Guitarist Tony Das talks about making Re-Laxman Vol. 2 with Sandeep Chowta

By Anurag Tagat

Anyone who knows seasoned Bangalore-based guitarist Tony Das (part of rock bands including Bhoomi, Peepal Tree and Thermal and A Quarter) also knows that he’s got a penchant for jokes, good and bad.

Tony Das

In his usual ways with wordplay, he suggested to his long-time collaborator – composer Sandeep Chowta – that their new project could be called Re-Laxman. Das says with a laugh over the phone, “It was so bad, but I thought it might just work. And soon enough, I was like, ‘Oh my god, what have I done?’ But after all the years of criticism for my jokes, I can say one of them became the name of a project.”

Chowta, who has had a prolific year with 17 releases across styles all via his label Namma Music, tunes into meditative, smooth and groovy tunes on the second outing of the Re-Laxman project, Re-Laxman Vol. 2. Released in November, it follows the inaugural volume that came out in June. Das recalls, “It’s not like we said based on the success of the first one that we would now pivot to hyper-progressive experimental rock or something. That’s not what happened.”

At the center of this nine-track record, however, is Das’ guitar work, which is complemented by veteran bassists from around the globe – Anthony Crawford from the US, Seb Read from UK and Brazilian Lucass Mattos. These masters of groove all appear across songs which took shape first with drums and percussion to set the tempo, followed by atmospheric elements on keys and more production from Chowta. Das explains, “Sandeep sets the whole pace going. When I have to create the melodies, it becomes much easier to work with the overall vibe.”

L to R: Lucass Mattos, Anthony Crawford, Sandeep Chowta

Pored over by the duo (and their featured guests) on and off over the span of two months, Re-Laxman Vol. 2 is a perfect record to lounge around to but in the way that it could also set the mood for a party. At the same time, if you listen attentively, there’s plenty of clever phrasing, melodies and intricacy you can come to expect from musicians who have been this long in the game. “It’s peaceful and nice to listen to. We were sure not to be overindulgent and esoteric, it’s made to be chillout music but it’s not just filler music,” Das says.

Compared to the first record, Das says he got to stretch a lot more as a guitarist on the second outing. “It’s a little more expressive but not having a tight hook necessarily,” he says. Sprightly guitar melodies lead the way on songs like “Winters Breath”, while things get a funk edge on “Noon Nights”. Das feeds off a vocal sample on “Object of My Affection” and things get as soulful as ever on “Sunset 1984” and “To Robbie With Love”. With that last track specifically, Das talks about getting it right to meet Chowta’s ideas and says that he did have some trouble with the melody. “I sent him the parts once, twice, thrice but he’d always say, ‘It’s nice but it’s not quite there.’ And finally after a few more takes he said, ‘That’s the one we’re looking for!’ He was right, because in the end it’s was the least overthought part for the song.”

Sandeep Chowta

Das and Chowta go as far back as circa 2007, when the guitarist joined Chowta’s Bangalore-based rock band Karma 6. By then, Chowta was already known as the man behind stirring scores and soundtracks for films such as Satya, Mast and Om Shanti Om. The duo worked together on film music, where Das would fly down to Mumbai to work for about a couple of months. “Most nights, we’d come back home and listen to listen and I discovered so much music through him. There’s a large overalap now. That’s how we connected,” the guitarist says.

With two albums already out and making waves on streaming platforms such as Apple Music, Re-Laxman does have more in store. Das says, “We were thinking about the third volume by default already. We’ve got a flow happening in some sense. We’d started working on Vol. 2 in September so we might look at stockpiling songs.”

Stream the album here.