Tag Archives: jungle

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.

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The Top Five Albums of 2014

1 Jan

It’s that time of the year again. As 2014 winds to a close, we take a look back at some of the music that awed and enthralled us throughout the year. The year was filled with remarkable debut albums by musicians that came into the world as fully-formed artists – here, we must remark that four of our top five albums are debut albums. So, without further ado, here’s our Top Five Albums of 2014.

5. LP1 by FKA twigs

FKA Twigs - LP1

As we’ve previously said, LP1 is a complex, intelligent and greatly satisfying record. At 26 years of age, FKA twigs has created a mirrorfor the lust, love and fractures in the relationships of her generation.

Refreshingly, FKA twigs does not tell us about soppy, overly-poetic relationships, as described by many an indie band, or about hollow, unrealistic hook-ups, as described by most EDM artists. Instead, she describes genuine stories that strike far closer to home. On the hauntingly sparse “Hours”, she’s in awe of her new man: “I could kiss you for hours/And not miss a thing”. On “Lights On”, she hints at setting aside her vulnerability to let her lover see her uglier shades (“When I trust you, we can do it with the lights on”). And on album-highlight “Two Weeks”, she seethes with lust over a lost lover(“I know it hurts/You know I’d put you first/I can fuck you better than her”), helplessly displaying the self-degrading vulnerability that she cautiously revealed to him earlier.

LP1 is an emotive essay on the most intense moments of an exceptionally passionate relationship. It manages to rework the most common themes in pop and R&B – passion, heartbreak, blinding love – into truly original, soulful music.

Best track: “Two Weeks”

4. Sunbathing Animals by Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts - Sunbathing Animals

Earlier this year, we praised Brooklyn-based Parquet Courts’ album Sunbathing Animals, complete with a laudatory comparison to the Strokes’ Is This It?.

Parquet Courts’ forte is their ability to transcribe the intensity of a live show straight into your headphones. On “Black and White”, lead singer Andrew Savage articulates the very intensity of their music (“Nothing makes my heart so wild as being in possession of a potent night/Racing down the stairs in a nude descension shedding and discarding my hide”) with a gunfire-like flow worthy of his surname. Quieter moments, too, are transliterated as fluidly: the laid-back “Dear Ramona” and “Into the Garden” act as much-needed breathers between frenetic pieces like the eponymous “Ducking and Dodging”.

Overall, Parquet Courts strike us as a promising band with a few things to iron out, foremost of which is Andrew Savage’s penchant to sing-shout furious, unintelligible lyrics (see: “Sunbathing Animals”). On the whole, we are certainly looking forward to more from this young, talented band!

Best track: “Black and White”

3. Jungle by Jungle

Jungle - Jungle

The opening riff of “Busy Earnin’”, the third track from Jungle’s eponymous album, elicits an image of an American cop show from the 1970s, perhaps set in Brooklyn or Queens, maybe starring an African-American actor as one of the cops. In reality, Jungle couldn’t be farther from the truth. Originally started by two childhood friends from London, the band has now become a soul-infused collective of seven musicians that strives for something rare in this time and age: honesty.

Founding members Tom McFarland and Josh Lloyd-Watson have stated that Jungle is “a collective and collective energy”, a tribute to the collaborative, borderless nature of music. It’s entirely fitting that their music videos usually feature dancing, exuberant people of all ages and races, perfectly exemplifying the essence of their music. From start to finish, Jungle is a seamless album of great integrity and true earnestness.

Take “Julia”, an ode to falling heads-over-heels with the eponymous woman (“Julia I don’t know a thing about you/Soon enough you’ll be all I ever need”). The lyrics are not complex, and the theme of falling in love at first sight is not uncommon. Yet, somehow, Jungle’s sincerity shines through ‘70s-influenced syncopated beats. Jungle is all about this kind of beauty, enshrouded in simplicity and plainness.

Much like 2013’s matchless Random Access Memories, Jungle is the must-listen album of 2014: it fills the listener with awe and joy of music’s great, unifying power.

Best track: “Busy Earnin’”

2. No Mythologies to Follow by MØ

MO - No Mythologies to Follow

At Top Five Records, we’re huge MØ fans. Her early single, “Pilgrim”, featured on a must-listen list way back in October 2012, and her full-length debut album topped our mid-year round up of 2014 albums. Almost a year after we first heard it, Karen Marie Ørsted’s debut album continues to enthrall us with her particular brand of Danish-English hypnotic pop.

Using sparse background beats and layered vocals, MØ uses the album to showcase her soaring, impressive voice in a stunningly aesthetic manner. On “Dust is Gone”, she sings about heartbreak with tear-jerking melancholia. On “Maiden”, she croons with about unveiling her vulnerability, utilizing the outstanding fluidity in her voice to create the effect of a naïve young girl. On our old favorite “Pilgrim”, mesmerizing handclaps and a lean brass section give MØ all the space she needs to fill the song with her soulful voice.

MØ is a true artist: she’s not afraid of singing stripped-bare, acoustic versions of her songs on an equestrian field, nor does she seem to be concerned with her appearance as a selling point for her musical talents. If No Mythologies to Follow is what she could show us in just her debut, we are extremely eager to hear more from her.

Best track: “Fire Rides”

1. Royal Blood by Royal Blood

Royal Blood - Royal Blood

Here’s an experiment to try at home. Play Royal Blood’s “Little Monster” to someone who has not heard the band previously. The song opens with a ridiculously hard-hitting riff that jolts the listener directly into a moshpit-like craze. Wailing guitars fight for space with intimidating drums, and the bassline purrs and growls like a caged beast. Ask your listener who the artist is: many would hazard a guess at a White Stripes B-side or a Muse take-out, and some would perhaps guess at a heady Queens of the Stone Age track. Now, watch the amazement dawn on your friend’s face when you explain that the arena-sized sound on “Little Monster” is, in fact, created by two people – on their debut album, no less.

Such is the immense power of Royal Blood, who have rightly been hailed as the Arctic Monkeys’ successor in the arena of massively popular British rock bands. Consisting of childhood friends Ben Thatcher and Mike Kerr, the band has been known to wreak destructive chaos in British clubs, moving fans into almost a drugged frenzy.

“Little Monster” is not an exception on Royal Blood, which clocks in at just over half an hour. Every song on the album is a seething, lean monster of hard rock riffs and Mike Kerr’s Reznor-esque, angsty voice. Arrogance is distilled into song on album opener “Out of the Black”, featuring lyrics that hint at a manipulative, abusive relationship (“So don’t breathe when I talk/’Cause you haven’t been spoken to/I got a gun for a mouth and a bullet with your name on it”). That a song of this intensity can have such darkly poetic lyrics is just another intriguing, intoxicating element of Royal Blood’s vortex.

It’s impossible to just stop at “Little Monster” and “Out of the Black”. The sixteen-note opening riff on “Come On Over” coils and uncoils with a reckless abandon that matches the song’s lyrics (“Let’s run away, get out of here/ I got no money and I don’t care”). “Figure It Out” is a sick ode from one partner of a love-hate relationship to the other; Kerr’s vocals drip with derision and self-disgust until he breaks into a toxic-sludge riff that will send chills through your spine.

Clearly, we could go on. Here’s the bottom line: listen to Royal Blood. We guarantee that it will be, without question, the best 32 minutes and 38 seconds of your day.

Best track: “Little Monster”

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