Vishal J Singh interview
Vishal J Singh is Indian guitarist/multi-instrumentalist and producer known in the independent music scene for his band Amogh Symphony. The band are working on their fourth album that should be released later this year. I spoke to Vishal about the album, his work as a producer and composer and also his other projects.
What is the current status on the new album from Amogh Symphony? When can we can expect it to be released? What can fans expect from the upcoming album?
Things were pretty slow after Jim moved to a new house, Andrey had an eye surgery and Derick and I are busy with our regular studio works. Andrey was not allowed to play wind instruments for 2 months and he is the guy who plays maximum number of instruments in the songs. After Derick joined us, we discovered some great new ideas, techniques and concepts of songwriting and production. It’s a joint effort, as you can imagine already. It seems like we are almost done with “IV”. Just few final touches once drums are done. Jim spends a lot of time in writing his parts (which I or anyone else in the band cannot write at all). There were some major abnormal talks and differences in opinions as we four are equally skilled multi-instrumentalists and producers (except me). But sooner or later, we find our common spots to hang out musically. I gotta be honest – my guitar parts make no sense without the sounds that these 3 guys (Derick, Jim, Andrey) create in AS. It doesn’t sound like ATOS, TQHC and Vectorscan at all yet, it’s pretty catchy and tricky. Goregaon Brass Orchestra did fantastic as usual, some brilliant tribal wind instrumentalists from my tribe in North East were recorded too, some ethnic and poppish vocal parts. Almost like an art- action movie soundtrack. We really can’t wait to show this to everyone. And this is not a sequel to Vectorscan. It can be art-pop or avant garde or just soundtrack. About release, I think it should be out in 2016 winter.
Amogh Symphony released a single Aai earlier this year. Tell us about it.
Aai is one of the songs from “IV”. Actually, this is the first track in which i used my custom-newly made hybrid ethnic guitar (Fretless baritone acoustic guitar with hybrid tuning of sarod and sitar) for the first time. Also, it’s the first track with new member Derick Gomes’ synth, foley and percussion inputs. We thought we should upload a track from the new album so that some fans can get back to us with their feedback and criticism. Surprisingly, we received decent response. I, personally, take healthy criticism very deeply to understand the point of “connection” between us and the fans/listeners because it challenges my writing, playing and producing skills every time. You know, everyone need some push so I get that from some honest fans. Like, someone described our music “Robot Jazz” on bandcamp and we really liked it. lol
What is your typical day like as a Producer/Instrumentalist?
My typical day is exactly like a Chef or a Head Cook. Mostly, working on tunes of other artists of creativity. There are just too many ideas and tunes floating inside the brain that sometimes wants to burst out of my skull. Mind works faster than the body. Yeah, sometimes I wish I could turn into a ghost. Sometimes it’s really fantastic and sometimes it’s very saturating. At some point, you just don’t want to hear any music because you know what’s coming up in the next 5-6 months with major promotions everywhere. Not that you hate it but it’s already “too old” to your ears. No matter what, you always have to be on positive side because in artist-life, sometimes there is no reason behind depression and you have to learn the art of getting out of it or to learn how to use it creatively. Working with other people let’s all my creative ideas flush away or flow away to make space for fresh new musical ideas which sometimes I use for Amogh Symphony with my bandmates Derick, Andrey and Jim who are, in reality, way more skilled and developed in creativity than me. I think I must have answered all this in my very old interviews(from year 2009-2013) that I cannot stick to one style of music or song just like how I like to travel to different places as much as I can. I do not have the fear of rejection because I believe that there is acceptance and understanding for all. Sometimes, it’s like reading minds. It can be beautiful or it can be a nightmare. I really appreciate artists/film-makers/musicians who let me feel their heart-beat and who let me see their artistic vision from their eyes, before I get into composing or producing/mixing the music. People can lie but their art cannot. I can put 10,000 ideas in rows but that would lead them to confusion and quick-saturation and things will turn into a giant clusterfuck. Well, that’s not the point and that’s not how we connect through art. I believe in the artist a lot. He/She must have the vision or I will simply turn into a dictating demon into his/her creativity. Because, being a composer/instrumentalist/producer myself, I do have a signature/trademark and limitation. I simply do not want my personal musical influence going into that particular music. I am talking about a perfect balance between brain and heart. We have to keep inspire each other in our lives because one cannot be inspired by itself. While working, I find lots of creative challenges. Sometimes, it’s way beyond my capacity but where is the fun when things are easy? Every day is a test of either extreme simplicity or extreme technicality. Now, tell me, where is the time and space for socializing? I do not socialize much while performing in corporate gigs. When I meet my friends, I get as excited as a 9 years old kid at a circus. I listen to people. I do that a lot. Every physical movement has its own background music. It’s very important for me to hang out with right bunch of people with whom I feel the good vibe and with whom I feel completely disconnected from my “pro-musician/producer world”. Also, best company gives you lot of links to great non-popular music. So, there is inspiration…always.
