Ricky Sharma, better known as Ricky On Guitar has shared the stage with some outstanding musicians and performers during his career. This has taken him and his guitar across the world and back to the UK again, performing at Reading and Leeds Festival, Glastonbury and the 2012 London Olympics. Now Ricky, who is about to release his second EP entitled Chapter II, is happy to push his music into the limelight and have equal billing with the musicians he works with, or indeed as a solo artist.
Already there has been quite a bit of buzz surrounding his latest release due to the single The Rise reaching number 8 on the iTunes world music chart. Ricky tells me about his forthcoming release, Chapter II. “It's a body of work I'm quite proud of actually. I've got a very eclectic mixture of sounds and genres on the EP and I've worked with some really good artists.” Ricky has already released two songs from the EP; The aforementioned The Rise with ShaoDow and Life White and Little Girl featuring his good friend and long time collaborator, McLean.
Ricky tells me that his perseverance to get to work with McLean again finally paid off! “ I've pestered McLean so many times in the past to be on my records, I've been on several of his, but as soon as he heard this one he jumped on in! I'm proud to have him on there.” His new album also features a collaboration with producer and singer JoJo F and an acoustic version of Rather Be by Clean Bandit which has had a seal of approval from the band, the music publishers and the writers.
Speaking to Ricky you can't help but get caught up in his passion and enthusiasm for music. Despite growing up in an Indian family, Ricky never had the drive to pursue his Indian music. “Apart from at home I didn't have that much of an Asian influence around. I was into Jimi Hendrix and Iron Maiden. I didn't have any interest in playing any Asian music.”
Ricky taught himself to play guitar from the age of 11 and also played classical flute too, but at home he found himself having to succeed through sheer tenacity and a love for music. “ My Father came to see me when I was 15 or 16 and I was playing in front of quite a number of people and I got a standing ovation, he was really proud of me. That was a highlight for me. Nobody really watched what I was doing, they just let me get on with it. No one pressured me, they didn't say don't do it, so it was very self encouraging. You generally didn't get too much encouragement in the Asian world to be a musician so that was a challenge. People don't take you seriously until you start playing larger shows, or hear you on the radio. I had to enrol people to my way of thinking and let them know I'd be playing my guitar either with or without their blessing.”
Although he is one of the few Asian artists that has crossed over into the mainstream, laterally he has drawn on his Asian musical heritage as inspiration with Supna from The 1st Chapter and of course The Elements. “I think we [The Elements] were slightly ahead of our time. We mixed everything from funk, to blues to rock to hip hop to rap. We even played live dub step! There were no backing tracks. Whatever we did, we did big!” This of course included that performance at the 2012 Olympics, which was a career highlight. I asked Ricky what could possibly top that experience as a career personal best? “I think definitely releasing records in my name and seeing them chart. I've played alongside a number of well know artists who have had chart success and I've played on a lot of records, but it's never been my name on them. So definitely seeing my records chart.”
This of course leads us back to the new EP. Some musicians and writers prefer to work alone when working on new material and relish in the solitude of the process, Ricky is one of the artists who seems to be the exact opposite; he is inspired by collaboration and this has not changed with the new release. “I like to get into the studio with people and hear their opinion on the record, everyone wants to put their own stamp on something. I love to hear people listen to something that I've written and say 'let's change it up a bit.' I'm never one of those individuals who dismiss anyone – If I feel that it's a good idea and a good sound I'll do it. You always have to have an open mind in collaboration.” Ricky is also not one of those musicians who is content to play the music the same every time either, he likes to keep it fresh. He tells me about a time he was in a covers band: “I used to get so board. I don't like playing other peoples music. I like to put my own stamp to it. Some people only want to hear the record. If you only want to hear the record, buy the record and put it on!”
I ask Ricky to make a difficult choice and name his favourite collaborator, after hesitating he says - “McLean, he'll probably kick me if I don't say that. I've been playing alongside him since 2007. I was with him when he got signed by Atlantic and Asylum records, so I've been with him right from the early stages...There's an unsaid connection between us. Recently I'd say ShaoDow, I want to do so much more with him. He's an inspiring character.”
Following in the footsteps of his guitar and musical heroes which include Prince, Carlos Santana and Yngwie Malmsteen he also has a distinctive guitar sound formed by his custom guitar, which really adds to the Ricky On Guitar brand. “The guitar itself was a project guitar. Another guitarist in a group I was in years ago owed me some money and was like 'I don't have the money but here is a guitar.' And I really enjoyed feel of the neck, so I though alright then. So I just got the guitar and it just sat there gathering dust. I really wanted a PRS guitar and it was quite expensive, so rather than spending all that money on a guitar I will just play on the odd occasion, I decided to completely rebrand and change the whole entire mechanics of it. Everything apart from the shell was rebuilt. It's now my sound, it's now what I play, I don't play anything else!”
Looking ahead, Ricky is planning to work more with McLean and ShaoDow but is also exuberant about working with a well known Asian artist, although he won't say who at that stage. But I dare say we will get to find out soon enough!