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Interview with Indus Creed

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Indus Creed is back! The trailblazers of the Indian rock movement return in a new, contemporary form. Uday Benegal, Mahesh Tinaikar and Zubin Balaporia, the original frontman, guitar player and keyboard player of the pioneering band, are back with two new members – bass wunderkind Rushad Mistry and  the 24-year-old powerhouse drummer Jai Row Kavi. WTS got talking to the three original members of the band about their comeback and more. Here’s what they had to say…

WTS: From Rock Machine in 1984 to Indus Creed in 1993 to the new Indus Creed now. How has the journey been?

Uday: Zubin talks best about journeys!

Zubin: I just knew Uday was going to pick up the mic and hand it over to me irrespective of which question you ask. He’s a lazy vocalist!

Uday: He has the most significant things to say!

Zubin: Well I think it has been a journey of evolution because we started out like just any other college band, playing college festivals, small gigs – mainly cover material, slowly slipping in a few originals here and there. After we released our first album, we got a lot of mileage out of that especially when you look at all the original stuff we were doing after that. So the good thing is that we’ve been changing, evolving with every album. If you hear the three albums all of them have a distinctive sound. The fourth album will be yet another phase of our evolution, without trying to lose anything that we’ve managed to achieve over the years in terms of our sound.

Uday: Should I quote Mahesh? “I agree!” (laughs). That’s usually what he says. There’s not much to add to that. He’s absolutely right!

Interview with Indus Creed

WTS: Tell us about the time when there were no sponsors, no venues and little support. That was when you started and managed to succeed. What kind of initiative did that take? 

Mahesh: Strangely, it’s the other way round. I think now it’s more difficult to find sponsors and stuff. I don’t know for what reason, but those days we used to do big shows in football grounds and it was always sponsored. Today, to get sponsors even for clubs is pretty difficult for some reason. With more of an audience now it should be easier but for some reason it’s not so.

Uday: I think a part of the problem also is that it’s an industry that hasn’t kept pace with its own evolution. For example, the promoters, club owners etc. need to work together. There have been music conferences that have taken place in the country recently and they all seemed to miss this one point – that for any of this to actually go anywhere, everyone needs to coalesce and build the industry locally. That means promoters working with each other, club owners working with each other. Earlier we used to get sponsors because there was a more cohesive effort to actually get out there and get people to come to the gigs. We used to play to an average of 5 to 10,000 people. Today the numbers are small because the venues are smaller. It’s an industry that needs to develop itself far more effectively than it is right now.

WTS: How easy/difficult was it to make it big in the Indian music scene? 

Uday: I don’t think for us there was ever really an ambition to make it big, very honestly. There was no reason why six guys should have got together to make rock music in a country like India at the time, because there was nothing that made any sense from any perspective. There was no support from any side apart from a couple of sound companies maybe in Bombay…I think Bombay was the only place where you got good sound equipment. Wherever we travelled, the sound was pretty bad and we had to travel with all our equipment including our drum kit and our amplifiers which you don’t have to do anymore. For some gigs our bass player’s dog Scooby Doo had to come along because there was no one to take care of him! There’s nothing a little shot of Valium can’t take care of! (laughs) I mean, there was absolutely no idea, not even a glimmer of an idea of making it big. All we wanted to do was go and play this kind of music. After all the mess and the crap that we had to wait through to get up on stage, it was worth it when we finally got up on stage. Because when we got on stage and played that music, it felt really good. So that’s what it was. Everything else that came into place I think just fell into place.

WTS: What was it like in the 80s and the early 90s to carry the flag of Indian Rock to foreign lands? What was experience of playing in Soviet Russia like? 

Zubin: Yeah, that was something pretty amazing. In fact I remember very clearly, on the first day when we landed in Moscow. Mark, our original bass player, he and I were standing outside the hotel. It was a beautiful place, it was really cold and there was a river flowing there. That was in 1988 and we’d been together for 3 years and Mark looked at me and said “Not bad huh we’re actually in Moscow. And three years ago we were playing small 1500 student festivals!” So it was quite a thing, you know. And Russia was a beautiful experience; it was changing at that point. It was just sort of shifting from communism to…

Uday: I think Perestroika was actually just in the process of being initiated.

