One thing you'll notice immediately when you meet Siddharth Gautam or Joey Sharma (both Taaqademy faculty members for well over 3 years now) is a certain placidity, a calmness that belies their frenetic capabilities on that most-popular of instruments: the acoustic guitar. They are, without a doubt, two of Bangalore's finest players. They’ve performed on a variety of stages for several years and have become familiar names among the city’s music circles. Most recently, Sid and Joey have begun performing together as a gypsy jazz duo dubbed The Django Twins; the response, in their own words, has been “surprisingly good”. I sat down and spoke to them about their current project, as well as both learning and teaching music.
How did you guys first start playing the guitar?
SID: I actually played drums before this, in high school. And then after that it was a pain to keep a drum kit at home. I came here—it was my first year of college in Bangalore—and when I went back [to Delhi] the drum kit wasn’t there anymore! Mom was saying it took too much space and stuff. But then my brother had a guitar he’d bought—he hadn’t started playing or anything, he’d just bought it and kept it on the side—so I picked it up instead.
JOEY: I started in high school. A lot of my friends and neighbours in Nagaland played guitar, and my neighbours would come to the house and give me classes. So I just picked it up.
If you had to pick, acoustic or electric?
JOEY: I’ve always played acoustic, so… yeah.
SID: I play electric too, it’s just that lately I’ve been playing a lot more acoustic, so that’s why.
When did you two realise you could do music full time?
JOEY: For me I didn’t have any other option, so… [laughs]
SID: It kind of happened by chance. So after I finished college, I was just kind of looking for a job—but I wasn’t really going out there [searching for jobs]—I was just taking a two-week break after college. Then the Taaqademy teaching gig came up, and I thought, “Okay, I’ll try this”. I came here and it just kind of worked out. Who knows, I might still switch to something else, like being a carpenter or something! [laughs]
What advice would you give someone who wants to make a living out of music?
SID: You know, if you want to make a living out of music, it becomes a lot about money. It’s not only “this is the music I want to play, and that’s it”. That’s never going to happen, the thing of “I like playing guitar, so I’m going to make a living out of it”. There’s a lot of other things, like marketing. And you’ll have to do some things that you don’t like—like any other job. But if you think that making a living out of music means that you just play the guitar, well, that’s probably the smallest part of it. It’s tough.
What do you think a music education gives someone?
JOEY: I think it just keeps you a whole lot calmer. I mean, like compared to another person who just works in an IT job or something.. [and doesn’t play an instrument].
SID: Yeah, plus there’s a few other things. Like if you want to get better at guitar you have to be disciplined, right? So hopefully some of that translates to other things. I mean, those [values of discipline and focus] can be applied straightaway to whatever you do. It doesn’t always work out, but that’s the idea. Like being disciplined, being focused… those are the kinds of things you learn.
Suppose someone has no interest in performing or teaching music professionally. What reason would you give them to learn to play an instrument?
JOEY: Well the thing is, if you play an instrument, it’s like you discover another universe. Everyone likes music—and [when you start playing an instrument] you start to understand a little bit of what you’re listening to. So I think you end up enjoying music a bit more—or hating it! [laughs]
SID: Yeah, besides those things [about discipline and focus] I was talking about earlier.
Why should someone learn music from a teacher rather than YouTube?
SID: I think it’s much slower if you learn from YouTube, because those videos don’t tell you certain things [about playing an instrument]. So you’ll have to kind of go through a longer process to actually learn them. But then again you could tell someone these tips to their face and they might still not practice, so it depends.
JOEY: Yeah, I mean if you’re really serious about learning music, and you go to a music teacher, they’ll—if they’re a good teacher—probably plan out the whole thing for you. Like you’ll have structure—structure in the sense of playing, not like a syllabus. And they’ll probably be a lot harsher on you than some person on YouTube.
And what’s the benefit of a space specifically dedicated to music?
SID: One thing that I find [special] in this kind of place is the student bands that happen. Like even music schools abroad, most people that I know who go there, they go there for the crowd. You know, you get to play with other people. And if you’re just learning by yourself, maybe that won’t happen.
Onto The Django Twins. What drew you two towards gypsy jazz?
SID: We just like this kind of music. I mean…
JOEY: Yeah, we kind of like it! [Laughs.] The thing is, for me, the music is a little happy, and a little lively. But at the same time, it’s demanding on a player. You can’t be a sloppy player and play this type of music. If you start playing this music, you have to improve. It’s like a challenge.
So far, you’ve performed at Indigo Live, The Humming Tree, BFlat and The Blue Frog—to name just a few venues. How’s the response been?
JOEY: Good so far. Surprisingly good. We actually thought no one would look at us [during shows], but people did look at us!
SID: Yeah, it depends on each week—like corporate gigs you’re just sort of a fly on the wall. But considering it’s instrumental, and no one’s singing, the response has been great.
JOEY: Yeah, when we started out, the way we discussed it, it was like, “Who’s going to listen to this sort of music, and want us to play for them?” But there have been people following us, so…
SIDDHARTH: Yeah, which is cool, because now we don’t have to worry so much about playing something just so people will like it. We can just kind of do whatever we want.
Last question: Where do you guys see The Django Twins going?
SID: One thing we’re trying to do is expand it. Right now it’s only two guitars, so we’re trying to get a bass player, and stuff like that. So that’s the next step, but in terms of financials, or what shows we’re going to do, we haven’t really planned long term.
Long term or otherwise, The Django Twins is certainly worth watching live. Siddharth and Joey have bona-fide virtuoso chops, and play a genre few others in the city do. But besides their musical abilities, the two are just incredibly nice people to talk to—and Taaqademy’s grateful to have them.
Joey Sharma and Siddharth Gautam, aka The Django Twins
(Picture courtesy Rakesh Avilliath)