Do Indian bands have what it takes to cut it in the international market? We should find out in May, when the works of four Indian bands are released in the UK on an album funded by the British Council. For much of October, renowned British producers John Leckie and Dan Austin were ensconced in Yash Raj Studios in Mumbai to record the project that will feature two songs each by electro-rock trio Medusa from Mumbai, multilingual folk rockers Swarathma from Bangalore, fusion rock octet Advaita from New Delhi and garage rock quartet Indigo Children (formerly known as the Superfuzz), also from the Capital. Leckie, whose production credits include such seminal records as The Stone Roses’ self-titled debut album and ‘The Bends’ by Radiohead, talks about the experience and what he thinks of Indian rock.
What differences have you observed between bands from India and those from the UK?
One thing I’ve found with Indian bands—I wouldn’t say all of these bands, but a lot of the bands I saw at the auditions—is that their actual playing ability is much better (than a lot of British bands). What probably lets them down is their style or their taste in music.
In the UK, we’re kind of looking for that, people who can really play, who can really sing. I think what happened in the UK with punk rock 30 years ago when the Sex Pistols came in, there was this attitude that you didn’t have to play, you could just get on stage with a guitar and make a noise and scream and shout. As long as your attitude and your clothes were good, you got through. That still holds up today.
Are Indian bands derivatives of their Western counterparts?
They are sort of derivatives of Western bands and it’s probably great for India but to break out on an international stage, to come to the UK and different countries, people are going to say, “Well, why are we listening to this when there are better or equal bands in our own country?” I felt that a lot of the bands I saw, if they played in Europe, people wouldn’t take much notice because they need to stick out.
The ones with sitar and tabla were a bit too jazz rock, I suppose—the fusion thing, which is like long jamming, extended solos. It’s funny because in the UK, it’s a little old-fashioned.
What made these four bands special?
It was a difficult decision because I think I auditioned about 32-34 bands. I suppose I chose Medusa because they were very natural. They weren’t trying to be something that they weren’t. I enjoyed their company and I felt that as soon as I met them, I could relate to them and they could relate to me. A lot of the other bands were a little precious or a little bit too ambitious.Medusa, I think, know their shortcomings. They are growing, they want to improve but they’ve got their own style.
Swarathma just made me happy when they played. It’s like a celebration really. The language thing doesn’t bother me. Any language, if you get the vibe of it, the feeling from the heart of it, that’s what people recognize. When I saw Swarathma in Bangalore, it was like a breath of fresh air. I wanted to see a whole concert of them, really.
I like Indigo Children because I like the guitar playing and the songs and because they rocked out. They were the only band I saw that let themselves go and raced ahead and made a racket. Advaita has a great blend of Western and Indian influences. The English vocals and harmonies are very cool and remind me of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Ujwal Nagar’s Hindi vocals are superb and give (an) interesting contrast. I also liked the use of electronics and sarangi and the drums and tabla, all providing a meeting of East and West.
How comfortable were the bands in the studio?
One of the things I try and do is record the band live, which means without a click, without a metronome. You’re always looking for magic. I often find that the more the people in the room playing together, the more chances you’ve got of capturing the magic. The bands aren’t always happy about it. Because I’m throwing all the responsibility on to them. It’s like, “Okay, play for me. Play your best gig.”
Search for “British Council Soundpad” on YouTube.com to watch excerpts from the recording sessions. Also visit myspace.com/hellomedusa, myspace.com/swarathmamusic, myspace.com/indigochildrenmusic and myspace.com/advaitamusic to hear the bands.