Big Thief – U.F.O.F.

7 Jun

U.F.O.F. is a beautiful, delicate and scarily intelligent folk-rock album. It’s gossamer and lovely in sound and filled with intricacies and flourishes and sparkles.

“Betsy”, for instance, is calm and unhurried and tranquil. “Jenni” feels like a gentler, slower “Jeremy” and while that may sound like it misses the point, the result is no less intense for how slow it burns. “From” is tender and sophisticated.

For all that softness though, the album is also able to carry off the Velvet Underground-like “Contact” which goes from a slow start to a distortion both unexpected in such a soft album and brilliant for it.

The vocal quivering in “Orange” engage and the lyric of “Orange is the color of my love” is novel. Similarly in “Century”, Lenker’s voice wavers around where you would expect and the unbalancedness that engenders is excellent. It slips a little at the end of the song though and it’s not quite strong enough to carry the vocal-only segments of “Magic Dealer”, but those are the exceptions in a mostly wonderful album.

For all of the innovation of the album, it’s still extremely approachable. The country jangles in “Cattails” are a fascinating evolution of this soft-rock sound, but it also works well on the surface. This is an album that greatly rewards effort from the listener. It has lots of little brilliances flowing through it and is confident enough not to clumsily draw attention to it.

However, no matter your approach, you will enjoy this album. Even at the most shallow listen, it’s exceptional. If you’re willing to meet it halfway though, it’s transcendent.

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Wayfarer: An Interview with Dhruv Visvanath

6 Jun

In our honest opinion, twenty-something Dhruv Visvanath is already one of the most iconic musicians in India today. With his unique percussive guitar style, clear design aesthetic, and an irrepressibly nomadic take on life, it’s pretty easy to pick a Dhruv Visvanath song out of a musical lineup.

In 2015, Visvanath released a well-received debut album, Orion; but like all great musicians, he didn’t let the success define his career. In 2016, he embarked upon a massive 17-city tour across India – no doubt driven by his keen (and well-documented) sense of wanderlust. The tour resulted in 2018’s The Lost Cause – a brilliant album with lilting melodies, beautiful imagery and Visvanath’s masterful guitar skills.

Top Five Records caught up with Dhruv for a detailed chat about his influences, love of travel, musical style, and much more. Read on below:

Let’s start with a picture of what makes you into the artist you are today: What got you into music, and when did you first start getting into it?

I’ve been playing and learning since I was seven, and it’s been a long and arduous journey at times; but I’m ever so grateful for music. I started off with the piano, and from there my thirst for musical knowledge just grew further and further, up to a point where I just picked up a guitar and started learning through trial and error. To this day, I still feel like that’s the right way for me! Trial and error above everything else!

We at TFR see glimpses of Sufjan Stevens, the Decembrists, and hints of Mumford & Sons in your tunes. What would you say are the biggest musical influences in your music? Apart from other musicians, what else has influenced you as an artist?

First off, thank you! You guys make me blush! I have always looked to using stories from my life as my biggest source of inspiration for writing songs. My family, my dearest friends, my heartaches and moments of happiness have allowed me to express my thoughts and feelings through music; I just try to do my part by being honest and true to myself.

Musical inspirations are an entirely different story. Would you believe me if I told you I was listening to Dr. Dre a few nights ago? All jokes aside, I do listen to and absorb what I can from as many different artists, because you can learn many things just by listening to different songs. Currently I’m hooked on to Daniel Caesar, Parcels and Jungle, but I’ve always loved bands like Alter Bridge, Foals and Snarky Puppy. I really like the way they arrange their songs, and how they build their music and it’s such a useful lesson when making music!

Your music stands out among Indian singer-songwriters for your unique style of percussive acoustic guitar. How did you get interested in this style of playing? How did you train yourself in it, from a technical standpoint?

I do feel like I am unique for sure, but I’m thrilled to see more and more people just stepping in to their comfort zone when it comes to making music! It’s a pleasure to explore and I want to take the time to learn from everyone doing things differently. I like to think of myself as a songwriter more than just a guitarist but I absolutely love playing. A lot of my songs feel like they start from the guitar, and grow into bigger stories with more layers, and to be honest, I only want to write good songs, and my technique has helped me do that.

