As they keep searching      

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                                                                                                                             Source: mensxp.com

Many wannabe musicians feel that following music full-time in this country does not pay off financially. And this insecurity tends to make many abandon their dreams and passions. This wasn’t the case for Uddipan Sarmah, the lead singer and guitarist for Ahmedabad’s Hindi-post rock and ambient outfit aswekeepsearching. The band has received critical acclamation since the release of their debut album Khwaab in October 2015 and has played in shows headlined by the likes of Tides From Nebula and Steven Wilson. The band is back with their latest 11-track offering ZIA, which was released in May. Since the band’s formation in 2013, they have come a long way. From playing in shows without any payment to signing off a deal with a music label from Russia, the journey has been tough but rewarding at the same time.

Shubham Gurung (Guitarist/Keyboardist) and Sarmah came up with the idea of the project when the latter was doing his engineering graduation from Dayanand Sagar College, Bangalore. “I have known him for the past ten years. We have been making different music whenever we used to catch up. I was in Bangalore, doing my graduation and he used to be home in Ahmedabad so whenever I had semester breaks, we used to sit and write music,” says Sarmah. After his graduation with an electrical engineering degree, Sarmah worked as an application engineer for a year and a half before taking quite a risky step and quitting his job in 2013. “I had two years of experience and a degree and even if I had to lose two more years doing music, it wouldn’t have hampered me and so I decided to pursue music full-time”, he says. Coming back to Ahmedabad, Sarmah decided to open up BlueTree Studios, his own personal recording space which proved to be a major asset for the band’s activities. “I started producing other artists, mostly local artists from Ahmedabad. And since we had our own space, a lot of things got easier for us, for example, to record or maybe sit in a studio and write scratches,” he says. Sarmah approached a mostly DIY process when it came to the technicalities of the recording process by consulting YouTube videos and experimenting on his own personal projects including the band’s first EP released in the year 2014 titled Growing Suspicions.

“After the studio was up, I and Shubham decided that it was time to take things forward professionally. Thus, we wrote some scratches from our side but we were short of a bassist and a drummer. That is when we met Tushar and Ashwin Naidu who filled up for the duties respectively,” he says. The release of the EP generally got them a positive reception and the next step in Sarmah’s mind was taking it live. But things weren’t so easy for them. “We jammed but we didn’t get any shows for around 7 to 8 months. And we were from Ahmedabad which didn’t have a scene and until and unless you come out of the city and play in other cities, nobody notices your work. And I believe at that point of time, there were a lot of other bands who were doing really great and for a new band to reach out to a larger audience was really difficult,” Sarmah recalls.

Tushar and Naidu decided to leave the band in late 2014 for their musical pursuits. Current drummer Gautam Deb and bassist Bob Alex came into the picture after a few moments of discussion and jamming sessions proved them able for the job. Sarmah goes on to talk about the genre they are associated with, something which is quite underground in the country. “We never considered writing post-rock music. It was more of like our whole influences put together into a song and when it was released people started categorising it into post rock. We were influenced by that genre and bands like God Is An Astronaut for instance and that is evident, but our music has elements of electronica, rock and metal and I think that makes us much more than a post-rock band,” he remarks. What set the band apart are their Hindi vocals and Sarmah believes that this was something which made them interesting and the audience felt that this was different within the scene as there wasn’t such an amalgamation between Hindi and western influences. The quartet might be the only Hindi post-rock band on the planet.

Sarmah was able to sign up a record deal with Flowers Blossom In The Space from Russia who was seemingly impressed by the music that they were making and this led to preparations for their first debut Khwaab. “Every band’s first album is always something which is special. We ended up getting some really genuine fans who came out to see us live and then talked about how good the experience was. We are a performance based band and live shows mean a lot to us,” Sarmah says. The five city tour in Russia during October 2016 was a turning point in their career and even provided inspiration for a song titled There You Are in ZIA. “It is old now and we have talked enough about that tour. Let’s just say it was a fun experience,” says Sarmah.

ZIA chronicles the various adventures and feelings the band members felt while travelling and touring after Khwaab’s success. “This time we sat down and discussed our experiences and decided to write songs based on them. What we felt collectively was really deep and so it was easy for me to write the lyrics for the album. Khwaab was more of a random album while this isn’t,” Sarmah says. The production took one and a half years with delays mostly due to touring. Sarmah and Gurung travelled to a small village named Kalga in Himachal Pradesh for a week which inspired the song Kalga. “Going there was more of a personal choice because we thought that we were at that moment of time when we were lacking some creativity and wanted to take a break from constant gigs and travelling. Even then we definitely had that whole thing on our head of writing music there. We took a few instruments with us so that we could program and write scratches,” he says. ZIA features three guest musicians namely Sambit Chatterjee from Ganesh Talkies, Ajay Jayanthi from Anand Bhaskar Collective and Rishabh Seen from Delhi-based prog band Mute The Saint. On taking this step, Sarmah says “The moment we were done with the songwriting and recording, we felt like in some songs we had some space for some tabla, strings and sitar. So, we sent it to the artists and they really liked it and the moment they sent us the scratches, we liked it in the first go itself”

