Benny Dayal, the enthusiastic voice behind the super popular dance number Badtameez Dil, spoke to us about how he came into the music scene, struggles and challenges he faced, his family, future projects and much more. Read on to discover some inner secrets of this sensation.
Best song you’ve sung so far: Kaise Mujhe Tu Milgayi
Your favourite recent release: Roota from Teena and Kehe Bhi De from Traffic
Favourite comedian in the Indian comedy scene: I love Vir Das and I love Kapil Sharma because he’s ridiculously funny I also like Irfan Khan’s sense of comic timing.
One instance you can never forget in life: Recording this Tamil song called Omana Penne from Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya and I recorded this song on my birthday.
When was the first time you realized you wanted to pursue music?
When I was 13, I was in school. I’ve been listening to all kinds of music all my life and it came to a moment where…Mr. Rahman was playing a very key in my life that time because he’s just come out in ’92 and this was in ’98 and I knew it – this is what I want to do. His album, Dil Se had come out, we were really young at that time and these songs hit me really hard. I really had no words to express what I was feeling at that time. I wasn’t mature enough to explain or realize but it really made me feel one thing that I want to do music till I die, that is all matters and there’s nothing else. So, that’s how the big decision came.
S5 led you to be where you are today, how were those days?
It happened in Chennai and S5 was the time when I got acquainted to recording in the studio, interacting – being a team player and at the same time being a solo singer and being a backing vocalist. It teaches you all the aspects of singing. Singing has 2-3 aspects, you back somebody and you sing lead so S5 was all about that, you learn the combination of both. For me it was a great learning experience because I got to understand how things work in studios, how people record your voice, how the entire recording process happens, how the music is produced, how the music is created, how it is put forward, how the voice is added to it, how every layer or harmony is done, how to sing into the mic, how to utilize the mic properly, all of that I learnt. So it was one hell of a learning experience for me.
We read that you joined MCC mainly for its cultural and you have been a part of quite a few bands there, how is it different when you’re making music as a band as opposed to independent music?
Well, being in the band, we were making independent music. Music is music at the end of the day, there is film music and independent music but they’re classic occasions being created by the media but for me, it is all music and that’s exactly why I want to be a part of everything and I want to do more. You should not let your heart stagnate or let your mind be complacent of what you already have and if you can do more and find pockets of happiness, fill in those pockets of happiness in your life and if all those steps make you feel happy then you should continue doing it because happiness is the only thing that keep your mind away from being attacked by the devil in you because if you keep your mind idle it is just one spiral downwards. So, I never let that happen, I like to engage myself with doing more music and doing new stuff all the time. I’m working on my EP this year, it’s a Hindi-English EP called Silence Swaad Anusaar. Swaad Anusaar in Hindi means ‘as per taste’ and I believe that music starts from silence and with silence. And when I work with great producers, they always say, “Silence plays a very important role in music” and it’s like a very valuable ingredient in a song and that’s why I named my album Silence Swaad Anusaar, it’s going to be a great album, it’s not going to be loud in your face but it’s going to be loud enough for you to enjoy it and soft enough for you to be moved. That is the whole concept behind the album but it is going to be active, fun, creative and it’s going to be very, very independent.
Who has been your greatest influence to make the kind of music you make?
MJ and AR. MJ has been a great influence because I started all because of him. When I was five my dad gifted me the Moonwalker movie and as any kid would go crazy seeing that movie, I went crazy too seeing the dance moves, the singing and automatically I took to dancing and then my parents realized that I have rhythm in my body and that I understand key and pitch and so, everything took over.
You were first noticed by AR Rahman, how was your first interaction with him and how was the whole experience of working with him for the first time?
It still don’t have heavy, valuable interactions with him for me it has always been just watching him and learning the way he works and the way he conducts himself as a human being on the whole, that’s what teaches me and that’s how I’ve learnt from him. It’s not like he tells you things and he gives you advice on something, it’s for you to grab and take things from him. The way he works, works for him really well and if you can take some good out of it and implement it in your life the way you can and make it your own, then that’s really good for you, right? So, that’s all I’ve done, I haven’t sat there and asked questions and questioned the art form or the craft of making music, nothing, just observe, keep your mind open, let there be a lot more passion in your art and you’ll be there.
