Pentagram Turns Introspective
Why India’s biggest rock band felt the need to look inwards on their latest album
“What’s your name?/Where’re you from?/Identify, identify, identify,” implores Mumbai band Pentagram on ‘Identify,’ the thumping opener of their fourth album Bloodywood released last month. After nearly two decades of touring and making music, India’s biggest rock band seems to have reached a place where they are comfortable with who they are – musicians with their own distinctive voice. As vocalist Vishal Dadlani says, “This record is a lot more about us, than about talking to people. It’s almost an introspective record.” With solid grooves and chunky riffs, Bloodywood is more rock & roll and less electro-heavy than their typical sound. The name Bloodywood itself is a deliberate counterpoint to big commercial world of Bollywood, of which Dadlani has been a big part in the last decade as one part of the famed music duo Vishal-Shekhar. “Bloodywood represents the collective subculture that exists alongside (Bollywood) in Mumbai without virtually having anything to do with it. So same place, same time, totally different thought, totally different idea, totally different culture,” Dadlani explains.
Pentagram began life in 1993, when Dadlani, who was then working in his father’s construction business, met drummer Shiraz Bhattacharya in an extremely short-lived band called Nostalgia. Dadlani then played the bass as well. They then decided to form their own band and started the hunt for guitarists. Enter Clyde D’Souza. The line-up was a complete a year later when Randolph Correia joined in on the guitars and Papal Mane took over bass duties from Dadlani.
The Nineties was a time in India when the ability to play cover songs determined how good a band you were. Even the original music that was created by some bands was derivative of the likes of Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Metallica and other popular international bands. “I remember way back, right at the beginning, ’95-ish, we got really famous for playing a version of Pearl Jam’s ‘Alive’. And we got famous because we played it like Pearl Jam,” reminisces Dadlani, “Then a newspaper article appeared saying we were playing IIT Bombay and it said, ‘Come check out their version of Pearl Jam’ or some shit like that. So we just stopped playing the track.”
In 1996, Pentagram released their debut album, the alt-tinged We’re Not Listening. By that time, they had also built up an enviable reputation as a live band, on the back of their incendiary stage set. But it was the electronic tinged follow-up record Up from 2002 that set the direction of their new sound. The line-up also saw a change – Clyde D’Souza quit and Randolph Correia took on the responsibilities of handling both the guitars and the groovebox. Dadlani, by then had hit the big time as a Bollywood music composer, singer and lyricist with movies like Jhankaar Beats, Bluff Master and Salaam Namaste, a move that got him a lot of brickbats from his Pentagram fans. But, to his credit, he kept the two personas separate. And if at all, it was his Pentagram music that influenced his Bollywood sound and not vice versa.
In 2005, Pentagram became the first Indian band to play at the Glastonbury music festival in the UK. Their third album It’s Okay, It’s All Good came n 2007 with hits like ‘Electric,’ ‘Animal,’ ‘Rock n’ Roll,’ ‘This is For My People,’ and ‘Voice.’ And when the appearance of new live venues across the country breathed more life into the Indian rock scene, Pentagram was at the forefront as one of the biggest acts.
Guitarist Correia, too, has had an equal amount of success with his other band, Shaa’ir + Func, which he set up 2007 with New York-born singer Monica Dogra. Correia doubles up as the producer of Bloodywood. While the sound is unmistakably Pentagram, it is, in the words of Correia “stripped down.” We caught up with the band in Mumbai, in between their launch gigs: