Initially influenced by his mother's love for music and later on learning to play numerous instruments himself, Arjun did not need lose much sleep over the decision to enter the music industry. However, interestingly enough, singing was not his first choice as a career; nor did he particularly like his now famous R&B style of singing. Arjun was into music production and composition, and was head over heels in love with Heavy Rock. This writer sat down with the British-Sri-Lankan heartthrob over Skype and email to talk about his journey into the music industry, how social media helped him break though into the industry, and more.
Having initially been heavily influenced by his mother’s love for music; and later on learning to play numerous instruments himself, Arjun did not need much headache to decide that he wanted to come into the music industry. However, interestingly enough singing was not Arjun’s first choice as a career nor did he like his now famous Rn’B style of singing. He loved music production and composition. He was head over heals for Heavy Rock music. This writer sat down with this Sri-Lankan-British heartthrob over Skype and email to talk about his journey into the music industry, how social media helped him break though into the industry, his new releases, and more.
How did you get into music? What inspired you?
I have always been around music because my mother is a big music fan. She encouraged my brother and myself to learn instruments from a young age. I ended up playing in several groups and ensembles in school and I have to say I was initially a big fan of Heavy Rock music (no one believes me!). But when I was around 15 I fell in love with R&B, and that is the sound that has defined my style throughout my career thus far.
Is there any specific incident that you recall to have had affected your career heavily till now?
When I was around 17 years old, my friends forced me to enter a talent show at university. Back then, even though I played a lot of instruments and was part of so many ‘musical groups and bands’, I was too shy to sing on stage. I personally preferred music production and composition. Hence, the talent show was the first time I sang live at a show and I actually won the talent show in London. At the back of that I gained some confidence in my singing as a result I started to sing more and more. After finishing university, I continued making more songs but this time I started uploading videos at YouTube. I think the big change came when I started doing fusions of Indians songs. When I did Why this Kolevari Di it immediately launched my whole career. Now when I look back, funnily enough, the one aspect which I was the most uncomfortable with has now come to the forefront.
Do you still like listening to Heavy Rock if you can?
No, not really. Most of my time is taken up following the mainstream UK and US pop charts, and the Bollywood music industry.
How has working in the music industry been like till now?
Above all other things I love music. The industry is great and I am so grateful that my music has allowed me to travel the world and meet so many amazing people. But I still get most pleasure out of being in studio creating and recording music. I've been blessed to have received great support from the UK Asian music industry and now the wider international Asian community
Social media is a medium that changes people’s perceptions and tastes very fast. And so many artists have tried and failed, while many others have made it big. What do you think you have done differently?
I think everyone has to find a unique selling point. For me it has been fusion - specifically of Bollywood and R&B music. I believe Bollywood songs have been remixed and recreated before but I guess I have found my own unique style of re-creating Bollywood songs that has resonated with Asian youth, who enjoy both western and eastern music.
What do you think helped you make it this far in the industry till now?
Well I still have a long way to go! But I think whatever success I have had has predominantly been down to hard work. One of my favourite sayings is: 'The harder you work, the luckier you get'. Not everything will go your way but the more effort you put in and the more things you try, the more doors will open for you. Experimentation has been the key for me! I'm also lucky to have a great team around me who not only provide support but also push me to keep achieving more.
Many people start into the music industry simply by doing their own rendition of songs which have already been released. But you took that to a whole new level by doing the R&B, remix and mash up version of the songs. What gave you the idea of doing the R&B version of these songs?
I think again it was just a question of trying new things. The first R&B remix I did was 'Why This Kolaveri' and to be honest it happened almost by accident. It wasn't a conscious decision to create a new style and it was a very organic process. I realised that the formula worked and then began to try recreating other songs in a similar way. It's a very fun experiment (as a producer especially) to dismantle a song and re-create it in your own flavour.
Since these have turned out to be your trademark, how do you deal with the copyright issues of the songs you choose to work on? As you became more and more popular, you might have attracted attention in this issue in equal measures?
Yes and funnily enough it was exactly that situation that lead to me signing my first record deal with T-Series in India. I was initially just putting the remixes on YouTube for fun and not monetising the videos so as to avoid any copyright issues. However for one remix (my version of the hit song Tum Hi Ho) a third party claimed the rights to the video, so I accepted their claim on YouTube, thinking that the rights were theirs. Next thing I know the video was taken down and my fans were tweeting in a frenzy asking what was happening. The next day the video was restored and I received a message from T-Series apologising for the misunderstanding as they had realised the rights had been claimed by a third party and not by myself. We then began talking further and the T-Series team said that they in fact loved my remixes and could see the potential for them to be marketed on a bigger scale. One thing lead to another and I ended up signing a record deal with them! We have now released three official singles together plus a song for their movie Creature 3D.
Since you have officially signed a contract with T-Series, do you think that your freedom as a music-producer and the overall control over your work might ever get compromised? But then again, it would be a completely different scenario if this issue has already been taken care of in your contract.
T-Series are a very forward thinking company, always trying to break new ground and try new things. Thus far, they have allowed me to experiment as a music producer and have trusted my judgement. I’m on a mission to bring R&B to India, though of course there is a limit to how far you can push the envelope and these things take time.