How hard was it for you in that window when you had just started singing regularly and then you had to give up your job to follow your dreams? What kind of parental pressure followed after?
I had a lot of pressure, crazy amounts of pressure. When I used to go and record there have been points where people have rejected me, the way I sing and said “Naah…this is not a great voice” or “You’re never going to be a singer,” and stuff like that and you have to go through that because that should trigger to bring out the better in you, there’s nothing called the best but the even better in you. Even my parents sometimes were like “What are you doing with your life?” so I had to fight it and keep the faith. So for me pressure brought out the even better out of me and I’d say succumbing wouldn’t have helped and I would have been nowhere. It wasn’t much of a shift; my plan of coming to India was to become a singer. I fought with my dad, I argued with him as to why I needed to go to Chennai from Abu Dhabi when my dad wanted me to get a business degree from Pune from a good business school like Symbiosis or so and I said “No. I want to become a singer” and he questioned me “What about your education?” and I was like I will study just that I need to make my way through this and I can do it myself and by you telling me what to do and what not to do is going to confuse me further and I will be hopeless, I will be pointless and I will be goalless in life. So I had to fight it and make that choice. We had a cold war for almost a month and a half, we never spoke to each other much and eventually when I started recording in movies and songs started doing well and when the whole world started letting my father and mum know “Oh your son’s song is beautiful” “He’s done a great job” “How did he Rahman?” and then my father started feeling that I am becoming important in life and he’s becoming important to the people in the society. Not in terms of becoming big or humongous but in terms of marking yourself as a recognized person. And that made my parents feel that I am actually taking the right steps in life and it was not through any push or pull through anybody in the industry. I had nobody to push me.
What is the scene like for someone without a godfather to survive in the industry?
I’ll tell you something, it is very hard to be honest. Everybody has honesty in them but some people don’t choose to be honest. You can show it every day and my thing is, even this interview is me being honest and I’m not trying to sugarcoat any of my life and if I went through shit, I went through shit and if I’m having a good time, I’m having a good time but I am extremely honest about what my life was and what it should be and I’m not sitting there expecting things to come to me and make my life wonderful. For me, I am expecting to improve and that’s a very honest way of saying and is not something people would like to quote in the papers and read that some other day. For me, honestly, I just want to become better and I just want to become more awesome and even when I meet my musician friends I keep saying that I want to be more awesome. You have to be more awesome, you have to be blowing everyone away when you perform and you know that first line you sing on stage should just blow them away. And I still feel that I haven’t been able to do that for myself. All of what I am doing is for me and no one else and if I am going to make myself happy, I’m sure that everyone else is going to see the resonance of my happiness. So that’s what it is, it’s at a higher level for me altogether. And thank you for interviewing me because people get to hear my story.
How come you never went back to acting after By the People?
I was never serious about acting. I realized that making music is more my cup of tea. I don’t know, I can’t be so loyal. I need to sleep. I love to sleep. You have to be there on time, you have to look fresh and all that takes a lot of dedication and to be very honest I am lazy in some way and I love to sleep because my voice has to sound great when I get to the studio. Like how every actor’s face needs to look fresh, when they sleep they get their beauty sleep and they look fresh, for me I need to sleep so that my voice sounds great and I sing my song without wasting the composer’s time and energy, nailing the song as per his vision and getting it to that point where he is happy and also I am happy. You are giving everything into that song, your heart, your soul, your blood, your sweat.
Language has been no barrier for you and you’ve sung in all South Indian languages, how do you go about that?
To be very honest, I have an ear for grasping sound so I used to imitate when I was in school. I used to listen and then imitate and because I used to imitate, it was easy for me to sing too. And then I realized that language isn’t much of a problem and in school I used to study Arabic, I was very good at Hindi in school and I studied French and I was really bad at it and dreaded it. There have been instances where you do a corporate show and you perform for a Korean client and you have to learn a Korean song, I have done that. Recently Karsh (Kale) was producing an album for this amazing Chinese singer called Sa Dingding and I have featured on Malayalam/Chinese collaboration and Karsh is giving a brand new image in terms of her sound, him being the genius he is. So yeah, languages have never been a barrier for me, I’ve sung in Telugu, Kannada and recently I’ve recently been approached to sing in Gujarati as their industry is beginning to grow. I also happened to learn a little bit of Ohamia singing with Papon for Assamese when I was doing Coke Studio. As long as you treat your mind as a child, you can always teach your mind to learn right from the base. People keep approaching me with different languages because they think that my diction is quite okay and they’re happy with the way I sing in their languages; they don’t curse me so that’s more than enough.
