Tyagaraja
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Tyagaraja

Austin, Texas, United States

Austin, Texas, United States
Band Pop Fusion

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"New Tyagaraja Track Up + India Tour Fundraiser"

Call me a cynic if you want, but all the spiritual stuff surrounding Tyagaraja‘s work — whether solo or with his previous band, Million Year Dance — has always made me twitch, just a little. I know, I know; I just can’t help it. I have a kneejerk reaction to get all jaded and standoffish whenever the conversation turns that way, and I always have.
That said, I can’t for a second deny that holy crap, the guy is a talented-as-hell songwriter, singer, and musician. He bowled me over very much unexpectedly with MYD, and since he’s gone out on his own he’s only gotten better, in my view. I still (cringe) need to give his 2010 release, Open Book, a serious listen, even though I’ve had the damn thing since last year’s Summerfest (a lot of balls got dropped by yours truly around that time, I’m afraid).
So it was a small helping of guilt (and curiosity, and admiration for the man & the band he plays with) that drove me to check out Tyagaraja’s newly-released (as of 9/25) track, “The Meaning of Life,” over on the band’s Bandcamp page. And…well, wow. That’s about all I can think of to say, at least at first.
The song’s like a Radiohead track more than anything else, moving deliberately and beautifully in and out of shadows while delicately layered instruments filter in and out, and the whole thing’s lifted to the skies by Tyagaraja’s angelic, crystalline voice, ’til it’s soaring high, high above everything dull and earthbound and banal. And now, I can’t stop listening. Again: wow.
Check it out below:

On top of that, apparently Tyagaraja and wife/dancer Gunjen Mittal will be touring India — along with a band of musicians from Pune — starting November 29th and running through to February 7th (yes, that’s next year), and naturally, he’s going to need some fundage for that. Traveling overseas, in particular, costs money, folks…
To help raise money, then, the full band’s going to be performing on November 5th as a joint tour kick-off and fundraising show, over on the rooftop above Khon’s. There’ll be dancers (Indian and Aztec, apparently, which should be interesting), DJs, art, yoga, vegan food, vendors, & a whole lot more besides, all for $10.
If you can’t make the show or just want to give anyway, there’s also an IndieGogo fundraising page for the tour: http://www.indiegogo.com/Tyagaraja-Tours-India-2011. Check out the video while you’re there, by the by — it’s very sweet, and kinda endearingly dorky even if the music wasn’t badass. Seriously, I can’t help but grin like a goof when I watch it.
There you go; check out the new music, mark your calendars for the show, and help ‘em out however you can. - Space City Rock


"Rare Birds, Into the Mystic with Tyagaraja"

arlier this summer, in a conversation about local music and musicians, a friend told me she plays keyboards for a singer who sounds like “a cross between Jeff Buckley and Freddie Mercury.” And I, being tired, irritable and of unsound mind, barked back, “He better be DAMN good! Cos’ those are two of my favorite vocalists. I saw Jeff Buckley twice in New Orleans and…” blah, blah, blah (Editor’s note: Insert self-righteous rock-crit blather here).

The singer my friend was describing is named Tyagaraja (pronounced: “tee-aga-raja”). And as I heard first hand this summer at Julydoscope, an event where he and his band performed an inspiring and enthusiastically received set, the singer does indeed have a special voice, a powerful voice. But just as nobody else sounds like Jeff Buckley, who during his short life was compared to Robert Plant, Liz Fraser and Edith Piaf, nobody sounds like Tyagaraja. He sounds like himself.

From onstage at Julydoscope, Tyagaraja, aka Jonathan Welch, told the audience he grew up in Hutto, a small rural town in Texas. Shortly after the end of his first marriage and his previous band, Million Year Dance, he experienced a crisis and awakening that would lead him to the culture and spiritual practices of the Far East, specifically India, a world away from the small town where he was born.