Why don’t we talk a little about the online “Urban Music Drama Series” that you did? Correct me if I am wrong, but it was based on the novel “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride” by Andrew Crofts? How was it like acting?
Yes it was based on that novel. To be honest I had a very small part in the show and acting is definitely not my forte, haha! I am first and foremost a musician and don't plan to get too involved in acting, although we have received some great offers for roles in India! It's good to step outside your comfort zone but I will be sticking to the singing for the time being though.
I was reading the other day that in the first ever edition of ‘Asian Music Chart’ your song ‘Stargazer’ was placed number two on the ‘mainstream UK TV’ section –second only to A R Rahman. How did you react to this when you initially found out?
I remember watching the show and being extremely proud that one of my first English R&B songs 'Stargazer' was placed so high up on the chart. It's definitely a struggle trying to find our identity as British Asians and that Chart Show was one of the breakthroughs for the UK Asian community in terms of showcasing our talent on a mainstream platform - on two of the UK's premier music platforms, Kiss TV and Channel 4 Music.
You were also selected to sing the Official ICC Cricket World T20 2012 theme song. What was that experience like?
That was a real honour. The only think I love as much as music is cricket! And to be able to combine the two was a dream come true. I remember hearing my voice in the stadium while the winning team (West Indies) lifted the cup. That was an amazing feeling!
Over the past year alone, you have performed in locations as varying as the London Mela to Times Square, New York to South Africa to Malaysia. How do you explain your experience as an independent artist gone international till now?
I think the power of YouTube and social media is amazing. Digital media has a truly global reach and nowadays without any traditional PR campaigns artists are able to get their music heard by people all over the world, and as a result are able to tour all over the world! That is definitely one of the highlights of this job for me. I have been fortunate enough to experience so many different places and cultures, all through doing the thing that I love the most.
If I am not wrong, your mother acts as your manager while you are working. How is it like working with your mother so closely?
Yes, she does indeed. I think no one cares about you and your happiness more than the people who created you. So it seems natural that so many artists from east and west (including Beyonce and Shreya Ghoshal) have had parents as their managers. Trust is something you cannot replace and in this industry it's a real comfort knowing that your career is in the hands of the person you trust the most. Not to mention my mum is no ordinary mum! She is extremely multi-talented in her own right (especially in the arts) and unlike me is amazingly organised!
I once read that along with singing you beat box and play 4 instruments. How do you manage these? How did you find yourself learning these?
I tried playing a lot of different instruments at school but the ones that have stuck with me most are the guitar, piano and drums. I stopped playing the flute, saxophone etc a while ago, although they were all a part of my musical education. I am in fact the most highly trained on the flute! Beat boxing is another fun hobby which I occasionally incorporate into my songs. As I mentioned my mum encouraged me to learn instruments, and it was when I began playing the guitar that I really fell in love with writing and composing songs.
Over time you are starting to have a packed schedule like so many other celebrities. How do you find time for yourself to just unwind? What do you do during those times? Have any hobbies that you like falling back on?
Yes, life is getting more and more busy but it's important to make time for people and things that are important to you. I try to see my friends as much as possible and what's great is that most of my close friends work in very different industries to me so I get to hear about a wide range of different experiences. I think if I was only ever exposed to people working in music I would start to go crazy, haha. As I mentioned I love cricket which I play/watch whenever I get the time (World Cup is here which is exciting!). My other major passions are Art and Digital Media, both of which I get to utilise in my job, as up until recently I have designed all my own artwork and have always had a lot of input into all the visual aspects of my career (music videos, branding etc). I also personally manage most of my social media accounts.
I have noticed over the past couple of months that more and more of your songs are joining the ‘multi-million views club’ on YouTube (having over 70 million views with all videos combined). You also happen to have an incredible presence in social media with over 750,000 followers. How does it feel now to almost singularly be able to attract so much attention to your songs?
It’s a great and humbling feeling. I have worked very hard over the past few years to build a strong core fan base and I am lucky to have a network of fan pages all over the world who consistently help to promote my music. On top of this I have my UK team and of course T-Series, who both contribute massively.
You recently released your much anticipated song today ‘I know You Want It (Sheila Ki Jawani)’. What inspired you to do this song in specific? The video itself was of a unique theme. How much you contribute to the whole concept of it?
I think this was my most extreme and radical remake of a song. I thought it would be fun to do a very slow, seductive R&B remix of Sheila Ki Jawani, which is a very upbeat dance song! I really enjoyed creating the music for this one as I was able to really bring the essence of soulful R&B into one of the most notorious modern Bollywood anthems. We wanted to shoot the video almost if it was a perfume commercial, with a very high end luxurious feel. The concept was also inspired a little by the movie 'Mr and Mrs Smith'! My video director and I worked together on the concept so it was a team effort.
I recently found out that you are working on a new song! Can you please tell me and the readers as a matter of fact, what kind of a song you might be working on?
We have just shot the video for a new song in New Delhi; it’s another T-Series release. Can’t say too much at this stage, but more will be revealed soon!