In conversation with Vikram Bam. Reinterpreting classics and personal inspirations

"We were a record label and CD manufacturing factory that went through the switch to digital music, and that happened when I was 7 or 8. So I got a crash course in the unpredictability of life pretty early on"
13 May 2024

Vikram Bam, an eclectic artist influenced by a broad musical spectrum, stands out in today’s music scene with his emotive reinterpretations and personal storytelling. As he prepares to release his unique version of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark, we explore the inspirations and personal experiences that shape his creative journey. 

Vikram’s connection to music is deeply rooted in cherished childhood memories and diverse musical explorations.His upcoming single pays homage not only to an iconic track but also to the familial ties and shared admiration for Springsteen’s work, particularly with his mother, which have deeply influenced his musical path. Vikram shares how these experiences have led to his latest project, blending his broad musical background with a narrative style that breathes new life into classic songs, making them resonate with a diverse audience on a profound level.

Join us as we discuss Vikram Bam’s approach to blending different musical styles, his innovative interpretations, and how he transforms well-known songs into something entirely new and intensely personal. Through our conversation, we uncover the roots of his musical journey and the creative impulses that drive his evolving career.

Feeling understood is what stops people from suffering. So if two people,  any two people agree that they like a song, they agree that they feel the same way about what that song is  about. That’s a connection. That’s beautiful.

On your lush and emotive rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark: What  inspired you to choose this song, and how did you creatively approach its reinterpretation?

    Born In The USA had a really cool album cover. It’s just Springsteen’s butt. My mother and I used to joke that someday I’ll get so famous that I’ll have one of the most recognisable butts in the world too. Needless to say,  she was a fan. So Dancing in the Dark was a song I don’t even remember hearing for the first time. It’s just  always been there. That and Courtney Cox from the video. When I watched Friends for the first time I  genuinely thought ‘Wow, that girl got a TV show because Springsteen picked her out of a crowd!’. I was a  dumbass kid.  

    It so happened that I wrote a song called Dancing in the Dark for one of my songwriting assignments at  Berklee and created a medley version of both the songs. So there already was a basic feel and arrangement  to the song that was floating around my head, this unplugged and soulful version of the original. I also like  the idea of the song being this really intimate thing that feels larger than life.

    Mainly because there’s a pathos  in the lyrics that smashing 80s drums and a saxophone don’t necessarily bring out to the fullest. So I just did  what I know how to do, played guitar, bass and piano and then wrote some string parts in whatever way I felt  supported that emotion in my head.  

    From rock and classical to Bollywood, which artists from your varied influences have  had the most profound effect on your music? How do you integrate their styles into your  own compositions?

      It’s hard to pin it down really. I’ve grown up on a lot of different kinds of music, my generation was probably  the first to have that kind of access. There’s always a couple of people I talk to in my mind about my songs.  John Mayer, Ed Sheeran, Bryan Adams, Guthrie Govan, Ludovico Einaudi, Shankar Mahadevan, RD  Burman, Tchaikovsky, Steve Wonder, MJ, Simon and Garfunkel, I’m probably forgetting a billion more but  you get the idea. It’s quite the dinner party in my head.

      While it may sound to you like I’m hearing voices, a  man in a van in the parking lot of a KFC, who assured me he was a qualified X ray technician, told me I have  one of the sanest and most beautiful brains he has ever seen. So you tell me who’s crazy.  Integrating their style isn’t a conscious thing. It’s like how you learn any music, you drill it in until it’s just running in the background all the time. The important thing I keep in mind is that I utterly suck and in no way  am I going to be able to replicate what they did exactly. So whatever comes out is my version of what they  do. Someone’s bound to like it at some point.  

      Experimental Process: Your track Baatein uses unconventional instruments like pots and pans. Can you describe your creative process and how you experiment with unusual  sounds?

        I’ve got two phases of writing something. The first is where I’m all intellectual and am apparently creating the  most groundbreaking new sound and thought that has ever been put to music. That’s where the structure  really takes shape. After that, I revert to my natural state, which is a kid who’s alone at home playing with his  toys.  

        Everything starts with an idea. Baatein was about being in that phase where you just want to talk non stop to  someone. The idea came out pretty jazzy with that little motif on the guitar, so I figured why not scat the  guitar riff and use ‘Blah blah’ instead of your regular scat syllables.  

        The pots and pans come from my intense desire to have all elements of music performed in some way and  that is the only percussion I’m qualified to play.  

        Look I think we had it right with the concept of an orchestra. People think ‘orchestra’ means large string  section and large horns that make ‘Braammm’ sounds, but an orchestra is a collection of any kind of  instruments. Verdi had anvils in his orchestra, rules do not exist.  

        So I just create an interesting orchestra for a song that I’ve made sure has good bones and then just play for  each instrument or get someone who can, making sure the performance of each is as good as possible.  Doesn’t have to be much more complicated than that.

        Scoring for Zee 5: Creating a documentary soundtrack can be challenging. How did you  approach developing the score for the Zee 5 series, and what valuable insights did you  gain from this experience?

          You learn to manage time. Also learn how to sleep with your eyes open. I think the most important thing I  took away from there, aside from the invaluable experience working in an actual industry setting was putting  myself aside for a while. Kashmir Unreported had some harrowing stories told by people who have felt  immense tragedy in their lives. So my instinct was to turn into John Williams and compose a piece of music  so evocative and beautiful that it does justice to the tragedy that unfolded.

