Dressed in a smart, striped shirt with a pair of comfortable jeans, he looks in his element. And why not? After all, the musician is in his studio. Working on the second helping of The Bartender, he casually informs me that he is done with the selection of songs and is now working on adding his own magic to the already popular old Hindi numbers. And that should not be a problem since he has already worked similar magic with The Bartender – Shaken not Stirred. Mikey McCleary – musician, music producer and songwriter – is not new to the Indian music scene, he’s been around for a while.
Born in Chennai, McCleary spent six years in India before he moved to New Zealand with his parents. He has vague memories of that part of his childhood, but certainly not any music influences. It was in London as a youngster that he decided he wanted to be a musician and trained for it. A meeting with Lucky Ali happened, who was also looking to do something in music, though in India. That is how McCleary became a part of Sunoh, Ali’s first album. McCleary has worked on each one of Ali’s albums since.
So how did the marrying of Geeta Dutt’s voice with jazz happen? “I just fell in love with Geeta Dutt’s voice when I heard her songs. In fact, the idea of contemporising vintage Bollywood numbers was introduced to me by Dibaker Banerjee, with the song Tum jo Mil Gaye Ho I did for his Coke commercial,” says McCleary. He already had his version of old songs ready, when a meeting with Bijoy Nambiar, the director of Shaitan put Khoya Khoya Chand on the charts. Wonderful, but how did he choose the songs? “It was my girlfriend’s inspiration to get trippy music that would be popular in a lounge or bar. One has to be seduced by the songs when listening to them. Also, the song has to be worth it. There has to be enough in the song for me to work around, change a chord or two and scope to add my own element. And I was lucky that I found the songs soon enough!” says the musician who is working wonders with Hindi songs but doesn’t know the language that well!
“Well, I’m taking lessons, but I have a long way to go. I know most of the songs I have chosen are romantic, but I think that I have it a little bit easier that I don’t know the language. It helps me interpret the song in my own way and create my version of it,” McCleary says on overcoming the language barrier. For him, the songs are just his versions of the classics, and not ‘remixes’. “I have worked hard on getting a balance and providing a new ‘feel’ to the songs, without murdering them.”
The only initial reason for McCleary to indulge in making the album was that he loved the songs and got immense creative satisfaction from the exercise. It became so popular and left the listeners wanting more was an added bonus! He’s all set to come out with the second helping of The Bartender, for which the songs are chosen and he’s working on adding his touch to the songs. “Obviously, there will be a twist to it, I can’t serve up the same mix again!” he says.
For someone who has trained to be a musician for several years, McCleary is grateful to have received the technical knowledge, but is fast to point out, “Once you have been trained, it is difficult to say how it would have turned out otherwise. But, who knows! Though I do feel that training in orchestration and composition has been really useful for me, not being trained may offer a person a new sort of freedom that I may not have known.” He feels that the training has been especially helpful for television ads and background scores. He should know since he has composed and produced the music for several big names including Coke, Fastrack, Levis, SX4 and VolksWagen Polo.
And where does his inspiration come from? McCleary was so sharp that even at two years of age, he could tell the difference between Beethoven and Bach! “Yeah, those were the very early influences. Later, I had all the teenage influences – Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Bob Dylan, mostly all the ’70s artists. And then I got into song writing,” he remembers. He started to play the drums at 13, the guitar at 15 and writing songs at 16. “At about 18 years, I was sure all I ever wanted to do with my life was music,” he says. One almost wishes that everyone would be sure of being so driven by their passions so early in life.
Looking ahead, in the near future, one of the things McCleary wants to do is compose songs for an Indian diva. “Like you have Madonna or Gwen Stefani, I want to compose for someone like that in India! I know divas like them must exist somewhere, I wish I could find them!” says the artist who is most excited when he’s working with talented people who are still raw and are not necessarily established or known. “I like the idea of discovering new people,” he says as I ask him about his future projects. “There’s the background for Shanghai, with Dibaker Banerjee, and then there’s my own film based on music, an international project for which I am working on the music,” McCleary informs.
From the initial Lucky Ali albums to the television ads, the background scores and The Bartender, this is one musician who has his audience by the ear.
Volume 1 Issue 6