Tag Archives: mumbai

Fresh New Voice: An Interview with Navya Sharma

22 Apr

Navya Sharma is a Bombay-based musician who’s all set to take the indie music scene by storm. His indie-folk style and his percussive guitar work give him a distinctive and unmistakeably fresh sound that has kept us hooked. Not to mention his lyrical prowess, a skill he’s honed over years of listening, writing and performing. 

See for yourself, with his track “New Routine”, in which Navya’s penchant for rhythm is clear. His excellent lyrical work (“I was just guessing when you left me with this doubt / Holding the stars for you in case you let me out”) has a sort of wistful beauty to it that only adds to the replay value that this track has.

We caught up with Navya earlier this week for a quick conversation about his musical style, influences and upcoming plans!

Top Five Records: We’d love to get to know your story! To begin with, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Navya Sharma: I’m 25, I write songs and I’m currently based out of Bombay. 

TFR: 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?

NS: This is a question I love answering. I have this very specific memory of being around ten years old and holding in my hands the vinyl record, Walk Don’t Run by The Ventures from 1964. My dad had this big collection of vinyls and I remember him putting The Ventures on one night when he got home from work. That was the first time I’d heard the tone of a beefy heavy-duty American Fender through some powerful tube amplifiers. Vinyls were these very physical objects too, almost as if you could touch the music. I remember picking up a toy cricket bat and riffing crazy pretend-guitar to the song as my mum looked on laughing. My dad had successfully introduced me to rock ‘n roll.

TFR: We at TFR hear a touch of retro and a bit of Bob Dylan in your tunes! What would you say are your biggest musical influences? Not just other musicians; what’s influenced you as a musician?

NS: That’s a very accurate guess, maybe I ought to work on making it a little less obvious.

I’ve always been keen on the expression aspect of a song; the story it tells. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Damien Rice would probably be the Holy Trinity for me. John Prine, Mark Knopfler, Tom Waits, Mick Flannery would be some others. I learnt to believe that my contribution to music would strictly be songwriting as a medium for honest expression. How my songs resonate with people is none of my business. 

I learnt to believe that my contribution to music would strictly be songwriting as a medium for honest expression.

TFR: We can’t stop listening to your debut single, “Freedom Town”! The upbeat tune and the slightly darker subject matter create an interesting juxtaposition that has us intrigued. Can you tell us more about this track? What’s the story behind it, and what was the songwriting process like for you?

NS: I’m still half-trying to figure out where that song came out of, which is probably why I’m so proud of my work on Freedom Town, haha! I think it’s mostly about feeling a certain disconnect. The three verses talk about three different characters: a young person fighting vanity and feeling like a fake, another guy fantasizing about shooting up a movie theater and Juliet, the cut away lover. All of these characters concur on that mutual feeling of disconnect: how mainstream music on the radio doesn’t make sense to them and how they fail to relate with their friends’ conversations. At the end of the day, they just find themselves restless thinking love can save them. Or something like that, heck if I know.

Oh and shout out to Rounak Chawla for playing the best solo I could have asked for on the track too.

TFR: What’s on the horizon for you? Any new music coming out? Perhaps a debut album soon? Or something else entirely?

NS: An EP soon! I’ve been writing so much we just have to pick the songs that sound minimally shitty and put the record out. We were just testing the waters with this release and now I can’t hardly wait to be honest.

Thanks, Navya! And now, let’s get a few quick answers out of you with our Rapid-Fire Round. Ready?

TFR: What are your Top Five Desert Island Records?  (i.e., five albums that you would be fine listening to, without access to any other music, for the rest of your life?)

NS: Golden Heart by Mark Knopfler; Use Your Illusion I & II, Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan; O by Damien Rice

TFR: What about recent times? What albums or songs have been on repeat for you lately?

NS: Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent by Lewis Capaldi! Such refreshing honesty in Pop music

TFR: What’s been your favourite gig so far (and why)?

NS: Been a few. I’ve lately enjoyed solo intimate sets a little more than getting the boys and bringing a whole band behind me. (Which is awesome fun too, don’t get me wrong.) Getting a bunch of strangers to enjoy mostly fresh stuff on the first listen is a neat challenge and I love it.

TFR: Your dream collab? (Indian or International)

NS: Can we bring back Janis Joplin from the dead if we’re dreaming anyway?

TFR: Haha, nice one. And an Indian artist you’re really digging right now?

NS: Karshni Nair and Meera Desai.

You can find Navya’s music on Spotify, Soundcloud, YouTube and pretty much wherever else you get your music.

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.

Taking a Ride with Ladies Compartment: An Interview

15 Jan
Image by Blankfound Creative

Ladies Compartment is a Mumbai four-piece comprising of Ramya Pothuri (acoustic & vocals), Aarifah Rebello (drums & vocals), Aditi Ramesh (keys & vocals) and Nandita V (bass & vocals).

