Interview: Nikhil Rao, Lead Guitarist – Indian Ocean

The second day of Moksha 2019 was capped off by a stellar performance by Indian Ocean – India’s oldest, yet the classiest and most popular rock band. The event witnessed an unprecedented crowd and they made the audience groove to their tunes. With their experimental fusion genre of music which contains spiritual and philosophical elements, it is no wonder that they have captivated Indians for more than three decades.        

After being mesmerised by the musical extravaganza put up by the Indian Ocean, we rushed to catch up with them. We managed to get past all the paparazzi and crazy fans and had a short interview with Nikhil Rao, the lead guitarist.


What genre of music do you listen to?

Well to begin with, each of us from the band belongs to a different generation, so our tastes in music are likely to differ. Speaking for myself, I am open to all genres of music. Rock and blues were among the first types of music I listened to. This period was followed by my stint in a metal band. Then I took a liking for classical music and got deeply immersed into it. In addition, I listened to a lot of jazz and fusion music. These days, I almost entirely listen to hip-hop—and Jay-Z is my favourite! My favourite band is Snarky Puppy. It is a 25-strong American band that produces music reflecting elements of jazz, fusion and classical music. Each of their pieces is truly amazing. I wouldn’t say that what we listen to directly influences our music; it’s just that I’m curious to examine the different genres out there.

In an era when rap, pop and Punjabi songs dominate the charts, how do you manage to stay popular and give out such fresh vibes?

I think that we are living in a time when a multitude of genres have come up and found their niche among the audience. That is to say, we don’t have any panga with pop, Bollywood music or any up and coming genre for that matter. Our band is the oldest surviving band in India, having delivered our music to the masses for nearly three decades now. Perhaps the desire to come up with refreshing new music has been key to our success. As a matter of fact, I joined the band just 6 years back and am the newest member on board. Rahul, in contrast, has been there right since the inception of this band. He has seen the band take birth, go through various phases and grow into what it currently is. The band has weathered different eras of music and he has stuck with the band throughout the journey. His principle, and the whole band’s principle is to make music for ourselves, and not for any targeted audience—something that we all proudly uphold and swear by. Our success can be attributed to this mantra. This year, we are probably going to release a new album. We are totally hyped for it, and we’ve already begun playing new songs at live concerts—even at today’s concert at Moksha. We’re excited to put them out for people to listen to and can’t wait to see the response we receive.

What can we expect from your new album? Also, can you give our readers a tentative date for its release?

The songs have been recorded and are currently in the post-production stage. A few revisions here and there will be followed by mixing engineering and mastering. These processes will take quite a while, so I can’t put out a tentative date. I’d like to mention that we won’t release the entire album in one go. Consuming music in the form of whole albums is out of vogue these days; people like listening to singles and self-curated playlists. Bearing this in mind, we plan to release each song one by one. Furthermore, we are collaborating with some superstars—not the Arijit Singh kind of sensational stars—but musicians who are nevertheless incredible in their own right. We have created these songs with some hard-hitting lyrics and nifty instrumental arrangements, so expect an enjoyable experience listening to our new songs!

Are you considering including rap in any of your songs?

(laughs good-naturedly) This particular album does not have that. However, there is one song which doesn’t feature ‘rap’ in the conventional sense: one of India’s music legends, Vikku Vinayakram, who specializes in playing Carnatic music with the ghatam, has done something quite close. The 76-year old artist has recorded Tamil chants performed in a hip-hop fashion.

So we can expect some cool Carnatic rap, right?

Yes, you could say that the song has Carnatic rapping.

Your songs have distinct spiritual and philosophical messages, and your sound is ever-evolving. How would you describe your latest album, and what genre would you classify it as?

The music is largely fusion; there is rock and folk music, combined with styles taken from different parts of India and the globe but like always, it is a reflection of our thoughts and all what we want to convey to our audience.