Randolph Correia Gets Rolling
Inside the mind of the guitarist/producer who just released Skank Be The Rock, a reggae take on his electro rock band Pentagram’s music
Standing at the bar at Blue Frog, the South Mumbai music venue, Randolph Correia has one ear tuned to my questions and the other plugged into 20-something singer-songwriter Jason Rasquinha’s debut gig. Rasquinha is rough around the edges, which is also why he’s been booked for the early set at 7.30 pm when the club is practically empty, but Correia’s hearing something else. “It’s fucking tough to sing and play at the same time,” says the guitarist, “I can’t play my own songs. I’ve tried, but I fucking can’t.” That’s tall praise and a gut honest admission from the guitarist and producer, who is easily one of the most inspiring musicians in the country.
Correia, 37, has had a remarkably busy year as a producer since December last year. He has been working simultaneously on five albums including reggae/drum n bass group Bombay Bassment’s debut, vocalist Ramona Arena’s debut, his own electro dance rock project Shaa’ir+Func’s new album and an acoustic EP of Shaa’ir+Func’s older material and the just-released Pentagram reggae album titled Skank Be The Rock, where Correia’s dub avatar Func took over Pentagram. Of course, on Shaai’r+Func’s as yet-to-be-titled fourth album, Correia took on the roles of both band member and producer. Says Correia, “It felt like a long, big exam – felt like I checked into a university and I have five different subjects.” Four of five albums are almost ready for release says the producer, who also mixed the albums on his own.
One of the reasons behind releasing Skank Be The Rock was the need to inspire the next generation of artists including the likes of Rasquinha. “I enjoy what I’m putting out,” says Correia, “It’s not like in the past when someone asked me what I was working on next and I didn’t really care when the next release would be out. Now, it feels great to be able to put out something really, really tasty – stuff that could also inspire artists as well, help them grow, listen to something else, create something exciting.”
Turning to reggae for the Pentagram album was an unconscious, natural decision. “Everyone in the band loves reggae,” says Correia, who looked beyond Bob Marley and took to Jamaican dancehall and dub artists such as Buju Banton, Scientist and Lee “Scratch” Perry when he first began making electronic music under the moniker FUNCinternational in 2003 (he’s now switched to just Func). Adds Pentagram vocalist Vishal Dadlani, “Yeah, this album is all Randolph. We all love reggae, but didn’t do anything on the album. This is something he started working on at home.”
Correia’s pad in the North Mumbai suburb of Andheri is a cosy, studio vibe-y space. The centre table in the living room has a pile of books stacked neatly with The Guitar Grimoire, the guitar bible of scales and chords published by Carl Fischer, right on top. You’ll most likely find Correia either in his bedroom studio or rolling some in his balcony with a view of lush green mangroves. When I walk in, Correia’s watching a Soundgarden concert on his desktop. A few minutes of watching the Seattle band feeding off the energy of millions of screaming fans and he’s off into the kitchen to make some ginger chai and discuss the state of the nation’s politics, economy and even roads before finally settling down in the living room to talk music. “All the vocals used on the reggae album have been takes from the original albums,” says Correia. The fact that Dadlani looks upto Marley is well-known (Walk into his suburban Mumbai recording studio and you’ll find Marley on the walls in rasta colors; the singer has tattooed lines from “Rat Race” on his arm and he wrote “Voice,” one of the most-requested tracks at Pentagram gigs, after watching a documentary on the reggae icon), but that none of the vocals needed any re-rendering or tweaking takes a beat to sink in. Correia adds that a lot of Pentagram’s music has a happy reggae vibe. “You’re happy listening to it, not angry. It’s sort of this hybrid, it’s become its own beast,” he says. We’re not entirely in agreement here, since a lot of the band’s music is driven by aggressive beats and hell-stoked licks straight off Correia’s Les Paul. “I’ve used all the tracks that fit in naturally with the reggae beat. There were other best of candidates. I haven’t included ‘Fear’ or ‘Electric.’ ‘Human Failings’ had that dubby thing anyway, but I didn’t go there. I sort of went with the more rock ’n roll songs because we are a rock band, who can also do electronic,” says Correia of the 10-track album, “I wanted it to sound like an album and not like a bunch of remixes – that was the big fear – and they don’t.”
The production skills on the album in no way suggest that the album is a lo-fi bedroom project and neither do you hear jarring reminders of how raw the band first sounded in their electronic avatar in Up dating back to 2002. On Skank Be The Rock, Pentagram sounds like a electro-rock ’n roll-reggae juggernaut. Says Correia, “I picked an older space in reggae as opposed to making it sound like cool, electronic dubstep and stuck to the different variants of reggae, so it’s very rootsy in that sense.” The one drop and low thudding bass on “Animal,” the heavy dub on “Lovedrug Climbdown” and stepper beats on “Must I,” from their last album Bloodywood, which has a reggae groove in its original version as well are all great picks for this new album. Adds Correia, “I wanted that raw, Seventies sound of dusty recordings, very dirty in a way but without the vinyl crackle on it,” says Correia.
There couldn’t have been a better time to release a reggae album, feels Correia. “We have a pretty kickass reggae scene right now, even though it’s pretty small. People are talking about it,” says Correia namechecking bands such as Bombay Bassment, Reggae Rajahs, The Ska Vengers and DJs such as Reji Revindran and Uri, who have helped push reggae in the country. It’s also the year when Func turns 10. “There’s no better way to celebrate 10 years than by releasing a Pentagram album that I’ve produced,” adds Correia. How does Correia manage to turn into a multitasking monster, I ask Dadlani. “He eats, breathes and fucks music,” answers the vocalist.
What next? Correia doesn’t need a moment to reply: “Now, my final exam’s finished and am fucking off to Europe for two months, [I’ll] just find a nice garden and lay in the grass if it’s not raining. Chill the fuck out.” And that’s exactly what Correia is doing as you read this.
Download “Lovedrug Climbdown” one of our favorites from the Skank Be The Rock now