When tech wizard and bass-slappist Thejus Chakravarthy agreed to sit down and tell me his story, I knew it would be good. Thejus has been playing in the Baltimore metal scene for over a decade, and has maintained a thriving professional career. As this is always a point of contention in an artist’s life, I wanted to dig deeper. Thejus plays in Queen Wolf and Infinite Pizza and still has time to design education systems, pour the tastiest coffee in Baltimore, and offer freelance tech consulting.
His name is pronounced Thejus [Thay-Juss]. Trust me, I know. I pronounced it wrong for at least six months. Thejus was born in Mumbai, India, and spent his beginning years moving between Goa, Bangalore, and Bahrain. When he was twelve, he moved here to the United States.
Is that really where the story begins? Hell no, let’s fast forward a few years. Sorry, twelve year old Thejus. This particular story begins at UMBC, where he met guitarist Mike Walls. Thejus did not grow up fantasizing about being on stage with Judas Priest -- he was more interested in education. Appropriately, he is currently a growing authority on Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Instructional Systems Design.
Thejus has spent the last few years designing complex systems used to educate dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of adults. Some of these systems are complex digital interfaces -- some of these might be on your computer at work. He didn't just magically find this dream job though. He had to make a lot of really tough decisions on the way. Some of them had unintended consequences that would come to define his life.
A fork-in-the-road decision to attend grad school became one such catalyst. When he was just cracking open his first book, he offered “to learn how to play bass” for his girlfriend’s band, Better Side of Chaos. Well, he got more than he ever bargained for (spoilers: they broke up). Forever-buddy Mike Walls overheard Thejus’ offer to learn bass and immediately pulled him down the rabbit hole.
Guitarist Mike Walls and drummer Chuck Hannan needed a stand-in bass player for their new hardcore band: Lovers and Killers. They had a functioning band, but they were tired of rotating members, and wanted to lock it down. So Walls moved to guitar, Chuck stayed on drums, and Thejus filled in as the bassist for a few weeks. A few weeks became a few years, and the rest is history.
Ten years later, Mike, Chuck, and Thejus are still sweating shoulder to shoulder as a guitar, drums, and bass super-team. I asked Thejus how the hell he managed to finish a master’s program, work, and play bass in a hardcore band all at the same time. After all, wouldn’t the bass just add more stress? I loved his response: if the overwhelming, heart-thumping stress of school and work were a boil, his music was the lance. He did his homework in the band van between sets.
The music helped him mentally survive -- it wasn't just an outlet, it was the one piece of his life that was so overwhelmingly meaningful that it put the rest of the stress, blood, and tears into perspective. Music is life. But, seriously, how do you even have time for that? The same question plagues his mind constantly:
According to Thejus, that daily decision is what separates a fulfilling life from a barren one. Choosing life over comfort -- choosing to work harder rather than to be content. Five hours of sleep, twelve hours of work, five hours of sweating blood on stage, and an hour or two load-up might not seem like your ideal day, but these guys wouldn't have it any other way.
Scheduling becomes a web of minute-to-minute planning. Thejus knows exactly when he has to stop helping the band pack up after a gig -- he knows exactly how long he can sleep before work. His calendar looks like a wacky, colorful game of Jenga. Life becomes a juggling act of choice -- and prioritization.
But when he has to leave a gig early, doesn’t the band get pissed that they’re left holding the bag? When he comes into work with the side of his head stapled together, doesn’t his boss get nervous? Isn’t there a time when enough is enough? Don’t you eventually have to grow up? Thejus doesn't think so:
Thejus has me convinced, and it looks like he’s found a great group of people. What about the rest of us? Maybe some of us aren’t meant to live like this -- maybe we’re not capable. Thejus would disagree. Being this busy literally requires a supportive life structure, but “there is a spectrum of structure. Whatever flavor of weird you are.” Everyone is capable of living a fulfilling life beyond work.
Thejus recommends choosing a career that plays to your natural strengths and taking the time to find your own kind of support. If you work hard enough, you can make it happen. He uses software to organize his life because software speeds up life -- it organizes thing in a different way.
Taking the first steps aren't easy, and if you don't surround yourself with the right elements, you might not succeed at all. When I asked Thejus about how to start moving the pieces of one's life around, he nailed it on the head:
Find a friend. Jump down a rabbit hole. You never know where you might end up.