Zubin: Yeah, so we saw a very nice, quiet part of Russia, a bit of the old and start of the new. So that was fantastic. And we did a tour in the UK which was good exposure. I don’t know how much mileage we got from that but it was good to play to different audiences. And then of course, there was the big US trip that we did to record our third album. I think that was a big, big eye opener. We always knew that it would be difficult but it was very hard, it was a very hard place to survive in. We really didn’t have any money to do anything. I think it opened our eyes to a lot of things including how to be very professional about your work. Because when you’re in an industry where there are 10,000 guys waiting for one job, The guy who’s got the job has to be really sharp and professional because he’s going to be replaced very easily if not. Here in India, because you have a roof over your head, you get a certain sense of comfort and it doesn’t really allow you to push and it makes you lazy for sure. That was the biggest eye opener. The biggest thing for us was to see this attitude, that if you don’t cut it or have what it takes you’re just going to be replaced the next day. It’s a cut-throat business.

Interview with Indus Creed

WTS: How has your music changed from what it was then to what it is now? 

Mahesh: I don’t know about the music. The only thing I know and what I’m really happy about is we don’t have to wear those ridiculous stage clothes and accessories that we used to wear! (laughs)

Zubin: The Bombay Store shoot, you only probably saw a few of the pictures! You should have seen some of the other pictures, we weren’t wearing any trousers!

Uday: Well Bombay store and whoever the stylist was in his infinite wisdom figured that it was going to be a waste of shorts. So why bother sending trousers? We actually have some pretty interesting pictures, of us in our suit, jackets and our ties and our combed-back hair and our underwear! (laughs)

WTS: Jai and Rushad are the new members you have on board, what do they bring in to the music now?

Uday: I think Jai and Rushad bring a fantastic new energy. They are both very young, Rushad is 29 and Jai is 24! Both are really good, pretty seasoned musicians, they are young but very seasoned. Rushad sent a few years in Canada playing with a band out there, was building houses, working on construction stuff at the same time. So he’s seen a bit of life and it really makes a difference to a musician or to anyone to have experienced life because it comes through in your art. Jai is a very active player otherwise, he plays with different bands like Tough on Tobacco. And when Mahesh and I started an acoustic band about a year ago called Whirling Kalappas we had recruited Jai for that which is really much softer, much mellower stuff and Jai is known more for the powerhouse material, and he’s a really good drummer. What Jai and Rushad bring on one hand is a fresh new energy; they bring new ideas, a contemporary style of playing which is what we wanted! Together as a rhythm section which is really, really important, they’ve got a chemistry that is absolutely fantastic. They play together very well which is the kind of thing you want in a band, we’re really happy with them!

Interview with Indus Creed

WTS: What reasoning drove this decision of having the two of them join your band? 

Mahesh: I have played with Jai before and I had seen Rushad play at a couple of concerts and I just thought they were the best guys around. Because they’re just so good, we didn’t even look anywhere else, honestly! We decided we just want these two guys.

Uday: People have asked us if there were auditions, there were no auditions.

WTS: Jai plays with so many other bands, doesn’t that makes things difficult? 

Uday: It’s not a problem at all. I think it’s a matter of working over schedules, so that it doesn’t come in conflict. So far, we have managed that pretty well. I think Jai and Rushad are pretty happy playing with us and they work around our schedule and we do likewise, I’m not saying that they would prioritize us or they would cancel other gigs! And I think what makes Jai such a good drummer is the fact that he plays with so many different bands and different kinds of music which adds a lot more dimension to his playing and that’s really valuable!

Interview with Indus Creed

WTS: Uday, was reviving the band in your mind for quite some time? What took you guys so long? 

