“The Last Analog Generation” – Guitarist Warren Mendonsa on his new album launch and his successful collaborations
Warren Mendonsa is a guitarist, songwriter, producer and recording engineer based in Mumbai, India. He is the nephew of Bollywood composer and musician Loy Mendonsa, and has lived in India and New Zealand. The current lineup of his project Blackstratblues (named after his guitar!) includes Jai Row Kavi (formerly with Indus Creed and Pangea) on drums, Adi Mistry (with Shankar Ehsaan Loy, and Amit Trivedi) on bass and Beven Fonseca (who has also played with Clinton Cerejo and Amit Trivedi) on keyboards.
Their sets are largely instrumental, and constitute a blend of blues, rock and psychedelia. I last heard Blackstratblues perform at the Mahindra Blues Fest 2017 in Mumbai, and also caught Warren’s performances with percussionist–composer Karsh Kale in 2016 (UB City) and 2017 (Windmill Craftworks) in Bangalore. Warren’s other collaborations are with guitarists Tajdar Junaid and Amyt Dutta.
Warren’s albums include Nights In Shining Karma (2007), The New Album (2009), The Universe (2015) and The Last Analog Generation (2017). Ahead of his most recent album launch, Warren joins us in this interview on his musical journey, message to the audience, and trends in the music industry today.
What was the vision behind founding of your music group, and the name of your group?
The group is named after my black Fender Stratocaster guitar. The group started off as an instrumental solo project in my parent’s garage in New Zealand. It has now evolved into a band featuring Adi Mistry on bass, Beven Fonseca on keyboards and Jai Row Kavi on drums.
How did growing up in a musical family help?
My dad plays bass and guitar, he introduced me to a few chords and some Beatles albums and sent me on my way musically. It was definitely cool growing up in a family environment where everyone played an instrument or sang, and music was always encouraged.
What are the challenges you face as a musician and composer?
To effectively communicate with one’s listeners without the presence of lyrics. We are more than grateful to have found an audience who appreciates what we do!
Who would you say are the leading influences in your musical career?
Too many to mention, but artists like The Beatles, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robin Trower, The Police, Gary Moore and Deep Purple were early influences that still stick with me till date.
Of late, Michael Landau, Derek Trucks, Dungen, Cinematic Orchestra and Doyle Bramhall II are some of the artists whose music I enjoy immensely.
You have many other interesting projects going, such as your collaboration with Karsh Kale – how did that come about? What are some of your other partnerships?
Karsh and I first met when we had to co-curate a finale set at the 2011 NH& Weekender festival in Pune. On the way to the festival, we listened to each other’s music and discovered we had many common influences especially Led Zeppelin and The Police. We’ve played on each others’ albums and the collaboration always seems to push us in many interesting ways. I’m always learning something new each time I work with him.
Another collaborator of note has been Tejas, I took an instant liking to his songwriting and voice the first time I heard him. I played on and mixed his first EP and his upcoming album Make It Happen. He returned the favour by singing on Love Song from The Truth.
How did you get to meet the musicians in your current lineup? How would you describe your musical journey and how your albums have evolved over the years?
I knew Adi Mistry from the time his band at the time, Retrospec used to play on the same college festivals as my first band Zero. We had never really worked together until we both found ourselves on Ehsaan & Loy’s Coke Studio episode.
Similarly, I met Beven playing with Clinton Cerejo’s episode. Jai Row Kavi has been a friend from the time he started playing drums. It has been awesome to watch him grow and evolve as a musician over the years.
About the evolution of my albums – that is a question best answered by the listener! If one asks you how you have changed as a person through the years, you would have a hard time coming up with a definite answer.
How do you manage to blend these different genres like blues and psychedelia and create ‘fusion without confusion?
The blend is not a conscious decision, it happens organically. As long as all the different influences are an integral part of you, you do not run the risk of sounding contrived.
Which are your favourite festivals to play at?
The Mahindra Blues Festival has always been fun to play. As much as we are not a blues band in the traditional sense, it is the heart of what we do musically. So it feels great to be a regular part of what has now become an institution.
The NH7 Festival has also been something I’ve played at every year since its inception, and definitely something I look forward to every year. I really miss the Independence Rock Festival that used to take place at Rang Bhavan in Mumbai every year, it was probably the best I’ve experienced in terms of a vibe. It will be sorely missed.
What are some unusual or humorous incidents you recall from your live gigs?
There’s plenty of humour that keeps us going, on stage and off it. I’m saving all of that for when I write my book in my older days!
How does your composition process work – as a main songwriter, or through jams between your band members?
All of the above, actually. The initial ideas I sketch out could be very simple riffs or chord progressions that we develop in the studio, or fully realised demos with specific parts for each of us to play.
Do you compose on the road also, while travelling?
Not really, but a lot of what we see and experience while travelling will influence the music in subconscious ways.
How has the Internet and mobile/social media affected your music and fans?
It has really helped our music find its way to people who appreciate it, and not be limited by geographic restrictions that come with traditional distribution methods.
Do you also teach workshops for students and aspiring musicians?
I do, occasionally. It’s something I wish I could do more, as it brings immense joy to both teach and learn.
From your release, ‘The New Album,’ the track ‘Ode to a Rainy Day’ seems very appropriate during these rainy days! How did this song come about?
Auckland gets really gloomy during winter, there are times where you don’t see the sun for days on end. Also in Mumbai, the monsoon rain comes as a relief from the heat, but cold winter rain is another thing altogether. The song was written during one such spell, so a lot of that mood seeped into the music.
‘Newness’ sounds so different from the other tracks – what’s the story behind this?
‘Newness’ is something I worked on by myself in my garage studio shortly after the Nights In Shining Karma album was released. I programmed a groove using a pakhawaj and orchestrated it with some strings and acoustic guitar. When putting the second album together I thought it would be a good idea to include it as well, so I had Cole Goodley (who played drums on that whole album) to record some drums at the very end.
‘Older, Wise & Gray’ also stands out in the album – how did the connect with vocalist Emma Walter work out?
I met Emma while both of us were working briefly at a New Zealand government job. Neither of us were particularly suited for a desk job, so we connected over music. Turned out that she had one of the most beautiful and unique voices I’ve had the pleasure of hearing.
Before she sang on ‘Older Wise & Grey,’ I produced and played on an album of her songs. Some of them can be found on her SoundCloud page, but unfortunately the album did not see a proper release. It’s an undiscovered gem, and I hope more people find her music in the future.
What is your parting message to our audience?
If you’ve heard our music before and liked it – thank you for your support! If you haven’t, out latest album titled The Last Analog Generation is now streaming on Apple Music and Spotify, and available for download on iTunes, Bandcamp and OKListen among others.
What is your advice to the aspiring musicians out there?
To not be fixated on copying any single influence, rather to find out who their influences listened to, and keep tracing back. Every artist I admire has been able to combine all their influences into something that is unique, and I feel this is something every musician should aspire to.
Interviewed by Madanmohan Rao
Editor & DJ, World Music and Jazz;
Bangalore Global Correspondent for Jazzuality.com