          Once I had done that and  orchestrated it, I sat back to listen to it, completely prepared to be blown away by my compositional prowess  and see this scene be elevated to heights heretofore unknown by man. And it sucked. It felt so fake because  it wasn’t what they were feeling, it’s what I was feeling.

          I was going through a pretty rough time personally during that period and realised I was bringing that into the music instead of actually listening to what they  were saying and supporting that. That taught me a lot about life in general. What I came up with eventually  for that scene is barely a quarter of the original thought, but I think it allows the people to speak and that’s  the prime objective with stuff like this.  

          Family Legacy: As a third-generation member of a family active in the music industry in  Mumbai, what foundational lessons have shaped your musical journey?

            Well I’m the first generation who’s crazy enough to actually make music. The two that preceded me were the  sensible ones. I’ve been really fortunate to grow up around a lot of extremely talented people and more than  that, around the process of creation. It’s in the bloodstream now.

            It’s like asking a clown how growing up in the circus shaped their personality. The big shoes and red nose speak for themselves.  There’s a lot about the music business I knew that most kids my age didn’t, which was a product of dinner conversations rather than experience. Always kept me in perspective.  

            Most importantly though, I know about change. We were a record label and CD manufacturing factory that went through the switch to digital music, and that happened when I was 7 or 8. So I got a crash course in the  unpredictability of life pretty early on. But I was lucky to be raised by some really inhumanly fantastic people  so I was taught how to stay resilient and hopeful and creative in the toughest of times too.  I’m not entirely sure what the future looks like for our label or my career, but resilience, hope and creativity  are what will lead the way, that comes from my family.  

            As you increasingly focus on recording and performing your own music, how do you  balance creative exploration with the expectations of the music industry?

              Every day is about getting up and being as humble in front of my art and striving to be better than I was the  day before. Waking up at 6 each morning and practicing my creativity is a lifestyle. Some of that matches  what I want to put out there and some… well some I’d be hard pressed to classify as music.  I don’t necessarily agree with the notion that creative exploration and meeting expectations are two very  different things though. I do like to sit on my own, listen to my songs and entertain the notion that somehow I  have created the most inspired music of the 21st century, but rarely is it ever true.

              It can only be true when  that music is interacted with and interaction with an audience demands a certain amount of consideration  given to the fact that other human beings breathe the same air I do. But I don’t buy into the fact that I have to  do a certain type of music to be successful. I write what comes naturally. Then it’s fun to play around with  that basic thought and see in how many different ways and genres it can be told.  

              It’s tempting to jump on trends. I’d love to be famous and well regarded, but not for something that I can’t  authentically carry.

              It’s fun to find things to love about different genres and try to express my thoughts through a mixture of them,  so what I do is interesting at the very least. And while it would be great to ride the waves of industry trends  and arrive at the shores of instant recognition and stardom, I’m happy creating interesting music in as many  genres as I enjoy. Interesting things tend to live a long time.  

              Music as a Bridge: You believe music can bridge perceived gaps between people. How  does this vision shape your songwriting and the messages you aim to share?

                Well most people in the world refuse to talk about what they’re going through. So they feel like they’re going  through it alone. The sad part is almost everyone feels the same things about everything. No one who’s born  is coming up with new emotions. Feeling understood is what stops people from suffering. So if two people,  any two people agree that they like a song, they agree that they feel the same way about what that song is  about. That’s a connection. That’s beautiful.

                So I believe it’s my job to experience every single thing that life throws at me and write about it or compose  about it. Joy, pain, heartbreak, confusion, everything is something I feel and everyone feels. So I need to find  the best way to articulate these experiences and emotions through music and lyrics. Need to bleed out onto  the page so that people see that someone else bleeds too. Need to feel the deepest joy so that it reminds  someone that joy can be felt. I just try to be honest with myself when I write. Honesty always translates to a  connection somehow. Then I take that and make a catchy tune out of it, earn a boatload of money, create an  army of emotionally stable and well adjusted minions and rule the world as your supreme overlord. That last  part may or may not be a joke.  

                Future Aspirations: Based in Mumbai, what are your goals for the future of your music  as you refine your craft, and what should fans look forward to next?

                  Well the first step is to not be based solely in Mumbai. Think I’ve been introverted too long, need to see who  else will be on board to make this music with me. As of right now, I’m just focused on writing and producing  and singing and connecting with as many people as I can. I’m releasing a couple of songs a month, playing   and singing live, keeping people updated on my Instagram and YouTube. Got some really fun albums  planned and in the works.

                  Some really fun music video ideas too, keep an eye out for those. I hope that in a  couple of years there actually are some fans looking forward to things, that’s when we can really start having  some fun. I’m releasing a song called ‘Make A Fool’ soon and that’s a part of a bigger project which is in both  Hindi and English. So that’s the first thing to look forward to I guess!

                  Who would you most like to collaborate with?

                    So many people. Ed Sheeran, just to write something with him. Jacob Collier for sure, dude’s got a  fascinating brain. But being musically adept enough to actually contribute to that collaboration in some  meaningful way will take more learning I think. Lizzy McAlpine is a wonderful artist, would love to work with  her someday. Oh I’d love to have an album mixed by Bob Clearmountain once. Reckless is probably one of  the best mixed albums in recording music history, very influential for me. Oh and Marco Minneman. Dude  just rocks. Saw him for the first time in 2013 when I was 16 at Berklee. That entire Aristocrats gig changed so  much about my life.  

                    What is your musical guilty pleasure?

                      Three words. Eye To Eye. By Taher Shah. Go listen to it and spend the rest of your life thanking me.

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