Skyharbor has been the front face of the progressive scenario in the sub continent. Ever since their signing with Basick Records, there was no looking back. The band has toured extensively and are all set to release their third full length album in late 2016 or early 2017. I am interacting with the band’s guitarist/producer- Keshav Dhar. Talking about the band’s initial days, his day job, the new album and much more.
Keshav Dhar. PC- Kunal Khullar
MJM. I am stoked to know that you have taken time out to do this interview. Thank you so much!
Keshav: My pleasure! Thanks for having me.
MJM. Skyharbor started out as your studio project which eventually paved way to bring in members from India and outside. Speaking of then members Dan and Anup, how was the band shaped initially?
Keshav: Like you said, it was just a studio project for which I was writing casually and putting up demos online for nearly 4 years, just for creative satisfaction and little else with no real plans of taking the project to the stage. But I was getting a lot of messages from amazing musicians wanting to collaborate, like Dan wanting to sing over the songs and Anup wanting to do drum cover videos for the songs. Around the time that Blinding White Noise was being finished up in late 2010, the first NH7 festival took place and was a huge success, and I remember thinking it would be an amazing stage to make a live debut on. I reached out to the guys at the festival and asked whether they could give us a slot at the 2011 edition, if I were able to get a lineup together. They agreed, and I asked Dan and Anup if they could possibly make it work – Dan couldn’t as he was busy with In Colour, but Anup was down for it, and so he flew down to New Delhi to rehearse with me and we played a 3-piece instrumental set with Nikhil Rufus on bass, whom I was playing with in my other band at the time. We were going to self-release the album at the festival, but literally days before the show we got an offer from Basick Records and ended up signing a two record deal with them, so that was another big shot in the arm.
Just a couple of months later, Chris from Lamb of God reached out asking for us to support them in the Bangalore leg of their world tour, which was really the clincher and Dan agreed to do this one. Literally days after that show, John at Euroblast invited us to play at their festival in Germany, and then UK Tech Fest reached out, and basically everything snowballed from there. It was a very exciting time for the prog scene around the world and I think we just happened to be in the right place at the right time for all these pieces to fit together.
MJM. Right from the earlier record Blinding White Noise: Illusion and Chaos to Guiding Lights, what is the most striking change you see as a band? How do you think has the band evolved over time?
Keshav: Well the first and obvious thing to change was that it stopped being ‘my band’ and became a collaborative effort, which was a very conscious and deliberate decision on my part personally, and this was emphasised even more so when Dan and Anup left the band. As far as being a working unit, I think the last couple of member changes really brought in a fresh perspective on how to take the band forward as a full time concern and touring outfit, as earlier we were constantly juggling between Anup’s and Dan’s commitments, and generally we ended up being the ones to concede or turn down opportunities because their other bands were higher priority for them, so touring was very difficult to manage. We ended up being able to do little two week runs of shows here and there in Europe, which were cool in that we were able to gradually get used to the lifestyle of being on the road and learn the ropes, but financially we always came back in the red because in order to maximize profitability you need to play as many shows and sell as much merch as possible. It’s all been a wonderful learning experience though and I wouldn’t change a thing in hindsight.
Skyharbor live at Phoenix, Arizona (2015), with their new line up. PC- Akshat Nauriyal
MJM. In what way has the change of members affected the style of writing? How did it add up to the collaborative effort put on board?
Keshav: Earlier Devesh, Krishna and I would sit and flesh out the arrangements together and send it to Dan and Anup and they’d put their parts down and send it back, and with a little back and forth we’d nail the songs. Once Eric and Aditya joined, we decided to go the whole hog and work on everything all together, which can be chaotic and result in a lot of confusion and disagreements over what works best especially when it’s all done over Dropbox and WhatsApp haha! But the end results really speak for themselves, and we’ve now gotten to a point where we all know what each of us likes to hear and so we’re able to unconsciously channelize or make space for each other’s vibe in our own writing. It’s great.
Listen to Skyharbor‘s Evolution-
MJM. So the last album Guiding Lights showed greater progressive and atmospheric arrangements, which was quite different from the earlier record. How important is it for the band to write, develop and evolve with each record taking shape?
Keshav: I think every band is different and the most important thing to keep in mind when writing a record is to be honest about what you’re writing. Especially when you’re one or two albums old and those albums have been received reasonably well by a lot of people, it’s easy enough to pigeon-hole yourself into ‘this is what we need to sound like in order to be liked by people’. In our case, we put so much of ourselves emotionally into each record that by the time it’s done and finally ready for release we’re drained and burned out on it. And by doing so, by expressing a part of ourselves so cathartically through that vibe that we discover in the course of writing the record, we basically fill that emotional hole and have to move on from it and explore something new and fresh in order to feel creative again. It can result in fans feeling confused or underwhelmed when they buy a new record on the basis of how they liked the last one, but if we weren’t honest about it and forced ourselves to re-express a certain emotional state of being that we’ve already moved on from, the music would suffer and just be weaker for it.
