In this conversation, the exceptionally talented Mohini Dey talks about it all – she narrates little anecdotes from her childhood, addresses her love for fashion, the choices she had to make in order to get where she is today and much more, that helps us better understand how she does what she does and how she keeps her passion alive. Read on to know more.
What is your earliest memory of music?
It’s very stunning but I remember everything from my childhood. Both my parents are musicians – my mom sings and my dad is a bass player. Every time I would come back from school or every time I would wake up, there would always be music playing. So I clearly remember that music was always floating around me. I have these vivid picture memories of my dad practising and after he was done, we would go and eat crab together, because I love crab. These memories are still so fresh in my head, that when I think about it, I feel like I’m right there.
How did you end up playing the bass?
One day my father was practising and he happened to put his headphones around my ears, and I started giving the right tempo. I was only three years old then. That’s when it occurred to him that there was no girl bass player in the country and he decided to start teaching me. He started teaching me on a hand made bass. Since we weren’t so financially strong then, he cut pieces of wood and took out pick ups from his old bass and made me a smaller bass. I seriously started taking lessons when I was six and by the age of nine, I was already playing.
What was the first song you ever composed?
The first ever song I composed is a song called Soul. I wrote it almost 5-6 years ago. Though I perform it at my gigs, I haven’t released it yet. This is because there are so many musicians that I ended up working with in the past few months and I want them to play on my album. Having these amazing personalities play on my album will make a very huge difference. So I’m just waiting for the right moment.
When you create music, is there a specific process that you follow?
Usually, when I’m travelling, I end up composing a lot. This is because while travelling, I listen to a lot of music and ideas just come. So when they do, I pause the music, take my time and just build on the groove or the melody that come to me after listening to a particular song or piece. Usually, the first the thing that comes to my mind is the melody. Then I lay down the chord changes and then the groove. Sometimes the groove comes first too and then I try to come up with the melody and changes over that. So it’s just mostly trial and error every time. I also make sure to listen to all kinds of music and not just limit my self to one specific genre, so that all my music doesn’t sound alike.
Which songs/artists do you usually like listening to?
Apart from the songs of all the bands that I’m a part of, I like listening to Bruno Mars, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Chaka Khan, Chic Corea, Victor Wooten and many more. But before going to sleep and after waking up, there is one song in particular that I love listening to – it’s called Ordinary People by John Legend, but I listen to the George Benson and Al Jarreau version of it. There’s another song by them called All I Am, which I absolutely love listening to.
What was your first ever gig?
My first ever gig was at the age of nine. It was one of my dad’s shows actually, called Keep Music Alive, which he had organized in Kolkata. The whole event was all about celebrating good music and good musicians, and uniting them together to talk about music and life. I just held my dad’s hand, walked up to the stage and started playing. I still remember, I was wearing a red skirt and a backless red top. I had curly hair, I was chubby, and I was just sitting there on stage with a huge bass in front of me, playing by myself, no band. My dad joined me later and then we played something together, which was really fun. However, I don’t consider that as my first ever gig, as it was my dad’s thing. But after that, my first proper gig was with Shreya Goshal in Powai, for a Durga Puja event. My dad was supposed to play that show, but he couldn’t make it because of health issues. So he asked me to go instead, and Shreya had no idea that I was playing. She loved it though, she was very happy and flattered post the gig.
Everyone repeatedly emphasises on how young you are. Does that bother you? Or are you proud to have achieved so much in such a short time?
It doesn’t bother me but it makes me think why a number is more emphasized on rather than the talent. People pass statements like she’s so young and she’s so good, but I started early and also worked really hard. I spent many sleepless and hungry nights to strengthen my power and work on my negative aspects. Hence, in my head this was bound to happen. Age has nothing to do with talent, it really is just a number. I’ve been working professionally with much older musicians since a very young age. I was hanging about with Zakhir Ji and Ranjit uncle at the age of 13. Even today, I’ve worked with so many international artists such as Steve Vai, Jordan Rudess, Guthrie Govan and many more. So when I think about it, I feel like this is quite a natural thing to happen for me.
What impact does working with so many great musicians have on you?
I feel absolutely driven, inspired and encouraged. There’s always something to learn from every person that we work with, whether it’s about life in general or about music. I re-collect all the good things that I like about the people that I get to work with – be it a famous musician or an upcoming one or even someone that people don’t know about, and I try to infuse it with my playing or my personality.