Uday: Actually reviving the band was not on my mind for that long primarily because I was living in NY. When Jayesh Gandhi and I moved to NY at the end of 1999, I honestly never thought I would ever come back to India. I left Bombay because I was done with Bombay. There were reasons that brought me back to Bombay which I don’t regret at all. So the conversation really came up when I decided to move back, that was when the thought entered my head. I was hanging out at Mark Selwyn’s place(the original bass player of Indus Creed) I was on a visit to Bombay just hanging out with these guys  when I told them that I was thinking of moving back. And Mahesh made a very off-hand comment saying “Hey man! We should put Indus Creed together again!”

Mahesh: I don’t even remember saying this part! (laughs)

Uday: I think he was half-drunk! (laughs) And then he proceeded to get completely drunk after that so the idea was not approached at all. And then I went back to the US and that was the end of that. And then when I moved back to Bombay again, we didn’t talk about Indus Creed. That was when Mahesh and I put Whirling Kalapas together which was a completely different sound – very mellow, completely acoustic, you know mandolin, violin that kind of stuff. Zubin would sit in on some sessions with us when he was available and so if it was a Bombay gig he would come and play a few tunes with us and it was great fun doing it that way. And we were all caught up stuck in our own individual activities at that time. At some point, we started to discuss it. I mentioned it to Mahesh and he of course had no recollection of having said this, obviously he planted the idea in my head and I said let’s do it if you guys are into it. And a year later our schedules opened up. I had worked on a few tunes that I showed to them and I said “Do you wanna do this now?” and everyone said “Yeah we’re on board, let’s do it!” We spoke to the old members and obviously put the idea before them about rejoining Indus Creed. Well, Jayesh is in the US and his life is pretty well-settled out there, Mark Selwyn has moved into a different career path. The day we stopped playing as Indus Creed he hung up his bass player. He was pretty unequivocal about that decision and he always said that was what he would do. Our original Rock Machine drummer Mark lives in New Zealand. So they all said “We can’t do this anymore, but you guys go ahead!” So yeah, Indus Creed is back for good.

Interview with Indus Creed

WTS: Does the mounting pressure and the unreal expectations from people make you nervous? 

Uday: That question goes straight to Mahesh!

Mahesh: Definitely it makes us nervous! The thing is it works both ways, keeping the old fans happy and winning over the new guys who have never seen us or who don’t even know anything about us. It’s pretty difficult but we’re working on it and we’re having a good time. We’re writing new songs, let’s see… we’re keeping fingers crossed, it should all work out.

Uday: The reason I handed it over to Mahesh first because he’s the one who questioned it the most; and very valid questions. One of the apprehensions that he had was “Are we using the name Indus Creed for something that we shouldn’t be doing?” I think he was more concerned about questioning the idea of “Are we capitalizing on something?” and I was very firm about the idea and very convinced that we were not capitalizing on anything but were drawing from something that was very much part of our lives, our history and our DNA. We came to the agreement that yeah this is something we should go ahead and do. We all had our apprehensions. We are very much part of the Indus Creed sound, a very significant part. It’s not like we decided to do this and keep anybody out of the picture. Mark actually said that “If you guys ever want to put Indus creed together, I just want you to know that if you’re wondering if you could use the name, I’m totally cool with it. Just don’t f*** it up!” (laughs)

Zubin: I think the important thing is at the point when we quit, a lot of people said why did you stop etc. I think it was the best decision and the most beautiful part of a very long association of a bunch of guys who became very close friends playing music, because it had reached a stage where the music scene was changing in India. The influence of Bollywood was extremely strong; it was starting at that time. Of course now it’s huge! There was a lot of pressure on us to sing in Hindi which we didn’t want to do. It’s not that we had anything against it but it was just not what we wanted to do.

Uday: That was also the time when there was this really bad Hindi pop movement that came about!

