For writing his very first book, singer-songwriter and former radio executive Vineet Singh Hukmani says the inspirations were never literary in the first place. “I have no literary influence, but I was hugely influenced by cinema,” he says of his latest project. Ninewhich is a book and full album rolled into one self-proclaimed “immersive experience” of the old-school variety.
Before the book comes into play, Nine is the culmination of Hukmani’s release of genre-hunting and chart-topping pop music. There were hip-hop-leaning songs like “Hurry” and more club-friendly tracks like “Dreaming Out Loud”, “Turning Back Time” and the Latin-infused “PFH (Party From Home)”. There’s a dark spin on “I Pray,” but also a steely rockstar mode engaged on “Jab the World,” both pandemic-themed songs.
Aspiring to write short stories inspired by his pop songs, Hukmani says he was “spoiled by the power of expression”. It changed his entire creative process. “I now consider myself an expressionist first, then a musician or a writer,” he says. The album and book description explains that it is a combination of “exciting stories” and “upbeat songs,” which can be streamed via QR codes printed on the page after each story.
In an interview with Rolling Stone IndiaHukmani talks about how cinema and filmmakers have inspired his style of writing for Nine and what comes next. Excerpts:
What was it like unpacking the lyrics and themes of your songs to script complete stories?
The imagination associated with expression is an unlimited package. 2021 has been a surreal year for me, where my US Agent [Martin Langford] pushed me to do a single every 45 days in a different radio genre, leading to a world record gold record from the European Independent Music Commission. That recognition – being the first artist in the world to get nine number ones [charting songs] in the European Top 100 in a single year – means a lot to me.
That’s when I looked at my song titles and let the movies run free in my mind. You see, I love action-thriller movies with a good twist. I also realized that somewhere inside of me there were all these stories waiting to be told and only the tip of the iceberg, the songs, showed up first.
To give you an example of how the new song and the first story in the book, Nine, began: I’m deeply committed to my role as a caregiver for my family and that’s what I drew on to write the title track “Nine.” But when you have to make things cinematic, you have to take things to the extreme for a story to be compelling, so I imagined a main protagonist of the story who was very attached to his family but had to be away, fight a risky fight in order to keep them safe! But when their lives were in danger, he came back in a way that will surprise everyone.
We all know your musical influences, but what are your literary influences that have guided this book?
I will be completely honest. I have no literary influence! But I was enormously influenced by the cinema. I’m the type to wait for the book to become a movie. So the excitement of the movies made me write stories that trigger cinematic impulses in the reader’s mind, and that too with the immersion of a song/soundtrack that matches the essence of each story.
My film influences are directors like Paul Greengrass, Joe Russo, Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron and closer to home Zoya Akhtar, Aditya Dhar, Rajkumar Hirani and Shoojit Sircar who really know how to bring a script to life.
My writing is deliberately designed to allow for easy conversion to screenplay, as my goal is to pitch these stories to Netflix or Amazon or even the bigger studios for an eventual big movie experience. I don’t aim to excel in literary pursuits, but I do want to write entertaining stories with well-defined characters, a plot with a twist, and an upbeat soundtrack, all together eager to be made into a movie!
You mention it’s an immersive experience, but somehow it feels like an old fashioned way with the written medium rather than the digital/metavers way of VR, or even NFTs and video clips.
There is tangibility and then there is intangibility thanks to the promises of a virtual world with its virtual currencies. I am neutral, emotionally, on both of these extremes. However, when I look at it commercially, today multi-billion dollar paperbacks and e-books are being sold every year, because they are tangible and there is a final price for the customer. Music is free for the listener and for this reason it is becoming more and more commoditized every day!
Musicians are scrambling to find ways to give people something like live concerts or the reborn vinyl in order to add more value to their music, and in return get paid a tangible sum for it. I didn’t want to go in that direction. I felt that a good new-age storybook that is tangible and allows a price to a customer coupled with a QR code that takes you to the intangible side of upbeat world songs and even videos, is a great bridge between the tried and tested experiences and the new!
Coming to VR, it’s an exciting new media option and it’s going to need good content. Plus, who’s to say my stories won’t fuel new expressions of VR-related content or games over time? NFTs are a new buzzword in the virtual world and I’ll be waiting for this speculative buzz to turn into something tangible, something profitable, and believe me, when I see it happening, I’ll be there.
What stories, if any, were difficult to write and see?
the The overall challenge is to do three things – to be able to create a universal backdrop, to have characters that are real and affected by that backdrop, and then to join the dots that create twists and turns and surprises leading to an unexpected but resolute ending. I was lucky because the rigor of creating songs gave me the ability to take on similar challenges. I realized it was easier for me to write a story where I had been in a situation and emotionally affected by a similar circumstance, even though the scale was much smaller.
The story I pulled out of nowhere unrelated to me was “Where’s The Fun,” which is about the world’s biggest cryptocurrency heist and the growing power of unseen forces online that can change the way the world works. For me, imagining this story was scary and while I was writing it, it was very rewarding in a different way.
Do you think now that you’ve gone down this path, you can try to write a story first and then maybe turn it into a song?
I have now been spoiled by the power of expression. I now consider myself an expressionist first, then a musician or a writer. So it’s entirely possible that the story will come first, then a song or maybe [a number of songs] will continue to generate story ideas. The route I take has to make business sense, where I can bring stories closer to my goal of turning them into OTT/movies. As the English music scene in India is growing rapidly, I would also like to bring my music to the wide audience of English readers in India.
What else to come until 2022?
The book and the album is a game of long life. It was comforting to see Nine being #1 to debut on Amazon in the action-adventure book genre. We have a long road ahead of us. Unlike Singles which have a short shelf life, the effort here is to keep the book shining and to introduce it to new readers.
I have a few expressions of interest from a few collaborations on singles that I hope to finalize soon.
After my four Grammy submissions last year, I’m extremely fired up for Grammy submissions this year, and my learnings from a few Recording Academy mentors will need to be put into practice.
An emotional goal that motivates me is to support a boarding school for underprivileged girls. We believe that the written word can be used to educate these young girls and give them the strength they need to survive. The proceeds from the book are used to pay for the school fees of two girls we are sponsoring, in addition to taking care of some of the other daily needs of the other girls studying at this school. The school principal invited me to come and read the stories, help the girls with their English and maybe sing them a few songs. It gives so much meaning to the whole effort and gives me unlimited energy to drive Nine new ways throughout 2022.
Buy ‘Nine’ the book here. Stream the album here.