After having performed with so many icons, does it reduce the sense of awe or thrill when you get to perform with them?
There is no reduction because there was no star struck moment, ever. However, every time I meet my idols such as Victor Wooten or Gary Willis or anyone else that I looked up to as a kid, it’s always very overwhelming and I get very emotional. They say things to me like ‘We’re big fans of yours’ and I’m always like ‘no way, I grew up listening to you guys, ‘I’m a big fan of yours!’
Did you have to give up a lot in order to be who you are today? Do you miss being a normal twenty-one-year-old?
I did have to give up a lot of things growing up, such as hanging out with friends, going to the movies or going shopping with them. I always had the urge to do that because all the kids in school and college would ask me to go with them, but I always had to refuse since I had rehearsals or because I had to practise. However, my dad always told me that if I didn’t do this then, then later I’d feel like I was too late. He was right, because today I feel like I’m really early.
I’m sure that’s a better feeling right, than feeling like you’re too late?
I’m not entirely sure if that’s a better feeling. Sometimes I feel like even if I would’ve done those things before like hanging out with my friends etc., I would have still been okay; I would’ve still been who I am today. Maybe, I wouldn’t have achieved this kind of fame and this level of exposure so early, but I would’ve still been the same. I strongly believe that your dedication and your passion matter the most. If you have the hunger and the interest to do something, you will find a way of doing it somehow. However, what my father’s outlook towards this was that if I did spend time hanging out with my friends, I would be tired eventually and wouldn’t be able to practise or work on myself as a musician. That made a lot of sense to me and I took his words into consideration. I respected everything he told me and acted upon it. Today when I think about it, I’m proud and glad that I did that. So there are no regrets.
As a musician, what’s the best feeling in the world according to you?
The best feeling is to meet new people, to collaborate with different genres, different minds and different personalities. It gives you different ideas and new ways to live life. Having that kind of access broadens your perspective and changes your life. Every time I meet someone new, there will mostly be something that I really like about them and I always want to infuse that with my personality or with my lifestyle.
What would you qualify as your greatest success?
I don’t know, I don’t think I’ve achieved enough. I don’t want to touch that boundary at all because if I do, I’m going to stop putting in all this hard work. I feel like I won’t be as grounded or as down to earth as I am today. I don’t want to reach that level where I feel satisfied.
What’s your schedule like? What’s a day in the life of Mohini Dey like?
My schedule is really hectic. I normally get back home by around 2 A.M. or 3 A.M. and I’m up by 8 A.M. Then I usually decide what to wear in terms of clothes and makeup, because I love fashion and I like to look my best everyday. Then I have some breakfast and do my warm ups for 2-3 hours. Post that, I usually either have recordings, some form of session work and rehearsals. After which I do my shows, if any, and then come back home. My schedule was way more hectic when I was in school though. I would wake up at around 5 A.M. to catch my bus to go to school and by the time I’d come home, wrap up school work and finish dinner, it would be 8 P.M. Post which, my dad would give me bass lessons everyday from 9 P.M. – 12 A.M. So yeah, that was my life back then.
Are there any mistakes that you’ve made that you wish you could undo?
No, if I would undo anything, I wouldn’t be who I am today. In fact, I’d re-do everything. You know, there was a time when I applied to a fashion college, and at the exact time, A.R. Rahman offered to play with him. But I ditched fashion and went ahead with A.R. Rahman’s band. Now when I think about it, I realize that maybe I wanted to do the fashion thing as well. I still want to open my own boutique and have my own fashion line. However, now, any time I get I just want to sleep, as I’m always so tired. So if I could go back in time, I would do both – fashion and music simultaneously and see where that took me.
Is there a down side to being Mohini Dey?
Firstly, you won’t get any sleep. Since I play for so many bands and there are important people around all the time, there’s always this stress, this big weight on your heart and mind which is not very enjoyable. There’s so much responsibility and I’m always living in the fear of messing up, which I don’t want to do. Also balancing personal life and work life is challenging.
All said and done, her dedication towards her art is inexorable. She is making waves all over the world, and rightfully so. As renowned pianist Louis Banks rightly said while talking about the members of his band Ganga Shakti at Palm Expo 2018,”She is one of the best bassists we have in our country. Very hardworking girl, does her homework, always comes prepared and absolutely slams it, every single time.” We couldn’t agree more!
This interview was featured in our September issue: https://bit.ly/2QwuSYk