Parvaaz: India’s Most Exciting Band Right Now
The Bengaluru rockers with a distinct sound are ready with a fresh game plan and a brand-new album
It’s tempting to compare the functionings of Bengaluru rock band Parvaaz to the Indian Parliament. The four-member outfit uphold internal democracy as the highest virtue, take days or even weeks to deliberate and arrive at a decision and frequently adjourn resolutions for later. “We don’t get physical, but,” disclaims vocalist/guitarist Khalid Ahamed. The rest of the band, Mir Kashif Iqbal (guitars), Sachin Banandur (drums and percussion) and Fidel D’souza (bass), lounging on a sofa in a suburban apartment in Mumbai, let out a laugh.
Parvaaz seem to be enjoying the best part of their journey as a band currently. The previous week they played a packed show at Hard Rock Café Andheri (“So many people showed up!”) and are now in the middle of recording their second full-length album at Yash Raj Studio, the sonic mecca for many an artist. But as is usual with the highly congressional band, the decision to get into the studio didn’t come easily. They’d been considering recording this album for over two years. Parvaaz’s debut studio album Baran came out in 2014, and before that, they had had released a five-track EP Behosh in 2012. They’ve also brought out a few singles along the way—“Khufiya Dastaan” (2013), “Shaad” (2017) and “Color White” (2017). “Taking time out was an issue. You need to start somewhere and then things follow. We were not getting that start,” says Ahamed. Adds Iqbal, “All these thoughts crossed our minds, you know, like ‘Will we make a better record?’ Once a friend said to us, ‘Don’t make a better Baran, make a better album.’”
Explaining why they aren’t the typical, ‘let’s do it’ kind of band, Banandur says, “Every single thing we do starts an argument and then we try and find a solution. There’s never been a time when we have stood up and said, ‘This is great!’ [for anything]. We always go backwards—we see what negative things can happen with a decision and we clear that first.” Iqbal seconds that: “We always question everything, and hence, it leads to days of discussion.” Ahamed says it’s a routine exercise to avoid regrets later. “Everybody at the end of the day is looking for the better of the band.” Iqbal, on his part, says, “After a few years, if you’re in a band like this, there’s a sense of responsibility to the audience.” What does D’souza—the quietest one in the bunch—think of this long-drawn process? “It’s tiring.”
There’s no denying Parvaaz enjoy an unexampled spot in Indian indie. Their music is unmistakable, idiosyncratic, cinematic, and there’s no other band that sounds anything like them. Try labeling their music and chances are you’ll struggle—is it prog/rock, psychedelic rock, alt rock or straight-up rock & roll? Their compositions are written in Hindi, Urdu and Kashmiri and when stripped of their melodies, they hold their own as elegant pieces of poetry. The undercurrents of doom and dilemma in their scrupulously sculpted songs instantly tug at you, and manage to both settle and unsettle.
Excerpts from the exclusive interview:
Congratulations on the new album! What are the feelings right now within the band?
Khalid Ahamed: Good feelings! We’ve been trying to record an album for the last few years but because of touring it wasn’t possible. We did pre-production at another studio, recorded rough tracks, and then finally arrived at Yash Raj. We are feeling very comfortable working there. Shantanu [Hudlikar, chief sound engineer at the studio] really made it very comfortable for us. And it’s [the album] sounding really good.
Sachin Banandur: Yeah, we did have thoughts about whether he would take our ideas and what if one isn’t able to perform! But they dissolved on the very first day. He was very friendly, and took it easy and slow.
Mir Kashif: Also, Yash Raj is a nice place to work. It will make you feel good, no matter what. There’s some lovely equipment there and you work from morning to evening and everyone takes a lunch break. Everyone keeps themselves fresh and healthy. So, it’s a nice approach.
Khalid: Yeah, because last time, when we recorded Baran, we would record two or three hours a day. Now we are doing it at a stretch for six days so we’re in that zone… We’ve come prepared.
Mir Kashif: If I have say three hours to finish some parts of a song, I will make sure it’s done in that time. And the rest is taken care of by the engineers.
Khalid: And that’s what we must do—go rehearsed. Yes, ideas do come while recording but that’s like adding more color to your song. You learn this when you keep going to studios.
Mir Kashif: And all kinds of studios.
Do you guys now feel that you’ve ‘arrived’?
Khalid: Well, there are two situations happening always—one is the feeling of having arrived, the other is knowing that there’s still a long way to go.
Sachin: There are always people who say, ‘You guys have made it,’ and also people who say, ‘This is just the beginning.’
