Ajay Mathur has had quite the illustrious career that has spanned several decades. The talented singer/songwriter has had a stellar go at it from a solo point of view by topping the charts several times with songs like “Nasty Lady” all the way to one of his latest “Forget About Yesterday”.
The Grammy nominee has been keeping busy as of late by continuing to create his own unique version of Americana rock with led Zeppelin-like guitars, exotic instruments and catchy psychedelic songs. He’s done this on his 13-track LP Little Boat, now available in stores and online.
Ajay sat down with to discuss his career, how he interviewed The Beatles way back when and so much more.
You’ve obviously had an illustrious career that included you interviewing The Beatles back in the late 60’s. First off… how the heck did that happen?
Yes, I’ve had quite an active and rewarding music career. It started in India way back in early seventies where my bands played in clubs, concert venues and campuses throughout the major cities. The Beatles story was more or less the beginning of all of that. I was in my early teens and occasionally wrote for our school newspaper. The Beatles were at the ashram of an Indian guru they had started following – John Lennon’s song ‘Across the Universe’ is about him – back in the late 60s. I suggested doing an interview with them and everyone thought I was crazy. I went anyway and I was lucky enough to be able to sit in the same room with them. I was completely star struck so nothing of any value came out of my mouth. They just sort of took over and interviewed themselves for me. I ended up leaving with an autographed photo and a new spark that turned into my music career. Word got around that I had seen them so I wasn’t allowed to print my interview because my schoolmaster was afraid that the media would be all over ME! Interestingly enough, the circle closed when I had the great fortune to finish my latest album ‘Little Boat’ at Abbey Road Studios.
There I was, walking up the stairs into the rooms where some of the most beautiful and disruptive music in history was created. It was an amazing feeling and my music sounded awesome in those rooms. I felt like our paths – The Beatles and mine – had crossed again. Of course a lot happened in between! I moved to Switzerland when I turned 20 and had a pretty successful run with my band Mainstreet. I’ve put out four solo albums, ‘Little Boat’ being the most recent. I got nominated for a Grammy. The next album is already lined up and I am excited to get to work on it.
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How were you able to perform and connect with such major western talent like Jimmy Page?
In the early seventies, I was performing with my band at clubs in New Delhi and Mumbai. That was a time when lots of international musicians from the West were coming to India for inspiration or enlightenment. Some of them used to just spontaneously join us on stage for jam sessions. One night when we were playing in Mumbai we saw Jimmy Page and Robert Plant in the audience and asked them to join us. I think they were in Mumbai recording an Indian orchestra or something like that. We were kids and didn’t have any inhibitions so we just called them up there. They played with us. It was fun!
Your success has been on a global level for several decades. To what do you owe your success?
I love what I do. I love to write songs. I’m my own critic when it comes to my music and I am constantly pushing myself to find the best way to express the spirit of each song. I owe a lot of my success to all the people out there who listen to my music and people in the media who continue to support me by playing my music or writing about it. I think a lot of the reason I have been able to keep things going for so long is because making music is really all I want to do. It is who I am. I can’t imagine my life without the next song, the next musical challenge. It drives me to keep doing more and keep doing better.
For those who are (foolishly) unaware, how would you describe your music?
I’ve always loved American rock music and have always gravitated towards great songwriters of our times. I guess my music is a blend of rock and Americana with my own psychedelic twist added to it. Listeners and reviewers have described my music style as “Psychedelic Americana”, “Neo-Americana” or “Urban Rock”. To be honest, people have a hard time putting my music in a category because it doesn’t really fit in any one box. That actually makes me really happy.
Tell us about your latest LP Little Boat and how it came about.
I am always writing and recording songs. I don’t usually have a particular album in mind while I’m doing that. I am lucky enough to have my own studio so I can record whenever the spirit moves me. Once I have a good collection and I feel like it’s time to put out an album, I start choosing songs. In the case of ‘Little Boat’, I had already recorded about 26 songs before I started thinking about the concept for an album. Somehow, the song ‘Little Boat’ really spoke to me and was my first choice for the album. The song had something so intriguing about it that it made me want to listen to it over and over. I could sit in the studio for hours and listen to it on repeat. I don’t know what it was that drew me to it so intensely. There is some amazing guitar work by my friend Christian Winiker and the lyrics, written by Mary Lou von Wyl, are absolutely powerful. The analogy of a little boat that perseveres through crashing storms and raging winds really resonated with me and kept surprising me every time I listened to it.
I realized soon after that the thread running through the songs on ‘Little Boat’ is resilience – you know that ability to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and carry on no matter how far down you are or how tough things get in life. My life has been like that in many ways – getting stronger through difficult situations. The songs on ‘Little Boat’ are all about that, even though they approach it in different ways. ‘Forget About Yesterday’ and ‘Grooving in Paris’ are comedy, ‘Ordinary Memory’ is cathartic, ‘While I’m Still Standing Here’ is defiant, ‘Here’s the Love’ is positive and energetic and ‘Time for Deliverance’ is a celebratory final crescendo. What is most interesting about Little Boat’s journey is the passengers that it has picked up along the way. Independent of each other, various digital artists from around the world including Istanbul, Warsaw and Los Angeles all felt like they wanted to contribute. The results are colorful, artistic videos that accompany the songs on Little Boat. The videos are on my website and my YouTube channel. I’ve been thinking that the videos and some stills along with the music could make a really interesting, vibrant exhibition of digital art. I am looking for exhibition curators who might be willing to take on a project like that. Is there anybody out there?
What are your thoughts on this year’s Oscars… did you think Gaga deserved Best Original Song for “Shallow”?
It’s a beautiful song and really well sung. That’s clear. I guess in the eco-system of the Academy Awards it was considered the best on the list of nominated songs.
What else do you have in store for this year and beyond?
Alongside the video artists I mentioned earlier there is a children’s book in the works – written by Mary Lou von Wyl and illustrated by an artist in Delhi, India. There is also a full-length novel that revolves around the themes in ‘Little Boat’ being written by an American living in Switzerland. I’m currently on the road in central Europe promoting the album, doing TV and radio shows and concerts. I’m also recording new songs in my studio for the next album. There’s a lot going on and a lot more to come, so keep in touch with me!