Manas Jha Releases His New EP ‘Freedom or Love’

We talk to singer/songwriter Manas Jha following the release of his EP ‘Freedom or Love,’ featuring Jai Row Kavi, Sidd Coutto, Dhruv Visvanath, and more!

Mumbai-born and previously New York-based singer-songwriter Manas Jha, a mainstay of the Indian indie music scene, presents yet another impressive and diverse story in his latest EP, ‘Freedom of Love.’ Released on January 27, the EP discusses several stages of a dysfunctional relationship as well as the constant theme of staying committed or breaking free.

The four-track EP features a stellar line-up of musicians, including productions from Sidd Coutto, Dhruv Visvanath, Raag Sethi and Warren Mendonsa. They are joined by drummer Jai Row Kavi, who also contributed to Jha’s ‘Trifecta’ EP in 2021.

‘Abandon (reprise)’ kicks off ‘Freedom of Love,’ produced by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Sidd Coutto, which speaks of a relationship that begins as reckless young love. The second track ‘Broken Bangles’ is produced by guitarist Warren Mendonsa and features his bandmate from Blackstratblues, Jai Row Kavi, on the drums. It leans on the theme of disagreements and fights in relationships that “seem to end in a mutual withdrawal.” 

You May Also Like: Listen to Manas Jha’s New EP ‘Trifecta’
‘Freedom of Love’ Artwork

This is followed by ‘Mend your Ways,’ wherein the endlessly repeating cycle of fights has taken a toll on the couple’s mental health. The track is produced by producer, audio engineer, and guitarist Raag Sethi.

Concluding the EP is ‘Decay (redux)’ produced by Dhruv Visvanath, featuring his signature slap-style guitar. The three-minute and twenty-seven-second song delves into the years-long dysfunction in the relationship that is now clear to see, no more fogged by fear and insecurity.

Days before the release of ‘Freedom of Love,’ we sat with Manas Jha to get his thoughts on working with like-minded musicians, his vision behind the EP, marrying art forms of dance and music, operating a tech job, and more!

TFword: How do you decide who you want to work with on a particular piece of music or EP, and why do you find it important to work with amazing musicians like those seen on Freedom or Love?
Manas Jha: I’m a big indie fan. I have more than a few favorite musicians, so it’s a rather long list of folks I’d love to work with. I find it’s important to work with people who are of the same mindset. And give them the space to be their creative best.

For this EP, the collaborations started with Sidd Coutto. I grew up listening to Zero and have been a fan of his work since, on everything from Tough on Tobacco to Ankur and the Ghalat Family. I reached out to him to reprise one of my older songs – Abandon – for this EP. The song dates back 18 years. At the time, as a college band, we’d play it as straight punk rock. But when I released it in 2019 as part of the Reimagined EP, we took a mellow electro approach. Alas, I always missed the raw energy of thumping guitars, drums, and bass. And with Sidd’s help, I was able to bring it back with a matured sonic arrangement.

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Next up were Warren Mendonsa and Jai Row Kavi. I’d already worked with these guys on a prior song – Liberate (off my 2021 release – Trifecta EP), but that had a loud, aggressive sound. This time around, I was looking for soft rock with Broken Bangles. And I’m glad that they were able to tone it down and help me realize it.

For the third song, Mend Your Ways, I reached out to Raag Sethi. I’ve been a fan of his work on everything from Heatsink to Compass Box Live Sessions. Of all the songs on the EP, I’d say, this one is the most different from its acoustic demo. Raag fully re-arranged the song and “jazzified” it. The nuanced performances by multiple artists complement the complex lyrical theme of the song.

For the fourth and final song, I reached out to Dhruv Visvanath. I got introduced to his music through the 2015 album Orion – the use of percussive acoustic guitar to tell a story has always stayed with me. I reached out to him for Decay, originally off my 2016 release – The Reimagined EP. At the time, the song was written in a band arrangement with distortion guitars, Carnatic mandolin, and drums. I wanted to strip out all of those elements and lay bare the acoustic guitars and vocals. Dhruv was fully onboard with the vision and layered multiple acoustic guitar tracks to support the emotional depth of the song.

