When his time isn’t monopolised by his high-profile job as MD of Endemol, Sivan Pillay feeds into his passion as a musician. Debashine Thangevelo caught up with him to chat about the release of his debut album, First Ray of the Sun, and the cathartic experience of making it.
IN THE same way the eyes are regarded as a gateway into the soul, music mirrors many intimate things about an artist. Take for example Adele, Katy Perry, John Mayer or Pink. And it cuts across genres too.
The same could be said of Sivan Pillay aka The Eskimo Writer, who recently launched First Ray of the Sun, a debut outing which was five years in the making.
He laughs, “That’s only because I have a full-time job. Otherwise it would have taken three months.”
That’s what so likeable about him. As multi-faceted an individual as he is, having had various jobs, from project manager on Isidingo to EMI international label manager to being a judge on Popstars, he remains unassuming.
A laid back person, often spotted in his casual gear with his cap and shades, Pillay enlightens me about the two metaphoric reasons behind his alias. “The Eskimo Writer is a play on ghost writer. You will see in my music, I don’t really push my image. Even if you look at the sleeve of the album, there are no real images of me, except on the last page (laughs). That’s because a) I wanted the songs to be the most important thing and b) I’m not George Michael,” he says.
“Secondly, the Eskimo part also talks to where I come from. I grew up in a traditional Indian community. Everyone around me listened to hip hop, R&B and that kind of thing. Everyone dressed in a certain way to fit in. I, however, did everything the opposite way. I was into rock 'n roll from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I dressed differently and I was into fine arts.
“While I liked what these guys (around me) were listening to, I liked other things too. I realised whatever my path was in the future, preserving my identity would play a part in it. And Eskimo people lived their lives as nomads and survivors. I saw myself like that and I would push the envelope all the time.
“I related to that image all the time and felt like an Eskimo in my community,” he adds.
And that go-getter spirit hasn’t dwindled over the years. If anything, it has become more finely tuned, so to speak.
On his dual life, he smiles, “It is about embracing your dichotomy. All of us are dual-natured in some way. I’m Gemini and people simplify it as a split personality. It isn’t. We can be two things. If you take the analogy of Batman, who was my favourite superhero, I loved the dual identity of Bruce Wayne and Batman and what they each represent. Completely different things; but in the same person.
“It co-exists in harmony. And that balance is the simple principle of yin and yang.”
It is this profundity that pervades Pillay’s debut album as he reflects on life, love, family and society.
A proud father of two boys – Arin (nine) and Joshua (18) – he openly speaks about his split from his wife six years ago and how that spurred the lyrics to the single, Dreaming is for Those Who Dare.
“It was cathartic in a way. I started writing the album after we split. I saw things in a different way,” he notes.
Aside from writing from observation, he also took a lot from the people he met along the way and the insight they provided.
He continues, “I wrote that song to give me and anyone else in my situation hope. I wanted to get people really inspired. At the time, I was working with a lot of young people on various projects at Endemol (television production company). They were so hopeful and optimistic about the future. I loved that. I remember being that age and that energised by the potential of my future – so the different verses are taken from real conversations in that song.”
For the Life, Love & Lullabies songs, which are in three parts – Afterglow, Lullaby and Hello – Pillay got his mum and aunt to sing the intro of a well-known Indian song – to encompass their matriarchal and strong roles in their families’ lives – while his little boy joined him on a very endearing track that will resonate with parents.
Oh, and before I forget, the title is a Sanskrit translation of Arin’s name and his son Joshua took the album’s cover photo while they were driving back from Durban.
“There are metaphors everywhere, it is like a little treasure chest. I made this album the way I wanted to.”
Track 10 Hello is a song inspired by two contrasting things: a woman he saw sitting with her child begging at the robot and his memories of meeting and falling in love with his wife.
The album features several collaborations with people who are a part of his life in some way or the other.
“Craig Hinds, I discovered and signed to EMI back in the day. His entire life has changed since and Watershed became a huge success. I have stayed close to him all through the years as a friend and adviser. I wrote Eleven 47 with him in mind.
“And that isn’t a road in Chatsworth,” he jokes.
Neil Solomon has been the catalyst behind this project. Their relationship goes back to the late 1990s, when Solomon used to open his studio to him.
“I wanted to do a song as a symbol of our friendship. Also, he is a hero of mine,” he shares.
They feature on Daytrip. Naz Holland, Slikour, Laurie Levine and The Rocketeers are the other artists that he is not just a fan of, he says he was humbled to be working with them on his debut album.
It’s a disc that varies from soft rock to soulful melodies, offering poignant life reflections. Pity about the lack of air play on prominent radio stations!