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EXCLUSIVE! Band members of The Unplugged Project, known and loved for its live gigs, have one thing in common — unconditional love for music. Till date, the band has over eight hundred gigs to their credit, with equal intensity be it an audience of fifteen or fifteen thousand. In conversation with the boys who have us dancing to their tunes — literally!


Tell me about your journey. What inspired "The Unplugged Project" and how did you get it started?


Aditya Jassi: The journey has been an absolute hoot. It all started around four years ago over a Karaoke session. Manish was hosting a Karaoke night at a pub in GK-2, New Delhi. I had just walked in and decided to sing along because it just seemed so much fun. We sang a couple of songs after as well and there was immediate respect and admiration for each other's singing abilities and a couple of beers later, we were making plans to jam — since we both lived in GK-2, we were literally a stone's throw away. I was already working on a solo project with Universal Music India, wrapping up my solo album and playing live with my band 'The AJ Project'. Soon enough, we started playing a lot of acoustic-duo gigs. Ashwani and I have been friends for about twenty years or so. He was and still is, in my books, the best drummer in the country. For me, it was always a dream to play in a band with Ashwani and while we were all playing separately with other ensembles, we always got together to play a couple of gigs here and there.


Manish: I was already playing with Ayushmann Khurrana and as mentioned earlier, Aditya and I started doing a lot of duo sets, and over a certain course of time we started getting queries for bigger gigs. We knew we needed to expand the band and there was only one drummer who fitted the bill — Ashwani Verma. We played as a trio set for a year and steadily the scale of shows started getting bigger. That's when we invited Vipin Sharma on Bass and Elton Fernandes on Saxophone to join the band.


Aditya: While everything has snow-balled into something bigger, the sheer essence of the band stays the same — having fun in each other's company. It helps that our friendships has lasted a long time as well. Whether it's playing to an audience of fifteen or 15,000, The Unplugged Project has always given it their all, day in and day out. Honestly, the real journey has just started and as AC-DC had put it, ''it's a long way to the top if you wanna rock n roll.''


How did you coin the name? What inspired it?


Aditya: We kind of got stuck with this name!! It was literally what the people gave us. It started as a duo set between Manish and I and since we were playing only acoustic, people started calling us 'Unplugged'. We just became synonymous with 'Unplugged' and things snowballed into something bigger so we just decided to stick with 'Unplugged' adding only 'The' and 'Project'.


Please describe the genre and aesthetic of your music... and how you arrived at it.


Ashwani: Music is not what we do; it's who we are. We don't have a dress code or sacred philosophy. We play anything that flows with the moment. Our songs are part of our experiences and picked not because they're hip today.


Aditya: We got together because we wanted to jam on songs we grew up listening to, which was acoustic oriented. We've always felt a great song is one that can be sung only on an acoustic guitar and that's what we strive to achieve with our music as well.


What are some of your early formative influences that shaped your band?


Ashwani: I pretty much love all genres of music but am a huge Dave Weckl fan. Of course, growing up, learning the art of playing the drums you just HAD to follow guys like John Bonham, Neil Peart, Keith Moon and all. I love Jazz, Rock, Pop, EDM, Bollywood… everything.


Aditya: We come from fairly diverse musical backgrounds. I grew up listening to classic rock and grunge. I'm a hardcore Led Zeppelin, AC-DC, Pearl Jam fan, and to an extent I started copying Robert Plant's vocals in my initial rock 'n' roll years. But I'm a sucker for Bryan Adams too. I don't think anyone has more melodies on four chords than he does.


Manish: I absolutely loved the guitar Gods: Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Don Felder, Prince and the likes. I'm a huge Country fan too. Give me The Eagles or Marc Cohn any day. Amongst Indian artists, I admire Bobby Cash a lot. He's a genius and a country legend. However, the one common thing that we all share is our love for R.D. Burman and Kishore Kumar. In fact, the entire retro music era. That era had some gems.


'That is what reflects in our gigs as well. All those songs were so simple and beautifully written without being overly loaded with tracks and production. And that's what we try and bring to our shows i.e. the simplicity of those songs with a little twist.


How do you tone your voice? What does it need: rest or exercise?


Aditya: There's no set routine. I've never been the sort to protect my voice by not drinking anything cold or brushing aside the thought of eating street food. I'm a hardcore Delhi boy and absolutely love gorging on chaats and gol gappas. I do, however, do Kharaj Ka Riyaaz to keep the voice in check and with the number of live shows we do, there's no better practice than match practice. However, at the end of the day, you do need to rest — not just your throat but your mind and body as well.


Manish: It's a very 'to each his own' kind of thing. I prefer a hot cup of tea or coffee. I keep my eating habits in check and follow a certain routine i.e. sleep on time, wake up early and practice. We both have different voices and our routines are poles apart too.


Tell us about some of your work. 


Manish: We've just launched our first original single 'Faasle' and the response has been fairly decent. Seeing it's a self-funded project, we're working on 'word of mouth' marketing and it's paying dividends. We're going to start promotions of the single soon and have tied up with various platforms like Songdew, I-tunes, Spotify etc.


Ashwani: We're also ready with a few more originals. We started as a cover band for the fun of playing music with each other. But as things are getting better and bigger, we want to satiate our appetite of releasing our own material. We're all songwriters and composers and want to make our voices heard. There's a lot more to us than just medleys and covers.


From a strictly musical perspective, what have you done that you're most proud of?


Aditya: Individually we've all done a lot of things which we might construe as achievements. Ashwani has been possibly the most sought after drummer in Delhi having played with some of the biggest acts in the country. Manish is known as the father of Karaoke in Delhi as he's the one who brought the whole Karaoke movement to the Capital. I've been lucky to have sung for a couple of films and have a couple of English and Hindi albums to my credit. But I truly feel that 'The Unplugged Project' is going to be our proudest assignment. We've played to a crowd of fifteen and to a crowd of 15,000 with equal intensity. In a span of four years, we've played in nearly five hundred shows and the number is only growing with every passing day; most importantly, we're the happiest in each other's company, doing this.


Coming to the music scene... what's something people don't understand?


Manish: Some people don't understand a band's genre and therefore what to request or expect from the artist. It's heedless to expect Def Leppard from a predominantly Punjabi or Hindi band or the other way around!!!!


Is anything being lost in how younger people absorb music?


Ashwani: Today's songs don't really stand the test of time, to an extent that even classics are getting reproduced and not just remixed.


Manish: Well, they absorb what they're exposed to. I guess since today's music is more rhythmic than melodic or lyrical; there isn't much to absorb, musically speaking.


Aditya: We're too Bollywood-centric a nation. While I'm a huge Bollywood fan, I feel independent music needs a place in this pantheon. However, independent artists don't have that monetary push to advertise and reach out to people, unlike a film. So the audience doesn't get to hear a whole lot of varied music per se.


Do you feel, among millennials, lyrics are less important than they used to be?

Aditya: Oh yes. Absolutely. As Manish rightly said, today it's more about the overall production of the song more than the lyrical content. And that's not just in India but the world over. I guess it also stems from the low attention span that the Internet has bestowed upon people.


Is there innovation happening in music?  


Manish: I feel it's always happening in some form or the other. Else yesteryear songs would sound the same as today's. The innovation could be how the music sounds today — arrangements, more attention to beats and rhythm than say melody or lyrics. Style of singing and language of lyrics are all part of the innovation. 


What does 2019-20 look like from here on?


Aditya: Lots and lots of concerts in India and overseas; a few more original songs; hopefully put out a lot of content for our YouTube channel — we've been quite lazy as far as that is concerned. But basically become better musicians and just keep growing.

The Unplugged Project
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