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Whiplash Dreams: Jason Bavanandan Interview

London Calling talked to Jason Bavanandan about the inspiration behind his new music project, a feature length music video.

Whiplash Dreams is set to become the first cinematically-released album in history. It is a soundtrack of 12 songs that narrates the final months of a failing relationship between a couple who have moved from Brighton to the anonymity of London. The move fails to revive the ever-more-distant couple and their lives start to unravel further… LC talked to songwriter (and ex-London Calling employee) Jason Bavanandan about the inspiration behind the film and the motivations in releasing music this way.

London Calling: Which came first, the music or the film?

Jason Bavanandan: My band, Battle, had split up and I was in a negative place. Feeling sorry for myself and living an odd life, punishing my body with people like Tony the Pony from the Catford Wetherspoons [more of him later]. Every relationship around me crumbled away. I started writing it all down just for something to do. I had no intention of making music. The guitar looked so old and pointless.

Then one day, I was staring blankly at a wall in a shop when a piece of music came on that I'd never heard before. It was classical and, for that moment, it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard. I felt like I was in a film - that's the only way I can explain it. I felt like I must've known every twist and turn of it, yet it was so alien... I asked around but no one knew what it was. I never found out but it didn't actually matter. That natural, organic sound of wood and wire and hair and skin kicked something deep in me.

I wanted that sound - which was a bit ridiculous because I knew nothing about orchestras or scoring music. So I went away and tried to learn about all that. That was a bit embarrassing: "So what actually is a viola then…?". I was determined though because I felt that my future lay in film scoring - based on nothing more than liking a section of orchestral music!

As I had no experience in film scoring my prospects were virtually zero - no one would let me near their films. So, being very naive and possibly even more arrogant, I decided to make my own feature film as a way for me to do this. 

My diary had now amassed 10,000 words. No one will ever see it because it was so badly written. But now with a clearer head I could see the bits that were interesting, in between the lunatic ramblings of a drunk. I took the good/legible bits and created a screenplay. I then used the lunatic ramblings as lyrics and composed an album of songs to entirely narrate it: 12 songs which each chronicle a month of the story's journey, from January to December.

I had no money so I launched a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter which actually made this madness possible.

LC: With the songs, did you approach the writing in a different way knowing that there would be a visual interpretation of the words and music?

JB: The album ended up being recorded first, as a 'soundtrack to an imaginary film'. It went on to become a tonal screenplay for the making of the film. The album was always designed as a standalone work - to be enjoyed regardless of high concepts. In that sense it's much broader and less didactic than the film because I wasn't writing a musical.   

LC: How much input did you have into the film?

JB: At one point I was telling the hair stylist to put the lead actress's hair in a top-knot and then I started trying to do it when I have no knowledge of top-knots. The director pulled me aside and told me to back off! Five minutes later, I was back with the stylist, questioning the height of said top-knot. I'm a difficult bugger - I know that. I oversaw every element, from the direction to the edit. The only scene that took place without me was when I got arrested in Shoreditch and, well... that's another story.

LC: Did you use any personal experience of past relationships to inform the music?!

JB: Everything on that record is real. I stole it from my ruined mind and from the people around me. The more we suffered, the more the music prospered. Terrible approach to life and I'm working on finding new ways of inspiration.

LC: After the premiere on November 26th, what's next for the project?

JB: Picturehouse Cinemas and the BFI have been in touch. More to come on that shortly. To be honest, the thing I’m most excited about is the very thing I ran from initially: getting on stage and playing this live. I feel emancipated when I play these songs - like the demons can't touch me. This record will be released. The film will be released. Maybe they'll be released together. Whatever the outcome, I'm mentally good with that. Maybe no one will care and I'll go back to drinking very strong ale in Catford Wetherspoons with Tony the Pony (he can get you anything - and I mean anything). I kind of hope that isn't the outcome though, 'cause as much as I like Tony the Pony, he's not one for showers. And if he's reading this, sorry Tone - there's still a song about you on the album.  

LC: The music industry seems to be in a confused state at the moment. We have a vinyl resurgence in a Spotify world. How do you see the next few years?

JB: What technology gives with one hand, it kills with the other. But it's liberated us to create transmedia arts. A music album can be integral of other arts - like film - instead of standing alone in a resolutely 20th century way. As artists, we need to stop thinking in that rigid and compartmentalised way if we're to survive. I ended up presenting music in a new way because the industry is confused and I had to be either in my own lane or in no lane.

Live music is lucrative if you have that seismic demand, but not all great music can be enjoyed in ‘enormodomes’. I think of it like 'Victorian economics': where there's no workable middle ground, leaving just the rich and the skint. All those artists who occupied that middle ground right up to the 00s now have to find more curious ways of validating their careers.

Record sales aren't a currency anymore to rate all those brilliant artists who occupy the middle ground because it costs them too much to keep going to the Rat & Parrot in Swindon and all their fans have already downloaded their album for free. It seems that online followers are the only quantifiable way that income providers (advertisers) have of judging an artist's stock. Is that awful? I actually don't know. I want to say yes because I only have 600 followers and many of those I'm certain are fake profiles from India. But I have to deal with it because I love technology even though it is a ruthless bastard. Maybe music is still emotionally priceless yet 'worthless' in the new world... Even so, I'm still going to do it.

The premiere of Whiplash Dreams is on Thursday 26th November at 8.30pm. For more information and to book tickets, see Facebook page.

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