I’m a self-taught guitarist, and have maintained that throughout my musical journey. It allows me to continue making mistakes and learning in new ways! Honestly though, I used to play the electric guitar and I could feel myself stagnating, and there was a point where worries arose and I started falling out of love with the guitar. It wasn’t until I found a few videos on YouTube with guys smacking the bodies of their acoustics – and epiphany struck! I would literally sit and learn these percussively flavoured songs and would spend hours imitating these amazing guitarists, from Andy Mckee, to Don Ross, to Antoine Dufour. These folks were genuinely great teachers and it really allowed me to find my own style along the way.

Music video for “Jungle”, from The Lost Cause (2018)

Let’s talk about the songwriting process. The rhythm and melodies in your songs are so intricate, and yet your words always seem to lock right into place. What comes first for you, the music or the lyrics?

I love a sense of rhythm in everything. Having words that complement the rhythm just make the song that much more enjoyable, both to write and to listen to. Oftentimes, the music does come first, but it depends. Most of my ideas stem from an idea that’s ten seconds long. My sense of rhythm comes from how I play, and I use my strengths to work my on weaknesses when it comes to writing layers or working on my voice.

It really helps to write in a manner which brings out the best in you, rather than trying to force a song out. You want to feel like playing and listening to music that makes you want to be a better person, and a more expressive person. It’s a strange way of looking at it, but writing a new song gives me so much happiness, and it feels like constipation if I don’t write!

One of our favorite aspects about Dhruv as a musician (apart from the music itself, of course) is your keen sense of design, from the common font across your output, to the connected color palette, to the incredibly unique choice of, for example, using mops to tell a story. What inspires your design aesthetic?

The mops weren’t my idea! That goes to the director of my video for “Wild,” Tanvi Gandhi. But I have to say I have always looked at myself as someone who’s had to build himself from the ground up. I like to create as much of an identity as I possibly can, but that’s important for anyone who wants to be an artist. I pick vivid colours because I see vivid colours emanating from my music, and I want to show a sense of wonder and wistfulness. I feel like a person who plays the acoustic guitar to it’s absolute limits, so for me, bright colours and extreme contrasts seem like a fitting portrayal of who I am musically.

In any song, the most important thing is the story, and I’m a very story-driven person. The use of abstraction comes naturally to me and I love it when the songs bring things to life. A sense of abstraction is key, and it’s not often that someone feels like a mop until they see a mop act and live just like you!

Let’s talk about that music video for “Wild”, because it really is unlike anything else out there in Indian indie music today. How did you come up with the concept for that music video? How did you plan out the production work that went into actually putting it together? And how long did it take you to film it?

Again, I can take credit for the song! The video, however, was an entirely different task. My director, Tanvi Gandhi, bombarded me with ideas for six months until we hit on this one kooky idea of expressing human angst through mops – and the vision stuck. Production started in January 2018 and the rest of the creative team behind the video spent a month going on reconnaissance trips and making prototypes of the mops. It wasn’t until the first week of April 2018 where I got a finished product. I’m very glad we took the time to make the video, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. It’s travelled to places I haven’t even been and I’m so glad it’s been played at many festivals. (Ed. Note: Dhruv is too humble to mention it, but “Wild” was shown at the prestigious SXSW festival this year.) It was a product of love and for it to be loved and appreciated in the way that it has is very special to me.

Tell us a little bit about your recent album, The Lost Cause, and how you put together all the pieces there. We know you went on an eponymous India-wide tour before the album actually came out – to what extent, and how, did that tour influence the music on the album?

Well, if I’m honest, I recorded most of the music before actually going on tour! The whole purpose of the tour was to go through India and explore the various stories that my family had experienced throughout the country. It definitely did affect the finished product, however, and I’m grateful to have gone on that journey. It really allowed me to attach stories to my songs, and some of the songs I’d written prior to going on the tour didn’t make much sense until I’d experienced these stories. The album felt effortless to work on. I’d sit and work with just writing songs in my bedroom and then recording them late at night. I took the project on as a chance to improve my ability to record my music, and I’m glad I did it.

The backbone of your album, The Lost Cause, centers around exploration – from new cities to aspects of you as a person and as a musician. Has this streak of discovery always been part of who you are?