Ideally, what is your personal approach to compose and produce music? Like, for anything such as film-music score, ads, Amogh Symphony etc.? Do you follow music theory a lot?
There is no strict rule but I keep changing my approach to avoid saturation. But usually it starts with imagination of sounds and patterns in my head with a random story sequence. 4-5 years back, being a Guitarist and Drummer, my main mediums for writing music were Guitars and Drums. So, if you listen to all my old music, almost all of them are too much “Guitar oriented” or “Complicated drum pattern oriented”. If I ever feel depressed or lacking inspiration, I listen to all my music from initial days till date to remind myself how far I am standing today from where I started. You know, I wish I could start music earlier. I totally regret. Before I started playing Drums (I was 9 or 10 years old when picked up Drums as first instrument), my parents (both musicians) made me listen to various artists and varieties of music. Initial years of focused “listening” helped me a lot to become a Music Composer. Like, if you want, you can apply all the knowledge OR you can ignore all the things that already “happened” in music to write something new. I got into Electronic music some years ago and whatever musical piece I composed on acoustic instruments, their sounds were later engineered to synthetic sounds by me. I studied about synthesizers after Sound Engineering. I do not feel connected with anything standard – standard jazz, standard rock, standard electronica or whatever. You can write a good prog-rock song in 4 by 4 because odd time signatures sound boring after sometime and sometimes simplicity kills complexity(sometimes, it’s the other way round too. Anything is possible). I produce “standard” only when the band/artist/film-maker want something standard and if everyone seems happy, I say “Yeah, cannot be wrong if everyone is happy with it”. You see? I also need money to stay alive.
Today, I see myself more of a “Composer” than a Multi-Instrumentalist. Sometimes, I like to write a very simple tune with only one or two instrument(s). Sometimes, very dense and layered with twisted Brass sections and lots of synthesizers. But I cannot compose without a storyline. You know, that story can be very complicated for a very simple song or a very simple story for a tricky song. It’s the habit of doing background music for art films – I love it so much because when you have a story with an artistic edit, you have a non-punctual/non-linear sequence. When you have such sequence, you have different sets of feels and emotions. To imagine sounds and musical patterns, you need to have a lot of creative ideas, datas stored in your head. You know, coming out from your comfort zone. It challenges you so much that you prepare like a knight to get inside that nightmare to win. Things start with random ideas like “What will happen if I put a holdsworth-like improvisation in E-Piano on top of a Aphex Twin bassline, Buddy rich like retro jazz drums with a Shehnai player trying to copy Miles with sudden Green Day riff moment that keeps coming and going and Lykke Li singing with bad throat?” Mix fire with water and watch the unseen magic. It’s like Chemistry or preparation of a medicine. Sometimes, I say, screw that, I love that verse-chorus-bridge-chorus format because the story/lyric is about something very morbid or very spiritual/love. I got to work with some really creative guys in films, ads and bands who literally forced me to think of something else. I think, I like the fact that whenever a film-maker or a band/solo artist ask me to create/produce/mix sounds for them, they always expect something which is not common. But I simply say no when they ask me to produce something like Amogh Symphony. I cannot do that because Amogh Symphony is my alter ego and you can see how niche the fans are. It’s a little personal yet different music to connect with different people. It’s like giving away your own baby. Usually, it’s all the “rejected” ideas from film-makers and artists which later turn into a new story for new Amogh Symphony song/album.
Sometimes music theory is used for certain parts but mostly theories are not used because then you start seeing borderlines while composing. If the intention is to cross that line in your mind, then first you need to know what new improvised or planned out “idea or concept” in your composition will let you to cross nicely to blend with earlier musical theory. Let’s give you a small example – It’s like making a driller out of diamonds, because diamonds are sharp and tough but not sharp enough to drill into the deep ground to search crude oil. If you combined rotating wheels with diamonds attached to form cutter rings attached to a heavy metallic non-rusting armor, then it can cut any solid rock like things deep underground.
How do you deal with session music instrumentalists, music programmers and session singers while working with them for any project?