Zubin: Yeah, and there was no reason why we ever wanted to compromise on that. Also we’d grown musically and our musical tastes had changed and we just felt that it was a good time to stop and we’re all good friends, and it was just the perfect thing to do at that point of time. So we stopped, they went to NY, the rest of us carried on doing other things, and every time they came down there was a huge party, we hung out, and we spoke. So it ended in a beautiful way. That, I think is very important because when bands dissolve – there are usually some huge problems and the guys can’t get along and I’m so happy that never happened with us. It left a very beautiful memory in our minds. We did something and we very happy with the way it finally panned out. So there was a bit of hesitance to a certain extent because you don’t really want to destroy that image you had. When you came back with a new band with the same name, you’d better live up to what you had done in the past because otherwise it would really destroy what we had done. Individually, you feel that I don’t want to screw up something that I really treasure. It must now move on in the same plane.

Uday: And evolve into something even better, progress into something more mature.

Zubin: And I’m very happy to see that it has fallen into place very quickly. It hasn’t been difficult to write new material. Benny (Uday) has been doing most of the writing, we’ve been contributing and it has flowed very nicely onto the stage. I think that’s a good sign. The new tunes have gone down well. People come up and say that they really liked them after listening to them the first time. That’s a big plus point.

Interview with Indus Creed

WTS: Quoting from a news report – “They might lose some fans with their new sound.” Did you think this was a possibility? 

Zubin: I think that’s always going to happen. You can’t have everybody coming and saying “Oh, we love your old stuff and now we love the new stuff!” That’s highly unlikely.

Mahesh: In fact some people are saying you should call it Rock Machine, they are so attached to it!

Zubin: There are so many people who were so hung up on the Rock Machine name that they didn’t like the Indus Creed name or the material at that time. That’s bound to happen; there are bands we grew up watching who have changed over the years. Sometimes I see those bands and I don’t connect with what they’re doing but it doesn’t mean they are doing something bad or wrong. And there is this whole new generation of fans who have come in and some of the older guys do like the new stuff!

Interview with Indus Creed

WTS: What was the response you’ve got from people so far? How have people taken to the new sound of the band? 

Mahesh: A very good response. We have had some good shows/concerts. A lot of people came and appreciated the new songs too. Now we’re going to start recording – that is going to be a big challenge.

Uday: I think the reaction you get from the audience is when you play the song. You play a tune once and for someone to respond at that point… most people find it hard to react to a song the first time they listen to it, I do too. I rarely pass judgment on something I listen to unless I give it a few more listens. So if someone responds positively on the first listen, that’s a very encouraging sign.

WTS: According to your website, you guys called it a day at the peak of your success, because you weren’t happy with the way the music biz in India was heading. You thought it was stifling. Are you of the opinion that it is any better now? 

Uday: I think it’s better in many ways, yes. The biggest leap forward for non-Bollywood music in India has been that it is now expected of bands to play their own music, their own material. Original material now is absolutely the norm. We’ve never liked to boast about anything but one thing that we feel really proud of is that we played a very significant role in overcoming that prejudice and bias, especially with rock music listeners. The reason why we were a cover band to begin with was because that was the scene, you had to play cover tunes, and we didn’t have a choice. As Zubin said, we used to slip in a few originals because it was the only way to get them through. We lied about them. Access to new music wasn’t very easy in those days so it was easy to say that the song we were about to play was by an American rock band, if people reacted favourably to it, we’d say “Ummm… that was ours actually.” And before we knew it people were really asking for those songs whether it was Top of the Rock or Rock n’ Roll Renegade. They were really popular tunes – they were unreleased and people were really asking for them. Now the whole scene is – if a band is going to go on stage and playing, of course they are going to play their own material! So yeah, that’s improved a lot! While the scene has changed in terms of larger venues, I think the scene has become a lot more fertile because there are so many indoor places. It has shrunk the size of the audience in terms of each performance, but it is intimate which I personally like and you have a lot of bands getting out there and playing. It makes everything more fertile, it improves the standard. And like what Zubin said earlier, when you can be replaced you make sure you’re frigging bloody well good. I think that has raised the standard for rock music in India.

