of memorizing word-to-word was never my cup of tea. This is one of the reasons why I don’t attend music competitions as a judge, because the concept of ‘winners and losers’ feels wrong to me. I think music is a very personal notion, where you sing in front of an audience to express your vulnerability and every singer must be respected for the same. The reason I didn’t attend a music school was because I wanted a hands-on approach to figure and bring things into perspective. During this phase, I tried out different recording techniques and production ideas without a rigid set of rules. That is how my heroes grew up – the Beatles in the 60s tried out new ways of combining elements in music that nobody else had tried. A lot of artists have begun their journey on the basis of what they felt was right, rather than pursuing an academic background.

What are some of the challenges that you faced with your rock band in school, in contrast to when you went solo?

I started playing in school with my best friend Saketh, who now is a part of the band – EKAM. He was a key influence in starting the rock band we had together in school, and it was fun because you always had 3 people supporting you on stage. It was like you had your friends and comrades with you wherever you travelled and had a gig, but it comes with its own set of dynamic challenges. Being in a group with different personalities striving towards a single goal is the reason why so many bands have broken up after a while. While going solo, it is more like just you in solitude, working in the studio all by yourself, which can be lonely for some people but I enjoy it. You get to take every decision by yourself and you can control the state of music/art completely from the start till the end which is an advantage.

You normally record songs without any production at first. Now that you have embarked on a solo journey, how do you take care of the production costs and additional finances?

Today we see young musical Pop stars like Billie Eilish and her brother, Finneas, winning the Grammy Awards and having openly shown us their creation with minimal production, where their bedrooms signify the studio. Now, all we need is a computer, music software, a pair of good speakers and headphones, a soundcard and a good pair of ‘ears,’ to produce music from scratch. In the West, there is a difference of two markets, one is the Pop mainstream music scene and another is the Film music market, where the Pop songwriters and artists don’t necessarily need to be involved in composing background music for the film. But here in India, the Film market is the mainstream pop music market and the bigger source of income comes from being involved with films in some way. I’d encourage young musicians to learn the skills needed for film music songwriting and background scores to be able to survive in the near future, without hassles as a practical side job, if nothing else for additional finances. I have been fortunate to work with ‘SHIMMR’ Studios headed by Ashwin Vinayagamoorthy and his Engineer Sivanesh and ‘OFFBEAT’ Studio by MT Aditya Srinivasan who has worked with top musicians of our country and helps create a very comfortable, creative place for musicians looking forward to have their work done professionally.

Who are some of the well-known Kollywood celebrities that you have worked and collaborated with?

I’ve been working primarily as an Assistant Music Director under Radhan sir who has composed music for the film – ‘Arjun Reddy,’ and more recently for Aditya Varma. I’ve also freelanced for Music Director, Ghibran sir.

What is the idea behind your latest single, ‘Love Is Blind?’

One thing that I see around me is the feeling of stress in many young, single people who want to settle down with a stable relationship with their ‘one.’ Once their ‘one’ is found, they connect so deeply, that their search for ‘love’ comes to an end for them. It seems as an important achievement for many youngsters in their early, mid and late twenties. Occasionally you come across a person who you deeply fall in love with, and it breaks all the ideas of whom you think the person you end up with would look like, which goes beyond logic and reason. Where all the shallow ideas of beauty or compatibility or likes/ dislikes become immaterial. You both just fit with each other like a pair of gloves, despite being very different personalities.

The song is about finding ‘that person’ and being blind to all those external factors and being with them for the deeper inner beauty embedded in them. It is a mix of all those experiences and things I saw around. I’d researched on and read of other’s real lives, which seemed almost impossible. But seeing that it all came true, inspired me to write a song honest to the emotion of what a lover does for you eventually in his/her highest state. It’s a poetic ode to the romance that one might be lucky enough to experience in this short life.

Since you are an occasional poet, what is the genre and language that you incorporate within your poetry and music?

I think we live in a wonderful time today where there is a combination of identities, influences and cultures. Due to this, we engage in a very diverse multi-genre space. Songs and music in the mainstream and indie space are blending different genres together in new and innovative ways which are breaking the rules. The lyrics or poetry we write, people still connect to, as it is honest and from the heart and reflects some truth that has been observed, be it in English, Tamil or Urdu.

Why do most of your singles (Not Yet Dead, I Find You Boring, and No Say) revolve around a dull back-story? Are you trying to convey a phase of your life through emotions depicted in your songs?

These are melancholic because a lot of events in the world we see around are painted with the colors of sorrow and suffering. In art we try to make sense out of it, and in films or songs through storytelling. We can look through a magnifying glass to see what is happening in the world around us. In my perspective, every artist is putting a bit of herself/ himself in their songs, while sometimes trying to write about experiences that are not their own. It could be their friend’s lives or something they read in a newspaper or even a fictional character. Even if you take the biographies and lives of the most successful people in the world, some years and times of their lives has been good and many a times, it consists of sorrows and difficulties through which they have learnt some lessons by losing their way, or their purpose, or having or letting go of something. I think somewhere there is a deep melancholy and sorrow within every human. In this chase towards finding fulfillment and joy, some of the greatest works, be it in books, paintings, films or music has a background of sadness or tragedy. In this dual world of opposites, where nights give way to days, where without loss there is no gain, every man’s sufferings are aided with happiness.

From scratch, who has inspired you to be what you are today?

As cliché as it may sound, I’d say my parents inspire me the most. Both my parents gave me an absolute freedom to follow the path I wanted to pursue. Never have they questioned me on things like – ‘How will I survive life as an Artist? You should be having a better job with a better pay, or you need to do this in order for us to be proud of you.’

The biggest gift they’ve given me is freedom, support and encouragement. It helps me make more informed choices and gives me the opportunity to make decisions that will make me feel happy without interferences and to follow a life that will bring me peace and joy based on my own ideas of success and not trying to fit into the mould of what society or anyone else might expect out of me which feels like bondage and pressure a lot of times. My father taught me everything I know about music, art and photography and he has always been patient. He always says, ‘What has to come to you will come, be grateful for what you have, and just keep working hard doing what you do. The other things will follow with the blessings of the universe. You just be a good human being, that’s enough.’  Just lending a helping hand to those in need and being a good person can define who you are more than what you own.

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