Skrat: ‘Now We’re Going to Scare People’
The Chennai rockers are getting heavier and darker on their fourth full-length album ‘Bison,’ due this summer
When they began writing for their fourth full-length album Bison last year, Chennai rock trio Skrat sat down at what vocalist-guitarist Sriram T.T. calls a “proper corporate meeting” to talk about the direction of their future material.
He recalls, “I said, ‘I think we’re going to go groovy and dance-y.’ And we started writing and then just nothing. We just naturally went heavy. All those hopes and dreams of being a cool, socially acceptable band went out through the window. And now we’re going to scare people.”
Six months ago, the band began road-testing tracks off Bison, showcasing a more intense edge to their existing chunky, groovy sound on 2014’s The Queen. The latter in turn was an amped up take on the garage rock sound honed on their 2013’s Bring Out the Big Guns and the rock & roll/funk vibe of 2010’s Design. Sriram says, “We’ve been playing a song called ‘Raptor’ and ‘Wake Up’ – those two songs are a good way to gauge how the album is going to be.”
The band–Sriram, bassist Jhanu Chanthar and drummer Tapass Naresh, along with manager and co-producer Nithin Subramanian—recorded the 10-track Bison with engineer Toby Joseph at his studio, Tobs Garage and at The Dome studio (set up by entertainment firm Amaranta). Says Sriram, “The entire album has nothing to do with The Queen. Every album we come out with is different from the last. It’s something we’ve always done.”
But the album does carry resonances from past releases in terms of Skrat’s trademark evil and anthropomorphic narrative. Turns out Bison refers to a General and his army, who rise out of hibernation to sate their mass murdering habit, once The Queen is killed. For the band, experimenting with new sounds also meant challenging themselves in the studio. Though the album is almost entirely born out of jam sessions, Sriram says they found themselves “a little shy skill-wise.” He explains, “We actually sat and taught ourselves certain parts. It’s not some guitar virtuoso thing, but it’s just something we’re not used to doing. Getting a tone or filling up a groove.”
The frontman talks about difficulties perfecting vocal melodies for a song called “Siren,” as well as another called “Red Ox Hide,” which they were unsure about until they recorded. “There’s only bass and drums and vocals until the end – then there’s something that we really wanted to push but we weren’t able to, but we got it. You’ll either like it or hate it – that’s the problem. We’re not counting our chickens before they hatch,” Sriram says with a laugh.
The album also marks Skrat’s other big shift—it features new bassist Chanthar, who joined in 2015 to replace Satish Narayanan. Sriram said the band allowed Chanthar, the riffsmith for his eponymous Tamil rock band, to become as comfortable as possible before they began writing Bison. Sriram adds, “Only when you jam for hours and hours do you find a place. When it’s just three people, you have a place in terms of what you bring to the table.”
The other thing Sriram espouses when comes to recording is having complete trust in the engineer. Joseph, who has worked with the band on The Queen and Bring Out the Big Guns, is tracking and mixing the new album, which is expected to release by June or July. “This is one thing that we do as a band – as soon as we do all the tracking, we get out of the studio. I have nothing to do with the mix,” Sriram says. The frontman adds that they’ve got a different understanding of sound when they’re sitting in the studio with Joseph. “At max, he’ll give us a mix and we’ll give him a very overview kind of response – we want this feeling or that. We will never say, ‘Can you just increase the 4K, put the threshold of the snare a little more.’ We’re more like, ‘I want it more like a slap in the face. Can you do that for me?’ Most sound engineers would go, ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’ but Toby will say, ‘Okay, I’ll do something.’”