In an exclusive interview, Real Life Heroes – By Manvi speaks to indie rock sensation and internationally acclaimed songwriter Shriram Alluri about his musical journey, work collaborations and his love for Telugu.
Telugu Artist Shriram Alluri was introduced to music at the age of four by his father who encouraged him and his sister to try new things. “He made both of us take lessons in Western Classical music and got us enrolled in violin and piano classes. I was never interested and after a couple of years of taking those classes, I stopped”, he shares. After approaching different musical styles and instruments, at the age of 12, Alluri realized his love for guitar. And, it all happened in spur of the moment. “Back in the early 2000s, when we did not have much access to MP3s in India, my cousin brother got them from his IIT Campus. He made me listen to Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple, Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd. The day I heard the intro riff to Smoke on the Water, I asked my dad to buy me a guitar. I got one in a week’s time and started learning it myself.” Since then, there has been no looking back.
A significant amount of research suggests that early childhood years are like ‘a window of opportunity’ for young minds to process and understand music. Legendary Composer of the Classical Period, Wolfgang Mozart was eight when he wrote his first symphony. Bharat Ratna and Nightingale of the Contemporary period, M. S. Subbulakshmi was ten when she released her first recording. The creative hustle of these talented and path-breaking artists started at a very young age. For indie rock musician and songwriter Shriram Alluri, life took no different route. Once he knew where his heart lies, he followed it with echoing curiosity and commendable dedication. All this while, he got unflinching support from his parents, none of whom belong to a creative field.
Born and brought up in Hyderabad, Alluri moved to the UK to pursue B.Sc. in Music Technology followed by an MA in Music, Mind and Technology in Finland. He released his debut album ‘Man of Truth’ in 2015. After getting a positive reception from notable sources including Q magazine and NME Online, he continued writing songs in English, but soon sensed a lack in his compositions. In his words, he struggled with ‘identity crisis’. “I wanted to write something that my folks back home could resonate with, that they could feel and appreciate. All these years, I had given my heart and soul to English, and so, a part of me screamed for ‘Telugu’ my native language. It was really challenging and intense.” This lingering identity crisis gave birth to ‘O Katha: Tales of This Telugu Man’, his second album which he recorded in collaboration with Grammy award-winning Italian music producer, Tommaso Colliva.
While all the songs in this album are refreshing, the real beauty lies in how they gently trigger some raw emotions that often go lost in this fast, moribund city life. They transport one back to the narrow lanes of their hometown tickling submerged childhood memories. Elaborating upon the same, Alluri quotes his song ‘Endukala’ from the album. He says, “It’s a happy break-up song that promises not to leave you wallowing in sadness. In fact, if you listen to the demo version, you will find it cute, way more than the actual recorded version which is more upbeat, POP Rock, World Music kinds.” We asked the internationally acclaimed songwriter if the process of switching to his native language was easy, he happily confesses, “Well! My Telugu is very basic, so whatever I wrote I had to take it to a lyricist so he would change a few things here and there, but some songs – he left as is.” Alluri enthuses that collaborating with an Italian band, and a world-renowned record producer, Tommaso was a rich learning experience which resulted in a great interplay between him and the team. “I was slightly intimidated in the beginning, but they made me feel at home. See at the end of the day – we all have given our lives to music!”
Artists live their life in the art they create. A life that is filled with a vivid imagination, buzzing thoughts and chaos all around. It is implied that this space can be too overwhelming, we wondered if this UK-based globetrotter ever felt too consumed by his art. “Yes, definitely. When I started writing songs in 2011-12, I entered a phase where I wasn’t social at all for five years. Just did not feel like meeting anybody.” Alluri concedes that during this period he developed his craft, and understood it better. Still, he was also quick to recognize that this isolation is not sustainable in the longer run. “I chose life over songwriting which to me was a more sustainable balance.” This also led the singer, who calls himself curator of his own ideas, to move back to India and chose Bombay as his city of choice.
At present, Alluri is busy promoting his third album which he finished recording with Producer/Mixing Engineer Rich Jackson in June 2020, in Wales, just before lockdown. This album talks of a songwriting Artificial Intelligence machine that a girl receives as a present from her parents. And then, slowly develops a unique relationship between the two. The much-anticipated concept album features Glen Matlock of Sex Pistols on Bass & Earl Slick (best known for his collaborations with David Bowie & John Lennon) on Guitar. Excited about the project, this genre-bending artist appreciates songs with a point of view. He sheepishly admits that his tragic relationship with his computer serves as an inspiration behind this album. “Years of spending time in front of the computer has made me realize that I have spent more time with machines than humans. This, for me, is a tragedy. The machines are dividing and ruling us. And we are letting them do so. This album addresses these observations.”
Unlike his contemporaries, Alluri never actively pursued Bollywood or Tollywood. He views himself as an independent artist, who writes albums and performs them live. With a growing fanbase in the West, he savours a culture where music industry holds a separate identity. For such a passionate performer, does being critical of his work comes naturally? “I think so. I may be a comfortable songwriter and rhythm guitar player but I am a very insecure singer.” We asked him then, what does he do to get better? “I practice every single day!”, avers the rock musician.
To know more about Alluri and listen to his awesome compositions, check out –