Musician Rohan Solomon, who is part of the New York-based rock band called By Chance, speaks to Rishita Roy Chowdhury about the indie music scene in India and his songs on the climate crisis.
Rohan Solomon is a singer-songwriter and composer. After establishing himself in the indie circuit as the vocalist of Delhi-based alt-rock outfit Cyanide, Solomon is now the frontman of a New York-based band, called By Chance. The band’s recent single, titled Blue Sky, is about the alarming state of air pollution in Delhi. He speaks to Guardian 20 about his career, his musical collaborations and his song about the climate crisis.
Q. Tell us about your early exposure to music.
A. As a kid, I’d say when I was around 4 or 5 years old, I remember being absolutely enamoured with music. Certain songs by Michael Jackson, like “Bad”, “Man in The Mirror”, “Beat It”, “Thriller”, and songs by The Jackson 5, like “ABC”, “I Want You Back” etc., always made me smile. I would usually forget everything around me and just focus on those songs. I’d get obsessed with a song for a period of time. Music has always been and continues to be my happy place, an escape from reality, a world of stories. This passion continued and escalated when I was 12 years old, when I learned how to play the piano and the guitar and started singing and writing my own songs. That passion is still there, even today and continues to grow with each passing day.
Q. How has the journey been so far in the world of music?
A. It’s been great. I am very fortunate to have been in a situation where my band Cyanide got the chance to perform at huge festivals and venues in front of audiences of over 10,000 people. We got the chance to release our music on radio stations, got to tour the whole country. I released two solo albums as well. My last venture in India before I moved to the US was to compose and produce the music for a theatre production called Wizwits, which ran at the Kingdom of Dreams [a venue in Gurgaon] for a year-and-a-half. Now I am focussing more on the studio world and producing music. I feel like I have learned a great deal working in New York. I would love to use that knowledge and help other musicians achieve their vision for their music.
My latest venture has been with my band By Chance. We released a trilogy of songs that talk about the state of the pollution levels in New Delhi. I am very passionate about this issue as I’m asthmatic. These songs tell a story about the rising levels of pollution and how we need to take some action and try to save our planet.
Q. What kind of challenges did India’s independent music scene pose for you?
A. Oh, there have been many. The challenges keep evolving over the years I guess. In the beginning it was, “How do we get shows? How do we get our music heard?” And then it changed to, “We need to charge more money, we need to add this and that to our rider. Let’s try to get a gig in places we’ve never played before etc.” But I think the biggest challenge was being an independent musician in India who sings in English. We were never able to break through to the masses because most people like Hindi music. But the goal is to stay true to who I am and what I’m comfortable with, and hope that people can relate to it.
Q. According to you, how has the indie scene evolved in India?
A. I would say that there are more DJs and electronic acts now, and very few rock and pop acts left. I’m happy that the scene is evolving. Although, I think there should be room for live bands to be able to co-exist. It doesn’t need to be an either/or type of situation. Here’s hoping that it evolves into this.
Q. Tell us about your latest song, “Time”.
A. “Time” is the final chapter of the trilogy that began with “Blue Sky” and “Hard to Breathe”, which were released earlier this year. It talks about how we need to stop taking things for granted and take some action now. “Get up and make a move. This is your chance today…” This is a line from the song which motivates people to make a change. Everyone can make a difference. You just need to believe it. I know that I do.
Q. Tell us about the formation of your new band, By Chance.
A. My bandmates and I worked at the same recording studio in New York City. That’s how we met. We formed a friendship and mutual respect fairly quickly, and started jamming for fun. We started writing the song “Time” and harmonised the choruses etc., and just loved what we were hearing. It all just came together very organically and “by chance”, hence the name. We decided to record a few songs that ended up forming a story when played in a particular order. We decided to release it on all the digital stores, but could never have imagined how well these songs have been received. We have over 65,000 streams on Spotify alone, with over 10,000 followers. It’s so humbling and bizarre. But they seem to be hitting the right notes with people.
Q. What made you take up the theme of environmental crisis in your music?
A. I just felt like it’s a message that needs to be delivered to people on a daily basis. This is not the first time I’ve written about this issue. There’s a song on the Cyanide album, Sugarcoated, called “Home”, which talks about the same issue. People forget very quickly. It’s our job to keep reminding each other that this issue needs attention and focus. We as human beings need to take action and rectify the situation now.
Q. Your songs explore alt-rock and hard rock genres. What do you find interesting about these styles?
A. I feel they just have the right kind of energy with a blend of pop vocals with vocal harmonies. That’s the sound I love. It just comes to me naturally. The feeling of strumming an electric guitar on stage and watching the crowd bounce up and down with you is euphoric. This genre just has power, energy and attitude, but is also very pleasing to the ear.
Q. Which musicians have influenced your musical sensibilities?
A. A variety of musicians—Michael Jackson, Hanson, Metallica, Foo Fighters, The Corrs, Daughtry, Nickelback, The Beatles. Each of these brings something fresh and different to the table. I was able to recognise my favourite parts of their music and use my own creativity to make songs. This stretches from pop to rock to heavy metal.
Q. What are your upcoming projects?
A. I definitely have some interesting things lined up for 2020. A few new releases by By Chance and also some stuff with my solo project. I’m super excited about these. I can’t really reveal too much because I wouldn’t want to kill the element of surprise.