Being featured on UK’s prestigious PROG Magazine and Metal Hammer has been earning them quite an international presence. Many blogs have reviewed their new album and the reception has been positive. When asked about the band’s future prospects, Sarmah makes it really clear, “Now we are only focusing on the gigs ahead of us. We are doing a 14-city India Tour starting from September 5th. We will also be playing live in the NH7 Weekender in both Pune and Shillong. So now, all we want is to go onstage and just play the music. Once we are done playing ZIA in different venues, we will plan for the future.”

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Firing on all five ‘Piston’s

I had heard of this thrash metal band called Piston for quite some time now. The first time I came across the name was on a Facebook post by a friend who had watched them live and was writing about how ‘tight’ their performance was. And when I saw that they were going to perform at VR Mall on the 24th, I was all the more intrigued, mostly because of the venue. I called my sister up asking if she was interested but she sounded disgusted when I sounded thrash metal. “Not my scene bro” was all she said.

After a gruesome and traffucked two-hour drive with two uncles in an Uber, I reached Phoenix Marketcity. The courtyard is the place where all performances generally happen and I jogged my way to the venue only to find a reggae concert in action. People were cheering from their seats amidst the banging of djembes and other types of drums. The singer was telling the crowd to put their hands up. I looked around for help from someone to guide me at the right direction; mostly I was looking for someone wearing a metal t-shirt like me. I decided to go to VR Mall, which is right beside Phoenix Marketcity, maybe the show was happening inside the mall. It was already 7.30, the show was supposed to start from 7. I asked one of the security guards if a show was happening somewhere and he pointed towards the left. I followed his finger and saw a small platform that had been erected and some twenty clueless people lingering around. Some kind of a live EDM track was playing from the speakers, which was bizarre. The four people on stage were all clad in black, three of them having a guitar and one of them with glorious, curly long hair. Something I could only wish for.

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Unlike most heavy metal concerts, nobody stood near the stage

Across the mixing table, I saw four guys wearing metal tees, looking all pumped up while the rest of the crowd murmured and continued to linger around. The weather was windy and chilly, after the rain. Someone from the mixing table started speaking on the mic. Took me a while to figure out where the sound was coming from. Salman U. Syed, the boss of Bangalore Open Air welcomed the gathering and talked about the ‘promotion’ that they were doing for the fest, by organising this show. The drummer of the band spoke next, introducing themselves and pointing out that this was the first time a metal band in Bangalore was playing in a mall. They played the first song and surprisingly, it was the drummer who was singing and not the guy with the long hair, who I presumed was the singer. Whoa moment, indeed. I know Rakshith on Facebook, because I went to ask for drum lessons from him a long time ago. That didn’t work out. The sound was achingly loud and distorted but that is what you get from an open air venue like this. Towards the end of their second song, Rakshith said that their singer was sick and couldn’t make it so he was taking up vocal duties for the day.

I was more interested to look at the crowd. Most of them had no idea what was going on. There were a few uncles and auntys who were making faces while Piston was covering Slayer. Five hands went up when the band announced if the crowd knew who Slayer was. Only those five hands clapped after the second song. “It’s very odd for us to play here. We usually play in places where people are drunk as f**k. I see a few people who look my parents and that is so weird because they have never approved this kind of music” Same story everywhere, I tell you.

The quintet went on to play a few more songs and covers while the crowd slowly got the hang of their “no core, no fiction and only 80s thrash metal inspired by real life events” music. Rakshith kept alive the profanity and made the crowd realise that the music is a bit difficult to take in and also pointing out facts like God indeed is dead. Their rendition of Slayer’s Disciple proved the statement for them. For a moment, I was worried if this venue was appropriate for such subtle blasphemy but luckily there wasn’t any divine intervention. I, for one, was happy that this music was being introduced to an oblivious population. I heard a few girls admiring the rhythm guitarist’s long hair, an aunty telling her husband “aise gaane sunta kaun hai bhai?” (Who listens to music like this?) and a father coaxing her five year old daughter to dance to it while he tried to click a few pictures of her. The drummer was the only person who did all of the talking on behalf of the band and apart from giving reality checks like of how the world is a living misery, he did a pretty good job on the drums. Personally, I was left with a constant ringing in my ears after the show was over, mostly because I was standing too close to the speakers and guitars were too distorted. All in all, it was a good show, the first of its kind. People were affected by it, in both ways. And yes, metal is pretty much alive in this city.