Kristian Bent: How Goa Finally Got its Most Promising Indie Artist
The 27-year-old musician releases a stellar crowdfunded debut album in a state that doesn’t give a damn about original music
“I remember listening to a lot of Johnny Cash when I was young. Not that I liked it much,” chuckles Kristian Bent. “I only started really liking country when I was 22 or so.” Bent, who is now 27, has undergone many such metamorphoses in the last decade, from learning to play the drums and guitar and quitting college to pursue music in 2008, to changing his name from Krishna Gidwani to Kristian Bent for “a variety of reasons” two years ago (though his friends continue to call him Krishna).
For someone whose life’s trajectory has only recently hurtled him towards releasing his own music, Bent seems preternaturally poised for success with his polished debut album, Campfire Stories, which was released last month. The record leans heavily into country and folk, which is not surprising when you consider the fact that the Goa-based singer/songwriter cites Ray LaMontagne and Chris Stapleton alongside Cash as his biggest influences. What is more surprising, however, is the lush orchestration and unexpected string instruments peppered into his otherwise straightforward guitar arrangements.
When asked to talk about how Campfire Stories was recorded, Bent launches into a story that sounds like it could be the plot of the next John Carney film. He doesn’t have a band, he says, explaining that he instead chose to record with artists from Goa’s ever-changing pool of musicians. Bent’s ragtag team of international instrumentalists–ranging from a Russian cellist who also plays the hand saw to a Californian on the blues harmonica–assembled to record Campfire Stories at the Assagao home studio of established local musician Noel “Nini” D’Souza. “The good thing about Goa is that so many people come by every year. There are a lot of musicians, and they’re really good,” Bent says. “It wasn’t difficult to find them.”
They aren’t the only help that he’s received: when Bent hit a financial wall while recording the album last year, his manager had the idea of using crowdfunding platform Wishberry to raise money. “I knew [crowdfunding] existed, but I didn’t know that it worked so well, and that people were actually listening,” says Bent. In his case, people definitely were listening. His Wishberry campaign page ended up raising 42 thousand rupees over its 1.5 lakh goal.
The extra funding is evident in Campfire Stories’ stellar production, with its crisply layered vocals and tight instrumentation. The seamless attention to detail feels almost out of place on a debut, but Bent is quite obviously a perfectionist. Though he only began recording the album in January of last year, he says that he began work on the songs all the way back in 2011.
While you could call that a labor of love, the record is more aptly described as a love letter, but to a place, not a person. Campfire Stories might be Bent’s breakout, but the album’s true star is Goa, which features explicitly in the lyrics of songs like “First Monsoon Rain” and is evoked sonically in others, like in the vernal strings on “Song With No Name.” Even album closer “Bus to Bangalore,” which seems as though it could be about a long-distance relationship, is directed at Goa. In fact, Bent says, “it’s probably [about] a long-distance relationship with Goa; Goa is really close to me.”
Bent, who moved to Goa from Mumbai at the early age of five, recognizes that the music scene there is far from perfect. “Goa’s about listening to what you’ve already heard, which is a shame,” he says. But even though he hopes to find more success playing his music when he boards his own bus to Bangalore come June of this year, Bent recognizes that his journey so far has been a good one. “[Goa] is kind of scary because you know that people don’t accept originals very easily, but somehow it worked for me.”
Listen to a live version of “She,” a single off ‘Campfire Stories’: