An Evolved Creed

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Uday Benegal, lead singer of Indus Creed, on the band’s new album 'Evolve' after a silence of 17 years, and about its return to a revitalised Indian rock scene

Indus Creed has been referred to as ‘India’s first rock band’. In 1993, it became the country’s only rock band to win an MTV Asia Video Music Award. But the Creed and other rock groups slipped into the shadows as in­dependent music television gradual­ly embraced Bollywood music. In 1997, Indus Creed disbanded, and its lead vo­calist left the country. But this year, the Creed marks its reunion with its fourth album, Evolve. Open speaks to Indus Creed’s lead vocalist Uday Benegal about the sound of the new album, why rock music is seeing a resurgence in the country and life as a rock musi­cian in current-day India.

Please tell us about the background and timing of the new album. Did you, for instance, wait for a record deal?
We’ve never waited for a record deal. We were offered a deal for Rock ‘n‘ Roll Renegade [our first album, produced under the name Rock Machine], but apart from that, we pretty much al­ways funded ourselves and figured out what to do with the project afterwards. One of the reasons we do that is that we have absolute control over what we are creating. As for getting it funded by a record company or something—when people put their money in, they want a say in it. We put our money into what we are doing, we create what we be­lieve in, and then we show it around, saying, “Is this something you would be interested in?” That way, we have no interference at all.

The album has been well-received. Critics and music bloggers are saying that ‘Fireflies’ is up there with your finest work. Can you please tell us about the theme—it is about the fragility of relationships, isn’t it?
The song has a bit of a story behind it. I wrote the song after I read a mov­ie script. A friend of mine, whose name is Sabal Sheikhawat—a very es­tablished ad filmmaker—a couple of years ago sent me a film script he had just written. It was a very early draft, and he asked me, “Just tell me what you think.” I loved the story, which was about a pair of estranged broth­ers. I was in a headspace, it was a very beautiful story about the ephemerali­ty of relationships. And the unsaid part of the relationship was the potential for its renewal. I didn’t write the song [‘Fireflies’] for Indus Creed. It was very mellow, very quiet, a very inward song. Zubin [Balaporia, keyboards] was very keen we bring ‘Fireflies’ into the Indus Creed repertoire. It’s got a very differ­ent energy—or so I thought. Zubin said, “We can make it an Indus Creed song.” We changed the groove, and it became ‘Fireflies’.

So ‘Fireflies’ was not autobiographical. It was not about the break-up of the band in 1997.
No, not at all. It’s interesting you brought it up, because I never thought of it that way. But it is about the loss of a relationship, whether with a father, or mother or brother.

Another interesting song is ‘Dissolve’, with lyrics like
No more to run, I am one/
With my destination/
I surrender, my throne I disown/
This is my abdication

Why is this song coming out now?
‘Dissolve’ is a very personal song. What I try to do with a song is, I try to take ex­periences, mine or someone else’s, and universalise them. Emotions are com­mon [to all of us]. It’s the cultural and geographical stuff that makes a differ­ence. We are all governed by hate, and desire, and anger, and lust, and all of that. It’s only the context that changes.

And ‘No Disgrace’ is full of compassion for those who are at the wrong end of the dog-eat-dog race. Does the song talk about current social reality?
For me, it’s the world at large. I think we live in a time when we put such an emphasis on achieving and success. I think these are subjective words. We live in a conditioned world, where suc­cess is measured on very narrow pa­rameters. Success is defined by things that don’t relate to success at all. Success can only be gauged by the hap­piness you derive from doing some­thing. I may be a freak for believing that, but I do believe that. In a world where everything is about degrees, cor­porate strata, social strata, how cool you are, how much of a hipster you are, everyone is trying to live up to these parameters, and that’s bullshit, that’s complete bullshit. You could be at the top of your game and be miserable—is it worth it, then?

We won’t discuss all the songs, but ‘Money’ is a track about a current topic in India, corruption. Were you tracking the anti-corruption sentiment of last year?
Well, it definitely taps a lot of that stuff. But again, I like to expand the view a bit further. Corruption is happening everywhere, whether it’s mining com­panies in Odisha or mining compa­nies in Australia, whether it’s oil drill­ing companies in Europe or the Middle East—and it’s happening in private enterprise. What I see this day, I see a complete debasement of what people once believed to be good and true. The human race is corrupting itself. We are raping the planet. There is an internal discord—the corruption is taking place within each of us at a very individu­al level.

