Do you feel a sense of belonging within Mumbai's entertainment industry?
The opportunities are endless here. There's enough work for every day here. There's so much space for different flavors. Right now I've this ice cream craving. And as the dialogue in my current favorite film "Black" goes, "Life is an ice-cream. Enjoy it before it melts". Life is an ocean and I plan to be a happy floating fish.
Lately you've been judging a popular music talent contest. How does it fell to discover new voices?
I think every established artiste needs to look beyond himself. I've faced rejection so many times in the past. I don't think there has ever been a single individual who hasn't faced the humiliation of rejection. I remember at age 16 I had sent a demo of my music to RCA records in the US. And the executive there ripped me completely saying I was no singer.
When I came to India a decade ago, I went through the entire rigmarole of rejection. I'd be sitting in record companies for hours. One executive said: "Well the music is okay. But we should change the voice."
That was the worst blow. Now when I see these hopeful contestants standing in front of me, and that too in front of a camera where the whole world is watching them, it breaks my heart to say no to them. Initially I had major issues saying 'no' to any hopeful contestant. Gathering the strength to reject came from being true to my job.
Is "Lucky" your first film score?
I did a one-off song in a film called "Yeh Raaste Hain Pyar Ke". But that was only because Madhuri Dixit wanted me to. She's a wonderful friend. And I couldn't say no to her. Then I did one song for Dev Anand in his film "Love At Times Square" because no one says no to Dev Saab.
Do you enjoy the prospect of composing for Hindi films?
Indian cinema is at such an exciting juncture. The crossover element that we've been talking about is finally here with "Black". I've worked with Sanjay Bhansali's sister Bela. She has directed my music videos. I love movies. I'm a huge movie collector.
I love watching movies. But acting? Nah! Unless Sanjay Bhansali directs me! I really don't think I can act. I get to play so many roles in real life. I'm a composer, singer, live performer. They're all like different muscles in my body which I've to use.
Which 'muscle' do you enjoy using the most?
It's live performances I enjoy the most. I make sure I give the audience something special to take home. Whenever I do public shows I get an attentive audience.
I'm about to embark on a world tour at the end of March for two-and-a-half-months. I'll invite some very special guests to be part of it. We first go to US, Canada, Britain and other parts of Europe. Then we go Africa and the Middle East. It would be quite a roller coaster ride. I'll be gone for a long time. I'm already missing Mumbai.
Do you enjoy being a ghost voice in Hindi cinema?
When I see my voice on others I'm amused at how they give expression to my words. I may mean one thing while singing. But they interpret it in a totally different way. It's interesting to see how different people respond to the same stimuli. What I enjoy is working with various wonderful composers. When I enter the studio to record for others I cease to be a composer.
I don't sing numbers I don't enjoy. I avoid vulgar songs. On a couple of occasions I couldn't figure out the double meaning. After I sang them I was very embarrassed.
Which country do you consider your home now?
India is very much my home now. Initially uprooting myself was difficult. I had to start from scratch. Mumbai has been very warm and welcoming. I discovered my musical roots here. I learnt classical music from Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma.
Is life good to you?
One has no choice but to put the personal and professional aspects in different compartments and not let them overlap. I went through an acute low in my life some years ago. I had reached a stage where I was completely destroying myself. I could've disappeared in a black hole of depression.
There was so much more I wanted to do. I had to get out of it. Then I shook myself and picked up the pieces of my life. I handed over my troubles to god and left it to him. And that method worked like magic.
A lot of people ask me where the 'dard' (pain) in my voice comes when I am so jovial. There's pain and suffering in me. And that's as an essential part of the creative process. If you haven't felt pain how are you going hit those real and soul-stirring notes? I'd rather be pained than shallow.
How far is Indian showbiz open to new talent?
A lot of people think I came out of nowhere to become a star. It doesn't work that way. Asha Bhosle encouraged me tremendously. In fact I wanted to release my album from London. But she insisted I come to India. It wasn't easy to uproot myself from Toronto where I lived in a house with a swimming pool. Suddenly I was in the deep-end of showbiz.
Today for my motion-picture soundtrack of "Lucky" I've fulfilled my long-standing dream of working with Lata Mangeshkar. She's so full of love. Recording a song with her was very emotional moment for me. I had grown up listening to and admiring her.