I connect with them very quickly and easily. Probably because I have done many session works as Session Guitarist and as a Producer with Bollywood Music Composers. I am very strict when it comes to getting the right performance from them in the studio. But I try my best to inspire them with good vibes. A lot of cheerful vibe is what we all need. I let them play whatever they want to, initially, so that they connect with the music immediately. I believe, it’s an indication of showing deep respect from my side to all the session guys and girls who work so hard with patience. I make sure that they are credited properly. There are some really incredibly amazing young instrumentalists and singers who just make you think like “Ok! I better not sing and play to him. I am nowhere close to this guy. Damn. I must practice.”
What advice do you have for younger musicians who like to become full time musicians? Is it very tough to survive financially?
If you want to be in a band and play only one style of music, then simply get a job. But if you want to become a full time musician, the first basic rule is to be a versatile musician with knowledge and taste in all kinds of music. Most importantly, avoid hanging out with rich kids and scene friends but pro-musicians of earlier generation and struggling artists. Be nice to everyone and respect hard work of others even if they are sold out popular ones. Get inspired but follow your own path. Avoid gossips as much as you can. Also, learn to save money. Do drugs but only to a limit when your creative side of the brain gets accelerated.
The lesson that I learned till date: Your unique/creative nature in your music gives birth to your identity but your versatility in nature in your music pays your bills. You must be able to pull both 100% with balance and focused mind if you want to survive in “any” industry. There is no other short-cut. Keep yourself updated with generations. Be nice to everyone and all the artists should help each other – to get work, to help with small money matters etc. We have to look for each other. Sometimes, a Ten dollars project will bring you a Thousand dollars project. Depends on your honesty, word of mouth and time-table.
To certain extent, it is true that surviving as a musician is tough. There are musicians who are still earning a lot but the incoming money-flow always fluctuates and not stable. But how dare you even think to give up? How? Never.
What projects are you currently working on at the moment?
Nothing special really. Few months back, I finished composing and producing songs and background music of US based film-maker/producer Vijit Sharma’s Thriller film called “Mirror Game” starring Parvin Dabas, Omi Vaidya and Sneha Ramachandran. Soundtracks of this film are produced by Amogh Symphony and Mixed by Ayan De. I am quite excited about this because this is also my first BGM collaboration work with my Mother Kasturi Nath Singh (who wrote all the orchestral string parts in the BGM) and my debut as a playback singer. Then, producing music albums of some really refreshing new sounding bands and solo artists from India, UK, Australia, USA and so on. Few ads/commercials with some UK based agencies. Job becomes easier when artists/bands come up with really refreshing, honest and great songs. Financial ups and downs (let’s not even talk about it). Some collaborations with various phenomenal bands and artists/songwriters/producers. My good friend Siddharth Basrur and me are planning something in between our crazy studio work schedules and hoping that we will be able to pull it off. Then…there is Fractured Dimension’s new record – I am done recording the guitar parts with Jimmy Pitts (who is an extraordinary Keyboardist and composer). There is more but I can’t really talk much about it at this point to be honest. Apart from all that, composing and producing soundtracks and Background music for some upcoming film projects with some good Film-makers from different corners of the globe about which I don’t think it’s the right time to talk about. Let’s see if the Earth survives by then. We all know that film work takes a hell lot of time to finish.
What’s up with your other projects like The Library, Vijay Xavier’s XSCT, Feathers of Jatinga and Superzero?
The Library – We have enough materials. I just have to record myself on drums, do few arrangements with Siddharth Basrur. Don’t really know how and when we can finish this first album with crazy schedules. Eh. We already had husband-wife arguments over this band.
Vijay Xavier’s XSCT – Finished producing Vijay’s album. We just did one gig with me playing drums. Though, I am not a part of XSCT anymore for some reasons that I don’t think I should talk about at this point.
FOJ – I cannot write sad songs anymore. I need proper North Eastern Winter to re-write and perform as Feathers of Jatinga. But where is the time?
Superzero – Derick and I can come up with songs in 1 day. But the point is – who will listen to us? Nevermind! After Amogh Symphony “IV”, there will be new Superzero immediately.
You are launching a label Vmbrella with Tom Geldschläger, Andrey Sazonov, Fatum Black, Jimmy Pitts and Matheus Manente. Can you tell us about it?
Too early to talk about it. But I think there will be an update very soon from Fatum and Andrey.
Any final words? Anyone that you would like to thank?
Peter. For being connected, always supporting and for being patient with me.
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