Khalid: (laughs) Nau saal toh ho gaye! (We’ve been together nine long years!). Musically, we’ve definitely improved!.Maybe when we started, it was just for fun, but now it’s not like that. Now it’s work.
Mir Kashif: It’s important to put your work on record and move on and work on other projects. We shouldn’t get stuck in a rut.
Have you guys ever been stuck in a rut?
Fidel D’souza: Well, that’s why this album took such a long time.
Mir Kashif: Finance is the number one hurdle, of course, and we haven’t crossed that. To get quality, you have to save up money, borrow, your friends will help you, play gigs. Everything goes back into the system.
Khalid: More gigs means mean more money.
What is your common goal as a band—what is that light at the end of the tunnel?
Mir Kashif: We’re searching for it… We are trying to outdo ourselves.
Khalid: Music is what keeps us busy. We love playing with each other.
Fidel: We don’t have any option. If we left, we won’t be able to play just by ourselves.
Mir Kashif: We are not session musicians who can just show up on a day and play a part. We have to depend on each other. That’s what keeps us together. In another set-up, we might be able to do something, but it won’t be this.
Sachin: Also, we try and stay away from distractions.
What kind of distractions?
Mir Kashif: Netflix! (laughs). We’ve been through enough dips to know they’re going to keep happening.
Khalid: Our first bassist left in 2010, and since then the four of us have been together. We can’t do anything besides this now. As a group, this is the only thing we can do. I used to get frustrated a lot—you don’t get gigs. Even if you’re doing it for the love of music, the frustration is there. The greatest thing is that all of us had someone in the band to motivate us. To remind us why we started doing this in the first place.
Who’s the first one to get frustrated in the band?
Sachin: There’s a season for everyone. Except Fidel. Even if we disband one day, he won’t come to know about it. He’ll come to work the next day!
Are you guys aware that the audience perceives you a certain way, and do you try to maintain a certain image?
Mir Kashif: We’re not here to keep a perception. There’s always space to open up and try new things, even with this album.
Khalid: But yes, you shape a sound for yourself and you’d like to keep that. At the same time, genres don’t matter much to us.
Mir Kashif: It would be great if all kinds of people like the same songs in our album, if our music has that much versatility.
Khalid: Actually, metal lovers, blues lovers, rock lovers—everybody likes our songs. We’re grateful for having crossed that boundary—of being inside a box, of being categorized.
Fidel: It’s kind of nice that they’re not getting it right… the genre.
Khalid: As long as they’re coming to our gigs and loving our music, it’s great. Call us anything—qawwali rock, sufi rock, Carnatic Hendrix! (everyone laughs).
What principles do you stick by as a band?
Mir Kashif: The philosophy is that we should like the music we’re playing with each other.
Sachin: We cannot tell someone to stick to what we think [is right] since we come from such diverse backgrounds. Somewhere, we have to find a common ground.
Have you ever come dangerously close to breaking up?
Khalid: Many times! Well, it was part of a discussion and it ended there.
When was this?
Khalid: It’s happened many times.
And when was the last time?
Woah! You guys are shooting for the cover and thinking of disbanding at the same time! Imagine if it had to happen—that would make a nice cover line: ‘India’s most exciting band… has now disbanded’!
Khalid: Well, we say such stuff when we’re upset sometimes, but the next morning when we wake up, we know this is what we have to do.
Mir Kashif: I think this is not unique to us; every band goes through this.
Khalid: We started this band without having an option B; without having any alternative. When you have a plan B, then there is a problem. When you don’t have a [backup] plan, you know this is what you have to do.
None of you have plans for alternative careers?
Sachin: This is what I meant by distractions. If we have another plan, it will take away from what we want to put into this band.
Khalid: Well, later on, we can think of opening a studio or something…but right now, it’s the band.
Do you ever have to reconcile to the fact that this will be a long struggle for each one of you—have there ever been a conflict between personal ambitions versus band ambitions?
Fidel: I don’t know—work has been good for us.
Khalid: I personally do solo shows, and perform some tracks solo that don’t work with the band. But making a career out of the solo thing—I’ve never thought of that. Even if it happens, that won’t be the goal—the goal will always be Parvaaz.
Which bands from the scene do you look up to?
Khalid: Quite a few. I think all of us like Indian Ocean, Avial, Thermal and a Quarter.
Mir Kashif: Swarathma
Khalid: We look up to them not just because of their music but also because of the people they are, and the personal connection we have with them. They have been doing this for ages, so we get to learn a lot from them. Like we learnt a lot from Jishnu [Dasgupta, bassist, Swarathma]. He’s always been very supportive and helpful. I mean it’s such a tiny scene; everybody knows each other and everybody is helpful.