I’ve been a traveler all my life. I’ve grown up in different places, and it’s always been an absolute blessing to go out an explore. The song itself was more about a need to identify your dreams, and to follow them wholeheartedly. Placing the right amount of faith in yourself will push you further than anything else will. I wrote this song for all the times I’ve been told that what I do is just that, a lost cause. I thought to make it an epic of sorts, as large as I possibly could, so it’d feel like something you’d shout at the top of a mountain!

What’s next on the radar for you – New music? New tours? Something else entirely?

Well, I’m in the middle of recording some newer songs, but also I’ve taken the last year or so to write the best music I can, and just create. I’ve been fortunate to work on a few film scores as well and it’s something I’m extremely keen on continuing. Finally, this last year has taught me what it means to be a good producer as well, and I want to take this chance to really improve and work with more people and make more songs with more people if I can!

Thank you, Dhruv, that was excellent! Before we wrap up, we’d like to ask you some quick-fire questions. Ready?

What are your top three Desert Island Discs? (i.e., three albums that you would be fine listening to, without access to any other music, for the rest of your life?)

One Day Remains by Alter Bridge; Phil Collins’ Greatest Hits; Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace by Foo Fighters.

What’s been your favorite gig so far?

So far, it has to be a gig I did at NIFT Delhi in October last year. I had my best friends with me on stage, and playing a fun, exciting night to a nice big amphitheater.

Who’s one Indian artist that you’d love to work with?

Warren Mendonsa, Dhruv Ghanekar, Parekh & Singh… the list is very, very long.

Given your love of exploration, we assume you’ve travelled a lot around the world. What’s one city that you find yourself wishing you could visit again?

Two cities, Montreal and Hong Kong. I grew up in Hong Kong and that place will always be special to me; and Montreal because it’s just one of the most musically charged and creative places I’ve ever been to.

What albums or songs are on constant rotation right now?

I love listening to any song made by SG Lewis, an amazing producer. As for albums, I’ve been listening to Let it Die by Feist, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? by Billie Eilish and Assume Form by James Blake.

You can visit Dhruv’s website for information on where to listen to his music. All images courtesy the artist.

Monthly Playlist: May 2019

1 Jun

What a month May has been for great music. Stalwarts made a strong mark, with Vampire Weekend releasing a highly-lauded fourth studio album and Tyler the Creator releasing a fifth – and his best-rated – record. Newcomers, too, blew it out of the water: notably, British rapper slowthai and relative newbie Jamila Woods, who has put out one of the best albums of the year. With all this great music, we really had our work cut out this month picking five great songs to share: but here goes.

5. “We Belong Together” by Vampire Weekend feat. Danielle Haim

As longtime readers would know, anything with one of the Haim sisters is almost always alright in our books. “We Belong Together” – the second Danielle Haim collab from Vampire Weekend’s fifth album, Father of the Bride – is a great, old-school duet love song with a quintessentially-Ezra-Koenig melancholy twist. Black and white, day and night, left and right, bowls and plates – Koenig and Haim list off the timeless and kitschy ways pairs the two lovers belong together. But wait, what’s this? “Baby, there’s no use in being clever / Baby, it don’t mean we’ll stay together,” they say, on a sugary-light bop, following it up with a devastating “We go together like lions and lambs / Oh, we go together”. This is another irresistibly great song from what has been a solid album front to back. Look out for a full review of FOTB from us soon – until then, take a listen through this track (and the other we’ve covered in our playlists!).

4. “Doin’ Time” by Lana del Rey

Speaking of melancholy crooners, the absolute queen of mournful murmuring is back. Lana del Rey has announced a new album in 2019 (the brilliantly-named Norman Fucking Rockwell), and “Doin’ Time” gives us a good taste of the excellent things to come. A cover of the ska / punk band Sublime’s 1996 single – and itself sampling the jazz standard “Summertime” – “Doin’ Time” is a head-fake that starts off like a cheery hit and segues into an adult-contemporary drive through Lana’s, well, sublime vocals. The result, as you may expect from a story about feeling trapped by an unfaithful partner, is a mixture between fuzzy contemplation and spiky regret. More to come from Lana this year, and we couldn’t be more pumped.

