'Transcendent' by Sanjay Kumar's FOI

What sets FOI’s latest offering Transcendent apart from all its previous works? Find out all the insider details in this exclusive report by Ranjini Achuthan.

Transcendent, the eponymous song from the 13 track album by FOI, (the solo project of the effortlessly brilliant, Bangalore based ace guitarist Sanjay Kumar) is one of those tracks that would be hard to pull off live, on stage.

“Nearly impossible”, Sanjay admits. It is technically the most sophisticated track in the album. There are weird time signatures, numerous breakdowns, minor scale portions and metric modulations that makes it extremely challenging to play. “It is my most favorite track from the album due to the very said reasons”, he quips!

Being a solo producer means that Sanjay plays and records all the instruments himself be it the lead guitar, drums, bass guitars or the keyboard. “With such freedom, one can go wild with imagination and experimentations and there could be 100 or more takes until I get what I want.” It is also a quicker and easier process that gives timely results as compared to the production process of a band with multiple creative minds at play.

Sanjay also tried his hand at mixing all the tracks in the album according to his own liking and satisfaction without any outside opinions, suggestions. “The only outside ear that I trusted for this project is my mastering engineer, the London based producer Luke Martin who has worked on almost all FOI tracks from the beginning.” Sanjay feels that with regards to the sound of the album, this has been the best amongst all of his releases until now.

He also says that he decided to put his egoistic self aside and treat the compositions as songs with a soul instead of merely molding them as showpieces that flaunt his guitar prowess replete with shreds and fast pace. “I have tried to structure the tracks as proper songs with portions that can be called verses, choruses etc. Such a treatment made me realize that the length of an instrumental track wouldn’t matter if there is enough dynamics playing out in the progression of the track. I think this is what really sets Transcendent apart from all of my previous works.”

All these above mentioned aspects make Sanjay’s creative exercise of music production a raw, thoroughly honest and sincere expression of his art. It’s not surprising, therefore, for instance, when “The Age of Anxiety”was being written, in spite of the fact that the little intro melody in the song ended up sounding inspired by the iconic Snarky Puppy track Shofukan, he decided to let it be.

“Although I didn’t realize the resemblance initially, I felt I should retain it as a testimony of my adulation and respect towards the brilliance of their music.”

Just a look at the names of the tracks, be it “The Age of Anxiety” or “Borrowed Breath”; “This too Shall Pass” “The Escape”, or “Transcendent”, one might feel that they all point towards the personal growth of the artist, from daily struggles to significant achievements.

Sanjay insists that the album is not a concept album but instead, a collection of tracks that were released one per month on YouTube, throughout the course of 2020 which were then, by the end of the year, collated together to form an entity symbolizing his transcendence from a laid back musician to a go getter, goal oriented man of action. “None of this was intentional. It just all fell into place. One of the primary struggles in my career has been the hard test of consistency, which, with this project, I think, I have been able to crack!”, smiles Sanjay.

The album features two high profile collaborations. One’s for the track Ariadne’s Thread featuring the award winning, prolific Nagaland guitarist Arenlong Longkumer and the other, the titular track, Transcendent featuring the seasoned metal vocalist Gaurav Basu (Inner Sanctum fame) who incidentally also designed the spatially congruous, enticing artwork for the album.

Sanjay elaborates, “Arenlong performs the verse section of the song. His beautiful crunch tone is the highlight and on the whole, the song is a shred-fest of sorts. I have been friends with him for a while and collaboration with friends is always an easy, smooth and fun experience. I reached out to Gaurav in the same vein; a brilliant vocalist, dear friend and easy to access because he is also based out of Bangalore. Right from the start, I knew I needed some hardcore vocals with growls in one of my tracks and he fit the bill perfectly.”

Sanjay is endorsed by the hugely popular, elite and high end Netherlands company called Aristides Guitars that is famous for the use of the composite material called Arium that lends far more stability and advanced performance when compared to wood guitars. He vouches for its performance; “It is, hands down the best guitar I have ever played and I have been a loyal Aristides player for almost four years now. I have been really lucky to have such an iconic guitar company endorse me.”

Sanjay has close to nine thousand followers on Instagram which is a feat in itself considering the fact that he is an independent musician in this, majorly, cinema driven Indian music industry. What sets apart his journey from others in his field, is the sheer will to pull other aspiring musicians up, primarily through his school “Let’s Make Some Music” that has seamlessly and successfully transitioned to the online space in 2020.

Says Sanjay, “I am now able to teach students from across the globe and therefore the strength of students has increased. This has given me the unique opportunity to interact with international guitarists which wouldn’t have been possible if it was a physical space. I have formulated this new course called “The Lead Guitar System” which is a one-month course that has very experienced, technically advanced players sharing their knowledge with the students. What I strive to achieve with my school is to inculcate practical music education instead of the tried and tested, textbook and theory based one where a student merely learns because he has to. Imparting practical knowledge essentially means to equip the students to befriend their guitars and use the techniques learned comprehensively, for purposes such as music composition and live performances in the most fruitful way. It’s been five years now since me and my wife who is a piano teacher together embarked upon this journey of imparting education and we are finally on the road to achieving our dreams.”