Ashwin Vinayagamoorthy

Of Scores and Films – We speak to Ashwin Vinayagamoorthy and his incubation of Joy.

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Ashwin Vinayagamoorthy is an Indian film composer and award-winning music producer predominantly working in the Tamil Film Industry. He graduated from Full Sail University, FL with a Bachelor of Science degree in Recording Arts. As composer, he has worked on feature films such as Yaadhumaagi Nindraai, Vidhi Madhi (Ultaa) and Jigiri Dosthu. He has scored for 20+ regional and international short films bagging numerous awards and nominations at coveted film festivals. 

He is a featured artist under Sony Music India, Wunderbar Studios, U1 Records and Divo.

What would you be doing today if not for this interview?

Finishing up the final sequences of the background score for my new Tamil feature film ‘Jalsa’ starring Prabhudeva and Aishwarya Rajesh. The team is still hard at work transcribing the ideas and cues we jammed and wrote the day before.

If you were to introduce your music and genre to someone unaware of your music, how would you?

My music is eclectic. In the morning I’d be making moody, acoustic productions. In the afternoon, I’d be required to shift to music for snakes and jingles. Evenings might call for chirpy pop or classical jingles for advertisements. It’s such a trip to be a musician covering everything from movies, advertisements and productions for other artists. But I lean towards pop, acoustic and dance music productions primarily.

Have you now finished building your studio?

Shimmr Studios is open and is slammed for months schedule-wise, which is good because we had to close down for almost two months starting January of 2022. The initial build of the studio, V1 was open to the public in 2013. I was 19 then. After eight years, I felt I’d evolved and was outgrowing the initial build. I also understood the strengths and weaknesses of the space. So we carefully planned for months in advance, I delivered all the songs for films, artists and started taking the studio apart. What was supposed to be a two-week downtime turned into a two-month downtime, but I couldn’t have been happier with the final space we have now.

Shimmr Studios

It was a profound experience putting the space back together. I wanted to maintain the soul of what made Shimmr click for so long with the team and artists walking in but also elevate everything from the appearance to the major equipment chain – From brand new speakers, converters, mics, preamps. Essentially, a new studio in the same old shell. And there’s purple everywhere! Suddenly, I’m obsessed with that colour.

What was the need for the studio on this scale and what challenges did you face?

I’ve always wanted a no-compromise space that would let me churn out productions that could rival anything out there, at any scale. It’s still a private space more than a commercial space. So, it was an obsession to get the right sonics more than anything.

Challenges are plenty when you build anything. A studio though is a different breed of build. You’ve to look at creating a vibe for people to feel creative and comfortable to work in, a space that inspires magic. But we cannot compromise and the sound. Imagine placing a painting you love, that looks great on the sidewall, only to find it reflecting sound that messes with your sonic judgement. The main challenge was to keep it minimal, but still, have enough going on to have the ‘wow’ factor even for myself when I come into work there every morning.

Shimmr Studios

With covid still messing up international production schedules and shipping timelines, things like the fabric on the studio wall was a particularly daunting task to order and import. We had flown in this specific fabric to be as acoustically transparent as possible to enable the acoustic treatment underneath to work to the full effect. That took the longest time to clear and implement.

Two days before the opening, we switched on the main power to have three switchboards blow out because of a screw that shot two wires together during construction. Every day we would have something come up. But the build made me a more patient person. Good things take time. And it’s always for the good at the end. These were true for me when we finished!

New to Shimmr, we’re fronting the Kii Three speakers from Germany, Antelope Audio Amari converter from Bulgaria, an extensive JZ and Austrian Audio mic locker from Latvia, acoustic material from the UK and custom-built LEV preamps from Israel. Most of this is a first for a studio in South India or custom-built exclusively for us. How’s that for an around the world in 80 days experience!

Kii Three speakers from Germany

We’ve been recording non-stop this past month but to pick out specifically, we recorded guitars for Kevin Fernando’s new song that sound sublime. It is unlike anything I’ve heard out of the space in the last eight years. So I’m super excited to get a lot of new music out.

Tell us something about your latest single.

I have two new singles out now. ‘Naan Inge’ being the first. I made that over the first lockdown as an experimental pet project that was never supposed to be released. It followed none of the conventions that would classify it as a song. There’s no structure. No lyrics except four words that keep repeating. It’s neither a score nor a song. It’s more an emotion laid out bare on a blank canvas with no rules or expectations. I had no idea what people would make out of it. But it opened to much aplomb. We’re still at the top of Spotify’s Tamil Indie playlist and it’s been there for three months.

