“What’s with his crazy eyes?” asks one person as Amrit Rao takes on the stage with his band, Live Banned. For the next hour or so, they entertain the audience with their unique song mash ups along with their satirical take on everyday issues. This is a band that is best seen and not described, both for their music as well as their outrageous attitude.
Through it all, Amrit takes on a stereotypical south-indian accent and does come across as slightly out of his mind. For those who know Amrit off-stage, they know this is far from the truth. One could even argue that he’s quite the opposite. His quiet demeanour would shock most who have seen his on-stage persona and would lead you to wonder what really runs in his mind.
Today, Live Banned plays across the nation and has also bagged an award for one of their hit songs, Auto Tune. As for Amrit, he’s made his foray into the Tamil film industry as a music director and is well on his way to creating a strong future in the business. It’s hard to imagine that there was a time he chose a fairly conventional route.
The Growing Years
Amrit Rao’s roots are in that of a ‘typical Kannadiga family’, as he chooses to describe it. Though he was born in Bangalore, his growing years were spent in the modest town of Coimbatore. “Life was very simple and peaceful. There was no strong competitive environment and no mad rush to move fast.”
As for his interest in music, his first influence was right at home. “My father was a playback singer. I was singing even as a kid and grew up listening to old Tamil and Carnatic songs.” While he had an opportunity to learn Carnatic music professionally, he only took it on for a few months. “I was a little more inclined towards film music and I would often sing in school competitions. Even in my free classes, I would sing.”
Not all of his childhood was filled with pleasant memories, unfortunately. Just as Amrit was entering his adolescent years, he had to go through a difficult period. “It’s not something I want to get in the details of, but I was almost sure that life would never be the same again.” Through all of it, Amrit decided to fight it and get back on his feet. As with any traumatic experience, he did go through his fair share of thoughts through this time. “It made me question what I could or could not do.”
Much to everyone’s surprise at , he waded his way back. “I believe the mind is the strongest instrument one can have. I used that to my advantage.”
The Career Moves
The time had come for Amrit to make a choice in his pursuit of education. “My parents were okay with me doing whatever I wished.” Though he was lucky to have that form of support, he didn’t need it; Amrit chose a field of study that society would have been happy with anyway, even though he did want to be a musician. “Engineering seemed like the sane thing to do. I was in Coimbatore and didn’t have much exposure. That’s when I decided to move to Bangalore to study. The eighteen year old in me wanted to move to a more lively place!”
Once he had completed his course, Amrit found his space in the world of Information Technology. He moved around different departments and roles to get an all-round exposure. “I always knew that I wanted to pursue music, but didn’t know when would be the right time.” In a few years, Amrit realised that there never would be a perfect time.
The World Of Music
“One fine day it struck me that I was wasting my creativity and not doing anything about it. I decided to finally take action and start working on my music.” Along with his job, Amrit started writing songs in Tamil and connected with different people in the industry. Soon, he met an individual who had penned a poem in Tamil and had asked him to turn it into a tune. As soon as he got home, Amrit got to work. The tune, Manjal Veyil, soon gained popularity.
Around this time, Amrit also partnered with Dheerendra Doss, another musician, and decided to come out with an album. To take this step required Amrit to finally make the jump.
“My manager and colleagues were surprised that I wanted to quit. I had just been offered a role in Dubai and it would have been a high-paying job. They thought I was crazy to not take it up. But it would have limited my foray into music and that simply wasn’t an option.”
After five years in the corporate world and a year into producing music, Amrit put in his papers to focus on where he had his heart set.
The Creation Of Live Banned
It was around this time that Dheerendra and Amrit felt that they ought to do something fun and entertaining while they worked on other forms of music. “We wanted to bring something different and exciting to the music scene.” The concept of parody music hadn’t quite made an appearance in India and with that as a theme, Live Banned was born. The name was created at a time when there was controversy around live music being banned in Bangalore. While that news piece ended and live music continued to surge ahead, the name of the band stuck on and continues to be a fun piece of wordplay.
There was more to this band than just their name, though. Mixed with their attitude and catchy music, their choice of ‘costumes’ clearly stood out. “It was completely unplanned. We just went shopping one fine day and picked up weird toupees, pajamas and shirts that had no connection with each other. That stayed with us!”
Live Banned took to the stage on the 18th of June, 2011. They were unsure of what to expect as they were bringing something quite unconventional to the table. “I was already a full-time musician by then. I didn’t know what I was doing but I called myself that!” They kicked off their performance in the Big Junction Jam festival hosted in Bangalore. People in the festival started to notice them and soon enough, they picked up traction. There was no looking back after. “That was when all of us in the band realised we could do this full-time.”
Since then, Live Banned has released an album and continues to play at several gigs across the nation. “Our discipline and countless hours of practice at the beginning laid a solid foundation for us. It’s what keeps us running even now.”
The Solo Road
“It was during our off-season time that I decided to work on my solo project that was on hold from 2010. Dhiru was the producer and we finally released the album in 2013.” Everything seemed to go quite smoothly for Amrit. He launched his album with a big label and released a video that became quite a hit for its fusion of Tamil lyrics with a touch of electro.
The story on the inside, however, was quite different. Amrit did not receive enough support on the marketing front and could not launch the album in a big way. As much as he tried to spread the word of its release on his own by getting in touch with radio stations in London and Malaysia, he did not have much control over marketing decisions. “Lots of people assume getting a big brand or label to back you is what it takes. That’s a myth. If you are an independent artist, you can do so much more by yourself with the tools you have today. As long as you believe in yourself, it’s possible.”
Thankfully, his jump into solo artistry eventually displayed its silver lining. “I met a friend of mine who was an assistant director to Selvaraghavan, an acclaimed director in the Tamil film circuit.” The director loved Amrit’s creation and signed him up as the music director for the upcoming Tamil movie, Maalai Nerathu Mayakkam. “It was so sudden that I wasn’t ready for it! I figured I needed more skill and time to work on the project. But I realised that when an opportunity comes by, you have to grab it.”
With a good brand name now backing him, he started getting more offers. Today, Amrit is working on two film projects simultaneously and is exactly where he always wanted to be. As for Live Banned, they still continue to churn out music that has you guffawing and headbanging at the same time.
When one looks at Amrit on-stage and gets a sense of his career progression, it almost seems like he’s a star. His ability to keep the crowd engaged and entertained so effortlessly would have you believe that he lives in the moment and just wants everyone to have a fantastic time.
While he is all of that, connecting with him off-stage gives you a completely different sense of things. It’s obvious that he has his head in the right place and knows what he’s doing. There is a quiet, dogged determination that drives him and along with that, his humility shines through.
Amrit isn’t here to be a star even though he’s on that path. He isn’t here just for the spotlight either, even though he owns it when he wants to. None of these distract him from what he’s really about.
He’s here for the music.