WTS: Indus Creed has collaborated with some of India’s most respected classical musicians like Taufiq and Fazal Qureshi, Ustad Sultan Khan and Rakesh Chaurasia. How was it working with them? How did Alms for Shanti happen? 

Uday: Well one of the most significant collaborations we did was when we did a few concerts with a band called Surya. Surya was a band composed of Fazal and Taufiq Qureshi (Zakir’s brothers), Ustad Sultan Khan, Shankar Mahadevan on vocals and a mridangam player called Sridhar Parathasarthy, who’s just an incredible musician. All of these people were absolutely fantastic musicians. Surya had done some collaboration with a Swedish jazz band called Mynta. They called it Mynta-Surya and had put a couple of albums out. Fazal had approached us at that time; we had played with him before – Fazal had done the table parts for Pretty Child. I guess he had really enjoyed the experience and he said “Let’s do collaboration, a live thing, with these two bands.” You know Jazz and Classical, it’s a little easier to put them together because they’re both mellower sounds but bringing a rock band into a room, where there’d be six guys with five other musicians  with completely different schools of music was very challenging. But we just had the most incredible time. And we were rehearsing at the time at Zubin’s wife’s warehouse. Her family owns a factory/warehouse, there was manufacturing activity happening while we were cloistered in this room, what blew me away personally was when Ustad Sultan Khan who’s just this phenomenal maestro walks in there without a fuss. We’ve got a messy, tiny little room in the middle of this factory that’s blasting stuff outside (of course they could never really complain about us being too loud). He just puts a mat down on the floor; he puts the Sarangi and waits to start to play. No complaints, no expecting any special kind of treatment, nothing and we all just started to play. He never complained about the guitar player being too loud and that was just fantastic. I think that was one of the most rewarding experiences, and that put the seed of that idea into my head and Jayesh got charged up with it. And that’s how Alms for Shanti came about later. (Looks at Mahesh) What do you think?

Mahesh: Yeah, I agree! (laughs)

WTS: With your numerous achievements did success ever get to your head? 

Mahesh: Honestly, after we stopped playing, it was only in early 2000 that I realized what an impact we had made. For us it was fun, we were having a good time, we hadn’t really thought about anything. It was only later that people actually started writing to us saying “Oh! We miss you guys, we love this song.” That was when we realized maybe we did something right. I don’t think it really went to our head or anything.

Uday: The relationship in the band was such that no one would ever be given the opportunity to let it go to his head because we’ve always taken the piss out of each other all the time anyway. Maybe in the back of our minds we all individually knew that if anybody would push an ego thing it would be brought down quickly by the other guys. It was a very democratic thing, sometimes maybe too democratic because we fought like maniacs! (laughs) That was the kind of band it was!

WTS: You have added more electronic elements to your music now, tell us more about that. 

Uday: We’ve added some. We’re still very much front and centre, a live band. Everything else that we add on, whether its loops or tonalities or textures that are coming off a track it’s only used as an enhancement or embellishment. It’s only to bolster and to make the sound textually more interesting. For us, the first and most important thing is that we’re a live band.

Zubin: For me personally, it’s a very interesting experiment, because I have always wanted to bring in a slightly electronic element into the sound without changing the whole fact that we are and will always principally be a live band. So long as we don’t alter the nucleus of whatever we have been doing, this is just another thing that is going to add to it. It’s not a dominant factor but is something that is going to contribute. On the second album, for example, we have used a tabla for the first time, we won’t really be called an Indian classical act or a fusion act all of a sudden because of one thing, but it really worked beautifully in the song. So this is another way of making your stuff more interesting, a little more contemporary without trying to shove it down people’s throats.

Uday: It’s kind of like when you go into a studio, you think of production ideas and this is just a production idea that’s coming to you in a live format. It’s just about enhancing the music.

Interview with Indus Creed

WTS: Have you tweaked your old songs to add a new flavor? 

