Written by Caleb Oldham
Siddhu Anandalingam has his hands full. He’s a chemical engineer student at Columbia University, a multi-instrumentalist jazz enthusiast who’s played in off-Broadway shows, a sound engineer, and the frontman of both a progressive/shoegaze/genre-transcending group called Semaphore and his more experimental solo project Si Doux. What differentiates Siddhu from other artists is not his diverse musical background, but the way he shuns cliches and weaves all of these influences, through complex instrumentation, alternate tunings, and innovative production, into music that’s nearly impossible to ascribe a genre to.
I got the chance to sit down with Siddhu and talk about his songwriting, pop music, and how to tastefully steal.
Caleb: How did the idea of Semaphore develop and how does it differ from your solo project Si Doux?
Siddhu: With Si Doux I try to encompass different music genres, but the whole point behind the band Semaphore, is that I wanted to write music for a four piece band. I like the idea of having two guitars, bass, and drums. I grew up with that sort of music, and I always wanted to be in a traditional band that plays that sort of thing. So, the thought has always been how to combine both projects, how to write and arrange music in such a way that can be played with just four people even though it might involve different instrumentation, more electronics. But for right now I’m happy with one band called Semaphore that does all of the rock-y stuff.
Caleb: And how many instruments do you play personally?
Siddhu: I mainly play saxophone, which is kind of funny because that’s not a main instrument in either my solo stuff or Semaphore. But yeah bari sax, alto sax - I grew up really playing saxophone and clarinet and doing jazz. Even though I was listening to mainly rock music…and jazz I guess. But now I play bass, drums, guitar and piano as well. Besides saxophone everything’s been self taught.
Caleb: How do you think playing all these instruments affects your songwriting? Vladimir Nabokov spoke nine languages and said he didn’t think in words but concepts, do you think knowing the ins and outs of so many instruments gives you some sort of similar quality?
Siddhu: When I write a song I can hear different colors needing to be more present because I have these relations with different instruments. I have this song called “Awake the Ursa” on the solo album Fracture and on that song specifically I didn’t even think about it, I just knew that it had to breathe in a certain way, like maybe you would find on a Bon Iver song. I had the melody, but originally it was just a voice, and it wasn’t working so I used a bari sax. And that’s definitely something that goes back to the first question of Semaphore vs. Si Doux, I think with the Semaphore stuff I put a limit on the scope that I allow the colors to hear because it’s just going to be two guitars, bass, drums. The scope of that project will be in the different pedals that we put on the guitars to get the specific tones out of them. But with my solo stuff I’ll throw in piano, midi keyboard, whatever, and it definitely widens the scope of the colors.
Caleb: You just mentioned Bon Iver and I was wondering, what music were you listening while you were recording your last EP?
Siddhu: It’s funny, I did say Bon Iver, but I’m not…I mean, I like Bon Iver…
Caleb: What do you think about his whole method of going out in the forest, and writing in complete isolation?
Siddhu: It’s kind of crazy especially since we’re still in school now and it’s such an ongoing process, but since I’ve had it in my brain that I wanted to do music which was in the middle of high school, I’ve always had this really big internal struggle with “Well you have to do school, you have to get your degree,” and I’m studying chemical engineering, you know, you’ve got to do something useful, but all I want to do is play music. I think it would be awesome to go off in the woods by yourself and write music. During the summer I wrote the whole Si Doux album in three weeks because I had so much time to myself.
Caleb: So you were not listening to Bon Iver?
Siddhu: No, not Bon Iver. With the Si Doux album a lot of the songs are directly influenced by specific artists, and I actually give hints about the specific artists in the song names. It’s not necessarily the music, but the lyrical themes. The first song is called ‘No Outlet Road’ , and if you write out the lyrics, they’re actually the song titles of the first M83 album. I was just so into M83 when I wrote that song, and I had no idea how to write lyrics back then, so I just stole the song titles.
Caleb: A good lesson for all musicians. What are some of the other tracks?
Siddhu: We’ve got a song called “Awake the Ursa” which is obviously...
Caleb: Grizzly Bear.
Siddhu: Grizzly Bear’s “Sleeping Ute” specifically (therefore, Awake the Ursa). The relationship between those two songs is the alternate tuning that they both have. There’s only so much you want to actually steal, so it’s not entirely ripped off, I changed it slightly, and that’s why I felt like that would be a cool song name to do. During the summer I like to make playlists where I find the genealogy of some of my favorite musicians, basically I’ll just try to listen to what they listen to, then listen to what those people listen to, and keep going back. One of my favorite bands is Animal Collective, and one of the bands they’re influenced by is this group called Black Dice, and one of the groups that they’re influenced by is this Japanese noise artist called Merzbow. It’s pretty crazy stuff, nothing that I’ve ever had an exposure to, because the guy is literally screaming through a fuzz pedal for like 45 minutes straight. So I’ve got a song called Merzbear right before Awake the Ursa and with that song what I did, and something I do when I record music is that if I have a section of a song that I’m really into and I’m trying to think of how to fluff it up more and more, and get the most out of it, I’ll put it through my loop pedal, that DL4 Line 6 and you can just loop a section of it and you can even reverse the loop and put it down an octave - so in Merzebear I’ve taken the ending to Awake the Ursa, looped it, put it down an octave, and then I just overload the mic and you’ve got this overpowering sound, but at the same time if you listen there’s still melody behind everything that’s going on. Basically, this summer I was listening to some weird shit. I was just trying to expand the music that I listen to on a daily basis.
Caleb: Today if I were to go through your iPod, or your Walkman, or your Zune or whatever music playing device you have, what would I find?
Siddhu: Right now you’d find a good mixture of all the stuff I’ve ever listened to. I’ve been through the iterations of deleting and putting new stuff on but this time I’m really getting back to the essential. I’ve got a lot of Blink 182 on there right now…
But I’ve also been getting into electronic music a lot more. I’ve got a lot of Tycho who I would have to say is my favorite artist at the moment. It’s just amazing what he’s able to do with analog instruments. That’s something I’m going to be doing on my next solo album definitely - a more electronic spacey thing. I also listen to a lot of Com Truise, I recently started getting into Boards of Canada, I’m very late in the game, but oh well.
Caleb: Do you consider yourself apart of a scene?
Siddhu: Not really. At this moment I’m still trying to figure out what “being apart of a scene” means. It’s very friend group oriented. I mean I love Seattle grunge, but all those guys were kinda friends, or at least they were in the same circle. Being in New York it’s hard to define yourself by a scene. I’ll probably be in Brooklyn somewhere next year, and it’s going to be interesting to finally live where a lot of that stuff is going on.
Caleb: Final question - how would you define “pop” music ?
Siddhu: For me pop music is being one of the only two twenty year olds to stand in line at an Ariana Grande concert from 1 in the morning to 8 in the morning. You remember that day.
No, but it’s hard to say because there’s obviously “popular music” on the radio and whatnot, but I am obviously super influenced by pop music, it definitely drips through the music I listen to. For example, I know Animal Collective, some of those guys definitely consider themselves “pop” and I definitely hear it too, it’s just something that you can sing along to.
Caleb: It seems like it’s come to describe anything with melody.
Siddhu: That’s why everyone should check out Merzbow.
Semaphore will be performing at a free concert on Columbia University's campus February 19th in Dodge 501 at 8:30pm. You can listen to more of Si Doux's music on Soundcloud. More of Semaphore's music can be found at their Bandcamp.