Mumbai band Blek is going from strength to strength. This 3-member power pop band comprising of college mates Rishi Bradoo (Guitar/Vocals) and Jared Juan Creado (Bass/Vocals) and Linford D'souza (Drums) was formed in 2011. Two years later the band found themselves at the The Great Escape Music Festival in Brighton, UK playing not one but two gigs and meeting a whole new spectrum of international music artists. At home they are a regular on the Indian music circuit and have played at most prominent muisc festivals, grabbing also a few awards along the way.
Verus Ferreira met up with Rishi Bradoo to know more about the band.
Going back a few years, how did the band take shape?
We met in college, we were all studying at St. Xaviers together and really wanted to make our own music. Jared and me started working on stuff together, I think I called him "too funk" at a point, I was heavily into grunge and he had a whole different vibe going on, but this was before the weekenders started so there were a lot of kids doing music, but very few who wanted to make anything original. Jared and me were the only ones who were really into what was happening in Indie music at that time. We met Varoon Aiyer as we needed a drummer for Malhar and wanted to play our own stuff and he was crazy good. That ended up gluing Jared and me together and that's how Blek was formed. Once we started touring, things got busier, complicated and chaotic for all of us. It took a bit of a psychological toll and Varoon needed a break and wanted to focus on his day job. That's when Jared's childhood friend Linford came in and filled the spot. He was very inspired by Varoon so he became a natural fit.
Is BLEK an acronym for something?
It's interesting you thought it would be an acronym, you should totally make it one, would be very interesting to see what acronyms people make up for us. Initially we were called Blech, when we met Varoon our sound changed and we wanted to change thename, but couldn't come up with anything so we changed the spelling. I later found out it was also the name of street artist Blek le rat, who I ended up becoming a fan of.
You were the among the Top 5 winning bands in a Ray Ban Never Hide Sounds, a nationwide talent hunt for best emerging Indian artists in 2011. Was this the turning point for the band?
Not really. These competitions aren't a turning point for any band or artist. They're a convenient event for brand exposure for the relevant brand and basically an opportunity to play for young acts who're struggling to get a gig. They don't help with an artist's career in any way. Our job is to make music and learn from each other, not compete for first place, that first place means nothing. We didn't have a lot of gigs at the time and we needed them and we got to play one, we weren't thinking of exposure then, we were just happy to get a gig. So yeah if they are organising gigs and paying artists, go for it, that really helps.
You guys play alt grunge and dancepunk, who were your musical influences either individually or as a band?
We didn't choose that sound, it's just what we got tagged as and we didn't quite mind at the time. We listen to everything from bloc party to Chemical Brothers, so its difficult to narrow down to any one influence. We don't actively sit down to try and sound like someone, so we aren't really all that aware of what's influencing us and how.
You released your debut EP ‘Hexes + Drama’ and ‘Other Reasons for Evacuation’? can you tell us something about it?
I think I cornered Ayan De after a gig and said, "Hey, produce our EP" and he was like ya sure. We had something that sounded like four songs and we went in without a clue of what the process is. It took us a long time to cut that EP, and it was cut almost entirely in a tiny room using an electronic drum kit, it was all we could afford. The interesting thing is that while the record was being cut, we ended up writing ‘Fog + Strobe’ in a jam session. It wasn't meant to be on that record. I casually played it for Ayan once and he was adamant that we record it. We didn't know anything about synths and detailed production, and he had a vision for the song so we let him go with it a lot more than the other tracks. A lot of the good things that came our way came on the back of that one track, it even inspired me to pay attention to production and engineering and learn how to do it. It set the direction for the Break the Beat EP.
‘Break the Beat’ is the four track EP you released early this year. Like to say something on it and its interesting cover art?
We had disappeared for a bit and that EP represented a lot of what we've been through while we were gone. Right after our trip to Brigthon, I moved to London to study audio, I was determined to learn how to make records and gain control over the production process. That obviously halted Blek in the tracks. We had pre recorded stuff before I left and I was supposed to record vocals in the UK and send them back. There was an EP in the pipeline that we had originally planned to finish before I got back. Jared, Linford, and Ayan were trying to work on it, but for many reasons it didn't materialise. When I got back we'd all really changed a lot and were still stuck in a state of weird limbo from which we were trying to cut a record and restart our lives as Blek. The EP was born through a lot of what happened with us during that time, if you listen closely you can hear it, not just in the lyrics.
And the cover?
The artwork is Nishlesh's interpretation of our songs, when it was done we handed the first round of mixes to him and he went through them and visualised them really well. He really understood our work. His artwork is a huge part of that record.
How did he meet up with you guys?
Nishlesh is a student from NID and also a talented animator. We loved his style and felt it made sense having a cohesive visual for the video and the artwork.
So you also have a couple of videos then?
The video is for our song ‘Wasting Away’, off the ‘Break the Beat’ EP. Nishlesh got in touch with us saying he wanted to make a video for an existing song, and I asked him if he wanted to be a part of the new record. We saw his early drafts of the video and fell for his work and asked him if he wanted to do the artwork. The video needed funds as Nishlesh had to rent out of a lot of equipment. We ran a wishberry campaign for that which turned out to be a huge success. We even closed the campaign with a huge gig called #blekparty. Nishlesh is presently finishing the video.
