Soulmate Explore Political Corruption, Keep the Message Radiant on New Album ‘Give Love’
Shillong blues experts Rudy Wallang and Tipriti Kharbangar talk about the making of their latest record, livestreams and more
On August 1st, Shillong blues rock aces Soulmate launched their fourth full-length album Give Love in the only way any band could in 2020 — via a livestream performance. Straight out of guitarist-vocalist Rudy Wallang‘s Hole in the Wall studio in Shillong with co-founder and powerhouse vocalist-guitarist Tipriti Kharbangar, the duo were understandably awkward the first few minutes until the music kicked in and they got in the groove with the band and even invited guests over virtually.
Over the phone from Shillong, Wallang recounts to Rolling Stone India, “It was pretty weird… we’re used to talking to people and interacting with people on stage, but then here in this kind of scenario, we have to look at the phone or look at the iPad and see who is coming in and say hi. You don’t hear the applause, you just see hearts and you see claps.” He’s laughing by this point but is quick to add that they’re learning to become more comfortable with the idea of virtual gigs and how future shows will likely be ticketed and employ better tech for optimum audio and video quality.
Kharbangar says she’s not one to play music and interact with people at the same time, but mentions that Wallang has been training her. She doesn’t mind getting into it either and reading comments between songs. “In the end, they are the ones who’ve taken their time and watched you and probably shell out a little money for us, so we always take time in checking out the iPad and commenting and calling out their names,” she says.
This is not only Soulmate adapting to the times nearly two decades since they’ve come together, but also just a powerhouse band who want to perhaps live up to the blues tradition. Their fourth album Give Love — arriving just about six years after 2014’s stellar Ten Stories Up — offers 10 tracks of Soulmate at their soaring (“Voodoo Woman”), impeccable and openhearted (“I Sing the Blues”) best but also includes important commentary on political corruption, like on the rousing “Hole In Your Soul” which features a kids chorus that the duo rounded up from near their homes and the blazing “Troubled Times.” According to Wallang, these are positive songs that shine the light on how actions by corrupt statesmen in the present would jeopardize the future of children.
In an interview with Rolling Stone India, Wallang and Kharbangar discuss the creation of Give Love, recording at their own pace in Shillong and more. Excerpts:
When did you begin writing Give Love and what are some of the older and more recent songs that made it to the album?
Rudy Wallang: I think, “Voodoo Woman” was a dream for sure because we’ve been playing for many years and a lot of people thought it was our song, and later on they realized it was [American blues singer] Koko Taylor. But then it became our song in a way because people’s first introduction to that song was through Soulmate. And if I may say so myself, I think we did pretty good justice to that song. Koko would be pretty proud of us. So we approached [Chicago blues label] Alligator Records and we bought the mechanical license for that. We were able to put that on the album. Then I think “Your Love,” the last song on the album, we had played that quite often, for maybe about four or five years.
Tipriti Kharbangar: I remember “Your Love” was already there even before we put out Ten Stories Up. Soon after that, we’ve been playing it a lot. And also the first song, “The Way We Are.”
Wallang: And of course, “Still Loving You” as well… that was around 2013 or somewhere around there, and the other songs I think were pretty new, those were songs like “I Sing The Blues,” “Hole In Your Soul.” We’ve never really played “Hole In Your Soul” live except for once, last year at the NH7 festival here in Meghalaya. We needed to get a slightly bigger band together for that to do justice to it.
Watch Soulmate’s livestream performance to launch their album ‘Give Love.’
‘Hole In Your Soul’ really does come across immediately as a very powerful track.
Wallang: It has a deep message to it actually as well. “Hole In Your Soul” was one of the new ones. “I Sing The Blues,” “Don’t You Miss Me Baby,” “Soulmate Boogie” and “Troubled Times”… I think I played it once at Antisocial in Bombay in January. So that was the first time we played that song. A lot of people were shaking their heads and listening to the lyrics and loving it [laughs]. So we had about four songs in total from the older lot, and six very new songs.
Tipriti, can you tell me about how you approached “Hole In Your Soul”?
Kharbangar: This song was written soon after that incident took place in Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya where this coal mining was on and it collapsed and few of these children who were trapped inside, they couldn’t even recover their bodies and all that.
I was pretty much impacted by the story because most of those kids working there are very poor, so when Rudy wrote this song, he explained what it’s about to me. It’s just the greed of the politicians or whoever.. mine-owners, the business people. It’s [because of] their greed that these kids have to die.