3. “Record Collection” by Kaiser Chiefs

In another throwback to the mid-aughts, Kaiser Chiefs are back with “Record Collection”, a song that’s basically an updated version of every one of your favorite songs from your high school years (think Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs themselves, and so on). According to lead singer Ricky Wilson, the band recorded their seventh studio album Duck, slated for July 26th (featuring this new track) after going back and reminiscing over their own first few records. You can hear it too: after a forgettable couple of records in the middle, Kaiser Chiefs finally sound rejuvenated. A thick bassline and poppy drums elevate Wilson’s vocoder-style vocals on “Record Collection”, and the song is peppered with the sort of supple hooks that made “Ruby” all the rage more than a decade ago. (Has it really been that long?!) With “Record Collection”, it looks like we have yet another great summer album to await – mark your calendars!

2. “Vacancy” by Havelock

With so many releases from well-known artists this month, it’s easy to miss tracks like “Vacancy”, the second track (ever) by English singer Havelock. But, wow, are we glad we didn’t miss it – and we are so happy to recommend it to our readers, too. “Vacancy” tells a tale well-known by young people around the world – hustling until you make it, with an end in mind but not in sight. Beyond his chill vocals and the warmth of the production, what Havelock really cracks is that clever yet effortless turn of phrase. In fact, there’s a line on here that we loved so much that we’ll transcribe it here in full: “’Cause you got a brand-new vacancy, and I want to join the agency; I hope that it can give me something that I could hold, somewhere that I could go, without working to the bone: can you give me that?,” he asks; achingly poetic in his naivety. “My snooze is on repeat / I know I’d better wake up or I’ll wake up in the streets” goes another splendid couplet. We haven’t been this excited for a new artist in a long time – and we hope you feel the same way, too. (If you liked this tune, you’ll love “Pig Latin”, his debut single.)

1. “Inglorious” by slowthai, feat. Skepta

From an arrangement standpoint, “Inglorious” has a very simple layout: a short intro, followed by a verse by slowthai and the hook, followed by another verse by Skepta and the hook. But what happens in those five parts may well have changed the topography of British rap. Of course, Skepta is already famous; his unapologetic display of British culture – in a genre dominated by American culture – has placed him on a 2017 list of the most influential people in the UK. On “Inglorious”, his talents and persona are put to the best possible collaborative use with newcomer – and inevitable star – slowthai. A dreamlike intro leads into one of the best beat drops we’ve heard all year, along with a volley of British-isms and descriptions of struggle (“Remember when they wouldn’t let me in / Now their wages just a day’s per diem”). “Inglorious” features on slowthai’s debut album, Nothing Great About Britain, which is honestly one of the best albums we’ve heard all year. Listen to “Inglorious” – if you like it, you’re in for a treat for the rest of the album.

Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!

29 May

There’s a lot in play with the new Jamila Woods album Legacy! Legacy! The panorama of black excellence is fascinating. Her use of it to examine herself is even more so. Her mixing in of current events is provocative. Above all though, her voice and her sound and the R&B that she has made is exceptional.

Every song here is named after a different cultural bastion and so we see a jazzy, fusiony sound in “MILES”, albeit one that feels a little more Future Shock than Bitches Brew. “EARTHA” has soft R&B with a clever undercurrent of electro-pop underneath it. “SUN RA” is gentle with a hypnotic beat.

Lyrically, it’s just as strong and as clever. “BETTY” has a strong feminism with the uncompromising couplet “I am not your difficult girl / throw away that picture in your head.” The chorus of “ZORA” has the pure truth of “You will never know everything / And you don’t know me.”

Everything really comes together in the two standout tracks of the album. “BASQUIAT” is magnificent. The call and response of “Are you mad? / Yes, I’m mad!” and the twists at the end of each refrain are very well done. Her singing is powerful and the base line is visceral and just when you find your feet with the song, Saba caps it with some very clean rapping.

My favorite track though is the wonderful MUDDY. The blues-rock riff underpinning the song is excellent and her voice provides a freshness and clarity that creates a beautiful tension against it. Lyrically, it’s a calculated sneer that matches the musical tone precisely and the whole sticks with you well after each listen.

What makes all of this even more astonishing is the degree of coherence in this album. Her voice remains the one constant amongst an array of sounds but it’s more than powerful enough to force a singular feel to the entire album. 

This coherence is matched by the quality throughout. This is an excellent album and one that you need to listen to. We highly recommend it.

