On my last visit home to Goa, an article on the front page of the entertainment section of the local daily newspaper caught my attention. It featured rocker Oliver Sean, whose latest single So Good hit two million downloads in just a couple of days. Two hours after the single was released online for free download, a whopping 330,000 people had accessed it and it reached a record-breaking 2.4 million downloads in just three days.
The article took me down memory lane. In my early teens, I watched in awe as this boy of about 15 held audiences in rapture with his band called Knights. There were scores of bands back then, but there was something very riveting about Sean: a great voice, amazing stage presence, impressive dexterity with the guitar and great showmanship to boot. From then on, I never missed an opportunity to watch him perform. And, yes, a group of friends and I couldn't resist frequenting his college to catch a glimpse of the guy.
After graduation I came to learn that the young man had indeed made it big with his first album I Like It - it went on to hit the number one on the World Music Charts. It also won him an AV Max nomination for International album of the year alongside established stars Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue and John Mayer. A few successful singles and albums later, Sean set up WOA International, one of India's largest independent music labels. During his recent visit to Dubai, where he plans to launch a branch of his record label, I caught up with him at a restaurant in Wafi City. A jazz band playing in the background created the right ambience for a chat about his latest album.
Is the new album reflective of where you are in your life right now, I asked. "Yes, exactly. I'm happy to be where I am and my music reflects that. It also shows how I've grown as a songwriter and record producer," he says.
When I quiz him about the response to his single, he says, "I am glad that my song is connecting with my fans. I'm very excited about the album launch because the response to the single has exceeded expectations. The album has some of the best songs I've ever written."
So Good traces Sean's life over 20 years: "As one grows up, one realises what is really important," he says. "The new album includes compositions based on personal experiences and are stories that could make you laugh or cry or simply inspire you," he says.
Sean is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, record producer, record label owner, performer, music director. What role best suits him? "I would say I'm a singer-songwriter who loves performing live and making sure the crowd has a good time. It's the best feeling in the world," he says.
With a highly successful and critically-acclaimed song like I Like It, is Sean worried about comparisons? "I think that everyone will still hear the Oliver Sean sound, but will also see me grow as a songwriter. There is something in this album that fans of all ages are going to enjoy," he says.
The Oliver Sean sound fuses alternative rock and adult contemporary music with Indian instruments and Latin rhythms. His Indo-European roots have clearly influenced his sound: he has Portuguese, Goan and Italian parentage.
Fans who have followed Sean's music since I Like It will be pleased to hear the Oliver Sean sound again. "I have been so caught up with commercial projects and the success of my record label WOA International that I didn't make the time for what was most important - creating music. This album is me finding myself again," he says.
For Sean, writing is the best part about creating an album. He's happiest with a guitar and a notebook. What's the flip side? "Not getting the right sound when recording. My main problem has always been trying to recreate the feel of a song that you get when performing it live. It's not possible to recreate that feel in a studio. I just try to get as close to it as possible," he says.
I ask him to pick his favourite song from the album. "If I have to pick just one I'd say Movies. It's a ballad and everyone just loves it. I also particularly like Alone which is dedicated to all single mothers. I wrote it for my mom," he says. The ode to single mothers was inspired by the way his own mother raised him and taught him about the inner strength of a woman. "No matter how fragile they may be, they are the strongest people at the same time," he says.
"What do you mean fragile?" I ask. "I know it sounds contradictory, but you might understand what I'm saying as you are a woman. But I still don't understand women. I think that's a mystery to all men," he says.
Alone is very close to Sean's heart as he has worked very hard on the composition and the musical arrangement. The only problem is keeping a lid on his emotions when he is performing. "It makes me cry, but don't tell your readers that," he laughs.
Sean gets emotional when he talks about his mother - an author and a marketing guru. "Her advice has been priceless to me - be it on life, my career or my business decisions. I wouldn't be half the man I am without her complete support," he says.
Apart from his mother, Sean holds Buddy and Sam (his dogs) closest to his heart. "It's when I am with them that I am at home. So home can be in any part of the world as long as I have them close by," he says.
The singer has a thing for beautiful guitars. "You thought I was going say beautiful girls, right?" he asks with a twinkle in his eye. "Well, yes, them too. I also love photography. I'm an amateur photographer and hopefully when I can take some time off from touring, recording and my label WOA International I can go on a photography trip around the world," he says.
As we reach the end of our conversation, I decide it's time to reveal my secret: "Do you remember receiving crank calls from a girl during your college days," I ask Sean. "You even dubbed her ‘The Mysterious Girl'?" He looks nonplussed. "That was me," I tell him. Caught off-guard, "Oh, it was you," is all he can manage to say for a while. "Did you ever imagine we would have a conversation like this," he asks when he recovers. "Not at that time, but don't you find such calls irritating?" I ask him, feeling guilty. "Not if they are from women," he replies. "I have a lot of patience with them," he says. Point noted!
- Mastered the guitar and was writing songs and composing by 11. Two years on, the muso had mastered various other instruments
- Released his first commercial single There She Is Again while pursuing his MBA in Dubai
- Was listed in the Top 44 artists in the world by Rave magazine
- Composed the theme song for the French government's Massif tourism campaign
- He writes in English, but has experimented in various languages and has even forayed into being a music director for a Hindi crossover film