Tyagaraja doesn't presume to have answers to life's deeper mysteries, but is willing to share his experiences, including his mistakes, and what he believes he has learned thus far. All of this is incorporated into his music and its presentation.
Tyagaraja's on- and off-stage clothes, hairstyle and bindi-decorated forehead are all part of a physical costume (for lack of a better word) that speaks to his profound inner transformation. He doesn't presume to have answers to life's deeper mysteries, but is willing to share his experiences, including his mistakes, and what he believes he has learned thus far. All of this is incorporated into his music and its presentation.

Rock and roll has a long history of embracing indigenous spiritual rituals in the context of live performances, especially music festivals. My first and only Lollapalooza concert circa Check Your Head-era Beastie Boys began with an onstage prayer and blessing by a group of Tibetan monks. Writing about the influence Rastafarianism on dub “sound system” performances, author Michael Veal describes a similar manifestation of the spiritual and the Bacchanalian in 1960s era rock festivals. He writes:

…for every high-intensity amplification system used, there was also an Indian spiritual guru, African traditional drummer, or Native American rain chant..." Tyagaraja and his band are carrying on this tradition in their own contemporary and uniquely Texan way.

A spiritual journey

So how did this alienated self-described “theater nerd” from Hutto begin his spiritual journey?

Tyagaraja says that his training as a yoga instructor led him to explore the roots of that practice. The well-loved 1946 book Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda was, as it has been for many Westerners, an early source for information and inspiration.

“Nothing externally pushed me…,” Tyagaraja says. “Just this inward desire to become a part of the oneness.”

"In 2007 I went to India and stayed for a two-week silent meditation retreat," he explains. "Then I traveled for three months as part of [Indian spiritual leader] Amma Sri Karunamayi's U.S. tour. I did the tour again in 2008. It was really intense work, basically like a spiritual roadie. We were loading in and out of vans every day, 16 to 18 hours of work each day... it was a very militant lifestyle."

Tyagaraja recounts much of that leg of the journey on his blog, where he also provides a lot of practical, down to earth advice for gigging and touring musicians.

During the first tour, Tyaga met his soulmate and now wife, Indian classical dancer Gunjen Mittal. A member of Houston’s Avantica Academy of Odissi Dance, she often appears with him in performance, dancing, and giving a provocative spin to his blues and Southern-rock inspired music.

After this grueling period of dharmic grunt work, Amma Sri Karunamayi gave Jonathan Welch a new name, which is not an uncommon way of acknowledging the personal and spiritual transformation a student has experienced. The word "tyagaraja" combines the Sanskrit word “tyaga,” meaning sacrifice, with “raja,” which means king, and is also the name of a well known 18th and 19th-century South Indian composer who in his lifetime wrote thousands of devotional songs.

Calling Texas home

And yet, after all of his international traveling, Tyagaraja has chosen Texas and the cities of Austin and Houston for his home. He and I agree that Houston’s multicultural make up, the diversity of its residents including a large Indian population, which perhaps isn’t apparent unless you’ve visited and lived in this city, is one of its strongest attributes.

“As - Culture Map


"Tyagaraja: "You feel every heart beating. Take your last step.'"

Late last Saturday afternoon at the Free Press Summer Fest’s Dos Equis Stage, somewhere in between the hours of 4 – 5pm, something pretty cool was going on…

The musicians and crew from Tyagaraja were setting flowers and plants around the stage, lighting incense sticks that were put into those same pots (the fragrance filled the air), organic lollipops were being passed around and even fruit was given to the audience…Rose petals were gently tossed out and beautiful, rich draperies were being placed in front of the stage.
But it wasn’t a stage anymore. No. When Tyagaraja came out to perform, the platform became a home of sorts and rather than just an audience, we became guests…
And what a glorious host Tyagaraja was. Aside from the tangible treats, our host gave us so much more. We were given an experience in music that had so much passion and depth that if you just let go and trusted in the music - you were richly rewarded. A reward that only a bond in music can create...