MJM. Tell us about the successful crowdfunding that happened back then. How did this idea come about?
Keshav: We were in this situation where we were thinking how cool it would be if we got to work with some of our favourite professionals in the industry, like getting the album mixed by Forrester and doing a music video with Jess, etc. Obviously these things cost crazy amounts of money which neither we nor our label at the time were capable of financing, which just left one route we could pursue or just do a workman like DIY job like I did with Blinding. We were wary about the crowd funding thing to begin with but after putting out some feelers on our social media we realized that our fans seemed more than happy to embrace the idea! So we went ahead with it and I’m happy to say the record turned out surpassing all expectations I had for it.
MJM. Speaking of crowdfunding, how difficult is it for most bands to successfully meet their target? What do you think could be the reasons for things not falling in place with this concept? As a lot of initiations taken by many artists/bands were left unfulfilled.
Keshav: It’s important to do as much research as possible beforehand and get a conservative estimate on the number of contributions you’re likely to receive and keep your expectations in line with a realistic target. If you’re a band that’s never played outside of your home town or even your country and you start a campaign aiming to raise tens of thousands of dollars of course it won’t work, unless you’re absolutely massive in your own territory. Meeting your target isn’t so difficult if it’s realistic and conservative, but what’s much more difficult is managing all the rewards that you have to give out to contributors, and making sure that you offer realistic and manageable rewards that aren’t too much of a risk to complete – something that we didn’t quite realise when we offered signed CDs and posters as part of the Guiding Lights campaign, so that’s a big lesson we learned, but we were still able to fulfil it after a massive amount of hassle and expense.
Guiding Lights released via Basick Records- 2014
MJM. What inspires you to write this style of music? What drives you during hard times?
Keshav: We all just love music, as obvious as that sounds, and there’s something we all unanimously love about big, powerful, layered, beautiful epic walls of sound and I think that’s just naturally become the core of our style and sound. Music is very cathartic for me personally, and unlike a lot of prog musicians who are super skilled at their instrument and are able to compose these amazing musical tapestries regardless of their environment because they know their notes so well, I personally need to react and feed off my emotional state and my surroundings at any given point of time and channelise it through music. As a result I have these purple patches where I’m spitting out ideas left and right, and then weeks and months of nothing because I’m just going through the motions with work, life or whatever.
MJM. How has the band shaped you as a person?
Keshav: I would say massively so. When you’re in a band with people, and I mean an actual band and not just ‘Mr. X and backing band’, you’re not just equal partners in a business but you’re practically family. You have to live with each other in a metal tube on the road for months at a time, deal with each others’ idiosyncrasies, be empathetic, be creative, be inspiring for each other while being left-brained enough to be able to make logical professional decisions, all this while being prepared and able to manage all the obstacles, disasters, discomforts and setbacks that inevitably come up every stretch of the way – and we have definitely had a lot of setbacks! There are many incidences where I’ve learned about an aspect of my personal life and dealt with it by applying what I learned through an experience with the band.
MJM. The band also released singles titled ‘Out of time’ and ‘Blind Side’ last year and also announced a possibility of ‘new music’ recently. Is the new album ready?
Keshav: We’re more or less done with all the music for the new album, Eric is currently writing vocals and we’re hoping to have it in the bag before the fall. So hopefully a late 2016 or early 2017 release.
Listen to the single ‘Out Of Time‘ here-
MJM. So tell us about your studio work with so many of your bands. How does it feel like working with other bands and break from your routine schedule?
Keshav: The studio is my day job, so to speak, and it pays my bills. I have always been into recording and producing music, even before Skyharbor was a thing or even an idea, I was messing with DAWs and trying to learn more about it. It’s great. I’m constantly surrounded by music and musicians on a daily basis, I’m fortunate enough that a lot of the bands I work with want me to contribute with creative ideas for their songs in addition to just being the guy who presses record and moves faders. I’m very fortunate and lucky that my job is my hobby.
MJM. Give us an insight of what the other members do. How do they make ends meet?
Keshav: Devesh is currently studying at Berklee, Krishna plays bass with numerous bands (Pangea, Indus Creed etc) in Mumbai, Aditya is a DJ and producer with OX7GEN and a session drummer, Eric has his own studio where he also records and mixes bands.
MJM. Any last words for upcoming bands?
Keshav: Be honest! Make the music you love. Don’t even think about taking it as a full time concern until it has organically grown to a point where you can do so. Jam as much as you possibly can, play as many shows as you possibly can, build your brand slowly and work your butts off. Last and most important, don’t expect overnight success or even quick success – it took Metallica almost a decade of slaving their butts off before the ‘Black Album’ happened. Do it for the love.
MJM. It was great talking to you. Thank you once again for taking time out to do this. All the best.
Keshav: Pleasure’s all mine! Cheers.
Connect with Skyharbor–