How do you go about the songwriting process? Who writes the songs?
We contribute evenly. We'll meet up and jam and just play off each other slowly structuring a song. Nothing is pre conceived individually. Then once stuff is down I write down lyrics and vocals.
Besides music what do you guys do?
Linford works full time as a session drummer outside of BLEK, Jared is part of the live sound team at Opera House, and I run a recording studio called Theatre 74 where we record indie bands.
Tell us something about your initial days in the band and how you guys managed to make ends meet?
We didn't make ends meet. We still don't. This is what 4 to 5 years ago? Yeah things were pretty stupid then, they still are, but they were even stupider then. It was easier to tour and get gigs once you had something like 4 songs in the shape of an EP put out there. Venues paid for your flights/trains/roller-skates and stay and maybe paid you for the performance at the end. Which sounds super fun, and is super irresponsibly fun, but not sensible at all. Not for the bands, not for the venues, etc. If a band's getting gate share then they have to work really hard to promote their gigs especially when on tour. Cause they know they won't make ends meet otherwise and that means they eventually (if they are good) start building a real audience that will pay to watch shows. The old system gave you money but cut you at your feet. An artist's real currency in the live music space is the number of fans he/she can pull into a venue consistently. That's whats happening now in Mumbai at least.
On your Facebook page you have #Artistswastingaway and #CrowdfundWastingaway campaigns. What was this?
Nishlesh had gotten in touch with us to make a music video on our song for his college graduation project. He's a talented animator, but since he's a student we needed funds to bring it to life, so we ran a crowdfunding campaign with him. We wanted to get the design community involved since the campaign was to fund an animated music video and a lot of Nishlesh's friends turned up to help promote the campaign by designing posters that used the motifs of the video in their own unique styles. That was the #ArtistsWastingAway thing, it was quite awesome seeing work in so many different styles.
You have toured all over India, any memorable gigs.
Oh plenty of stories, but you'd run out of ink. We've slept on stone cold floors at 8 degrees celsius, saved someone from a stabbing, gotten banned by a hotel/venue cause some of our touring party decided to order everything on their room service menu as it was free of charge for us. We've done 9 hour bus rides, gotten aggressively constipated cause toilet hygiene is a problem in parts of the country, had to stop at extremely scary truck dhabas in the middle of nowhere to get some food at 4 in the morning and we've gotten ripped off a lot. Lots of stories there, if any of your readers find me at a local bar I'd happily tell them in greater detail.
In 2013 you guys were invited to performed in England. Can you tell us how this came about?
Oh right, so our manager at the time, Rishu Singh, called me in the middle of the night asking if we wanted to play in Brighton at the Great Escape festival, we were really excited and were like hell yeah lets do this. But it was logistically very difficult, the visas were expensive, and we were in charge of booking our own flight tickets and stay, and we didn't have any other gigs lined up in the UK, cause we didn't really know that we should have gotten that sorted to break even. They paid us well but it really didn't cover our costs, and that's a reality of performing abroad, you have to be very intelligent and play a lot of shows in a short period of time to break even. We felt, regardless of the cost, that it was a seriously good experience, in fact I even held some naive misunderstanding that it would help us a lot locally after, but it didn't. It became a massive tipping point for us, we played two shows there though we were booked for one and got to see a whole lot of great bands and were sharing the same stage with Roosevelt who had just released a debut EP around then. In fact that was the first time I heard Roosevelt. Thing was it really opened our minds up, we realised what some of the realities of the music business are, and also got a little disillusioned by the indie music scene back home. In fact I remember having a very hard time after we came back, we'd play gigs but I'd gotten so disheartened with the state of the indie music scene, the people in it, there were a lot of things wrong with the mindsets and the way things were being done and it all became obvious and something I couldn't ignore. It really messed me up and I know I wasn't the nicest person to be around back then, it certainly took a toll on us as a band. But despite that, it was a phenomenal learning experience and just getting a bigger wider perspective of things became a huge tipping point for us.
Do you think “old school” alt rock – grunge will eventually lose its relevance what with the ever-increasing crop of bands that are coming up these days?
It already has. It's best to avoid labels cause they all lose relevance to another label eventually. "Rock music" in India to be honest has really hit a horrible plateau. We don't have any new ideas, and are going to have to put our heads down and find new ways to do things, new sounds, new directions. We have to do our jobs and get creative. At least that's what I feel personally. As a kid I was inspired by superfuzz, pentagram, etc. Barely anyone makes me feel that anymore, it's heart breaking. But that's our job, we have to create, have to find something new and push ourselves. Best to just get to it.
What’s Blek future plans?
We're writing and recording more songs, maybe another EP and some shows. We'll announce those details at a more appropriate date.
What advice would you give to fellow start-up bands?
Jump in head first, ask questions later and don't ever be afraid of having a "bad gig", those can often be the best memories. If you're having fun on stage, everyone's having fun. Nobody in India really knows what they're doing with independent music, which is awesome cause pretty much everyone is shooting from the hip so don't let anyone tell you otherwise. That also means you have an incredible range of new ideas to try, from the music to the promotions and making money, where there are these many problems and this much vacuum there is a very serious opportunity to build things so don't let negativity, or laziness be a reason to not do something. Take all this advice with a huge pinch of salt, but please, please build something.