Kartik Pillai is gearing up for a hectic end to 2014. The Delhi-based multi-instrumentalist has just released a fantastic debut album with his experimental dream-pop act Begum, and is all set to release a solo EP next week under his JAMBLU moniker. There’s also another album in the works with gypsy/cabaret punk act Peter Cat Recording Co. Add in his studio work and video production house The Hundredth Initiative and it’s easy to imagine Pillai and his bandmates as the epicentre of a small, self-sufficient scene headquartered in New Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village – a scene that is producing some of the best music to come out of the country. We talk to Pillai about his recently released album, his influences, and his plans for the future.
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Begum [Urdu word for a Muslim lady of high rank] is an interesting name for a band with three guys. What’s the story behind it?
The name is homage to the honorable Begum, we hope to be in her loving shade for as long as possible and spread word of her benevolence and kindness till when we are called back to our lives.
How did the guys in Begum start playing together?
Kshitij [Dhyani, bassist] and I have been collaborating since 2007 when we met each other on a thread on the Rock Street Journal Forums. We’ve been in metal, funk and blues bands together and started composing by ourselves in early 2009. One day (in 2012) we called Karan [Singh, drummer] for an impromptu jam, there were 15 minutes of brilliance in that 2 hour jam and we latched onto it. After writing a dozen songs or more we ended up being a band.
In an interview, you mentioned that Begum is influenced by Tame Impala. What are your other influences?
Various musical acts come to mind, a lot of the influences for me at least have been visual so far. One major influence on my playing ethos has been Kaki King (her more recent material). Also the Kinks, the Beatles, Elliot Smith, Jandek’s tape machine and The Sea… all these acts influenced me to a much greater degree than Tame Impala.
You recorded Begum’s debut album Bagh rather unconventionally, doing the whole record in one live take. What prompted you to take that approach?
We recorded the album twice before on a metronome but it didn’t sound right. Finally we had one day before Kshitij left for Bombay for his masters. So we hauled everything into Karan’s room and just hit record. We left a couple of the songs off the album because we got tired and because Kshitij had to pack.
There’s a distinct old Delhi/Mughal flavour to the band’s general aesthetic. Is the capital city a major influence for you guys?
Yes the city of Delhi has definitely been a major influence on our aesthetic in terms of artwork and imagery. But musically i think we try to create paradoxes with our current situations, most of the songs stem from our love for dying civilizations, pale winter suns and the sea.
There was a lot of buzz around the music video for lead single Chinbein, which features a surreal and sepia-tinged montage of videos and imagery. Where did the concept for the video come from?
The concept is completely [ video director ] Samridhi Thapliyal’s. We just sent her the song and she took it from there. I think she was trying to portray a sort of cycle, the constant creation existence and eventual destruction of all things.
How was the response to Bagh been so far? Any plans for a tour?
The response has been great, a lot of kind words and a lot of interest which we’re very grateful for. We have a tour lined up starting with The New Wave Festival In Goa, we’re gonna drive down from Delhi and plan on hitting all the major cities including some others like Jaipur, Cochin, etc.
Apart from Begum, you also play guitars in Peter Cat Recording Co. and have a solo electronica project called JAMBLU. Is it difficult to juggle three distinct musical identities?
I really don’t find it difficult because i think we all have to manage a multitude of personalities in public and in life. I have different approaches to all these projects which are generally just spurts of creation in various directions. For me all these personalities are completely natural so there’s no real effort put into solidifying them, over the years I’ve learnt which reality of mine to take inspiration from and when…. for the mind is a toy.
You call JAMBLU ‘post-dance’ on your bandcamp page. What’s post-dance?
A friend of mine once summarized it visually as a group of people standing around like mindful zombies swaying slowly. The idea is that once the physical section of a release (dancing which is intensely spiritual) is over, Depth Training would then be used to sink into oneself and surrender to one’s own ticks and unconscious tremors in utter decadence eventually allowing one to just exist rather than react or act.
The JAMBLU debut ‘Depth Training’ is a very immersive and melancholy album. What’s the inspiration behind that project?
The album is my abstract version of the birth of the universe, the earth and evolution on it , starting with a vacuum, the big bang, growth of life on earth, nature and its various tangents such as the industrial revolution, the accidental enlightenment of poultry, and quaint cottages in the forest.
When can we expect the long-awaited Peter Cat Recording Co. album? How has the pcrc sound evolved since the last album?
We’re hoping for a november release for Peter Cat, the sound has definitely evolved from the first album. Once we settled into being a band (after I joined pcrc), we started exploring new sounds and methods of playing other than the gypsy/cabaret sound. In terms of grooves, styles and intention we’re definitely going towards a much more ambient sound. The instrumentation is also slowly evolving.
Any other plans for the future?
pcrc, Begum, Lifafa and Jamblu tours for India, and quite possibly abroad as well.
The production company (Hundredth Monkey Initiative) that I’m a part of will also start producing short films soon, we’re pretty much just finalizing on scripts at this point and an animated series tentatively called Beevision.
I’ll be releasing the new Jamblu EP come Sept 23rd on the Equinox. There are also music videos to come soon after for Depth Training and the new EP. We have one more music video coming up for Begum which we’re making with my brother Sachin Pillai and we’ve also started work on the next Begum album and the subsequent Opera that we plan to produce. The album should be out middle of next year and the Opera hopefully by the end of next year.
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