We finally got the man behind Skyharbor (SoundCloud link), some of the freshest-sounding metal I’ve heard in a long time, Keshav Dhar. He was nice enough to give TDSR an extremely varied and interesting interview, that’s turned out mercifully free of stupid puns on ‘djent’. It’s long, sure, but we’re sure that those who stick with it will gain some great insights! Also, the knowledge economy requires you to be able to assimilate large amounts of information anyway, but I digress. Here you go.
Keshav: Hey man.
El Bajista (TDSR): Hey. How’re you doing?
Keshav: Good man.
El Bajista (TDSR): Cool. Let’s get started. Tell us a little about your background, in a general sense. When did you first get into music? Why and when did you pick up the guitar?
Keshav: Well.. I’ve been playing music since i was about 6 years old – my parents got me started on piano lessons and I continued playing for about 10 years.Then, once I slowly started getting into rock and heavier music in general, I got more and more interested in the guitar. Plus once I joined college, it was in Manipal, which is a fairly remote student town in Karnataka. So, the only instrument I could carry realistically was the guitar…and I ended up sticking with it. I joined college in 2004, so you could say I made the shift to the guitar about a year before…. so 2003
El Bajista (TDSR): When you joined college, did you think you’d be doing music this intensively? (for info’s sake, what were you studying?)
Keshav: I was studying biomedical engineering. To answer your first question, no not at all.
Well….I was always interested in playing, considering I’ve been playing music ever since I can remember, but I never considered it as a full time career.
El Bajista (TDSR): Cool. Did you ever get to working after your degree, as an engineer?
Keshav: No, I was planning to do the MBA thing instead. So after college, I studied for a few months, gave the CAT exam etc. I scored pretty well in fact…I got a 97.4.
El Bajista (TDSR): !
Keshav: hahah. So while I was waiting for all the results to come through, the guys at Grey and Saurian had invited me to join them as they were setting up a company and generally doing a lot of cool initiatives that hadn’t been attempted in Delhi. And as it turned out, my CAT score wasn’t enough to get me a REALLY awesome school, so I decided I’d work with these guys, and study for another year and repeat the exam…I’d been dabbling in music production since my third year in college, since I really didn’t have anyone to jam my musical ideas with.
El Bajista (TDSR): (I have the same problem)
Keshav: So after a while I realized that I was actually better at music production than any engineering/MBA job. Hahaha
Oh really? Man, it sucks being in that position…I’m really fortunate to have an extremely supportive family
El Bajista (TDSR): We digress. But that leads me nicely to my next question. What were the projects that you did previous to Skyharbor [Facebook page link]?
Keshav: The only band I was actually a part of was Another Vertigo Rush [Link]. I played the odd gig here and there with bands as a fill in guitarist. Them Clones for example but the only band I was writing with was AVR. That was amazing.
El Bajista (TDSR): Cool. AVR were known for being pretty unique!
Keshav: Yeah man, it’s a real shame that we never really capitalized on that momentum. Members kept moving abroad and back, which generally got very disruptive and the whole flow was interrupted. So it’s on hiatus as of now. But that was a great period of writing because we came up with some really-really cool songs (which only the people who came to those 3-4 shows have ever heard). It was all-instrumental, with post rock vibes with tons of layers and epic melodies, which was a huge influence on my own writing as well.
El Bajista (TDSR): Speaking of momentum, Indian rock and metal seems to have been teetering on the brink of exploding for years, and yet no major artists (apart from a few such as yourself) have as yet emerged. Why is that?
Keshav: To be honest I think there’s no one specific reason for that. Its down to many factors. Firstly, there’s the power of the internet…and while it’s amazing to get yourself heard and gain traction, you also end up putting pressure on yourself because you generate expectations and a lot of times, that happens too soon, and it ends up compromising the honesty of the music that’s coming out…
That is just a recipe for disaster, ‘cause you’ll lose interest very fast if that happens.
El Bajista (TDSR): Yeah. I hate to say it, but some bands simply don’t have the talent and originality to back up on one or more ‘hit’ tracks. The net format seems to support a quick rise, followed by MySpace oblivion
Keshav: There you go. And it is not even about talent.
Bands suddenly generate all sorts of expectations without having written more than 1-2 songs…. And once those songs become popular, they spend all their subsequent time trying to recreate those same songs, instead of exploring their creative abilities to the maximum. It’s like… Ok, I’m getting recognized for having “this” sound, now I have to write everything to have this same signature sound or else I’ll go nowhere.
