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Interviews |  20 Nov 2009 15:48 |  By chiragsutar

Micheal Mcleary "There are lot of people who wonder how I could actually compose music for an Indian film - I think most feel that you have to be Indian to do that"

Brother in law, and long time music producer of Lucky Ali, Micheal Mcleary recently debuted as a composer through a children's film Aao Wish Kare. Though this soft-spoken musician has worked with many big-wigs like Rahman and Salim Sulaiman, it took him a while to break into the bollywood music scene. The film Aao wish kare may not have garnered much success at the box office, but the music of the film did sound different than the usual mix 

Many don't know that Mclearly's was born in India, and his Indian odyssey began after he started working with singer-actor Lucky Ali on his string of albums – right from Sunoh to Kabhi Aisa Lagta Hai to the latest Xsuie. In a freewheeling chat with's Chirag Sutar, Mclearly speaks on some of the fabulous stuff he and Lucky Ali created, his thoughts on bollywood music, and what appeals him about Indian music.    

Its surprising to hear the music of Aao wish kare.. the music is great, but how did you get the Indian sensibilities so right?

I have been living in India only for the last two years, but in the past 12 years I have worked with many Indian artistes – that maybe one of the reasons. In terms of sensibilities, I don't feel I aim to get Indian sensibilities; I just do what ever comes naturally. It's hard for me to say... but it feels like my interpretation of Indian music or the way that I use arrangements seem to work well for Indian ears 

Tell me how did you get into music? And what kind of music did you play when you started?

I started playing when I was 13 or 14. I was just interested in rock music then. I played drums, guitars, keyboards... mostly self-taught. Between 18 -22 years, I studied music at Victoria University in New Zealand and after that I had opportunity to do concerts and tours in schools in New Zealand. Later, I went to London and shortly after getting into London, I got a job to work at the Trident - one of the very famous studios in the 60's and 70's.

Have you heard of Abbey road?


It's basically, the studio next to Abbey road where artistes like David Bowie and Elton John recorded – some of the Beatles songs were also recorded at the Trident. I worked there for 2-3 years... in fact when it was in England that I met Lucky Ali.

Alrite…. I read that he knocked on your door and said that �he was your brother in law'!

Yes. I knew my sister had got married in India, but I didn't know he would come and say "hi". Lucky was in England to try and record something… but the things that he recorded that time didn't really work out; his trip was looking kind of pointless, so we decided that we'd work on some songs over the week end – just for fun – and those two songs were Sonuh and O Sanam. After working on those songs, he went back to India, and got good feedback on those songs, so he came back to England – after which we recorded the entire album 

Those songs are probably one of the best indie pop songs!!

Yes, but I think it also came at a point when the indie pop scene was well supported by Channel [V] and MTV. Unfortunately, it's more bollywood now. But, on the plus side, the bollywood scene now is looking far more varied then it used to be.

How did the subsequent Lucky Ali albums happen? Sifar, Aks, Kabhi aisa lagta hai... you had worked on all of them…

The one after Sunoh was Sifar. Lucky had come to London to record Sifar. The third album was recorded all over - some in India, some in London, and some in New Zealand. Since we had a family connection we combined work and family for most albums.

Lucky's last solo project Kabhi aisa lagta hai was with T-Series. I don't think the album was properly released... but not going into details that I am not clear about, that album didn't come through where it should have – we had recorded the album in T-Series studios some five years back..  but over and above that, I think Lucky is now in a better space towards releasing music, and being happy about releasing his music online. Obviously music industry has changed a great deal; there is to a degree less reliance on record labels.

Before you worked on his entire list of album, had you heard Indian music?  or was it your first encounter with Indian music?

Well, when I first met Lucky it was prior to him releasing any music – his only connection to bollywood was that he was actor Mehmood's son –  there was no way I could have heard him before that. I remember for the first album (Sunoh) he just sat down and performed basic versions of the songs, and I was fascinated by his work. I have always been fascinated by world music, and had written few western classical pieces with haunting melodies that I thought at that time were inspired by Indian music (though I would cringe to hear them again!) it was through meeting Lucky that I was reconnected to Indian music once again.  

Interesting… now, I would like to know how you deal with the lyrical aspect. Are you also learning Hindi?

(laughs) .. Lucky always used to laugh at me. I remember there was a song that went 'Piya Bol' and while we used to work on it... I used to say, 'Okay we take it from Piyaah bol' (laughs) I think I probably murdered the language, but he would patiently explain what the lyrics were... but I would know what the song was about and I think that's really important.  

