We recently got a chance to speak to Shoals – the new duo in town who are bringing their take on electronica music. Sidharth Gupta and Utkarsh Varma released their EP ‘Mad Turf’ yesterday and we wanted to know more about it!
‘Shoals’ is a very unique name. Could you give us an insight as to how you guys came about the name?
It is partly inspired by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, which was one of the most influential house bands in Rock and Soul history, and contributed to shaping the sound of a lot of the music we love and listen to today. These guys had a knack for working as a team and changing up their sound based on the unique requirements of each project, and that is something we really admire and respect. We also really like the vibe of the name in general; it elicits images of the ocean which is both calming and extremely frightening at the same time.
What instruments do you play? Have you guys always been musically inclined?
Our primary instrument is the guitar, but in this project, we record everything on our own. We’re currently really excited to start working on a live set with a drummer, and both of us will trade off bass, synth, guitar and vocal duties.
Sidharth – I’ve been musically inclined since I was 7 or 8, I think, ever since my grandfather started teaching me Bollywood songs on the keyboard! Before that, I used to love to paint. Music made me forget all about that.
Utkarsh – I’ve been musically inclined since I was 3 years old. My grandfather started teaching me the basics of tabla as a way to improve my sense of rhythm. Never before had I been fond of something so much, that feeling kept growing as I grew older and it became pretty obvious very soon as to what I wanted to do with my life.
What genre is Shoals primarily?
After much debate, we’ve decided on calling it “Circus Electronic”. It’s a weird blend of hip-hop, progressive rock, and electronica.
What inspired you to make this EP? What is the EP all about?
Writing is something we don’t consciously think about. It’s a routine that’s ingrained in us. We meet up every night from 10 pm to 5 am and work. Sometimes we don’t get anything useful done, and sometimes we do. But we always show up. The EP is about anything you want it to be. In our heads, it’s a story about cats overthrowing the human race, but we wouldn’t expect anyone else to relate to that!
If given the chance, would the duo like to dabble in another genre?
Absolutely. We love experimenting with new sounds and styles and would love to work with other artists who are doing something different than us. Working as a duo can be a little strenuous sometimes.
How do you manage the conflict, if any?
In our case, it works smoothly because it’s very useful to have another set of ears to objectively listen to your ideas, especially if you trust and value their opinion. We both bring something different to the process, and we’re hardly ever bogged down by ego trips or shit like that.
Do you primarily focus on music, or you have day jobs? If so, how do you guys maintain the perfect balance between work and passion?
Music has always been our primary focus. We’re very passionate about it but at the end of the day its a job that we have to commit to and work on every single day. It’s not always a breeze and sometimes you just want to stay in bed and not get up, but you can’t just do that at any other job and the same goes for making music.
You’ve mentioned four prime powerhouses of music as your inspiration. Any other artists’ work you hold close enough that pushes you to pursue your passion?
The works of J Dilla, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Earl Sweatshirt and Kendrick Lamar have been very inspirational. They’re always pushing the boundaries of music and taking it to a new place.
We can agree on the fact that the music industry in India has transcended from barely visible to hugely active. What do you think about this transition? Anything you’d like to change the way the industry functions at present?
We are extremely happy that the independent music scene in India has evolved so much, and people are genuinely interested in finding new and upcoming artists instead of just consuming what the mainstream has to offer. This is hugely encouraging for people who want to pursue music as a career, and also benefits the regular listener who has a diverse musical catalog to choose from.
Even though people are listening to more music, it is still extremely difficult to make a living solely from playing music. Independent artists need all the help we can get from people involved in the music business to rise to the level that we see abroad in places such as the US and UK.
Live performance is the talk these days when it comes to music. Given that the release of your EP is around the corner, have you guys planned ahead?
We can’t wait to start performing live. We’ve recruited a drummer to play live with us and are very excited to make the announcement soon. We think he will add another dimension to our music in the future as well. Given how things are going right now, we should be ready to hit the stage in May! Apart from that, we’re constantly working on new music and other projects, including some music for a short film directed by Ish Raheja, a very close friend of ours.
We’ve seen an influx of musicians and artists in the past few years in every possible genre when it comes to India. Whilst the diversity encourages musicians to come forward, how do we see Shoals carving a niche for itself?
Our music does not stick to one genre, and we hardly ever think about that when we’re writing music. We simply make music that we would like to listen to. Hopefully, this lends to a unique sound that people can enjoy as well. We want to continue to experiment and challenge ourselves in every aspect, whether it is live shows or recorded music. It would be way more exciting to see a group of diverse people at our live shows instead of a group of similar people!
We understand that Shoals has only just started off its musical journey recently, and everything is on a ‘do it yourself’ basis. What do you prefer, managing yourselves on you own or having an agency do your bidding? What feels more comfortable?
We want to focus solely on the music and gather a group of like-minded people who are more skilled than us at handling the other aspects such as bookings, PR etc. In an ideal scenario, this would be an agency that shares our passion for the music we create. Till that time comes, however, we will continue to manage ourselves along with help from our close friends. We are extremely fortunate to have friends who believe in us and want to help us get our music out there. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without their help.
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