TF: Through all your releases, you’ve spoken about very visceral emotions and people. How did this full-concept EP come about, and what was the inspiration behind talking about relationships?
Manas: Each song on the EP talks about a different phase in a dysfunctional relationship and the ever-evolving dilemma to either stay committed or break free. The inspiration for this EP is deeply personal. My wife – Preeti Malik – and I have been in a relationship for over 18 years now – since we were in high school. We’ve seen our share of ups and downs through friendship, marriage, and now, parenthood. We’ve been fortunate to have the counsel of parents, close friends, and even therapists along our journey together. Through all these years, we’ve managed to stay committed.

However, over all these years, we’ve seen many other relationships around us end – some as breakup, some in divorce, and others through bitter legal battles over kids. The songs are a collection of these experiences – some our own and others from family and friends. The EP artwork depicts this struggle visually. You see a woman fighting restraints on her journey toward the light.

TF: Each song on this EP has a music video, maintaining continuity with the same contemporary dancers in all four. Where did the idea of blending these two art forms (music and dance) come from? 
Manas: The music videos are by Taab and Rono. While I provided an initial narrative, the concept of telling the story through dance was their idea. They scouted the talent – Fiona Garodia (who also choreographed all the sequences) and Janhavi Jain Ranawat. Taab and Rono directed the dance to not only visually communicate the emotions within each song but also the journey across songs. There was even an intimacy workshop held to coach the two as a same-sex couple.

TF: Do you have a day job? If so, what is it that you do? 
Manas: Yes, I work with Amazon. Specifically with Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing. I manage a consulting practice of 20 developers. We build cloud-based apps for global enterprises, mostly in financial services on Amazon’s IT infrastructure. At work, my love for music led me to form a band called Simple Music Service – taking after popular AWS offerings like the Simple Storage Service (S3). The band has me on vocals from India, guitars/bass/keys from Europe, and drums from Latin America.

We mainly do music to support employee well-being initiatives. Most recently, we covered Smash Mouth I’m a Believer for “Movember” – an annual event involving the growing of mustaches during the month of November to raise awareness of men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and men’s suicide.

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TF: We know it probably doesn’t pay the bills, but have you ever wanted to be a full-time musician? Or do you also enjoy your work?
Manas: Yes, of course. I don’t think anyone grows up with dreams of working in tech! But in the late 90s/early 2000s, career opportunities for an indie musician were scarce. It was still called an “indie scene” back then. Most musicians I know earned their living doing commercial work on ads and films. Music is my great passion, and the idea of doing it commercially somehow never appealed to me.

TF: Were there any bands or musicians that have strongly made you believe in your pursuit of making music? 
Manas: Internationally, Pearl Jam. ‘Ten’ has been the single biggest influence on me growing up. The idea of writing a simple lyric, like “Jeremy spoke in class today,” with such profound meaning has resonated with me deeply. On the home turf, Zero, without a doubt. From standing first in line for I-Rock at Rang Bhavan, arranging faculty passes for Mood-I at IIT Bombay, to scoring last-minute tickets at Fire n Ice – I have cherished memories of catching them live.

TF: Do you plan on performing with a full-blown live band anytime soon?
Manas: Yes, I’m looking to get back to playing music live again. For starters, I have been working on a 2-piece set with guitars and vocals. Hope to expand to a full band soon.

TF: What can we expect from you in the coming months after the EP? 
Manas: In the coming months, I will look to get back to playing live with friends again. Will announce gig dates soon.

The interview has been edited for clarity.

Listen to his EP ‘Freedom or Love’ on Spotify | YouTube

Find Manas Jha on: Instagram
Artists featuring on ‘Freedom or Love’: Jai Row Kavi | Dhruv Visvanath | Sidd Coutto | Raag Sethi

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