Connecting the Dots: Art, Fitness, Creation, Performance  


Just spent a couple of days hanging out with artist and designer, Rahul Joshi in Mumbai. 

“We must first learn the alphabet. After learning the alphabet you can form words, then create sentences, then paragraphs, then essays and then speeches. Finally you can communicate.” That’s what he said to me in the context of how to approach fitness, creation, or any new activity.

It’s been 4 years since I last met Rahul uncle who is an established visual designer, a fitness expert and a brilliant artist. I also learned that swimming used to be one of his passions since swimming was how he overcame his challenges in life, laying the foundation for his later path to fitness.

Talking to him about various aspects of life, art, fitness, career and being a youth turned out to be a deep conversation. It was something I’m thankful for, and the things he has said has given me faith that the uncertainty of the growing up phase I am going through will do me good. The conversation also increased my knowledge about the world and how it functions - it’ll help mature my thought process. There’s still so much about life and the world to learn. What I liked about talking to him is that he treats you as an equal, rather than as a younger person- it was a conversation instead of a one-sided talk.

He’s an inquisitive human who questions everything and has complex thought process. I have known him since my childhood as a family friend and also as an occasional coach on matters related to sketching. But this time I was able to view and discuss with him a wide range of his artworks, some of them from his school days, some from his days at Art school and many of his professional work as an artist over the last 20 years. His paintings are very varied in concept and diverse in method.

It was an evening spent discussing many matters including discipline, fitness, clarity of goals, long-term vision instead of instant expectations, need to create your work and let it go for audiences to judge rather than self-judgement of one’s work - something I will implement since I have a habit of creating works but choosing what to release. I agree with what he said: “As an artist you may have moved on from the reason why you created something and may not like it anymore, but that creation may be important for someone else, may help them.”

I value his thoughts on art and fitness but also on music and general artistic outlook and the advice and knowledge he’s given me on what it means to be an artist in today’s world. 

Professional guidance in selecting music producer is crucial 

After the composition and songwriting was complete, I started arranging the song on LogicPro. The pre-production stage is very difficult. With my study workload, I had to put in late nights just to put together the draft track. I toyed and tinkered with all the sounds I could find on Logic because I needed to find exactly what the song communicated. It took a long time and I redid almost a 100 different parts. Sometimes I thought something sounded great, but the next morning I had to admit it was a terrible idea. The whole process inculcated a religious self-analysis protocol because I knew it was important not to rush to release. I couldn’t do a half-hearted job like some forced homework task. I had to put all my effort in, and this whole pre-production process pulled that out of me. 

When I was finally satisfied with the draft track, my father introduced me to distinguished guitarist, songwriter and producer, Shital Kulkarni. Mr Kulkarni has been in the music business for more than 30 years and he has released albums with his band Tungsten before going solo. He has won several industry awards for his music and also runs a famous music academy, Institute of Modern music in Pune. I met him at his studio, where he sat and listened to my song, gave me a realistic evaluation and spent almost two hours discussing how we could take it forward, what changes can be made, where I should get it professionally produced and mastered. I realised that what I produced to my best abilities hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface of professional quality. But it was good to know that the song had enough potential for us to consider a professional producer. It was Shital Kulkarni who suggested three producers and recommended the ones he thought would suit my approach and personality, and help me the most at this initial stage of my career. That is how I eventually met my producer, Onkar Tarkase.Ace guitarist, composer and music producer, Shital Kulkarni

Inspiration on a borrowed Gibson Les Paul guitar 

Last year, I started composing on the electric guitar. My go-to instrument is usually the piano or the acoustic guitar. But during the COVID19 lockdown I spent more time with the Gibson Les Paul electric guitar and discovered a new range of emotions that I can express on the instrument. The Les Paul is not actually mine, it belongs to Sanjay Joseph, a musician my father always speaks of as a genius of self-expression.

Upamanyu composing on electric guitar

I met Sanjay Joseph in 2017 when I went to watch him play as part of a gig by The Dragonette Project. The quartet comprised legendary bass player Roger Dragonette, guitar maestro Derek Julien and drummer Saket Rao. I was completely taken aback by Sanjay Joseph’s skill. The way he expressed himself, the way he played the guitar and how the four artists were working together, talking to each other - I got to experience being in a crowd and watching real musicians playing live. That was the first live show I remember going to, and the whole experience will forever be engraved in my mind.

Sanjay Joseph in concertThe Dragonette Project in concert in Pune, April 2017The late Derek Julien in concert Roger Dragonette in concert

I met him thrice in 2018. First, when I went to his house for a basic guitar lesson when I first developed interest in the instrument. That lesson laid the foundation for my interest in music theory and whatever little I know and can understand now. That lesson is also etched in my mind because I was in complete shock when he let me borrow his guitar, a Gibson Les Paul model - a guitar which I still have and use regularly. He told me only two things as I left: “Practice as much as you can and take care of the guitar.” I was shocked that he just lent me one of his guitars, and that too a Les Paul, which isn’t just any guitar. 

We met again when he presented a workshop with my dad (at my school) on music, critical thinking and design. The next meeting was when I attended a guitar and music theory workshop conducted by him for a gathering of guitar players at different levels.    

I regret that over the years I haven’t practiced as much as I should’ve. The past two years I have had the opportunity and blessing to practice on his guitar regularly and hope that I can live up to it at some point.

A feeling, a piano, some words ... a song 

The songwriting process always begins with a feeling. It was a normal November day. I had finished school and was sitting in my room after lunch, dwelling on my thoughts, aware of emotions churning under the surface. I wandered to my piano and instinctively started playing whatever was going on in my head. At first it made no sense. If someone had been listening they would have covered their ears, but the playing allowed me to focus my emotions, channelise my energy, isolate exactly what I wanted to communicate. Very soon, I had a melody. I played it over and over and over and soon enough my thoughts translated into words. Those words I sang along with what I was playing - and just like that, in two hours, I had the beginnings of a new song. The basic structure and concept was in place. 

The vocal melody, however, took time. I played at least three different versions over the next three days until I patterned out the final shape. At this point, I had already got what I was feeling in the lyrics and the notes. But the way the melody was going to flow communicates the emotions by itself. In one version, I was alternating with pitch and messing with the beat, but it didn’t sound right. It sounded too upbeat, too frivolous as if asking the song itself to drop the emotion and feel better. The next melody I came up with was too slow, too dark, it would’ve been too lost in the dept of melancholy. It took time to find that balance I was looking for. Funnily, I cannot explain that balance, even to myself. It’s just this odd scale I have in me, and as I play and sing, the scale moves left and right, until finally it finds the middle, and I know I have the right melody. 

Even when I had the melody, I just had it for the chorus. I still had the verse and pre chorus to go. But this was something I loved doing and after I had the hook melody, the rest of the song came together very quickly. I knew how the song energy would drop and build, and exactly how the pattern would go. Over the next few days, I played and sang it over and over, until I had fine tuned it to and could perform it without glitches.