Karen O / Danger Mouse – Lux Prima

16 May

Neither Karen O nor Danger Mouse really need to another laurel to their wreaths. They are well-known, highly successful and something of an establishment in their fields already. Neither one really needs a boost, which works out, as Lux Prima isn’t the kind of album that can define an artist. It is, however, a skillful pop-rock diversion and a fun 40 minute listen.

“Turn The Light” is just good, infectious pop. Karen O’s voice is stellar throughout. Songs like “Drown” work so well because her voice is impeccably controlled and very personal and that muddies up the slow moving but so intriguing production underneath. The closer “Nox Lumina” has a sound reminiscent of a lullaby, but taken wonderfully out of context and its mirror “Lux Prima” is a clean synth line.

The album as a whole is a little ephemeral though. It’s great to listen to, but forgettable when it’s done. The structure is a little too traditional and the album a little too lacking in innovation. Despite the tremendous skill of the two musicians and the cleanness of their sound, the whole comes off slightly shallow.

The talent is undeniably there though and comes through on every song. If you like any of the earlier work of Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) or Danger Mouse (Broken Bells, Gnarls Barkley, The Grey Album, Danger Doom, lots of other things), you’ll find plenty to like here too.

Gunna – Drip or Drown 2

9 May

Drip or Drown 2 is, more than any other aquatic metaphor, distilled. It is muted and monotonic, taking the already focused subgenre of trap and focusing it even further. This is an album that’s specific in its intent and strong in its speech.

This focus gives it a relentless feel that fully enthralls. “Baby Birkin” takes the trap tic of repeating the end of the line and does it excellently. This may be a cliche in the form now, but it keeps the song from easy resolutions and so fascinates, albeit while being mentally exhausting. There are some very strong singles in here, with “Speed It Up” being similarly intriguing and “Who You Fooling” bringing in some astonishing Japanese strings. The production is consistently excellent and Gunna mixes up the singlemindedness of the beats cleverly with his raps.

This is a very linear album though, and that focus results in clarity at its best, but blandness at its worst. It’s at its best far, far more than at its worst though. This is an exceptional album. However, in it’s commitment to fully explore every idea it presents, it ends up slightly lacking in variety. However, this is a clever, accomplished album and a strong call to attention for a rapidly rising rapper. In his smelting of the genre, Gunna has forged something unique and you should definitely check it out.

Punk And Polish: A Chat with Rishi Bradoo

8 May

Those who have been paying close attention to Mumbai’s indie scene cannot deny the welcome shift in the quality of production in recent years. The scene has been graced by a wave of savvy producer-slash-engineers who have really helped propel the quality of music and cultivate a songwriting mindset among younger artists. Rishi Bradoo, former frontman of Mumbai electro-punk trio Blek and Chief Tinkerer at Theatre 74 studios, is one such torchbearer, with his stamp on some of the city’s finest recent releases including Awkward Bong’s In the Brightest Corners and a string of tracks by Ramya Pothuri. There’s no denying Rishi’s prowess as a studio engineer but that’s just one of the many spices that comprise his secret sauce. We recently caught up with Rishi at his studio in Mumbai to discuss his journey in the music scene and the methods to his magic.

So let’s get this out of the way… How did you get into music?

Right. So I got into music in school. I’d started playing the guitar for some reason and it stuck. That was the time when Superfuzz and the like had just started putting out music. Plus, it generally seemed fun to put chords together. It felt like LEGO. The minute I learned to put these chords together, I quit my guitar classes.

As a teenager, I was particularly frustrated with the way Indian musicians looked at music, which was with this cover-band mindset. Bands around me didn’t seem to care about putting out something truly original and that sort of irked me. That’s how I got to writing my own music. But it wasn’t until college did I get exposed to working with professional musicians. Xavier’s [St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai] surprisingly turned out to be fertile ground for budding musicians at the time. A lot of guys I met at college are working professionally in music right now. My college scene was basically defined by tons of college fests and a failed band.

What failed band?

