The first time I’d ever heard of Diluckshan Jeyaratnam was two years ago when my cousin sent me a YouTube link to his cover of “Sollamal Thottu Sellum Thendral”.
Admittedly, I tend to not be the biggest Tamil music fan, but that cover got to me somehow. There was something oddly mesmerising and pure about it. In fact, I still prefer Diluckshan’s version to the original, to be honest.
So when the Tamil-Dane, whom I can only describe as a YouTube sensation, announced that he had been cast to play Moses in the world premiere of “The Prince of Egypt” next year, I can’t say that I was too shocked or surprised.
In between preparations for the upcoming world premiere of “The Prince of Egypt”, the 26-year old recently sat down with Thamarai to discuss his journey, his music, and his future.
Firstly, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. We really appreciate it.
Secondly, let’s get down to business.
As Glinda said in “The Wizard of Oz”, “It’s always best to start at the beginning”. So let’s start at the beginning. How did this whole journey start for you?
So. I guess I was sort of born to do this. My family is a deeply musical family. Even before I was born, my parents were in a band. A Tamil orchestra, so to speak. They and their bandmates would regularly perform at various concerts, playing Tamil cinema songs. My mother was a singer while my father would both sing and play the guitar. Later on, my older sister also joined them, playing the keyboard.
I was sort of born into that environment – surrounded by musicians and encouraged to follow that path myself.
Actually, my parents tell me even now that when I was really young, I would show interest in drums. I would start picking up spoons and hit on pans. Even before I could remember how old I was or what I was doing. So, I guess very early on, I had a lot of interest in rhythm and music.
So then, at the age of four, my father convinced me to join their band as the drummer. And that’s where it all kinda began for me.
So actually, before you were a singer, before you were a guitarist, you were a drummer? You were the Ringo Starr of your family?
Yeah, exactly. At the beginning, it was just the drums. And I was very stubborn that that would be the only instrument I would play. Not anything else.
Even though my parents tried to convince me to try singing and my father tried to get me to play the guitar, I was not interested. I only wanted to play the drums.
I mean, I used to sing but I was more of a under-the-shower kind of singer. And I had no intention of changing that and ever doing anything more than that.
But my father kept kinda pushing me and saying that I have a good voice and that I should give it a try. Long story short, he eventually managed to convince me and I even ended up participating in a singing competition where I somehow managed to win an age-group award.
So that was it? The beginning of your career as a singer?
Yeah, I guess you could put it like that.
Once I stood on that stage and started singing, I was immediately hooked on it. That feeling of being on stage and singing. I felt a sense of peace and calm, and from then on, I was just really eager to recreate that moment and that feeling.
And it was the same feeling that I later felt when I picked up the guitar. After years of my father trying to persuade me, I finally started playing when I was 13. And I still remember that feeling I had when I played it for the first time. I was so fascinated by the sound. So I kept trying. Kept teaching myself pieces I had heard and recreate that sound, and, well, I just kind of took it from there.
So all of this, your drumming, your singing, and your guitar playing – none of this was trained? You had never received any classical training at all?
No. I was never trained in any way. The only training, I guess, was growing up in a very musical family and environment.
And also, I have always been the biggest Hariharan and AR Rahman fan. So I would always practice imitating and recreating that sound. Those ‘sangathees’ and ‘asaivukhal’.
But apart from that, no. I guess it’s what they call “Kelvi Gnanam” in Tamil.
… he said as casually as he could. Haha.
Now, going a few years into the future – to 2015 to be precise – you decided to put your music online and make music your career. Has that always been your goal? To become a singer? Because truth be told, it is a somewhat unconventional career choice – especially within the Tamil community.
To be honest, no. After high school, I actually went to university and did my undergrad in Multimedia Design and Marketing. So no. Becoming an artist, becoming a singer was never Plan A.
But, after graduation, I sort of sat myself down and asked myself whether this is really what I wanted to do. Do I really want to work as a media designer for the rest of my life?
Is that where my passion lies? And very quickly I realised that the answer to the question was ‘No’.
My passion was music. Telling stories through my music.
Luckily I had parents that really supported me, so when I told them that I was thinking of going into music and pursuing that as a career option, they completely had my back.
In fact, they told me that they had known for a while that music is where I belong. They had just been waiting for me to come to that realisation myself.
At that point in my life, I was fortunate enough to be working with an amateur theatre group as a volunteer. And I have to say, I completely loved it. That feeling when you’re on stage. And just the whole atmosphere of the theatre., really.
I was fascinated by the idea of telling a story through music, drama and dance. I felt right at home.
And I kept thinking to myself. ‘I want to do this. For the rest of my life, this is what I want to do.’
So I decided to apply to the Danish Academy of Musical Theatre, and once I had made up my mind, there was no doubt at all. I was sure that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Be a musical actor and tell stories.
You just finished your final exams there, didn’t you?
That’s right. Just finished the finals.
This whole journey at the academy has honestly been such a massive privilege. Just being part of that school and in such an environment.
One of the key philosophies of the school is that you need to know yourself in order to become the best performer you can by utilising all the tools that you have. So you are taught to work with your own body and get to know yourself in a way that is so deep and profound.
Speaking of becoming a musical actor – I suppose congratulations are in order for your casting as Moses in the world premiere of “The Prince of Egypt”. Not even out of school yet, and you have already landed the lead role in one of the most well-known and beloved musicals. On top of that, you will also be working together with none other than Stephen Schwartz, who is undoubtedly one of the most renowned composers in musical theatre.
