Albert Hammond Jr’s Guitarist Hammarsing Kharhmar Releases Debut Solo EP
Hear Shillong-bred Kharhmar’s new EP as Exhibition, which features The Strokes vocalist Julian Casablancas
The music hustle took Shillong guitarist-vocalist Hammarsing Kharhmar from India to Boston to New York and now, he plays shows all around the world. But when he comes back home to Shillong, there’s nothing that Kharhmar”“who has played with the likes of Lou Majaw and is old friends with Soulmate’s Rudy Wallang”“would rather do than kick back at home. Kharhmar says with a laugh over the phone from New York, “I’m kind of a recluse when I come back to India”“just go and hide at home.”
After studying in Bengaluru, New Delhi and at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in 2003, Kharhmar moved to New York. There, he did everything from bartending to a digital marketing job before he got the call that started it all–from The Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. “I got a call while I was working at a restaurant close to my home somewhere, and I got voicemail from Albert. He’d heard about me through his cousin, who was in a band with me,” Kharhmar says. “Basically, he sent me three songs and the next day, I showed up to audition at the rehearsal, not even believing it was actually him, but he liked me. We went on a tour.”
Hammond Jr’s band went on to open for Brit pop/rock giants Coldplay in 2008, which Kharhmar recalls as a chance for “crazy exposure.” At the same time, he had already started up his own rock band, Mon Khmer, in New York. Although Mon Khmer “never took off” for Kharhmar, his time working on the smaller project exposed him to the best of both worlds. “I’ve seen the whole spectrum”“opening in arenas but also playing underground basements in New York, small, cool venues. Friends are there, it’s just nice,” he says.
The bulk of Kharhmar’s time did go towards Hammond Jr’s band, but Kharhmar managed to focus on writing his own music as well. “I met Julian [Casablancas, The Strokes vocalist]”“he and I became friends playing soccer,” Kharhmar says. “Last year, after finishing this long tour, I started working on my own music and I sent it to him [Julian] and he really liked it.”
Turns out, Kharhmar’s first album Last Dance, under his solo project Exhibition, would not only be released on Casablancas’ Cult Records (on April 14th), but make its first impression with “No One There” featuring The Strokes frontman on vocals. “It was the first song he really responded to and sort of mentored me guided me towards finding a consistent sound. But the idea of him doing vocals on it didn’t happen until literally a few months ago,” Kharhmar says. “He said, ”˜I really like that song and I have this melody [for it].’ I said, ”˜Really? Let’s fucking do it, then!’ Just before he left on tour, we managed to do get it done. I was lucky and it was just meant to be, in a way.”
Co-produced, mixed and mastered by Grammy-award winning engineer Jeremy Loucas, Last Dance is a four-track collection that has more to it than just a star vocalist’s name in the credits. Kharhmar and his band”“bassist Jordan Brooks and drummer Jeremy Gustin, both part of Hammond Jr’s band as well”“work out a sound that reaches out to fans of psych rock, New Wave and punk. “A lot of it was tracked without”“I hope people will notice this”“any edits. You’re so used to playing together, me, the drummer and bassist. The last song, ”˜Last Dance,’ they literally learned the song five minutes before we tracked it,” says Kharhmar. “It was amazing. It’s raw and got a punk-y vibe and got an amazing post-punk groove. You can dance to it, you know what I mean?”
Kharhmar was more or less a fan of the classics”“The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and the Doors”“but also got turned on to acts like Depeche Mode and Joy Division after moving to the U.S. “Like all Indian guitar players, I love Jimmy Page, Hendrix”“that’s all there in my starting-up,” he says.
Up next, there’s already new material in the works for a full-length Exhibition album, and Kharhmar will be touring more with Hammond Jr on the latter’s forthcoming album as well. He’ll keep coming back to Shillong, though, acknowledging his North East roots. “Mon Khmer did a show in Shillong in 2013 or so. It was just a one-off, but I would love to do a tour, obviously,” Kharhmar says. “I think India is opening up so much, where people might appreciate this kind of music a little bit more.”
Listen to Last Dance EP