Karsh Kale Talks ‘Cinema’
Composer, DJ and multi-instrumentalist Karsh Kale will finally launch his fourth solo album Cinema with a gig at Blue Frog this Friday, March 16. The India release comes almost a year after it was out in the rest of the world, but Kale said the delay is because as a territory, we’re special. “The landscape here is different,” said Kale. “There’s much more scope to be able to accomplish more as an independent artist in India nowadays than even in the States right now, because there’s such a hunger for independent music.” The album, which will be available through the NH7 website, will feature a couple of bonus tracks left off the global release as well as remixes by Kale, DJ Jayant and Ibiza-based DJ Illington, who mixed the record. “I could have released it [earlier] but after playing it live, the songs of the album have evolved,” said Kale. “Now [in] the show, half the songs are from Cinema, some are from older albums, and some are brand new.” We interviewed Kale to ask him about, among other things, the making of the album and comparisons to Sting and Nitin Sawhney. Edited excerpts:
On why it’s his “most ambitious” album yet
“I guess each one is, right? I think more so because I took my time and I really kind of explored all the different places I could go as a songwriter, a composer. As opposed to going into the studio and sitting in front of the computer and working for three-four months and finishing an album, I wrote a lot of the music on acoustic guitar and on piano and sat with the compositions for a while before they became songs. I really believe that songs, if you can play them acoustically, they have a timelessness, a longer shelf-life.”
On why he’s called it Cinema
“I hadn’t really realised, as I was making music over the years, that a lot of the things I was doing was going back to that place when I was growing up back in the States listening to all the different styles of music that I was being inundated with—Lata Mangeshkar, Bhimsen Joshi, Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson. Being the youngest in the family, I didn’t really have the choice. I would be at the back of our station wagon driving around America listening to all of this stuff. I was sitting there and imagining these different movies and these different scenes; it created a whole different landscape for me that was very unique to that experience. A lot of that experience has played a role in my world as a composer. There’s a song on the album called ‘Turnpike’ [a remake of ‘Zindagi Jab Bhi Teri Bazm’ by Talat Aziz], which is a true memory of being on the New Jersey turnpike, listening to a song from Umrao Jaan while kind of feeling this vibe of pop music, this U2 meets Brian Eno vibe.
When we were driving, we would take these long trips. I would be sitting there and one tape would finish and somebody would scream ‘It’s my turn now’. Then my sister would turn on the radio and we’d listen to Casey Kasem’s [American] Top 40 and we’d hear Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Madonna and all that kind of stuff. Then my brother would put on Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Led Zepplin. Then my dad would turn that off and put Bhimsen Joshi on. I was always fascinated with those little moments in between. I was also falling asleep, taking naps. When you’re sleeping as a child, you take a lot of information in and those moments in between were really those magical moments for me. ‘Turnpike’ is that little moment, waking up and hearing one song and something else coming on, realising that this is all becoming one thing.”
On why we’ll be hearing him singing a lot more now
“I’m singing a bit on this album, not as much as I will be on the next album. As a producer, I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to vocals. My producer hat wouldn’t allow my singer-self to get into the project until I was ready. I always feel that singing is something that has to be sincere, not believable but it has to be true. Someone, if they have a story to tell, then you can really hear that. I’ve been a father, I’ve been together with a partner, we’ve [been] broken up for five years, I’ve travelled the world, I’ve lost friends. There are so many different things that you go through. In your road book, there are a lot of different stories to tell. There’s pain and there’s triumph and there’s happiness and until you go through that, you can’t really sing about love until you’ve been in love, you can’t really sing about death until you’ve experienced death.”
On why he sounds so much like Sting
“I had the great opportunity to work with him on the Breathing Under Water album [with Anoushka Shankar] and he did make that comment afterward. I had sung the track and sent it to him. He was like, ‘I didn’t really see why you need me in the studio’. But obviously, there’s influence from all of the people I’ve studied; my gurus—Sting, Zakir Hussain, Peter Gabriel, Stevie Wonder, Ravi Shankar. These are not only people that I’ve looked up to and listened [to] but when people tell me that it sounds like this or reminds them of that, it’s kind of obvious. I’m not consciously trying to imitate them but you just can’t help it.”
On why he formed a new band here
“Not that I won’t be playing with the Punditz anymore but that became a very particular thing. We spent a lot of years developing their live act, now they’re off doing it and they don’t necessarily need me to be there anymore. In the same respect, I started heading in a different direction where I wanted to bring back more of the influences from the Pink Floyd, Zepplin, and Genesis stuff that I grew up listening to.
I just had to think of the different musicians that I had a great rapport with, and how to put that together in one unit. [Flautist Ajayji [Prasanna] and DJ Jayant, I’ve known for ten years. People like [guitarist] Warren [Mendonsa], [bassist] Johan [Pais] and [drummer] Jai [Row Kavi] we started working together last year for the [finale] concert we did at the NH7 festival. It was just such a great experience and we had so much common reference that it just worked out. ”
On comparisons with fellow Asian Underground pioneers Talvin Singh and Nitin Sawhney
“We all grew up in alienating circumstances so there’s that story that’s similar and that winds up being the common thread in our music. And of course stylistically, [we all] take electronic music and take Indian music…Talvin’s a great tabla player, Nitin’s a great musician and a great composer…but our approaches are very different. I know them both well enough to know where they’re coming from so if I hear a great song from Talvin when he really nails it, he’s really coming from the Brian Eno space, that really esoteric, ambient space. Whereas Nitin is coming from a composer’s space—he’s a film composer—and his music is very cinematic. For me, besides growing up being an Indian classical musician and a rock musician and then a DJ, there’s a lot of progressive rock, Rush-meets-Genesis-meets-Yes stuff going on, at the same time the Underworld and Aphex Twin and the electronica stuff. Being from America, there’s a bit more of a sense of longing in the music whereas these guys grew up in Indian communities. I grew up in a white Jewish community. You’re kind of screaming in silence for a while until you get that moment to say what you want to say.”
Cinema by Karsh Kale will be available for download on NH7.in for Rs100. Download cards will be on sale at Blue Frog on the night of the gig.