The second is ‘Maiyitta Mayile’ which was released two weeks back. It was a song I did back in 2015, released as audio in 2018 but mostly kept private. It has everything I was about when I wanted to get into the Tamil indie scene – Guitars, Cajon, live percussion and most importantly, a lead instrument that would differentiate this song from the crowd – saxophone! The star of the song is the sax, played by Basanth and the ice-cold vocal work by Kausthub. A warm, mellow love track that you can smile at any day, anytime. I still remember Basanth and me recording for the first time for that song. I met him during Anna University’s cultural program and knew I had to work with him! An amazing musician. This was also the first time Kausthub had sung for me. It was a start of a bond that goes till today. He’s the artist I’ve featured most in my songs.

One artist you’d like to collaborate with, but you know it’s not the right time now.

I missed working with the late genius SPB sir and the late Vaali sir, the lyricist. I grew up wanting to work with them but didn’t get the opportunity to. In today’s climate, ARR. One day!

According to you, what does it take to earn the acclaimed badge of “Established Artist”?

Feeling comfortable with yourself. There comes a point where you stop trying to fit in and you start belonging. It’s a journey I’m still on, but with every passing year, I feel I’m closer and closer to that goal.

Your Highlight performance to date is?

My second film (Vidhi Madhi Ultaa) album’s audio launch concert at Express Avenue, Chennai. We had all the stars of the film crew attending, singers like Chinmayi, Sid Sriram and Gaana Bala coming. So we knew we’d do well. But, what ended up happening at 7 pm was unreal. All roads to and from Express Avenue were jammed. Roadblocks everywhere. The mall was full, the stores closed down early and everybody was out on the floor watching 8 people playing an album that wasn’t out there yet. Express Avenue was at full capacity. All rules on sound restrictions were taken out by their management and for the next two hours, it was madness!

We had only 300 seats arranged. But we played to a standing crowd of more than 3000. We didn’t know the final numbers as people flocked all around the stage over 4 floors, without a gap to be seen.

An artist’s Best Friend is?

Clear headspace and a fanbase to play to. The former is to create music with purpose, without distractions. The latter is to deliver the music and make them react to the work. I’d rather have them feel strongly against or for a piece of work, express their emotions about a piece and have it do something to them rather than invoking a thumbs up emoji or a good work remark.

A piece of equipment that has been pivotal in onstage performance?

Our trusty Taylor guitar. It has seen a lot of drama!

What was the first-ever instrument you played? How did it inspire?

As a kid, my parents bought me a plastic drum that they sell outside temples. I used to run around the house all day banging the drum, making life not so easy for the people in the house. The mistake they made was to get me an actual kick drum and a beater later, one that made the neighbours run away.

In retrospect, I feel that shaped up my love for all things rhythm. I love songs that implement intricate rhythm patterns and sounds. It’s the foundation to life and music I believe. Even acoustic songs you listen to have the rhythm supplied by the acoustic guitar!

How has your place of Origin been an influence on your music?

Chennai has always been welcoming and warm to new musical acts. It’s more difficult to make the people around and friends believe your music will work and will have an audience.

Building an audience takes time. We’ve got to be patient, consistently put out high-quality music and constantly reach out to the community for feedback and what can be done better or be made clearer for future releases. Chennai also has an eclectic music scene and taste. Hence, it lets all kinds of music thrive.

How are the psychological rewards in this career you have chosen?

Most days, it feels like a regular job. With the right team, you don’t feel like you’ve to be answerable to somebody. Over time I’ve learnt, that it’s more about being answerable to your audience. Lot of people tell me the music that they like and want people to listen to it. That’s a wrong way of looking at it in my opinion. If that was your mindset, why even put it out? You can listen to it yourself, right?

Any artist would want people to listen to their work. If you aren’t mindful of what could make music potentially tick with them, I don’t know what is more important.

It’s not always easy making music and waiting for your opportunity to strike. It’s a game of chance. You will get noticed. But will you be there long enough to see the light at the end of the tunnel?

An artist whose music according to you is attracting international attention which is going to propel the industry’s growth.

Incidentally, a friend of mine from the US sent me a link to Bloodywood’s Gaddaar last week. That was the first time I had heard of them. Man, what music! I can only see big things there.

Well, thank you once again for spending time with us, giving us valuable insight into your career. We wish you all the very best of luck in your endeavors. See you soon at a Concert.

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