In 1997, after three albums, the band broke up and you moved to New York to make a career there. What made you leave?
We were unhappy with the way the music business was. We thought eve­rything was in a cultural downslide. Music television was heading towards Bollywood, and we’d thought, ‘Here was finally an option to Bollywood’. But even that option was going to Bollywood. Record companies were putting pressure on us to do Hindi stuff. It doesn’t work like that. Change of language changes the style of mu­sic. We were not interested in that. We wanted to make the music we want­ed to make. We’ve always operated like that. I was unhappy living in Bombay. I lost faith in the city, which first hap­pened during the Bombay riots. That was a transformative moment for me. The city in which I was born and raised, which was liberal and tolerant, showed its ugly side. All that was happening and I thought, ‘Fuck it man, I’m done with this place’. It was a confluence of factors. The band got together and thought, ‘Let’s not wait for it to get any worse. Let’s call it a day’. That was the smartest thing we ever did, because it made getting back together easier.

In 2008 you got together.
Actually, we spoke of getting back together in 2009 or early 2010, and performed our first gig together in August 2010.

You returned in 2008. Was it because you were optimistic about India and its musical scene?
My tolerance had increased, I think (laughs), because I can be very impa­tient with stupidity and when things don’t go my way in my work. I am more tolerant with a city that has hygiene is­sues and transportation issues, infra­structural mind-fucks and all that kind of stuff. I like the people more, I really love the music I’m making, and I love the music scene. It’s a great time, a fer­tile time. The scene had changed com­pletely from when we had to fight to play our own songs, but nine years af­ter leaving, I came back to a country where everyone is playing their own songs—and that’s the norm! For me, that’s huge.

You’re on tour now, you’ve had gigs at Hard Rock and Blue Frog and in Bangalore, and you’re just back from Delhi. How has the gig scene changed?
Well, these places weren’t there. We lost Rang Bhavan but we gained so many things. Now you can go to places like Indore and get yourself a Marshall stack [a famous amplifier set] and not worry about gear. You’re getting bet­ter gear—the local sound provider is giving you pretty good gear. That’s changed. The sound engineers are very good, we now have a manager who’s clued into the festival scene and the col­lege scene. It’s improved in many ways and there are a lot of bands playing. We just played NH7 Weekender in Delhi and it was a fantastic festival. We’ll be playing Pune soon. I’m really happy.

And the fans, what is their average age?
A lot of the older fans are back, and a lot of young music lovers, who are curi­ous about who we are. Not a lot of them have heard about us, but some have. There is curiosity and scepticism about how we will sound—perhaps like a band from another era. This album wiped out the scepticism. It’s a contem­porary sound. The audience seems to be digging it. The thing about playing music is the shared energy—I’m not a performer, I’m a singer. I do the whole ‘sing along with me’ thing only some­times. The audience will only respond if what you’re giving them is true and honest, and then they give back.

Have you come across new rock bands? Which ones do you like?
There are a lot. You’ve got Soulmate from Shillong, you’ve got Pentagram, you’ve got Thermal and a Quarter, and you’ve got Shaa’ir and Func, and you’ve got Barefaced Liar, you’ve got Scribe, Nikhil D’Souza, Sridhar + Thayil (Suman Sridhar and Jeet Thayil). I’ve only touched the surface. No two of these bands sound alike. Everyone sounds like themselves. For me, that is beautiful. Because it means you are making music that is from within yourself. That is what it is about.

Now, when you came back, maybe it was a coincidence, but there were a couple of films about rock musicians. Rock On!! and Rockstar. What do you think about the way they portrayed rock musicians?
Well, Bollywood has its way of inter­preting [lives] that has little to do with any reality. Bollywood is essentially a fantastic escape. I think Rock On!! and Rockstar played to those ideas. I think we’ll leave it at that. (Smiles)

By way of contrast, what is the typical day in the life of an Indus Creed member?
Get up, make some coffee, won­der what you’re going to do today. Somebody is trying out a song idea, an­other guy is doing a gig, somebody is in the studio recording a jingle. We’re talking with the management about how to get the ship moving forward, we’re dealing with the mundane as­pects of the accounts, and we’re call­ing up the CA to say that we’ve de­ducted TDS, and “Why do I have to do this?” Because I’m a musician, not an accountant. You go on tour and watch a great band perform and have a great time. Sometimes you get smashed, and sometimes you have an early night. It’s anything. What happens is that a fer­ment is taking place. It’s opening your self to the outside world, from the most mundane to the exciting things. Then you express them in the way you un­derstand, which is through song.

Has the new album brought you any Hindi film attention yet?
Not at all. I think there are a few film­makers who are trying to stretch boundaries, and if they come to us to do a song for them, it will be what we do. It will be based on our sound. It would be rather foolish for them to come to us and say, do this kind of dhinchak Bollywood stuff, and more foolish for us to say ‘yes’. Because we wouldn’t be able to do it with any integrity at all. So we’re open to it, provided it’s based on what we make.

What are the upcoming projects of Indus Creed?
Right now, it’s gig season time. It’s the opportunity to go out and promote the album. In the meantime, ideas are floating about—there are new riffs, and new lyrics and new rhythms floating around, and they will come together. There’s no deadline, but we will work on the next album.