Last week Elvis and I watched Donn Bhat + Passenger Revelator live at the Blue Frog, Mumbai and we really liked the band’s sound and energy. See the photos from the gig here and read our interview with producer/composer/guitarist Donn Bhat below.
If you had one song to introduce your music to a new listener, which one would it be?
I’d pick 107 featuring Malabika Brahma. It’s a song I never play live because Malabika lives in Kolkatta, so not many people have heard it. It takes its words from the translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam mixed with Malabika’s Baul singing. Production wise, it’s a sound/vibe I haven’t heard much of around and though I think I kind of lost it producing it eventually, I’m quite proud of that track.
Tell us about your early musical influences.
For me it all started with the guitar so I was just slaving away trying to play like Slash/Satriani/Jeff Beck/Dream Theater, and then Infected Mushroom opened up electronica for me.
Your songs sound very big – as a producer, what is your process?
Well thanks. [Smiles] But really it’s just trial and error and that is really a big challenge for me: to get the sound right. We’re not the easiest band to do sound for live, it’s a constant struggle. I kind of am envious of those bands that just plug in and start playing, but then that’s not the sound I’m after so just knowing your software and playing live… you kind of see what works, what doesn’t and what translates, what doesn’t. As an example, I did a new track that night at the Blue Frog and it had this interesting clap sound that sounded fantastic in my home studio but when I played it live it sounded like something was clipping, so well like I said, back to the grind. [Smiles]
I also have to ask about your excellent treatment of bass – it sits just right in the song, not muddy, not overwhelming. How do you shape the sound of the bass?
Thanks again, that’s always one of the tough ones. It depends on the kick and the rest of the track. Mostly keep it out of the frequency of the kick. Also I think layering bass is a great idea. I’ve just started using FabFilter Saturn, a great tone-shaping tool for all kinds of things, especially the kick and bass. Another thing I stumbled upon on YouTube was “mid side EQ” [technique]. It’s pretty cool for bass.
You work across fields – advertising, short film, background scores – what are the differences between all of these?
It’s different mainly in the intent of the music. There are great ads and movies that you are really excited about scoring for. Then are the ones that just pay the bills. But you’re working on another person’s vision of what they want to convey so it’s as much creativity as it is being able to understand another person’s definition of music, which is the challenging part.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given about being a musician?
“Just do your shit man.” [Smiles]
If you could change one thing about the music scene in India, what would that be?
I think it’s pretty good right now, very exciting times indeed. If anything I’d just like this divide between Hindi singing bands and English singing bands to get more blurred. It shouldn’t be an “either/or” [scenario]. Of course some people are doing it and I wouldn’t mind more of that.
People often think being a musician is glamorous – yes or no? Tell us some stories about the reality of being a musician, either way.
Glamorous [laughs], well if you’re 19 with long hair (which I was) or maybe if you’re “making it” in Bollywood it is, but otherwise I should really make a coffee table photo book with all the different expressions of people when I tell them I play in a band, it would be quite funny. The reality is, it’s really tough doing only independent music for a living…tough in every sense possible and having the courage to say ‘no’ to make something along the lines of the flavour of the season to fit into a “scene”. But then that feeling of hearing a new track [that you made] from scratch…well that’s something only musicians would know and that’s pretty glamorous I’d think.
What’s next for Donn Bhat + Passenger Revelator?
We want to write some more and make the live set more exciting for now. Also a solo set will be coming up and an album at the end of the year is likely.
Listen to and download this cool mix that Donn made for Wild City.
Facebook – Donn Bhat + Passenger Revelator
Photos: Elvis D’Silva