You experiment a lot with different genres, which would you say spoke to you the most?
Every genre is interesting in its own way and I’m not trying to be diplomatic and it’s just that sometimes you want to be doing everything but not everything may come to you perfectly. I used to sing Arabic in school and that was to a certain extent but now I’m trying to sing even more perfectly. Sometimes when I’m in Dubai and I’m stuck in immigration or something and sometimes they have the prayer going on, they put it on the speaker, I just take my phone out and record the prayer. They sing it and it’s really beautiful, so I try and learn inflections like that and try and do stuff like that so that I can I can improve myself because I learnt the language and I need to keep it intact so that makes me a cut above many other musicians in terms of delivery of content in the industry. So, that’s how I train myself, if I’m travelling so much and can’t constantly learn music my only way of learning is to record content and to keep listening to it.
Where do you draw your inspiration from to create music?
There is nothing like that, so Tamil Fever was created by Nucleya and me in five minutes. We were in a hotel room and we didn’t have a mic to record it, Nucleya had this basic beat and he was like can we do something on this and I was like do you have a mic to record it because I will lay you melody right now. He just turned the phone’s video camera on and pressed record, he played the beat and I just started singing till the track ended. He stopped and he was like, “Dude! The song is set.” And a few months later Sony approached us and that was it, the song was there and we just had to get the song written in Tamil as per the concept of the song they wanted and my friend Christopher Pradeep wrote it and we recorded it and it was there for everybody to enjoy.
You’ve sung a lot of songs in so many industries and have also released albums, both independent and commercial. How do you find the time?
Make time, as usual. It is very simple, you have to make time, and if you cannot make time you cannot make music. There are sometimes when I’m gigging and recording very busily for weeks, sometimes you get a 3-4 day break and at that time I contact my friends whoever helps me produce and who I can produce with, I make time, either I fly them down or get to them, sit with them and share these ideas, melodies that I have on my phone, and see how we can arrange it and which angle we can go with to produce the song to make it sound unique. I always write lyrics when I’m flying in flights; the melody is in my head so I keep writing them down. Sometimes I start writing a song and finish writing it before the flight takes off and those are the best songs that happen.
You’re also a great hit when it comes to live performances as you get the crowd pumped up. Which do you like better, singing in a studio or at a live performance?
Both are just the same because you are performing at both, you are giving your heart and soul for both because you perform in a studio and give it your best so that the song sounds great and you’re performing on stage and are giving your heart and sound so that it sounds great there too just that there’s one person as an engineer or a composer in front of you and over there, there are just many more people. Honestly, my performance is the same in both places. The thing is, I do music, and when you do music you should look like you were born to do this. It applies to anybody, any kind of job. On Facebook, some people they write horrible stuff about Mr. Rahman being such a bad performer but even now when he’s on stage that aura and the purity he spread is amazing. He is pure, his mistakes are pure, his songs and the way he sings is so pure, he is not pretentious, he might not be perfect but his imperfection is saw pure that it wants you to be someone like that even when he made a mistake, he smiled about it. People’s heart should melt and people actually say “Oh…he made a mistake, so cute.” And that’s what I strive for where you become so great that one small mistake can be forgiven. But I’m in a stage right now where even one mistake cannot be forgiven and I shouldn’t forgive it myself.
Is there some sort of a pre-show routine that you follow?
No, I just pray. I make sure I pray before I get on stage. My band, Funktuation, and I pray together before we go on stage.
What advice would you like to give to upcoming musicians?
Just do what makes you happy, that’s all. I’ve been saying this for the last 10 years and I still say the same thing. If you aren’t happy doing what you’re doing, don’t do it. Simple. And don’t be pretentious and just be yourself no matter what.
Lastly, what do your future projects look like?
Teen, Amitabh Bachchan’s movie and then I have many that I cannot reveal. Independent is my album which I’m working on, called Silence Swaad Anusaar with my friend and brother Dub Sharma and I’m really looking forward to this EP because it’s going to be something that’s really, really cool.
You can check out the interview with Benny Dayal in our latest issue online: http://scorem.ag/2bDIP6k