It’s amazing to get yourself heard [on the internet], but you end up under pressure because of expectations
El Bajista (TDSR): yeah. One of the things I’ve noticed is that famous musicians become famous not by anticipating what’s popular, but doing their own thing.
Keshav: Yeah, absolutely. The Deftones got a lot of flak earlier for being nu-metal, but they’re still killing it today and putting out legendary albums ‘cause they’re just doing their thing. They’re not trendhopping. The thing with the Internet is, it generates so much hype so fast, that often neither the artist nor the fans can keep up with the pace. Its is why I personally believe one should spend a lot of time on one’s music, get a large collection of material ready, before getting all excited about creating Facebook pages and MySpace accounts.
It’s very tempting to just put your songs out there, knowing that if you spam enough, someone or the other will click on it. Music first, everything else second…a distant second, in fact
El Bajista (TDSR): For our readers, Skyharbor is testament to this fact…home production, no promotion, and Marty Friedman!
Keshav: Hahahah. I can often hardly believe it myself, but there you go. Are you from Delhi, btw?
El Bajista (TDSR): Yeah.
Keshav: Ahh.. So you know about that period between 2005-2008 where young bands were killing it everywhere.. JF, Superfuzz etc
El Bajista (TDSR): Yeah. I was in Delhi University between 2005-06.
Keshav: Ahhh. Those bands never really gave a crap about whether they were doing the cool thing or not. Which is why they were so good at their thing.
El Bajista (TDSR): Zero were big, if I remember correctly, Prithvi were on the rise, Parikrama had come up with….one song. It was a good time.
Keshav: Hahah. Yeah.
El Bajista (TDSR): We all know about your Marty Friedman and Daniel Tompkins collaboration. How did you come into contact with them?
Keshav: Both of those were really random occurrences. Dan first contacted me almost exactly a year ago from now, over MySpace. At that time, the project was still very much an experimental thing, as I was focused mostly on AVR then. In fact (slight digression) I was actually planning to can the entire project at the time ‘cause I was generally not happy in life and hadn’t written anything in ages. But once I got that email, saying he wanted to sing over my stuff, it was the kick in the ass I needed. Hahah.
Of course, there are certain similarities between Skyharbor and Tesseract sonically, so it ended up working really well, and from one song we ended up working on 6 songs. He’s pretty much done the whole album apart from 3 songs which Sunneith has done.
El Bajista (TDSR): Ok. Now this is a good place to ask you. When is this much-awaited album coming out?
Keshav: Yeah, I know people are getting impatient and maybe some are losing interest waiting too…in all honesty, I don’t want to fix a release date until I have the final mastered album ready. The last time I did that, I presumed June and that epic failed. Plus, everyone’s waited so long already…another month or so won’t kill them. Also, I decided not to master the album myself, and Zorran Mendonsa will be doing it instead.
Zorran has actually been very instrumental in shaping the sound of this project. Trayus (my first ever song) was written with him in the room, guiding me on every aspect and making suggestions regarding riffs, layers, etc. In fact he’s written a LOT of the layer parts on that song. You could say he’s my mentor when it comes to songwriting and production, and although I can master it on my own, I think he can do a better job…I don’t believe in having a big ego over these things.
El Bajista (TDSR): Heh. One of the most remarkable things about Skyharbour’s music is the sheer number of different ideas you put in per unit time. There aren’t many (any?) repetitive parts that I can think of, off the top of my head. How do you manage to maintain the flow of the songs so well, and manage to keep things memorable, seeing that most musicians rely on repetitive structures to get the point across?
Keshav: You know, I believe that not enough people have experimented with writing on a computer. When you do that, it opens up tons more possibilities. For example, each riff in Aphasia is actually a combination of parts from maybe 15 totally different riffs, which I had lying around on the computer.
El Bajista (TDSR): ! (You heard that first at ThatDoesntSoundRight)
Keshav: Haha, yeah. I just chopped them up, took the parts I really liked, experimented with arranging them in different ways, till I found something I liked. Then came the tough part. I learned the riffs in their new form (which is usually very difficult, as it’s parts of different riffs stuck together)…and then re-recorded everything.
Each riff in Aphasia is a combination of parts from maybe 15 different riffs
El Bajista (TDSR): Hahaha. What a workout.
Keshav: You know, when you write riffs while you’re just jamming over say a programmed drum track or with your drummer…you’re always reaching into your regular bag of tricks, relying on your techniques, etc. Basically staying within your comfort zone. I found that the above approach to building riffs really helped me break out of that comfort zone.
