You come from a family of singers, but I suppose they didn't work in the film industry. So can you comment on their influence during the early stages of your career?
When you say family of singers, it sounds funny to me. My uncles and my father were doing stage shows at a time when I wasn't even born and I guess they had made their name in Mangalore. For me, growing up in that house meant everybody sings…it is just something that naturally plays around you. And see, it is very difficult to judge yourself in the beginning because when I was that young, I wouldn't even think. I'll just go out there and sing. You think that it is something that everyone can do. There was nothing special about it.
You are not only a singer but also a composer. You even started your career by assisting AR Rahman in films like Delhi 6, Rockstar and I.
Everybody thinks I started out with Rahman sir but actually I started much before. When I was in class seven, I started doing stage shows and in three years, I must have completed around 1000 shows. So I had to miss a lot of school and homework. After I started doing shows, I also started participating in television and then college competitions. It was just to know if I am good enough or not. One thing led to another and I started doing a bhajan album and a few private albums. After around five years of music production, I finally got an opportunity to meet Mr. AR Rahman, that too accidentally.
The reason I brought that up is to know how you juggle both singing and composing?
Everything takes its own time. I really don't think I am good at management. When it comes to composing, you have to wait for the tune to fall in place. As I compose mostly for television and because television shows work on crazy deadlines, I end up working during the night and I travel between Bombay, Chennai or Hyderabad during the day, doing my recordings.
'Ullaallaa' from Petta (directed by Karthik Subbaraj) is one of the album's best-received songs. How was the entire experience of recording it with Anirudh?
When I go to his studio, I never feel like I have gone there for work.It always feels like I am there to just jam with Anirudh and his boys. I know I can trust him completely and I can only do that because I feel he trusts me too. Sometimes, even when it's not sounding good to me, he'll tell me that it's sounding perfect and encourages me. He's very mysterious but he an amazing personality. He is cool like MS Dhoni. Those are the kind of people I love to work with because somewhere within me I aspire to be like them.
Though you have sung songs in Tamil before, I'm not sure you know the language. How easy or difficult is it to sing in an unknown language?
The great thing about music is that when there is a good composer, even if you don't know the language, their melody dictates the feeling. That is the case with Anirudh. His melody is so expressive in its own way that it'll convey the story, compelling you to sing in that emotion. But otherwise, if there is any problem and I cannot understand the lyrics, I make sure I learn from the lyricist or the composer. They have always been helpful.
How are you looking forward to the visuals of 'Ullaallaa'?
Well if the response to the lyrics video itself is so good, then I cannot even imagine what happens when Thalaiva come on screen and dances for the song. People are gonna go crazy. And it is Rajinikanth we are talking about! It's gonna be amazing and I too am really looking forward to it.