I take Hindi lessons 2-3 times a week and I know a lot of words in Hindi (but i am really bad in putting them together!) and now that I intent to stay here for long, I'd also like to know the language 

And how did bollywood happen?

I started off with television, and besides that, I also worked on some bollywood projects like 'Rab ne bana di jodi' for Salim-Sulaiman on and also arranged a couple of songs for Quick Gun Murugun. But Aao wish Kare is my full blown music director role and I have done this along with lyricist Ankur Tewari.

You also worked with him (Ankur) on Quick Gun Murugun? But none of the composer's or lyricist names featured on the album!

There were two songs I worked for Quick Gun... I had not composed music for that. I just did the musical arrangements for two old songs... but there were some new songs that Ankur (Tewari) had written. A large portion was composed by Sagar Desai and their names were not even there on the album – it was quite shocking. The album should have had my name, but even more so, it should have had the names of Ankur Tewari and Sagar Desai who had a bigger contribution. But anyway, these things happen ... I think there was a fair amount of publicity about that, and hopefully that will reduce the chances of that sort of thing happening again.

I read you have also worked with A R Rahman… tell us about that.

The first project was with A R Rahman on a single called 'Save me brother' - that was going back 3-4 years. Rahman tried to create different versions of it, but he probably didn't like the way it was going, so he asked me to come down to his studio and produce the track and said 'do what you like'. I eventually got to late hours of working, which he is known for!

What was the experience of working with him like?

I found a very good musical connection with Rahman. There was a film called 'Provoked' for which we had worked together and I had produced the title track of the film. There were some 3-4 projects that I worked with him... some of them are ongoing…while there were some which had problems with producers, others were just put on hold. Working with Rahman is very different - he is so busy, and such a musical genius - you really have to understand him in the brief time that you get to spend with him. Try and understand what he is thinking - you know when someone has a great mind... its hard to understand what they want - but it was a great experience he has an amazing (studio) setup - I love going there to work 

Now that you have debuted as a composer, I would like to know about your outlook on bollywood music.

Bollywood music fascinates me more and more. I think it went through a period when it didn't sound that convincing... probably in the 90's... but I love the old bollywood songs, and I love remaking them. As far as the present scenario goes, now I feel it doesn't sound so bollywood anymore, there seems to be more acceptance of music directors who like to do different things. I think its evolving in a fascinating way - even the item numbers are more experimental and not as typical they used to be.

Are you being diplomatic?

No. Not at all! I won't say that I only �love' bollywood music - there's too much good music to only listen to bollywood music. But, there's amazing stuff that is coming out of bollywood and it's gradually becoming less and less bollywood sounding which is a great thing. Even though indie pop market is becoming difficult, I think bollywood is getting more and more influenced by indie pop. Maybe, you'll soon find solo artistes singing more songs in bollywood rather than the typical set of playback singers.

Do you find people in bollywood treating you differently?

I don't think there has been a non-Indian bollywood music director. The amount of friendliness and acceptance is incredible - its welcoming, I am sure. There are lot of people who wonder how I could actually come up with music and work in India - I think most feel that you have to be Indian to do that. But as a whole, bollywood is opening up its mind and you see more and more western faces around. I think its all heading in a positive direction.

Your latest with Lucky Ali is Xsuie… what is the flavor of the album? Have you introduced any new elements?

There are nine songs in all and we have composed those songs together... I am also singing on the album (just some small parts) you can say 20 per cent of lyrics are in English 

What is the theme of the album?  Is it on the lines of the albums you had worked with him before?

Well, certainly... there are changes and new development. There are certain things that are an Lucky Ali trademark which can't be changed, but, obviously his voice has a special character to it, so the voice is an important part of the melody - musically, I think its quite varied. Dil Gayee Ja… is the only song that has been released from the album at present. The video is being made at the moment and you'll see it on TV in a month or so.

Dil gayee jaa has this folk guitar kind of element to it which is the foundation of where lucky comes from. Lucky's music is rooted in folk guitar – pretty much any song can be just played on the guitar and they will work – basically its raw music – but we make it less raw by engineering a little bit – but his music is largely songwriter driven music  

What are your future projects?

I am working on a children film and a musical, and I am also working on a few projects with Ankur (Tewari). Just a couple of months ago I was given my OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) status because I was born here before a certain cut off date. So, now I can work in India without having to worry about visas.

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