El Bajista (TDSR): Cool. Your guitar playing seems to be more rhythm oriented than lead. Was there a particular point where you decided, or acknowledged, to yourself that your strength/focus would be hammering rhythms? Or are we going to be pleasantly surprised with a Steve Vai-ish release sometime in the future? ☺
Keshav: hahahahaha. I suppose most of the music I listen to is very strongly based around big groovy rhythms and ambient soundscapes…so naturally what I end up putting out also sounds like that, because that’s what I’m hearing in my head. I’m not the best lead player around…although I would like to get serious about learning some lead techniques to incorporate into future material maybe.
El Bajista (TDSR): mmm. Speaking of changing styles, do you have any plans or ideas laid out for music that’s not as heavy? Poppier, perhaps?
Keshav: Well, most of the stuff I’ve been writing recently is definitely not as aggressive as what you’ve heard already. It’s the main reason I wanted as much clean vocals as possible….I wouldn’t it’s say poppy, the stuff is proggier perhaps, with not-so-straightforward melodies, strange chord progressions etc… It’s all very experimental. One of those songs will go on the first album itself, called Aurora
El Bajista (TDSR): …setting the stage for further explorations, presumably.
Keshav: Exploration is where it’s at
El Bajista (TDSR): Sir ji, that goes in as the quotable quote of the interview.
Keshav: Haha, sweet!
El Bajista (TDSR): You’ve expressed, in other interviews, some opposition to being labeled exclusively Djent. Is it simply that as an artist, labeling is corsetry to you, or is it because you have an opposition to the term?
Keshav: I generally dislike labels that invoke images of a very specific type of sound, and Djent is the worst of the lot. It actually meant something completely different, but after Periphery and Tesseract became huge, people began calling it a genre
El Bajista (TDSR): Electronica people wouldn’t like to be labelled ‘bippity-bop’.
Keshav: Yeah, exactly. Haha. For an artist, it can get frustrating, because say someone doesn’t like Periphery, chances are they won’t like Skyharbor after seeing that both fall under the “djent” label, despite the music being (IMO) very different.
Exploration is where it’s at
El Bajista (TDSR): mm. Speaking of different music, What about things that fans of yours will be surprised you listen and learn from? Any Lady Gaga type guilty pleasures on the side ?
Keshav: Haha, I don’t think so really. I listen to a lot of chillout electronica, but nothing that people would go WTF at.:P I absolutely love Telefon Tel Aviv, Younger Brother, Bluetech, Entheogenic, Carbon Based Lifeforms, Amon Tobin, Boards of Canada…there’s so much awesome chillout music.
El Bajista (TDSR): Ok. This next one I’ve wanted to ask of someone. Is there any value in exploring the melding of Indian vernacular languages with very heavy music? There have been rock bands doing it, most notably Avial, but super heavy metal?
Keshav: Sure, you have all these bands from Bengal/Bangladesh who make extreme music in their own languages. Thing is, one shouldn’t do it just for the sake of it….
‘Cause if it isn’t honest, and it’s being done just to cater to a different audience, chances are the product will probably suck. But if you have the guts and really can express yourself that way, more power to you
El Bajista (TDSR): Even in rock, I kind of resent Bollywood appropriating an image culled from the west, rather than making something rock and Indian and then simply tacking on some Hindi lyrics. It’s the sound of middle-aged men reliving their youth rather than the youth expressing something with honesty.
Keshav: But then, Bollywood has always just been about making what sells, at least when it comes to the rock thing. Some of the good films which have awesome fusion music in Hindi or whatever language, sounds really-really good. But, I think it’s just good to let things develop on their own.
El Bajista (TDSR): Ok, though music is your biggest focus in life, are there any other fields that you would like to explore in the future? Writing? Science? That sort of thing….
Keshav: Hmmm, interesting, I would definitely want to try doing travel journalism, if I weren’t so serious about this, ‘cause I sadly don’t get much time to travel now…
El Bajista (TDSR): It’d be great.
Anyway man, its be an absolute pleasure talking with you.
Keshav: Likewise man. Thanks a lot for having me!
El Bajista (TDSR): Yeah. Absolutely. Any last words? About promoting your stuff and future projects and all that?
Keshav: Well, I’d like to thank everyone who’s checked out the music and liked it, I apologize for the delay in the release but I can assure you that it’ll be worth the wait and then some. It’s really turning out to be a great album and I’m very proud of it, and I hope you guys will enjoy it too.
Also check out Marty Friedman’s new solo album which releases in a couple of weeks…I’ve played rhythm guitar and done arrangements on a lot of the songs!
El Bajista (TDSR): Great! Watch out people. Watch this space.
More INTERVIEWS HERE.