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To get started, what would you say are the key things happening in today’s Rock and Metal community here in Mumbai?
Truthfully, what I’m noticing is that the number of more mainstream rock groups hasn’t grown too much. In fact, from a more traditional rock sense, bands like Blakc are about the only ones forging ahead and creating music in that vein. But speaking from an aspirational point of view, I’ve noticed that most of the newer bands coming into the heavy music circuit are more often than not gravitating towards being technical or grind core death metal, which is a very common music form, primarily from Scandinavia.
Anything specific to that point?
For instance, you take some of the bands I’ve worked with or am supporting right now from smaller places like Bhopal. These guys are very much drawn to the extreme side of metal. That being said, the thrash and groove metal you and I are more indulgent in, is, at least according to me, fading away from the scene in Mumbai and elsewhere. I don’t really find any new artists or groups wanting to write those epic and long musical composition with poetic lyrics with appropriate four beat drum patterns. Plus, the traditional desire to understand and incorporate tone, acoustic elements or even non-metal instruments is being shied away from. A lot of players aren’t too interested in exploring the many ways a song can develop and that’s something I’m working toward addressing through either my production duties and teaching sessions.
So essentially, death core is becoming the dominant force in the rock and metal category in Mumbai and the rest of India?
It seems that way. I mean, you try and tell me if you can recall any big names that sound anything near to what the sounds of the 1980’s and 1990’s were. Everyone today wants to play a seven string or 12 string guitar and create riff patterns that they think sound cool with very low tuning. Big choruses or clear vocal melodies that allow the audience to chant along with the band are slowly dissolving. Although, that is not to say that what kids today are listening to is bad or that they are any less talented or open to ideas. You have to remember that it’s 2016 and the young talent cropping up was born in the early to mid-1990’s, so they’ve have more exposure and familiarity with bands that have focused more or specific drum patterns and growling vocal lines in the 2000s. But a key thing I do warn any band I support or work with is not get caught up with finding a certain vibe. They need to know what ignites their passion and why they feel connected to certain established groups or influences.
What would you say are the key things newer bands need to keep in mind if they want to make it in the Indian heavy metal circuit?
I genuinely don’t know how a metal band can ‘make it’ in India. It’s all about being able to sustain yourself, be regular with gigs and releases, have a good social media presence and more importantly have a strong hold in the college circuit for that’s where all the grooming happens. It is essentially the main avenue for all the bands. Plus, it doesn’t matter if they like playing heavy metal or Sufi rock music. The bottom line, as I said, is being able to work the road and to practice as much a band can. It’s critical.
From a teaching point of view, are you noticing any changes with regard to the caliber of students and overall talent as compared to, say, five years ago?
Well, parents nowadays are equally enthusiastic and encourage their children to take up music. In addition, schools are also encouraging music as a subject. That’s a good start, I’d say. If the musical understanding begins at an early age then, yes, the standard of learning and grasping power is higher.
Initially I had only college students and people with jobs enrolling with me for guitar lessons. Now I have a bunch of school kids who play really well and are serious about their instrument. But, like I said earlier, my key focus is help them understand the importance of making their music connect with the audiences. You have to remember that forging a strong bond with your listener is crucial. That’s the way I understood music — by listening to bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Pantera, [Iron] Maiden, Metallica and Megadeth. The list is endless. Hence, teaching my students that point as well as the importance of how melody works, timing or well-crafted solos are things that are needed to form a signature sound.
Have new age tools like digital, social and mobile help promote artist music? How do you think newer bands can leverage themselves?
I’m sure they have helped. Not that we are giants online, but does make a slight difference. Social media is changing everything across the globe. So all I can say is, bands need to put out good music and videos as well as incorporate a viable social media strategy and just take that giant leap of faith.
Lately, it’s been noticed that many bands are trying to find newer ways of engaging with various audiences. What is the rationale behind having the music gigs at various corporate offices? Is it an avenue that newer bands should be exploring?
Yes, definitely. If the bands are really passionate and true to their own music, then this is just one of the methods. It’s all about reaching out to a newer audience who don’t spend too much time online exploring new releases or support the local scene.
Now, it’s important that we get to know the man behind the mighty axe. Could you share a few details about your background in music (academic background, bands played in, Zygnema)?
Wow, this could get long, but I’m going to keep it short. Nobody in my family plays music. I picked up the guitar when I was 19 years old. I was working as a sales representative at a Guitar store after college. I formed Zygnema and played a few college competitions. I applied at Musicians Institute in 2006. I studied there for a year and graduated in 2008. I came back to India and continued playing with Zygnema. We released two albums and have picked up a few awards for each of them. From a gig standpoint, Zygnema has played a couple of shows in Europe, Dubai, Nepal and Thailand.
That’s great. Speaking of things you’ve done, could you elaborate on what you’re doing with Guitar Garage Inc.?
Essentially, I formed Guitar Garage Inc. sometime in August 2015 and started traveling to smaller parts of India. I’ve conducted workshops in places like Bhopal, Indore, Ahmadabad and a few other spots. But the cherry on top is that I am currently working as an academic consultant and education counsellor for Trinity College London, Rock & Pop. So yes, the road ahead does look very exciting.