I know. To be honest, when it happened, I couldn’t really understand what was happening. I mean, I won’t lie. I did have a dream of doing something like this. Playing an original character. That’s always been a long-time dream of mine.
But it was a dream I had for the far far future. Maybe 10 years down the road. But this – I didn’t see coming.
So talk me through what happened. And how it happened.
Well. I was doing “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” as part of my coursework at that time, where I was working together with Soeren Moeller, who was the producer of the show. On a whim, I approached Soeren and asked him whether he had any projects coming up; projects in which he could see me.
Before I knew it, he sat me down and told me about “The Prince of Egypt”. At that point is was all a bit secretive, but Soeren told me that he had been approached by Stephen Schwartz, the composer of “The Prince of Egypt”.
Basically, Schwartz was looking someone to play Moses. So after talking to me, Soeren sent Schwartz links to my YouTube videos, and I guess they must have liked it because next thing I know, I was invited to audition for the role.
I mean, I honestly can’t even tell you how happy I was. Like I was actually jumping up and down. It’s honestly been one my favourite animated films of all time. I love the music and I love the story behind it. And now I actually got the chance to audition for the role.
And not just audition for the role. I guess things went pretty well, seeing how you got the role.
Yeah, I guess. To be honest, that audition was not what I had expected.
Since both Stephen Schwartz and his son Scott, who is the director of the show, were in the US, the plan was to do a Skype audition – and that’s what we did.
Except it was the most high-tech and well-produced Skype call I’ve ever seen. I guess they took the money they had saved by not flying me out and put it into the Skype audition, because when I walked into the room, there were three massive broadcast cameras set up to film me, which were connected to this computer that would then edit and transmit the whole thing live. On top of that, there was also a sound mixer.
I was literally expecting to sing in front of a laptop with a mic on it. Instead, they didn’t spare any expenses to ensure I would have the best audition possible. I was honestly so touched and just blown away by the whole thing.
And when I was told afterwards that they loved the audition and that I got the role – I literally just fell down on my knees. It was all just so overwhelming. I genuinely couldn’t grasp that I’m actually going to be the first guy to ever play Moses on stage. And it’s a world premiere. I was just so stunned. Working with someone like Stephen Schwartz.
Especially this happening so early on in my career – I didn’t expect that. I mean, I’m not even done with school, yet. So it’s just all really overwhelming. It’s beyond anything I had ever imagined.
As someone has been able to turn his career around and go mainstream; as someone who has gone from YouTube star to a truly bona fide musical actor – do you have any advice for those out there that are trying to make it in the industry? Be that as a singer, an actor, or an artist of any other shape or form.
To be perfectly honest, I really don’t think that I’m in any position to answer this. I really am no expert.
That said though, I think if I were to give anyone any sort of valuable advice it’s this: Get your priorities straight. What do you want to do? But even more importantly, why do you want to do it? Why do you want to be on YouTube, making music, playing the guitar, doing covers of songs?
What do you want to say through your music? What’s your purpose? Because the way I see it, speaking from my experience, if you want to be successful, you need a good answer to these questions. You need a reason.
You should know what you want to communicate through your art. And then start from there.
So what were your reasons? Why did you start?
For me, I’ve never really felt the need to please anyone. My wanting to make music, it was never to please others. I’ve always done it because I wanted to please myself. It gave me happiness.
In addition to that, music for me was also some kind of outlet. To deal with the stress. To deal with life.
So for me, the next thought was “I want to share this. I want to share my music with others”. Whenever I play the guitar or sing, I get a great sense of relief and also freedom. And that feeling, I wanted to share it.
But for me, it was never about others, It was always about me and my music. Even when I get requests from people asking me to cover certain songs, I thank them for the suggestion and their support, but I only cover a song if I like the song. If I get a request, and then the song resonates with me, only then will I do a cover. Only if I feel like I can do something original with it and it triggers something in me. I need to be inspired, I guess. Because audiences can tell. They can tell if the music is coming from an honest place or whether the artist is just making music for the sake of it. They can tell. If there is no inspiration, it automatically sounds empty.
So for me, I have made it a rule to never do anything just to please others. That’s what I’m doing now and what I can hopefully do till the rest of my life.
Knock on wood.
Quickly – before I let you go. What can your fans and supporters look forward to? Obviously, there is the world premiere of “The Prince of Egypt” in April next year. Any other projects on the horizon?
One thing that I’m quite excited about is ‘Isai Plugged-in’. It’s a concert in Ilford, London this week (May 28) I will be doing with the amazing Devan Ekambaram. So I’m quite looking forward to that.
Another quite major event that I still can’t wrap my head around is the recording for “Podhuvaga En Manasu Thangam”.
Where you worked together with D Imman.
Initially, we would have several Skype sessions and WhatsApp calls to discuss the song. I then recorded the song here in Denmark and sent it over.
I mean, I’ve long admired D Imman – as a writer and composer he has such an innocent and pure quality to him. So having had the opportunity to work with him – it’s just beyond what I had hoped for!
Well, to be honest, I can’t help but feel like this is all more than deserved! So I wish you all the very best for your future – the musical, the music release of “Podhuvaga En Manasu Thangam”, and of course, your concert this weekend!!