Shor Police: ‘Creative Conflict Leads to Interesting Results’
The electro-pop duo, comprising Clinton Cerejo and Bianca Gomes, discuss finding artistic synergy, crafting the Shor Police Sound and the possibilities presented by India’s music landscape today
Shor Police’s distinct sound has been more than two decades in the making. Blending the boundaries of electro-pop with a multitude of genres — R&B, folk, Indian classical, jazz, funk, soul — the Mumbai-based outfit, comprising celebrated vocalist/composer Clinton Cerejo and powerhouse singer-songwriter Bianca Gomes, showcases a diverse sonic palette, influenced in no small part by its members’ artistic repertoire across the streams of independent, film and commercial music. “The secret to some degree of longevity in this business is to amass as much musical knowledge as you can, because this business will throw stuff at you when you least expect it,” says Cerejo.
While both Cerejo and Gomes first found their footing in India’s entertainment landscape through advertising — both artists have been the creative tour de forces behind memorable ads and jingles including the Vodafone BlackBerry Boys commercial, the Google Reunion ad and more — the duo first joined forces as they explored Bollywood. Known for their collaborations on the film soundtracks of 2012’s English Vinglish (“Manhattan”) as well as 2016’s Te3n (“Rootha”) and Kahaani 2 (“Lamhon Ke Rasgulle”), Shor Police perhaps first found its synergy on MTV India’s cult music series Coke Studio between 2012 and 2014. Cerejo and Gomes’ collaboration on the show — as composer and vocalist respectively — on the tracks “Mauje Naina” and “Aisi Bani,” cemented their mastery across varied genres and musical styles, unleashing their potential on India’s rising independent music scene which proved to be a fertile ground for fusion compositions.
The duo continued their tradition of collaboration with Ananthaal, their erstwhile 2015 band (that also included singer/composer Vijay Prakash) which blended western harmonics with Indian folk and classical styles of music. Having navigated the proverbial sonic smorgasbord — including a brief stint as fusion collective The Clinton Cerejo Band — the duo finally leaned into the possibility of pop through Shor Police in 2018. With an aim to create an accessible sound through its mix of diverse covers as well as original songs, Shor Police is carving out a niche for itself in India’s now crowded pop landscape. They continue to challenge the norms of genres, delivering fusion-informed electro-pop in their own unique style. “I’m enjoying the fact that Indian artists are getting noticed for doing something different. The tried and tested route is not working anymore and that’s a good thing for people who are out of the box,” says Gomes. Their recent projects speak to the band’s versatile ethos too, spanning Shor Police’s take on the Czech Republic’s beloved “Hussite Chorale,” a cover of Billie Eilish’s “Ocean Eyes” as well as their anthemic single “We Took It All for Granted.”
In this interview with Rolling Stone India, Shor Police’s Cerejo and Gomes discuss their process of creative collaboration, how they channel their diverse entertainment experience, what goes into crafting the Shor Police sound and more. Excerpts:
Congrats and kudos on all the amazing songs you have released in the past couple of years. Given the versatility on display, can you, in your own words, describe the 2021 Shor Police sonic palette?
Clinton: Thanks for the kind words. I think our versatility, in part, is thanks to our extensive background as advertising professionals where one can never afford to have a favorite genre. I think we’ve attempted to be true to ourselves as artists while also tapping into what’s current and edgy. While exploring electronic soundscapes, we’ve definitely found a palette and a style that’s our own within the broader pop umbrella.
Bianca: Our sound has always been a combination of all our influences. We like to stick to our signature electro-pop sound most of the time, but our songwriting will always have shades of funk and R&B. Maybe we’ll explore more of the Eighties synth-pop sound, which has made a comeback thanks to The Weeknd and Dua Lipa. We’ve grown up on that sound so it will definitely show up in our production, without us even trying.
We’ve seen a mix of both originals and covers so far from Shor Police. How has it been working on the covers specifically and how do you ensure they carry your distinct stamp?
Bianca: We’ve never chosen to do a cover purely based on the popularity of a song. It’s always been something we’ve had to connect with first. And I think that really helps with the reinterpretation aspect. Because it becomes much easier to make it your own.
Clinton: Yes, and it’s very important for both of us to connect with the songs we’re trying to cover. Among the ‘woke’ indie crowd, doing a cover is sometimes looked down upon, and I find that attitude strange when some of the best artists in the world have covered other artists as a tribute to their musicianship. What I do have a problem with though, is doing a cover without any imagination or originality. That’s where it becomes all-important to be able to have enough songwriting and production chops, so that when you take a cover, you can actually make a larger artistic statement with it. A great example is how we changed the chords on the chorus of our latest cover release “Ocean Eyes” and took it in a completely different harmonic direction, yet retained the character and flavor of the original track.