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"The purpose of this music is for some sort of awakening to happen in the heart of the listener.
Within the lyrics of the songs there is always a message.
The verses are the question and the chorus is the answer."
TYAGARAJA

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Take a listen to Tyagaraja’s just released CD “Open Book” and see what I mean. But you should experience a live performance as well. The next show in Houston will be Saturday, June 19th at 3pm, at Cactus Music. It’s a free show. In the meantime, there is a video below! - Rhonda Merideth, Examiner


"Blogging from Bonnaroo: Meghan Hendley of Tyagaraja Checks In"

?Houston artist Tyagaraja recently won the Ford Fiesta Team Houston Battle of The Bands, the grand prize of which was a trip to perform at the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee. Quite the opportunity for exposure, no?

Meghan Hendley, keyboardist/vocalist for Tyagaraja, reports back to us with her tales of the festival. Hendley, who returned to Houston with the rest of the band Monday evening after a 17-hour journey by car, said she was suffering from "festivalitis" (a.k.a. heat exhaustion) but was happy to give us details of the event any way. Check back in the rest of this week for more of her tales from the road.

What is this? Are you some kind of hypnotist? Waving your powers around/the sun eclipse behind the cloud --Flaming Lips

Throughout my journey this past week, I pondered on the word 'hypnotic'. Experiencing something as aesthetically stimulating and mind blowing as Bonnaroo can throw you into hypnosis of melodies and sights. The reoccurring awakening to what is truly going on during your journey and throughout the festival is the main goal. As a member of Tyagaraja and a festival participant, I found myself in the midst of moments of hippie hypnotic happenings and magical movements of music all wrapped up in this stream of positive energy and friendship.

Caravanning in two large vehicles to Manchester, Tennessee, built an air of camaraderie and anticipation throughout the southern journey. Dramatic readings of labels of Vitamin Water, crazy gas station stops (one 'Tiger Mart' gas station in Louisiana had a live tiger in a cage by the gas pumps), sing-alongs to the Beatles, and sublimely beautiful scenery propelled us to our destination. The hypnotic stream of mountains and winding country roads floated you in and out of thoughts of classic America along with what you were about to experience for the first time. When we arrived to Manchester, hypnotist broke and we were snapped into festival reality. Thankfully a decent trip allowed us to stay calm as we waited over two and a half hours in line to get in to Bonnaroo. (Supposedly, we got the luck of the draw. Some festival-goers waited over 4 hours.)

?Weaving through the throngs of hippies who offered festival 'delicacies' at our car window, we arrived at our trailer only to find that our trailer was without AC and water. Rock star dreams had turned into a festival wake up call. Throughout our stay, we battled with this issue hunting down men in large pickup trucks, pleading oh so nicely to come to our aid. Musicians we were, treatment that comes along was not.

Despite the trials and brutal heat, we still remained unshaken by adversity, coming closer together to create a family unit sharing laughter and woes. We camped outside our trailer in the early morning sizzling sun to rehearse our songs and fine-tune vocal harmonies. Our drummer even implored the use of our trailer sink and discovered that it had different sets of tones that fit songs such as "Human and The Dove" just right. We discovered that we all have mad skills in the dancing department when we started our own soul train line during the Stevie Wonder set. When I was frustrated and lost amongst the 80,000-plus people trying to swim my way back to our spot in the field, our core pulled their strong voices together to yell my name at the top of their lungs out into the night sky so that I could rejoin them for the Jay-Z show.

?Those voices that had been fined tune during early morning rehearsals and chanted my name late Saturday evening united together for our performance on Sunday during the final afternoon hours of the festival. Hypnosis slipped back in and this time it was the crowd that was mesmerized by the strains of southern soul and energy that Tyagaraja produced during our 40-minute set. Battered by brutal heat, our audience immersed themselves in the beauty of "Human and The Dove" accompanied by the graceful Indian Classical dance performed by Gunjen Mital.