Mahesh: To a certain extent, very limited. We changed them around, some we’ve kept intact just for the old fans who would expect us to play it the way they remember it but some songs we have changed them around because we are bored of playing them, we can’t see ourselves playing the same stuff for so many years.

Uday: It’s funny, for example with a song like Top of the Rock, there were certain phrasings in the song that we wanted to change and Jai who’s the new guy says “Hey no man! Let’s play it the old way” and I said “No Jai! Please, we’ve done this for like frigging 20 years! Don’t play that.” In fact we keep telling him “Do your thing, make it more contemporary.” We have altered a few things but not dramatically, we haven’t added any electronic stuff to it for example. To give you another idea, there’s a song called ‘Fly’ which we actually didn’t play that much. It’s off the Indus Creed (self titled) album which we all really liked, personally its one of my favourite Indus Creed tunes. I’m having an absolutely fantastic time playing that now, I’m really glad we brought it into the set. It’s got a slightly progressive-rock feel and we’ve extended a certain portion at the end of the tune where Jai and Rushad move into a really nice progressive kind of groove, Zubin’s playing some really great keyboard parts over that. It’s actually made the song more contemporary but I think it was a song that was probably ahead of its time sound-wise so it’s fitting really well into this current sound. So that’s the kind of stuff that makes it really fun to do.

WTS: Uday, here’s a quote from you – “We have something like a fungal infection for each other.” What’s that all about? 

Mahesh: What was that? (laughs)

Zubin: Fungal infection!

Uday: (laughs sheepishly) Someone asked me about the relationship of the band. So I said yeah we’re friends but it’s more like a fungal infection, we want to go under each other’s skin and that’s about it, you can’t get rid of it!

WTS: Tell us about your fights with Mahesh and Zubin!

Uday: We all fought like crazy, it wasn’t just the three of us and it was usually about completely silly things, which is why the fights actually ended after the rehearsal was over! We’d be in the rehearsal room and it would be about playing a particular part, and somebody wanted to play a different way and somebody would say. “What the f*** do you know, you f***ing c***, what the hell do you know you f***ing c*** and you know what you played the last time, your guitar wasn’t working you a******? You know how hard I worked on that guitar?” That’s how it went!

Mahesh: I remember once in Cal we were doing a show, we were playing with Gary Lawyer and after a few drinks we started abusing each other and started fighting, not seriously but any outsider would think this is a really serious fight. So he said “Boys, please whatever you do, break up after you do the show tomorrow!” (loud laughter)

Zubin: In fact Mark came up to me and said we must really stop… the word he used was “clipping” – he said we must stop clipping each other so much in public because people are getting a little nervous. Because people who didn’t know us well didn’t realize that this was a part of the usual banter and it seemed like it was a very serious issue. It never was. I can’t think of a single serious fight or anything.

Uday: The fights were stupid little arguments, very often sparked off by Mark, our dear Mark Selwyn who had these… we used to refer to them as the what-are-we-doing-with-this-band moments. Mark would suddenly get all introspective about the band and gather all of us together. Mark was always something like the frontrunner of the band, who’d think of the band, how to push this forward and stuff and he came up with the best ideas of how to move this band forward. But invariably there would be the “Oh God, it’s the what-are-we-doing-with-this-band meeting again!”

Zubin: But I have to say, Mark is what 4-5 years older than the rest of us?… and a lot of the things he did for the band were really, really useful, not just musically but I’m talking of other things like just to get the band ahead basically, where we were and what were we doing with this band (Uday: Heh!) I think he really thought ahead while the rest of us were just playing and having fun. He was the real thinker of the band, the planner, and a lot of the things he came up with made a lot of sense.

Uday: He was the instigator of the best ideas!

WTS: So when will the New Indus Creed come out with another album? 

Mahesh: Early this year we’re looking at March/April, we’re still working on it.

Uday: We’re planning to go to the studio and start recording stuff in January. We want to see how the material fits in and really work on it, make it good.

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