It touched me a lot, because I love children anyway, so with that thought in my mind, I sung this song and it really hit me. I sang it from my heart because it’s a tragedy for the families of those kids. Being from this region, we see it in the local news channel and when they interviewed the family of the people, it really broke my heart. But in general, if people don’t know this story and don’t know why this song was written, it also applies to what’s going on in India or across the world, with all the politicians. Most of them are very corrupted and it’s always the poor that have to suffer in the end. That’s the reason why I guess it’s sung purely from my heart.
Then there’s songs like “Troubled Times” which is quite different mood-wise compared to the rest of the album. But overarching mood seems to be one of hopefulness and positiveness. How did you come around to calling this album Give Love?
Wallang: When you asked us about missing the vibe of playing live and all that, that’s actually where we got inspired, that’s where I got inspired to write this song [“Give Love”], and it makes more sense now in this time in all of our lives.
It’s like the energy we give and the energy we get from a crowd, from our audience, you give love, you receive love. So that’s where the idea came about, but then we realized later on that this is what the world needs now, because there’s so much negativity, so much bullshit happening. And again, it’s politicians involved, right in the front are our so-called leaders — these are the guys that are messing up and screwing up majorly, all over the world, especially the big nations.
So “Give Love” and “Hole In Your Soul” and “Troubled Times,” these are actually positive songs in a way. “Hole In Your Soul,” when I think about it, why we got the children to sing at the end, is because the children are our future.
These guys are so blatant in their corruption, they don’t seem to look around and feel ashamed at what they’re doing. For them, it’s just normal, there’s just no rules. They make rules for everybody else. ‘You can’t write like this, you can’t do this, you can’t do that,’ but for them, quietly, they’re doing everything that they’re not supposed to do.
That’s why we decided to get the kids and hopefully these kids drive home the message “There’s a hole in your soul/You gotta fill that hole in your soul.” It is positive in a way, even “Troubled Times” ends on a positive note that “we’ve got to change all this for sure.” It’s up to you and me, my friends, we’ve got to give it all we’ve got. So it’s up to us, we’ve got to teach them a lesson. They cannot take us for a ride.
Since you mentioned the kids who sang on “Hole In Your Soul,” can you tell me how that came about? Was that a choir you called on?
Wallang: No, it’s not really a choir, actually. We wanted to get really young kids. So Tips said I know there’s a bunch of kids in my locality. She said ‘I’ll bring them’ There were five or six of them and then I got my niece and nephew, so we told them all you have to do is sing “You’ve got to fill that hole in your soul” and they sang it.
Kharbangar: I had to actually go about asking the parents to let them come with me for a day, because they’re very young, five, six and seven years old. Taking them for a walk from my place to Rudy’s studio is quite a lengthy walk. I even had to call one girl who’s around 17 to just come and chaperone because on the road they might run away and all that. [laughs]
Wallang: We didn’t want a professional choir and stuff. Whereas the other backing vocals was done by Tips and myself. We overlapped voices and parts and harmonies and stuff, just to make it sound big. So when you do this live, we’ll have to get a bloody choir, man!
This entire album was done at your studio, is that right? What was it like making that decision?
Wallang: Yeah, the whole recording was done here at Hole In The Wall. Then the mixing, I had gone to my friend Bari Khonglah (live sound engineer with Shillong Chamber Choir) who mixed Moving On and Shillong. I trust him and he’s such a sweet guy, he has a lot of patience, just like me. So I could sit with him and work, and we never get tired. So we’d go there, he mixed, then I go give them a listen, bring them back with me, sit down, bring them home, listen to them again.
Kharbangar: And then ask for my suggestion. I’ve been listening to it so much… too many times.
You had Vincent and Leon play drums and bass on this?
Wallang: Yeah. We work together as a team pretty good. And Vinnie’s really worked on his blues shuffles and all really well. I feel so comfortable with them and there’s no pressure. If I needed to do something again, I’d just go down to the studio — I left the drums and mics for the whole month, just in case we needed to redo something — and record.
We wanted to capture a live feel. Generally, we play it together, I put the amps, guitars in different rooms and the main person that we were recording was Vincent on the drums. Once that was captured, then everything else fell into place. Once you get a good drum sound, good energy from the drummer, then everything falls into place. That’s what I like about this album personally, it sounds very nice.
Kharbangar: That’s the reason why we said we should record in a way that way we should sound like how we play on stage. And you’ll get the best out of anything that you do when you are relaxed. So being at home has made it so light and easy. From the drums to bass and guitars, we’re just taking it one thing at a time and it doesn’t matter, we just didn’t want to rush.
Stream the album on more platforms here. Watch a live performance of “Give Love” below.