Their souls were ignited with ours as Tyagaraja jumped into the crowd and dropped to his knees due to vocal force during "Experiencing the World as a Soul". By the end of this song we had drawn the motley crew crowd in to our experience as we added new members into our own Bonnaroo family. During "Only In Texas", they lyrics appropriately changed to "Only at Bonnaroo, where the sun shines when it rains" much to the crowd's joyful enthusiasm. Our final song was offered up as an anthem to all those who had traveled long hours to be a part of the unity found at Bonnaroo. "All The Names of God" joined all of us in a thriving dance of energy and life as we jammed out the final motives and melodies. Out of my entire music career, never have I felt so many positive chills through my being... you know, those ones when the music pulsates through you and takes you to another place. Our music had waved its powers around and the evening sunset, eclipsed behind the cloud.
- Houston Press


"The Return of Mystical Houston Rocker"

Wed., July 22, 2009

In 2006, Million Year Dance won the award for Best New Band in our annual Houston Press Music Awards, and followed the next year by winning Album Of The Year for Liberation. It seemed that the band and their enigmatic leader Tyagaraja (a.k.a. Jonathan Welch) would be Houston's next hope for national notoriety. MYD was awarded a Guitar Hero package for winning the latter award, standing in stark incongruence with the band's space-y blues elevated by Tyagaraja's soaring and reedy Thom Yorke-style wail.

But somewhere along the line, Million Year Dance disbanded due to creative differences , and by early 2008 Tyagaraja was recording solo demos and following a spiritual leader across the world and doing some big-time introspection.

A few weeks back, Tyagaraja starting hooking himself back into the Houston music scene, after almost two years away. Photographer Mark Austin invited him to his house, and was lucky enough to be able to record a new song from Tyagaraja's new trove of tunes. Mr. T is currently fine tuning this and other works, and may have a new release out by year's end. - Craig Hlavaty, Houston Press


"Tyagaraja Debuts Open Book at Free Press Summer Fest"

June 04, 2010
Tyagaraja debuts Open Book at Summerfest

Tyagaraja freely admits that, as a musician in Houston, he has several things working against him.

"Strange name, I wear traditional-looking religious clothing. It's not like I'm exactly marketable," he says. "I distract people from listening to the music by throwing things onstage that are surprising.

"I wore glam makeup and went through those phases in high school. People didn't understand then, and they say hateful things. If I ever get a chance to talk to the person, and they see that I'm just a normal dude they can have a regular conversation with, it always changes the feeling or the mood."

One listen to Tyagaraja's new full-length, Open Book, is also likely to convert doubters and cynics. It's a lush, mystical journey through one man's heart and soul that manages to enlighten and entertain at the same time. There are flourishes of rock, soul, country, even classical. The songs are bracingly modern and timeless, held together by impeccable production and Tyagaraja's rich, expressive voice.

"When I write a song or I listen to a song, I want it to have that accessibility. I don't want it to be too difficult for me to go in and actually feel it," he says. "I want to hear a story. I want to hear a verse and a chorus. I want to hear really emotional singing and lyrics."

Open Book began to formally take shape over the last year and boasts an array of local talent, including David Garcia (drums), Jeremy Nuncio (keys), Mike Poulos (bass) and the incomparable Hilary Sloan (violin). It was recorded at Sugar Hill Studios, and many of the songs have become familiar to local music fans.

But Tyagaraja, whose birth name is Jonathan Welch, assigns much of the credit to his father, Michael Don Welch. (He was given the name Tyagaraja a few years ago by spiritual advisor Sri Karunamayi, who took it from a legendary Indian musician.)

"I've been working on these songs, practicing them with my dad in my parents' living room, for years. I kind of say it's basically what my dad and I have worked on since I was 11 years old," Tyagaraja says.

"We spent so many years conceptualizing. I'm not talented enough to hear what key I'm in and put it on the guitar. I have to call him, I sing the song to him, he comes up with the chords and emails me what they look like. He really likes to orchestrate the flow of the songs."

Before he embarked on this musical journey, Tyagaraja found success as part of Million Year Dance, a velvety pop outfit that could have broke far beyond the Texas borders. But he wasn't satisfied, despite "some really beautiful things" that happened during the band's brief run.

Today, a Tyagaraja show is equal parts sonic and visual, the complete experience he tried for years to capture. Lights and candles flicker onstage. Members flutter around the stage, often in costume. At a recent show, Sloan sported a white robe and wings.