Let’s not talk about it.  But yeah the first gig I ever played with a “legit” band was at this shitty excuse for a venue called Jazz by the Bay. We were teenagers at the time, and didn’t realize [what we were getting into]. Our first set had 10  “originals” and something like one or two covers. None of the other kid bands were doing that and it seemed pretty radical at the time. After our run of 5 shows at JBTB, we were bitch-slapped into ground reality though. It wasn’t until later that I met Jared and Varoon, our drummer and we would go on to form Blek. For a year we made the rounds of the college circuit and were starting to gain some momentum. We’d get our next gig at the last gig we played. We’d play a gig, talk to somebody after the gig and hustle another gig and eventually it led us to this place called B69.

It was an underground venue and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t legal. Sweat would literally evaporate, condense on the ceilings and then pour out onto the musicians playing on stage. So yeah, it was a pretty gnarly venue but a lot of young bands got to cut their teeth over there… you know… because you could afford to be bad.

We met the Lightyears over there and we would end up sharing a lot of bills together.

2012 was one of the most influential years for me. That was when I was convinced that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. In early 2012, we cut our record, Hexes + Drama & other reasons for evacuation and things blew up. We started getting booked all over the place. Within a year we had toured the entire country, in our third year of college. We were even invited to play in the UK at the Great Escape Festival.

What was that like?

Playing the Great Escape festival changed a lot of things for us. It was pretty eye-opening. The difference between what standards need to be and where they were in the scene at the time really came to the forefront. I realized that why people make music in the independent music scene in India and why people made music there were two completely different things. This thought had been on my nerves much earlier and was only reinforced when I got there. Interacting with musicians from around the globe was a far cry from the experiences I had in India. It was quite bittersweet actually. It felt like we were lagging behind in many ways but it also opened my eyes to what was possible. We had all this talent lying around that could definitely shine through more clearly if we had a certain change in mindset and environment.

What got you into audio? Was it a general sense of disillusionment with the production quality at the time?  

It wasn’t about production quality. Production quality was inevitably going to get better and was actually quite amazing even at the time, just not in indie music. All the young bands here over the last seven or eight years haven’t really had any good role models to look up to. I don’t consider Shaiir+ Func and Pentagram to be good role models at all!

The general attitude of bands here is:

I have these chords and I kind of made them go together. I also have some lyrics written over some vocal melody and it sounded fine in the jam room so I guess I have a song.

Just because you jammed it out in a jam-room and it sounded “tight” doesn’t make it a complete song. You really need to sit down and focus on the nuances of songwriting and that only comes with focused effort. What a lot of debut artists need to understand is you’re making music, not releasing YouTube content. The way most indie artists in India treat music is as if they’re releasing content.

You know I’ve noticed, whenever an artist enters the studio with the desire to have fun and make something they care about, the record always sounds good. Whether they’re good musicians or not, the record sounds good. There’s a kind of carelessness or honest expression that’s captured. Whenever an artist comes to the studio with this careerist mindset of wanting to release a record because they have to release a record that year, 7 out of 10 times, the record doesn’t sound as great. You can always hear it in the music, when there’s a sense of insincerity in the studio.

People put too much emphasis on mixing, engineering and the like but the actual emphasis should be on the writing.

So coming back to the question… when you’re not in the record cutting business, you don’t realize the kind of effort that goes in. It all seems like knobs and buttons. There’s a lot of microscopic detail that you’re paying attention to and macroscopic details you’re trying to balance out and that takes years is what I’ve realized over time. You kind of pick it up along the way.

For me, at that time, I felt like I could figure the writing part out. But I wanted to cut my own records. I wanted to have decisive control over it, not having to be reliant on the one person in Bombay I trust with my work.

What was Audio School in Alchemea like? Did you get to work with some big ticket producers?

In London, I studied under the guy who mixed Klaxons and Nick Cave. I also got to spend about a week with Tchad Blake who’s a personal hero of mine. He’s the guy who mixed Arctic Monkeys’ AM. He also worked on the Black Keys’ records. But yeah, that’s about it. I don’t think it really matters as much as you’d think. The thing about learning is, it’s more about who you are as a student and not so much about who is teaching. You can go to the best schools with the best teachers and learn jackshit, which I think is the case with most Indian schools to start with. We’re not curious enough. It kind of struck me. As students in India, we’re very badly raised. We’re raised to be scared of failure. We’re raised to answer questions in the way that is prescribed. That’s such a bad environment to build any sort of creative thought. I’ve been very disillusioned with this “college chaapa” mindset. “Oh, he went to Berklee, he must be good”. That doesn’t fly with me. I need to know what his record sounds like to see if he’s really good.

