During lockdown, Bengaluru pianist and producer Derek Mathias has been hoarding a bunch of instrumental songs just for the sake of pure creative expression. At the time, Mathias had released material under four minutes long and subscribed to the pop-song formula. He says, “But there were these other songs that I used to create freely without any regard to those standards.”
After letting these tracks gather digital dust for two years, Mathias is now ready to present them to the world, as part of his collaborative project Derek & The Cats. While an album is slated for later this year, his recently released debut single is the expressive instrumental jazz offering titled “Soul,” which oozes lush musicality, solos and more. Besides Mathias on piano, the track also features keyboardist Anand Murali, saxophonist Gautam David, guitarist Adesh Vinod, bassist Vishal Varier and drummer Jason Sharat.
Mathias says: “The idea was to provide a space within the music where a dynamic range of artists can contribute their [individual] flavor to the table. These songs wouldn’t sound the same if the musicians weren’t playing them. He adds, “Each musician injected their personality into the songs, elevating them to a level beyond my imagination.”
In this interview with Rolling Stone IndiaMathias tells us about the making of “Soul” and more.
When did you write ‘Soul’?
‘Soul’ was an unnamed demo on my laptop for a very long time. This song was the reason I even thought about starting this band because even after a year I would keep coming back to it. So once I formed the band, I sent them the demo. I had written all the structure and the main melodic lines, but I had left room for the solos. When we first jammed, the song had already been elevated as the musicians had added their own flair, not only through their solos, but they also added their own subtle parts while keeping the idea and vibe original intact. These traffic jams happened before the second wave of Covid. So the jams stopped for a while but after the second wave we started the recording process.
How was the recording and production process?
Initially, the idea was to record the whole band live in the studio but with each musician having their own schedule, it was a bit difficult to find the right day. Moreover, it was much more risky, in the sense that everything had to go well. So, I then changed my mind to follow the songs one instrument at a time. We started with the drums. Jason Sharat tracked the drums for all the songs on the album using the demos I had. We recorded at Stained Class Production LLP. [and the songs were] designed by Mrinal and Leslie Charles. Now that the drums were recorded, everything else could be recorded at home. Keyboards, guitars, saxophone, trumpet, congas, everything was recorded at my place or in the home studio of the respective musicians. I had already decided who was going to mix the album – Nirmit Shah. Although he lives in Mumbai, he has been part of the process the whole time, with weekly updates. While Nirmit was mixing the album, he also joined in to co-produce it and help with the sound design of the synths and guitar sounds. This gave the album an extra boost in terms of production.
What can you tell me about “Soul”, your first single?
In a world where song length is decided based on reels, shorts and decreasing attention spans, we aim to take listeners through an unrestricted journey of life-like ups and downs. The secret ingredient of this musical mix was soul. In a society where we all live capitalist lifestyles [nothing wrong with that], a certain emotional element seems to have been lost along the way. This eight-minute journey hopefully offers listeners a different route to reconnect with themselves and add some life to what they’re doing.
What is the next step for the group?
We are currently working on releasing a follow-up single, “Morocco”, along with a music video. This will be followed by the full album release. We also plan to bring it to life and play a few gigs with the release of an album.
Watch the music video for “Soul” below: