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With a blend of Jazz, Blues and Acoustic Folk, John Daniel is a Singer-Songwriter and Acoustic Guitarist based in Bangalore, India. He has been playing the guitar and singing from the age of 13 and wrote his first song when he was 15. The NLSIU graduate (Class of ’05), also teaches music in various IT Companies in Bangalore as well as in his house. John has gigged all across Bangalore and also played at shows in Pondicherry, Kolkata and Shillong. He is currently in the midst of recording his debut album. In this e-mail interview with Associate Editor Anuj Agrawal, John (or “JD” as he is better known) talks about his time at law school, his musical journey and why he loves doing what he does.
Bar & Bench: Your song “Special Leave Petition” is so hummable! How did you come up with it? Where did you record it? Who is Paul Lyngdoh?
John Daniel: I’m really happy that ‘Special Leave Petition’ has been so well received! I had been conflicted about giving up on law and taking up music full time for a while now. I needed that tension to be expressed musically! Also, my mum had been going through a bad litigation process and that had really affected me badly.
The catalyst however was when I had seen the promo for a contest for original music using the words “Special Leave Petition” being held by rainmaker.co.in in the backdrop of the Allahabad High Court’s Babri verdict. I was done with the first 2 verses in 3 hours after seeing the promo! That’s when I realised that the song needed a bridge and another verse at the end.
I met up with my friend Paul Lyngdoh, who is a very well known politician in the NorthEast. Paul is the former Urban Affairs Minister, Youth Affairs Minister and Prisons Minister of Meghalaya. Paul is also a published author and poet and he has composed and recorded several hit songs in Shillong. Paul asked me to play him the song and hum him the bridge parts. He then wrote the bridge and the last verse of the song for me! I have worked with Paul on other songs as well and we’re working together to bring out our album.
I recorded several out takes of the song in Paul’s Shillong studio so as to get other sessions musicians involved. I even recorded one rough edit of the song with a few Bangalore based musicians. However, I decided to play all the parts of the song and layer it according to the original feel that the song had while I was composing it. The final recording of the track was done in Om Shree Studio, Bangalore.
B&B: We found another song on Youtube called “December Sun”. Did you have anyone in mind when you wrote that song?
JD: December’s Sun was written by Paul and I came up with the music for the song. In fact, it was because of December’s Sun that Paul and I had decided to work together for a full album.
The song was written for my mother, whose health rapidly deteriorated at the start of the litigation process against her.
B&B: Ok so let us back track a bit. You are a graduate of NLSIU, Bangalore right? Which year did you graduate in?
JD: I joined NLS is 1997 and graduated in 2005. The eight years that I spent in law school is a blur! In fact I used to run a blog, Anonymous Contributor, about my time in law school.
B&B: What got you into law school and how did you feel when you left?
JD: What got me into law school was a need to get away from home. Never really wanted to be a lawyer! I felt that 5 years on my own away from home would do me a world of good. The resulting 8 years away from home was crazy. I’ve written about some of the stuff that I went through in my blog, Anonymous Contributor.
I felt alive when I left law school. It was the best feeling ever. I was invited to France to be the best man at a friend’s wedding. I backpacked through France for about a month. In about a week, I had spent all my money and so my friend’s uncle set me up with odd jobs in his furniture factory. So I was a graduate of NLS, off-loading Belgian trucks bringing in Indonesian furniture to a French warehouse in La Rochelle. I even worked at my friend’s uncle’s mattress factory in Paris.
I was staying with my friend and his uncle in his penthouse in an upscale part of Paris and would be driven to the factory in an S-class Mercedes and then would start making mattresses! It was all bizarre and such a great experience. The French workers in the factory were super harsh to me. I’d have to re-stack heavy cartons constantly and would have to re-make mattresses and they’d speak to me only in French and in sign language! But on the last day of work, they brought out bottles of wine and whisky for lunch along with cigars! They told me that they were impressed that I stuck it out without complaining to the boss! It was all an amazing experience!
And then I headed to England to be with my uncle and my friends. Again having spent up all my money soon, it was my friends in Oxford and London who paid for everything i needed without ever making me feel bad. After a month when I flew back to Bombay, my friends there asked me to stay with them, again with them footing the bill for everything! I had partly written one of my songs, “Ain’t Yellow”, in London. it was my friends in Bombay who helped me finish that song!
So I guess leaving law school enabled me to become a rambler and I think that in turn helped me focus on my music.
B&B: Music and law school is a bit of an odd mix. How did it happen?
JD: Wel, my first guitar teacher was my mother! I studied music in the Calcutta School of Music under Carlton Kitto and had played in a couple of bands for a few years before getting into NLS. At NLS, I was happy to be a part of the committee that worked on the first Strawberry Fields music festival back in 1998. In the previous year I had worked as a volunteer for LawCommotion, (as Strawberry Fields was previously known).
I was in the class band in college as well as in the college band. We participated in a lot of intra-college competitions as well as inter-college competitions. My former drummer and I were quite kicked when we won the Mount Carmel [College] fest and a bunch of girls sent us flowers!
While in my second year I wanted to drop out and study music in Musicians’ Institute, in Los Angeles. I had applied and they had even sent me the forms. But the fees was too high and my mother wanted me to finish my course in NLS before I decided to do anything else.
I decided to learn music theory and concepts on my own. 1997-1998 is when we were exposed to the Internet for the first time in a big way, so that really helped me learn stuff without having to invest in expensive music theory books.
B&B: Looking back, do you think you would have gone about law school a bit differently?
JD: Maybe. But then I would run the risk of not being a musician and being a corporate lawyer instead!
B&B: Did you face a lot of peer pressure when it came to a choice of career? How supportive were your family and friends with respect to your decisions?
JD: I think the pressure was more self-induced. I felt I needed a high paying job because everyone else was getting one. And i wanted that high paying job even if it meant hating the work. My parents wanted me to write the Civil Services Exam and were not really concerned with me not doing law. My friends have always been supportive towards my passion for music.
B&B: So you teach music but not to children. Why is that?
JD: I teach music mainly to adults. I do teach music to children but only when I’m sure that the child wants to learn and is not enrolling because his or her parent has enrolled the child for a music class as just another extra-curricular activity. When adults pay their fees they tend to ensure they get the value for their money. This means regular attendance and practice at home. This helps them get more out of my course.
B&B: Best thing about your job?
JD: I’m completely involved in music!
B&B: Worst thing about your job?
JD: It doesn’t give me any time whatsoever on weekends for my family.
B&B: Do you find yourself thinking what your life would have been if you had become a lawyer?
JD: I used to earlier, but not anymore!
B&B: Lastly, any advice for recent law graduates or law students?
JD: Be yourself. Law is a great foundational course. Studying law, however, doesn’t mean that you have to be a lawyer. If being a lawyer is what you really want to be then you should try really hard to be one. But if you want to do something else in life, pursue that with everything you have. Your life is short and should be filled with memories of things you have loved
Special Leave Petition: