Pentagram Turns Introspective
Why India’s biggest rock band felt the need to look inwards on their latest album
17 years, right? You guys have been together for 17 years now”¦
V: Oh no”¦ [thinks] No, Randolph and Papal joined in ’94. So Pentagram as it is now has been around since ’94”¦
S: Yeah, that is 17 years, dude.
V: Fucking hell! Holy shit!
What I was getting at is that you see a lot of good bands that come up with a kickass album and then they break up. What do you think kept the four of you together?
S: We couldn’t do anything else, I guess [laughs].
V: Yeah, lack of options [laughs].
I think what’s key to the band really staying together is that one, we fucking love it. Two, everyone accepts the other guys for whatever they are. Like, a really good reason for a band to break up would be if the vocalist started doing Bollywood music”¦
V: But nobody gives me any grief about that. The band is like you do what you want to do with your own time. A really good reason for a band to break up would be one of the band members starting another equally successful band. But nobody gives Randolph any grief about that. We are all at each other’s shows. Monica always gives us a lot of love and we are always there for Shaa’ir + Func.
R: We just let each other be. We are like friends, we are like brothers. We understood why each one needed to do what they need to do in their lives.
Vishal, how do you personally manage to straddle these two different worlds of Bollywood and Pentagram? How do you manage to compartmentalise it?
V: I guess I am talented man [laughs]. No, it’s not like that. See, here’s the thing. My ambition in life was to do music all the time, and I’m one of the few fortunate ones who get to do that. Because, hell, it beats the shit out of a desk job, you know what I’m saying? And all of us do consistently stuff related to music. Like Randolph is always producing someone or something or some interesting music. Shiraz is always doing stuff related to music, whether it’s advertising or whether it’s films or videos or stuff like that. So these are all extensions of that fundamental. When all of us started out, our primary thought processes were all built around Pentagram and what it does. And then everything went from there. I mean, you can franchise your talent in many different directions and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t.
So would you say, for you personally, Pentagram is bigger than Bollywood?
V: There is a really simple line that I use to explain it all. Pentagram is who I am; everything else is what I do.
R: Even today, when they see Vishal [on stage with Pentagram], they are not thinking of the whole Bollywood thing. They see that this guy is genuine. There’s nothing put on, no trying to be in a rock band, no trying to fit it. None of us are trying to fit in anywhere.
You guys having been around for so long, you would have seen a lot of changes in the industry”¦
V: Yeah, [though] if you are calling it an industry, I would assume you are using the world loosely”¦
That’s very interesting. What would you call it then?
V: It’s a scene, it’s a vibe. It’s coming together. It will be an industry in five years. I don’t think we’ve reached a place where it’s making enough money for it to be labelled an industry. But I think we are reaching a place where it will start to do that. The acts are legitimate, the vibe is legitimate. I believe in the next four or five years, it’s going to make a big impression, globally too.
I think the fact that there is an alternate scene in India, an indie scene in India, is a big revelation to people abroad. People are getting interested in the vibe. And they are looking at it, thinking about it, and trying to take it further. There are some bands which have already signed, some bands which are talking to a lot of people abroad. So it’s only a matter of time before something explodes from this scene. And that is when it will become an industry. But I think we’re hitting that place, that tipping point, that critical mass”¦ [there are] enough acts, everyone’s supporting each other, that whole scene is rising together. That’s how it’s gotta be done.
You were the first Indian band to play Glastonbury in 2005. From then to now ”“ when Raghu Dixit’s been signed to play there in June – how have you seen the people outside of India perceive Indian original music?
V: To tell you the truth, people are people; they don’t give a fuck where the music is coming from. I never met someone who bought an album based on the nationality of the artist. You buy music because you like it. Or you listen to music because you like it. It doesn’t matter where it’s from. You listen to music from all over the world.
S: Manu Chao”¦ you don’t understand a word of what he’s singing”¦
V: And it doesn’t matter what language you sing in, as Rammstein has conclusively proved. Many many bands across the world have proved it. The key is to make your music an experience which is genuine, which is unique to you, and which is personal. So like I have constantly said about Bloodywood, this album couldn’t have come from any other four guys in any other city in any country in the world. It had to come from us, in Bombay, India, at this point, in this place. The things that are said, are said because of all these circumstances and those cannot be duplicated or replicated anywhere else. So it’s unique to us. Which is really the key to exciting music. It’s when the musician expresses themselves in a legitimate honest way.
If you just stop thinking and make music, it will automatically reflect who you are and where you are coming from. Which is what happened on this record really beautifully. We just went for it, in the sense of, that flow just kept happening. Like lyrically also, a lot of the songs are very personal. So there was no hiding from that stuff. Shit that needed to be said was just said. This record for us is a lot more about us, than about talking to people. If you read the previous lyrics that Pentagram has done, you get a sense of trying to tell people, explain to people who you are, or trying to tell people what to do, like with a song like ”˜Voice.’ With this record, there isn’t that. There is just reflection and then you see what you want to do with it, or you take it where you it to go.
In that sense, it’s almost an introspective record. I mean, it’s pretty new territory for us. Because we’ve never been so open personally. Sonically and personally, it’s a whole new space for us”¦
It must be tough laying it all bare out there”¦
V: It’s exciting, it’s cathartic, it’s healing in a way. It’s real in a way that people who listen to it get it. We are not talking about somebody else’s issues. You’re saying what you need to say. Which really is the essence of musical expression.
R: We always believed in ourselves and making music is not such a difficult thing. Because it’s a form of personal expression. At the end of the day, you need to be happy with who you are and what kind of musician you are. It should not stop your creative process. We believed that from the very beginning, and have just been making as much music as possible. There’s so much time to make all that music, man. Right now, it’s not like we are touring the world for six months nonstop and we can’t make music and all that. So while there is time, we are just making the most of it.