A songwriter/producer/performer duo is a rare music entity in India; we haven’t seen many in the past. Tell us about the dynamics within the Shor Police duo; who is fronting what, what are your individual creative arenas and strengths?
Bianca: I think we’re equal contributors when it comes to the composition and production. Whether we’re laying down a drum groove or trying to find the right synth sound, we both decide on it together. Clinton’s harmonic sensibility is so strong and unique, and I think my forte is probably coming up with a hook that will get stuck in your head.
Clinton: I think when you’ve worked as a music producer as long as I have, you’ve seen it all. It makes you self-reliant and self-sufficient in a way that when a collaborative opportunity comes along, it upsets the proverbial apple cart in a way that is unexpected even to you. It can take you down musical pathways you might not have gone down on your own. I think the creative conflict that we sometimes have, leads to some interesting results that we usually both end up being happy with. Bianca definitely has very strong production and compositional ideas that have become an integral part of our sound as a duo — which also distinguishes itself from the work I’ve done as a solo composer.
Is an EP or album in the pipeline — if yes, tell us more. Are there any collaborations that you would like to share details of?
Clinton: Yes, we’re working on an English album right now, ‘cause I think there’s never been a better time for indie artists to express themselves in their language of choice. We also hope to actually do some co-writes and collabs with a couple of international songwriters, producers, musicians or mix engineers, and we’re in the process of joining those dots to see what the possibilities are.
Bianca: In terms of musical ideas, we’ve definitely got enough for two albums already. We literally had to tell ourselves to stop coming up with new ideas, to select maybe nine or ten of our favorites and take those to the finish line.
What are you looking forward to the most in 2021?
Clinton: I think, right now, the way 2020 has gone, 2021 doesn’t have a tall ask. Many people across professions, across walks of life, hit rock bottom and the music industry was no less impacted. So, I think, even if 2021 just helps us reboot and revive, we’ll be in a good place. I’d like to keep our expectations real.
Bianca: I think we’ve all had a lot of time during the lockdown period to introspect, create and most importantly explore sides of our personalities we would have never otherwise had the space to pursue. We’re definitely looking forward to incorporating those ideas into our songs and videos.
Clinton, you are at a unique intersection between the three music ecosystems of independent, advertising and cinema. Is it challenging to shape-shift across these spaces? Bianca, how has it been for you to assume a multi-faceted role as a producer/composer/performer?
Clinton: I think it’s a double-edged sword, actually. While it’s a gift to be able to make meaningful contributions across all three ecosystems, it can be difficult for audiences to accept you as a consummate part of their world. Bollywood folks might identify you as indie, and vice versa. People love putting artists in a box and that’s what I always attempt to break out of.
I think, for example, I was always a pop guy when I produced Bollywood bangers like “Beedi,” “Dhan Te Nan,” “Dil To Bachcha Hai Ji,” etc. But the success of Coke Studio and songs like “Madari” strongly consolidated my position in the fusion space. Shor Police has allowed me to revive the pop side of my musical persona, a space which I’m finding to be an interesting challenge, ‘cause I’m also listening to so many younger artists like Zedd, Charlie Puth, etc. that are pushing sonic boundaries, which I’m enjoying dissecting as a producer.
Bianca: For years, I had always considered myself just a singer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I guess I had just never explored that side of me. It was only during the co-writing sessions for the Ananthaal album that Clinton noticed the potential in me. Just the thought of composing with him was extremely intimidating at first, but I realized that I must have something different to bring to the table that’s worth exploring. When we started thinking about collaborating as Shor Police, I realized it was time to let go of all the inhibitions that I had about writing with an accomplished songwriter like Clinton and just be fearless about expressing my ideas. It paid off and I was able to tap into a side of me I didn’t even know existed.
How do you view the current music climate in India? Are there things that you’d like to change?
Clinton: I would like to see more people with the big bucks, the bigger labels and stakeholders, invest in artists that don’t necessarily have tons of views on social media, but are really talented and unique. I think the relentless focus on social media stats has created a monster that is getting increasingly unwieldy, and the idea that we’re still creating an art form gets all but forgotten sometimes in that pursuit.
Bianca: I’m enjoying the fact that Indian artists are getting noticed for doing something different. The tried and tested route is not working anymore and that’s a good thing for people who are out of the box. It’s a long process, but I’m hoping we’ll reach the point where the Indian music industry has more than one genre.
As role models to budding musicians in India, what is the one thing you’d like to tell them?
Clinton: Inform and educate yourself. The secret to some degree of longevity in this business is to amass as much musical knowledge as you can, because this business will throw stuff at you when you least expect it, and at those times, it’s only that knowledge that will pull you out of a sticky situation.
Bianca: Don’t conform! Don’t follow a trend, create one. The only thing an audience wants to see and respects most about an artist is honesty. That’s always at the back of my mind when I’m composing a song or interpreting a vocal.