Since your music raises a lot of existential questions, here’s one for each one of you—why do you feel the need to create music?
Fidel: It has something to do with who you are… [like] what color you like.
Mir Kashif: The need to create has been there since I was a kid, I guess. There’s a restlessness you feel when you don’t create.
Fidel: It’s a search.
Khalid: For me, it’s personal satisfaction… Making a song is like a timeless thing; it stays. Like even with starting the band, yes, I picked up the guitar because it looked cool but singing in our language—Kashmiri, Urdu or Hindi—came naturally.
Sachin: It gives me satisfaction, of course, but it’s also the sense of giving back. When the audience responds and gives back to me—that itself helps me sustain.
Khalid: That’s the biggest thing you get.
Mir Kashif: There have been times when people have come to us and told us that our music has affected them deeply.
Khalid: Once somebody asked me, ‘What drugs were you on when you made this song?’ and I said, ‘Paracetamol’ (laughs).
There are been a coming of age of the Hindi rock band, and of course, bands writing in their native language. Do you feel as artists, we are a lot more comfortable in our skin now, and there’s a sort of claiming of roots happening right now?
Mir Kashif: It takes time to get away from the colonization of the mind, I guess. So that’s why initially, people weren’t confident of singing in say Hindi or Malayalam or any other language. But somebody has to do it, right? When you see a Raghu Dixit out there performing Kannada songs—you might like the music or you might not, that’s a separate conversation—but somebody has to take that step. When you see that man grooving there, or when you see Swarathma in their attire doing what they do on stage, and the language on top of it, that barrier is broken. Then your mind doesn’t think, ‘To make good music, I have to write in a certain language.’ And that’s why you see a lot of bands in the past 10 years don’t give a damn anymore about which language they are singing in.
Khalid: Also you communicate better in your own language. Your expressions and emotions come naturally, and they’re very honest.
Sachin: It also has to do a lot with perception of people. This club called Legends of Rock always had English bands play and we were the first Hindi band to play. Now that’s a small club, but over the years, all these bands performing in different languages has pushed the cause even more, and now you see them headlining at festivals. People nowadays don’t care about the language.
Mir Kashif: We’ve gotten past that barrier, and now it’s about the real deal—‘Are you good enough?’
Khalid: See, we come from Bangalore, where people don’t even speak or understand the language [Hindi, Urdu and Kashmiri]. But they appreciate our music and want to know what the lyrics mean. And now they come and sing along to the songs.
Sachin: I mean it happens within the band also!
Yes, I was curious to know if lyrically everyone is on the same page. Khalid, we know you write the songs…
Sachin: We don’t really understand [the language/lyrics]. As band members, to us what speaks is the music.
Khalid: Yeah, you need to be rooted somewhere. Our influences are mostly Western, but it’s more about what texture you can add, so we write in our own language. That is what makes you unique.
Sachin: Imagine if we made the music we make and the lyrics were about going for coffee with a girl, you’d be like ‘WTF!’ But they [Khalid and Kashif] come back and tell us what the words mean—and it really fits with the music.
Khalid: See when you hear a lot of Hindi bands, the lyrics can be a little, you know, blah. So that’s why we take our time with it. Music comes first, of course, but we like to sit on the lyrics and choose each word carefully.
Khalid, which has been the hardest song for you to explain to the band?
Fidel: We don’t understand anything, actually (chuckles).
Khalid: I just explain the basic idea of the song and, yeah, that’s about it. You can’t explain each and every line!
Fidel: So this one time, after we had released Behosh, I was being interviewed by Deccan Herald and they started asking me about the songs, and I was ‘Fuck man!’ So I told them it’s about life and stuff…(laughs).
Mir Kashif: Since we are choosing to write in languages people don’t always understand, we have to write summaries of our songs—whether in the album artwork or somewhere online. And that time we all sit together and translate… And lyrics mostly supplement the sound of the songs.
Khalid: For them [the band members] it’s about the sound. For me as well—when I sing, my voice is an instrument. Both Kashmiri and Urdu are beautiful sounding languages, when used correctly that is.
What do you guys like doing when you aren’t making music or playing gigs?
Khalid: I am usually chilling with the family. When we are in Bangalore, we watch movies, cook.
Sachin: [Pointing towards Khalid and Mir Kashif] Yeah, these guys are really nice cooks!
You’ve had a new management since last year. What are their big plans for the band?
Khalid: Chasing gigs (laughs). And help in promotions of course.
Parvaaz photographed by Rohit Gupta
Art Director: Amit Naik
Stylist: Neelangana Vasudeva
Wardrobe courtesy: Levi’s
Hair and Makeup: Jean Claude Biguine