The band’s sound is a refreshing mix of jazz, soul and blues, with the occasional, intriguing addition of Carnatic classical music. Beyond their sonic palette, the band’s mastery of vocal harmonization really sets them apart. For a taste, have a look at their version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird”. A lone guitar forms a tentpole for the ladies’ four perfectly harmonized vocals in a haunting, stripped-down rendition: a truly unique cover of a timeless classic.

Video by Ladies Compartment via YouTube

If you’re just getting to know the band, let us assure you that these women are not newbies to the scene. Aditi and Ramya are singer-songwriters with a debut EP each; Aarifah, a singer-songwriter in her own right, drums for several other acts, and Nandita is an up-and-coming bassist in the indie music industry. The strength of their individual musical talent creates an easy-going camaraderie that’s highly listenable – and repeatable, too.

We sat down with the ladies earlier this week for a quick chat about their influences, experiences, and plans for the coming year. Read on:

Top Five Records: There’s a great mix of genres in your music – soul, funk, and glimpses of many others, too. What are your key musical influences as a band and as individuals?

Ladies Compartment: Individually, we are four musicians with very different tastes and styles, and we bring our individual influences together to create the sound of Ladies Compartment. If one were to consolidate all of our interests and influences, the list would include Soul, R&B, Funk, Folk, Indian Classical, Jazz, Alternative Rock, Dream Pop, Progressive Rock, Western Classical and Blues music. But these are just influences – we don’t like to label our music because we find this limiting, and one can always go beyond these labels and boundaries when creating music.

TFR: Some of your tunes are well-harmonized ditties while others are much more jazzy and freeform. Give us a little detail into your songwriting process. How do you go about it?

LC: There is no one process we follow. With our earlier songs, Aditi would come up with chords and a rough melody. The band would add instrumentation together, while Ramya and Aditi worked on lyrics and Aarifah and Nandita sealed the piece with smooth transitions and rhythmic patterns. With one of our newer songs, Nandita wrote the lyrics, melody, bassline and backing vocal parts, and the band fleshed it out by adding instruments and modifying the chord structures in certain bits. In our newest song, Aarifah created a rhythmic pattern which the whole band then sat together in one space. Each of us have written our own verse over the same music and you can see how different we are as individuals by the varied ways in which we all have interpreted the music. There is no one process we follow, and we are continuously experimenting with different methods.

TFR: What has been your experience so far as an all-female project in the Indian indie music industry?

LC: We have been well-received and supported by multiple platforms and performance spaces. We have pushed forward by focusing on our music, but the truth remains that people love to overuse and push the ‘all-female’ aspect for branding and this sometimes shifts focus away from the music. We’re trying to move away from this type of branding.

TFR: With the indie scene still being at a somewhat nascent stage, what changes would you like to see for artists to really succeed and cross over into larger audiences?

LC: Monetary returns for artists in the indie scene need to go up. There needs to be more respect for artists, and the careers of artists need to be more sustainable for artists to grow and reach larger audiences. There is an attitude with many venues that if they can get the same act for a lower cost they’ll take the opportunity and pay them less. As a result, many artists are scrambling for survival, and this often stunts their artistic development and ability to reach more people.

TFR: You are hot off a performance at Weekender’s Pune edition this year. How was that experience?

LC: We had a lovely, supportive audience and it was the first time we performed on such a large stage.

TFR: What’s on the radar for Ladies Compartment in 2019?

LC: We are finally going to be recording our original music and releasing it this year. We are also in the process of writing more songs and arranging new covers, so you can expect new material at our live performances this year as well!

TFR: If you had to recommend one or two songs of yours for our first-time listeners, what would they be?

LC: “General Specific” and “Don’t Waste Your Time”.

Ladies Compartment performing “Don’t Waste Your Time” on the talk-show Son of Abish

TFR: Thank you, ladies. Before we wrap up, let’s do a short quick-fire round!

TFR: What would be your dream collaboration (any artist, alive or not)?

LC: Jorja Smith.

TFR: What’s a tune or album that’s been on constant rotation?

LC: “If I Get High” by Nothing But Thieves.

TFR: What’s been your favorite gig so far?

LC: When we were told that our gig at a prominent venue in Bangalore was cancelled upon reaching the venue and we put together a house gig instead, within an hour, with the help of our friends from Bangalore Recording Company and LVNG!

TFR: Who’s an Indian musician / band that you really admire?

LC: Sandunes.

Check out Ladies Compartment’s music on Facebook, Youtube and Soundcloud.

Sky Rabbit: “Anti-Coke Ganpati”

11 Jul

The name of the song is ‘Anti-Coke Ganpati’? Are they a rare species of anti-drug musicians? Or are they just being ironic?’  

