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The Mystic

Crispian Mills speaks of his Indian sojourns, his upcoming albums, and playing in the country, in what is in all probability his first interview to the Indian press

Dec 10, 2008

After reuniting in early 2006, Kulashaker is slowly inching back into the rusted psyche of fans starved of the band’s inimitable sound on record. With its cynosure in devotional chants culled of bhakti music, the cusp of retro rock inspired of the Sixties/Seventies coiled in the inherent British blaze on guitars shall bust those speakers again. After Strangefolk (2007) which saw moderate success, the band is currently in the studio cutting its fourth record Pilgrims Progress which should see release in the spring of 2009 along with lead vocalist Crispian Mills’ solo record. Pilgrims Progress might just be a corollary to their debut K, as Mills suggests plenitude of Indian threads on this one. “I think this time round it’s going to be more audible. And yes, you will get to hear more of the old stuff, with a lot of Indian influences. Also, you don’t want to contrive and put the record out”¦ sometimes when it’s all about production and sounds it can obscure the meaning of the song. It’s good to strip it back and see what the song sounds like without any pre-planned intention.” The album would feature Indian musicians such as sitar wonder Sheema Mukherjee and Bengali folk singer Himanshu Goswami. “Crispian is a big fan of my uncle, the Late Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, and has heard much of his back catalogue. It is apparent that Crispian has a deep love and understanding of Indian culture, which is rare even amongst NRIs,” says Mukherjee of her experience working with Mills. Though this one takes the cake, Mills is rehashing an RD Burman number on his solo record. Many a times Mills’ indulgence and obsession with bhakti music and his panoramic view of India has been mistaken for a hippie-ist pursuit.

Some uninformed brands of press are quick to slot Mills as a hippie or beat era brooder, though speaking with him one realises how removed he is from such presumptuous categorisation. It’s rather inhibiting when a Brit rock star claims to have read the Mahabharata at age 12, defines his haven in Brindavan, UP, and educates us about the Sudarshan Chakra and Krishna consciousness, while he sits in London. “I have had a love affair with the country from early on and needed to consummate it. When I was 11 or 12, I was dating an Indian girl, she was a pretty good influence, and I was also very interested in the music, as in I was listening to George Harrison a lot, which introduced me to Ravi Shankar on sitar,” Mills informs of his initiation into a culture which he had no previous engagement with. Soon he started training under sarod virtuoso Wajahat Khan. In 1993, when Mills was 18 he made his first trip to India alone and has come down almost every year since. So much so his love of India also inspired the name of his band which is taken from a 9th century Indian emperor by the name of Kulasekhara – “He was actually a raja Rishi, represents something more than just his role, he represents something higher. Like in Europe we have the legend of King Arthur; he is like a mystical king who protects his people.” Mills also worked at a temple in Delhi to fend for his daily meals at one such trip. “I think it was a really good experience to go and do some work, I didn’t come along just to hang out and do drugs… I realised the most difficult thing for a Westerner in India is getting their head around the trains, I mean it’s like maybe the train will come today, maybe it won’t, you never know,” he laughs. In 1996, he went on to tie the knot in Brindavan at a simplistic ceremony held with family friends. Mills was in Bengal last year for a festival venerating Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and suspects he shall make a trip again before this year end. In spite of such frequent visits it’s peculiar that Kulashaker hasn’t obliged us with a concert through all these years. Mills reasons it by simply saying, “Whenever I came, I was on holiday.” Though come next year, the band is hopeful of playing for the very first time in the country. “We have got an offer to play in India for next year, we are in talks about that right now. We are really looking forward to doing that,” says Mills.


Crispian’s inspirations

George Harrison: “Mystic Beatle, cultural and spiritual ambassador to solar system”
R.D Burman: “I love his mix of spaghetti western styles with Hindi dance, I perform one of his songs on my new album.”
Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash: “They are simply great storytellers.”
Wajahat Khan: “My Guru, he opened the doors to understanding.”
Jimi Hendrix: “Guru by proxy.”

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