Putting the ‘Pop’ in pop music
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A lovesick poet posting letters to his sweetheart, a curmudgeonly waiter dreaming of music, all against the backdrop of a vintage palace hotel—if it sounds like the premise of a Wes Anderson film, you’re close. The video for I love you baby, I love you doll by pop act Parekh & Singh has been a major talking point recently on the indie music circuit for its Anderson-esque imagery, and more for its distinctive visual identity, something few Indian bands have striven for in the past.
Parekh & Singh began life simply as singer-songwriter Nischay Parekh’s solo act. Kolkata-based percussionist Jivraj ‘Jiver’ Singh, also the drummer for experimental indie outfit Pinknoise, collaborated on Ocean, Parekh’s 2013 debut album, before they relaunched themselves as a collective. The preppy pop of Ocean grabbed the ears of UK-based independent record label Peacefrog Records, who offered the duo a chance to re-release the album internationally under their new moniker. “We actually had a whole other album recorded and ready for release, and we pitched this to Peacefrog, because we assumed they’d want to sign us on the basis of our latest work, but they liked that enough to go back and listen to the first record,” says Parekh. Ocean launched internationally on 28 October.
At a time when most record labels are choosing to distance themselves from their artists, functioning more as a distribution arm for albums, Peacefrog took an active interest in Parekh & Singh, getting involved in the band’s sound and imagery. “They wanted us to have a very strong visual language, something that will really be our own and something that people can instantly identify us with.” That imagery was already taking shape in the photos the duo shot of themselves, in matching pastel suits in whimsical settings. Parekh roped in Misha Ghose who’d directed the equally whimsical and surreal video for Your Chin’s Who would have thought, to build on that foundation. “They shared their photo shoot with me before we began planning the video, so we knew exactly where to take it—how the boys should be dressed, where they should stand. It was meticulously planned,” says Ghose.
Parekh surveyed Kolkata extensively for the ideal location to fit the mood and tone of their music. He found it in a rajbari, an ageing royal home about 60km outside of Kolkata that belonged to a friend. Phul Bagh in Mahishadal, Haldia, is currently a museum open to the public, filled with disused weapons, moulding furniture and stuffed tigers and crocodiles. “It’s really old and falling apart, and we wanted to shoot in it before it does actually fall apart,” says Parekh. The result is a cross between The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom, in a world where life is simple, heartache is pretty and eccentricity is mandatory, a perfect foil to the duo’s dreamy, hook-laden pop. The video created buzz enough that it reached Wes Anderson, who enthusiastically texted a crew member about his love for the video and the duo’s suits. But Parekh plays down the Anderson angle. “I think people like to perceive things in familiar ways. We spoke about Wes Anderson but it wasn’t our only reference; there was Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, so many other directors we loved.”
This is a world that Parekh & Singh want to explore in future videos, but they’re wary of overplaying their distinctive style. “For this first album, we want to stick to elements like suits and symmetry, so you will see that in another video, but we also don’t want to be a one-trick pony and do the same thing every time, so we’re also working on a couple of others—one is an animated short and another, which is more DIY and spontaneous.” There’s also another album ready for release. “It’s finished and polished and waiting to see the light, but it’s a good place to be. By the time the second album comes out, we’ll probably have four ready” says Parekh.