Searching for good Indian rock music usually involves sifting through piles of amateurish metal drivel and wannabe alternative/indie bands still searching for their own sound to reach those isolated pockets of unique, memorable music.  However, when one comes across a band like Sky Rabbit, the tiresome search sometimes seems worth it.

Formerly known as Medusa, this electronic post-punk band from Mumbai consists of Raxit (Vocals/Samples), Rahul (Guitar/Samples), Siddharth (Bass) and Harsh (Drums). Fusing electronica with conventional instruments, the band claims to have stumbled upon a unique style and sound. What is remarkable, however, is the way they have perfected this style in their very first album (Sky Rabbit, January 2012). We feel that there are only a few bands in India that manage to sound as spontaneous and self-assured right from their debut.

One thing we quite liked about this song was the intriguing title: most ‘rockers’ would never use the word ‘anti’ in the same sentence as a drug name (much less utter it in the same breath). We’ve determined that the title is either pedantic or, of course, ironic.

So we like the song. Should you listen to it? Let’s break it down.

Pros:

The ambience. The song kicks off with a sampled loop of pleasant, airy electronic, but by the time the drums and vocals kick in a couple of bars later, the song has settled into a soothing, rather lazy groove. Raxit’s deadpan baritone perfectly complements the sampled music and the steady rhythm guitar to set a drowsy, rather heady tone. The bass playing is minimalistic yet tasteful, and the drumming is tight. It is perhaps slightly ironic that a song with an anti-drug stance in its title creates a mood akin to what a stoner would feel after a particularly long session.

The loops. The song follows a slightly unusual chorus-verse-chorus pattern, with an interesting interlude. A few other sequenced samples are layered on top from time to time. My personal favourite is the last sampled loop in the song. As the instruments fade out, sequenced sounds which conjure up images of a Nintendo 8-bit game involving spaceships, play out till the end.

Cons:

Words. The lyrics are slightly puzzling, though. Riddance of blasphemy, idealistic presidential candidates, and the power-hunger of the same idealistic candidates all make an appearance. At one point, the band seems to be taking a dig at our current President (maybe). For a lot of the song, it’s unclear whether the band is going for something lyrically profound, or nonsensical filler words. The title, albeit intriguing, is gibberish as well: does it represent a demi-god figure with an anti-drug stance, or is it, along with a few other words in the interlude, a part of the musings of a stoned rambler? We’ll never know.

The musicianship. In that, no outstanding example of it is displayed in this song, and for that matter, on this album. There are no remarkable instrumental solos or mind-blowing vocals, and it will be interesting to see how the band fares when the novelty of their music fades.

Verdict:

For the moment, Sky Rabbit seems to have hit a purple patch with a unique and refreshingly original style and sound. The trippy ‘March’ and the brilliant ‘I Become I’ are other tracks worth checking out on the album. Even though there is no amazing technical ability on display, the band has a distinctive and impressive style and sound, which they’ll hopefully hold on to in the coming years, while continuing to grow and evolve.

Sky Rabbit plays TOMORROW at Delhi’s Hard Rock Cafe. You should check them out if you’re in the vicinity.

– Soumyadipto

Spud in the Box: “54”

27 Jun

“54”, a song from fresh new Bombay band Spud in the Box, is the musical version of a double-take. The song starts off ridiculously upbeat: a sparkly, summery ditty of a man with a fondness for pretty legs and juicy kiwi (albeit mysteriously with a shrink in the picture). By the time the chorus kicks in, still California-sunny, the lyrics veer into hypothetical stalking, seemingly in an obsessive, puppy-love vein of things. Alright. Quirky, but not abnormal.
But pretty soon after that, things veer sharply left of centre. Hypothetical stalking turns into imagined, deranged conversations with Dr. Phil. Then the story pans out to include a mental asylum, a car trunk stuffed with his crush’s boyfriend and – you guessed it – a serial killer’s knife in hand. You have to listen to the final lines of the song to understand what the ’54’ here signifies, although you might guess it. Either way, the contrast of the overt morbidity in the song and the outrageously sunny music (How sunny? It could work as the background for a Go Goa TV ad. Seriously.) is really something to look out for.
Mind you, this entire panorama of morbidity happens as a mere backdrop to the caefree, sunshine music. Imagine Cake singing about serial killers. Or Jason Mraz providing the soundtrack to Silence of the Lambs.
Spud in the Box recently signed on to The Random Dream Project, a brand-new record label (launched May 31st, 2012) that hopes to be a one-stop shop for India’s best indie talent. If all artists are as good as Spud in the Box prove to be on this track, we’re very excited indeed to see that this label puts out.
Verdict: As you can see, we’ve got nothing but good things to say about this track. Listen, listen, listen! We love this folk-rock band.

– Neeharika

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