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Artists To Watch Out For: Black Letters

Here is the second installment of our favorite young bands right now

Megha Mahindru Dec 12, 2013
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Black Letters

(l-r) Drummer Akash Chacko, guitarist and vocalist Sharath Iyer, guitarist Sarang Menon and bassist Arjun Radhakrishnan of Black Letters from Kochi Photo: Francis Kurien

In January, Mumbai bands Spud In The Box and BLEKThe Uncertainty Principle from Delhi, Street Stories from Shillong and Ganesh Talkies from Kolkata made it into our first list of Artists To Watch Out For. Through the year, Kolkata turned up on our radar for producing new talent, getting a new series of gigs, because gifted producer Miti Adhikari was back in the city working with bands such as Gandu Circus and also since established artists such as Cactus and Fossils released new material. Kolkata was no longer a sleepy little town on our gig calendars. It’s no surprise then that Kolkata pop rocker Nischay Parekh made it to this list. We first heard Parekh in Bengaluru last year when we’d just begun compiling this list. The Dirty Strikes from Imphal were also a band we caught last year at the first edition of Ziro Festival Of Music. Sandunes from Mumbai, The F16s from Chennai and The Black Letters were 2013 finds who made it into our second cut of Artists To Watch Out For. 

Who: Kochi alt rockers Black Letters are most likely to be a Bengaluru band next year. The band includes four Malayali musicians— Akash Chacko on drums, Sarang Menon on guitar, Arjun Radhakrishnan on bass and Sharath Iyer on guitar and vocals. While Menon is the only band member based in Kerala, things are likely to change as the scattered lot decides to call Bengaluru home. Says frontman Iyer, “I’ve recently quit my job in Chennai, so I’ll be moving to Bengaluru to join our drummer. Sarang too plans to move there soon, so that will leave just our bassist in Chennai.” Despite the geographical divide, the members who juggle studies and work with music, have managed to follow a strict schedule, getting together at least twice a month to rehearse.  

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Sound: Initially formed in 2007 as a metal band, the quartet of schoolmates transformed into an alt rock band in  2010. After a few lineup changes, the band members finally chose to stick to the name Black Letters. “We were more inclined to melodic stuff, even when we were a metal band. One of the first songs that marked a change of sound from our metal tracks was ‘Shapes On The Wall.’ It’s a soulful, spacey track and the one reason that convinced us to move on from metal,” says Iyer, who lists U2, Franz Ferdinand, Band of Horses and Arctic Monkeys as their influences. 

Big Break: After a year of playing competitions and winning titles at IIT Madras’s Saarang and IIM Kozhikode’s Echoes, the band’s winning streak continued with Decibels, a band hunt organized by local radio channel, Radio Mango. Black Letters won a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh and their track, “You Say,” which features on their upcoming album Shapes On The Wall, made it to the OST of well-received Malayalam film, Anchu Sundarikal. The old school rock track, “You Say” is now out on alternative music compilation, Stupid Ditties: Lucky 7. Lately, moving on from band hunts, Black Letters has performed at well-attended events such as Harley Rock Riders, goMAD fest, Control Alt Delete IV and as part of the Red Bull Tour Bus at Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Delhi. “We are playing about two to three  gigs a month, so it’s all just started to take off now,” says Iyer. But the bedroom jam band is struggling to answer why it’s hard to bring the effortless sound of their records to stage. “We have a lot of tone variations in our songs and it’s sometimes impossible to get it on stage, so we are trying to get better equipment,” adds Iyer.  

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On The Cards: The band has been working on their full-length album, Shapes On The Wall, for almost a year now. “The recording and mixing are done, we are waiting for the mastering to be finished, so it should be out by January,” says Iyer about the nine-track album produced by Motherjane vocalist, Vivek Thomas. The album, which will be available as a free download next year also features “Roam,” an upbeat alt rock song about following your passion. This month,  the quartet will release a video for it shot in Bengaluru. “The song we connect with the most is ‘Roam’. It talks about working towards what you love, and we thought it would be good to have it out before the album.”  

Spin This: “You Say,” because that was the only music by Black Letters available online. The band previously released a four-track EP, Snippets in 2010, but dumped it after their sound changed. “We don’t have it online anymore because it no longer represents our music,” says Iyer. The band plans to release their new material only once the album is out. “The album has two old songs, which we wrote a while ago. So while there are seven alt rock tracks, there’s also the post punk “Kamikaze” and the bluesy rock and roll song, “Settle Down,” on the same album.” 

Play “You Say” here

 

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