Spiritual elements also occupy Tyagaraja's personal life. He practices meditation and yoga several hours a day.

"I've been in theater since I was young. My mind just always goes there," he says. (He was part of the University of St. Thomas drama department with fellow musician Geoffrey Muller.)

"There's not one song that doesn't have some sort of idea in mind for what it's going to look like onstage. I can't separate the two, theater and music."

Fans will be able to hear and purchase Open Book at Summerfest. After that -- performing at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, TN. Tyagaraja won the Ford Fiesta Movement battle of the bands in May at Warehouse Live, which earned him a slot at the prestigious event. He'll return for an in-store at Cactus Music (June 19), then it's off for more adventures in India.

"I don't just use words lightly, but if this does turn into something huge for me, I'm going to be screaming Houston all the way," he says. "The most that's happened to me is I was recognized for being a hard worker and a nice guy at Whole Foods.

"It really does feel like the wheels are moving in a different way. It's pushing us through this small funnel, and as soon as we pass through it, we're out on the other side, and there's no going back. I truly feel like it's going to turn that big of a wheel for us."
- Joey Guerra, Houston Chronicle


"Tyagaraja Re-Ermerges With New Music"

Sara Cress at 12:53 am on September 18, 2009
A few weeks ago, a video started circulating on Facebook and Twitter. Former Million Year Dance singer Jonathan Welch, now known as Tyagaraja, plays guitar, his long, dark hair lit from behind against the night. He launches into his signature soul-laced folk with a new ferocity. His time away from the scene has clearly been cleansing.

"In 2007 I went to India and stayed for a two-week silent meditation retreat," Tyagaraja explains. "Then I traveled for three months as part of [Indian spiritual leader] Amma Sri Karunamayi's U.S. tour. I did the tour again in 2008. It was really intense work, basically like a spiritual roadie. We were loading in and out of vans every day, 16-18 hours of day at work. It's a very militant lifestyle."

He also led the congregations in classical Indian devotional songs, repeating the lines that Sri Karunamayi would sing.

"I listened to nothing but classical Indian music. I was definitely ready to start playing some folk songs, though. For some reason, gospel songs have been coming out now. Songs about Jesus. I have a song called The Old Man, which is about realizing that you'll never catch up to what you don't know. It's a straight-up country-gospel song. I don't know why that's coming out."

Despite changing his name, which was given to by Sri Karunamayi (and references a pioneer of classical Indian music) and changing his appearance to fit his spirituality, the music continues to be as passionately secular as Million Year Dance ever was. If you never heard Million Year Dance, a notable band in the Houston music scene around 2006-'07, you missed out. It was rock and soul with a transcendent aura, unlike anything else happening in Houston at the time. Tyagaraja swears there wasn't a big blow-up, that the band simply fizzled in 2007.

"I wish there was some really dramatic, fun rock-star stuff, but there isn't. It was real peaceful. We were just done. We might release some unreleased material, but we won't reunite. Ambitions are different. I really want to go all the way."

It's just a couple of years later and there's a renewed sense of creativity in the scene these days, something that Tyagaraja hopes to tap into.

"I love Houston, it wasn't a bad move to come back at all and it's already working out. I've already been to so many shows, there's so much cool stuff. Summer Fest, I Am Mesmer. Hopefully I can be a part of it, and try to elevate it."

Tyagaraja admits that some of these changes might be hard for some people to swallow. Million Year Dance was a polarizing band in the Houston music scene for its overt spirituality and use of incense and artful sets and "fire ceremonies, " something that will continue at the singer's shows with his new band, which includes David Garcia on drums and guitar, Michael Don Welch and Keegan Daleo on guitar and Mike Poulos on bass.

"Friends are telling me that I'm going to limit my audience. ‘Don't change your name, don't wear those clothes.' I know that I'm limiting my audience. But if you can't take risks in music, you're limiting yourself anyway. I want to plunge and take a huge risk. This is my project and there's really nothing holding me back. I won't have one reservation about it."

- The Houston Chronicle


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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