Was it always the plan to come back home from the UK and set up a studio?

No, actually. Part of me wanted to go learn production so that I could cut my own records, but it was also because I wanted to get the fuck away from Bombay. It had gotten really depressing. Like I said, I was very disillusioned with Bombay and the music scene in general. I was so done with the way musicians were functioning here, the way festival organizers were functioning here and the way artist managers were functioning here. It was a huge fucking mess. I felt that if I had the opportunity to go to the UK and not come back, why would I? But then looking back at India , I couldn’t just ignore the opportunities that were present back home. Had I stayed in the UK, I would have had to start at the very bottom of the ladder. Find a studio I could work in, become an assistant engineer, then maybe get promoted, convince artists to entrust me with their work, and so on. I wasn’t sure if I was happy with having such limited opportunities in the UK. The opportunity in India was to set up your own studio, cut your teeth the hard way by jumping into the deep end, not having someone mentor you and to diversify. I can literally do anything I want with this space.

What were the first few artists you recorded when you came back?

In the Brightest Corners by Awkward Bong was the first record I cut after coming back. I was lucky to have that be my first record, you know, as a rookie. The thing about audio school is you spend one year there, and then come into the real world, and the learning curve only steepens. I was really lucky to have such a project because it was hardcore production. I could dictate a lot. I could dictate the chord movements, I could dictate the rhythm section. I could really say: hey, do this, delete that, cut that verse in half. Like really hands-on production.

For me when a person writes a song, it isn’t the sound of the kick drum or the beat. It’s the chords, the lyrics, the melody and the general rhythmic vibe. Now what makes a SONG for me, in big block letters, which is released to the world and makes people feel things, is a combination of really good songwriting and sensible production that complements the songwriting. With the Awkward Bong record, Ronit had enough trust in me to run riot. Sonically, it’s an amateur record, being my first record out of audio school and everything, but the songs were really great and we worked very hard on fleshing them out.

So one of your songs with BLEK, “Fog + Strobe” got a slight makeover and was rechristened as” Byomkesh in Love”, featured in the movie Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! Were you happy with the way that turned out and the experience in general?

Working with Dibakar was pretty great. He always said: if you don’t want to do something, don’t do it. Initially he wanted me to add on this Hindi thumri to the song and I was extremely hesitant. But after I got to listen to it and know the meaning of what was being sung, I was completely on board. I felt like it fit. He wanted a version of the song for the film that went with the visuals of a particular scene, which I found to be a very challenging project. When this person rolled over the table in the action scene, Dibakar wanted a drum roll or toms to replace your traditional sound effects.

So, we were sitting down with him, looking at the scene and producing accordingly, while keeping in mind that it should sound great even as a standalone song. Once he had his shot for the film, he let me have full control over the version of the song that went out on Apple Music and the like. The version that’s out on YouTube or whatever is the version that we wanted and were happy with. Now that’s a good way to work!

What’s BLEK up to now and more importantly, what’s Rishi the musician upto now?

I’d prefer not to divulge premature details. You’ll know when it’s done I guess. *goes on to divulge juicy secrets off the record*

This started out as chat about your musical journey but you were able to turn it into a lesson in life. It was great talking to you man.

Right so to wrap things up, we have a bunch of rapid fire questions we do with all our guests.

Favourite Indian artist right now?

None. I’m serious. I have much higher standards and expectations of Indian artists and we WILL get there!

Pick one of the two you can’t live without: delay or reverb.

I can’t live without delay. I can make delay sound like reverb but not the other way around.

Drink of choice.

It’s usually vodka but now I’m switching to Stranger & Sons gin.

One gig that’s left a permanent mark on you.

This sounds narcissistic but it’s the gig we played with the Lightyears at one of the earlier Ctrl + Alt + Del festivals, at B69.

Three Desert Island discs for when you’re stranded on an island.

  1. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino by the Arctic Monkeys and let me tell you why. TBH&C is a beautiful record. It has all these tiny, beautiful things that are so “fuck you”.
  2. Sea Change by Beck, without a doubt. He is a rare, beautiful artist. A hero of mine.
  3. A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead. It’s actually quite hard to pick a Radiohead record.
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