Their new album is called We Are Excited, but they're mostly just lazy.
Dream pop, lo-fi, waltz, is what their music is usually called, but Begum, the three member act from Delhi, like to add '11th century seduction sounds' to their repertoire as well. I spoke to Begum's guitarist and vocalist Kartik Pillai about pub gigs, the failing structure of gig culture in the city and their recently launched second album – We Are Excited.
About two weeks ago, on a lazy Monday afternoon, the day after the launch gig for their latest album offering, I woke Kartik up. I hoped to get a few words out of the godfather of monosyllabic replies. In retrospect, perhaps a groggy conversation would’ve been a bad idea, but it worked out fairly well. “I’m going to quit man. I’m serious,” Kartik stretched his joint-holding arm out and croaked out some of the first few words of the day while I fiddled a stray ukulele. He was referring to making music, of course, and not the hash.
Kartik, at the moment, is working on the upcoming album by PCRC – a waltz/indie pop/rock outfit; he handles guitars and electronics. He's also working on his own solo, experimental, dissonant, electronica act Jamblu, whose newest album he might try and send out to a few record labels soon enough. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of that for Begum,” he said. He ended replying in the negative when I asked him if that would’ve made a difference. “Labels are a PR machine though,” he complained, drifting off into thought after handing me some Begum band merchandise from the gig. An envelope with band stickers, a download code for the new album, and flower seeds that we're expected to go home and plant.
The goodie envelope with the floral gift. Photo credit: Kartik Pillai
There has been little difference in Begum’s recording manners on the new album, as opposed to their debut, Bagh. Recorded exclusively at Pillai’s former studio apartment in Delhi’s Hauz Khas village, We Are Excited is born of the same lo-fi ethic, but seems like the more likeable, friendly sister to her predecessor.
The band’s home studio setup in Delhi, Photo credit: Kartik Pillai
The tracks on the new album are born out of jam sessions. Who even does that anymore? The opening song ‘All My Friends Are Sluts’ for example is just one of the jam sessions that ended up on the record as it was; this, despite drummer Karan Singh’s voice that can be heard at the end of the track saying, “We need to work on the song.” The mutual respect for laziness that the band shares, is one of the key reasons why bassist Tushar Mohan joined in the first place.
We Are Excited has faint bits of different genres ranging from indie pop, hints of post rock, to even punk, sprinkled over the established dreamy/waltz skeleton. Kartik managed this by laying down tracks with a collection of different instruments for the album. He has done this in the past as well. Everything ranging from the melodica, keys, to the trumpet are on the record. Begum like to keep their music simple. The band’s jam sessions ensure there is sincerity pushed into the songwriting and the music remains without a care given to any criticism that might come up in afterthought. The music creates itself as much as the musicians trying to create. Genuine inspiration, I believe.
Music video for ‘Marry Me’ by Begum
They’re yester-generation metal heads.
Begum could very well be considered an offshoot sprouting from the Peter Cat Recording Co. – the bainchild of vocalist and guitarist Suryakant Sawhney – formed in 2013. The ambition to create his own musical act along with long time friend and former Begum bassist Kshitij Dhyani was something that Kartik had mulled over during his high school days. The duo even released an album, somewhere still on the internet, whose title’s being safeguarded by Kartik’s life. “I’m not going to promote that shit. We were kids back then, man.” He quickly brushed aside any chance of me sneaking a listen to his old work and possibly having a chuckle about it. Kartik still holds on to a relic from the past as we geeked over fond memories from RSJ’s Great Indian Rock and Pub Rock Fest days in the early 2000s, which were for their time the only big stages for independent bands.
By all measures, Begum are metal heads on the inside. Something, I speculate, might have been the cause for the camaraderie between the members (and laziness). While Kartik grew up in the early Delhi metal scene, Karan began his foray into music with metalcore band Lycanthropia, and Tushar Mohan is still tied to the presently hibernating Hindi progressive metal act Nigambodh. Tushar took up bass duties for the band over a year ago, replacing founding member Kshitij Dhyani post his sabbatical that has turned into an indefinite departure from the band.
“Got to do it yourself if something’s to be done.”
“Right after that party I decided to take a dump. I walked into my bathroom, and the pot collapsed,” Kartik said referring to the infamous PCRC DIY house gigs that were hosted at his old place, and had created quite the ruffle in the village back in 2015. The second edition of the series, was eventually murdered by cops who shut the place down for violations of every rule in the book. Considering the fact that the one-room apartment with the small roof, and an even smaller roof above the roof, was literally spilling people over its edges, safety could’ve been an issue. But, the initiative ran its course and ended up demonstrating a hint of what DIY gig culture could look like in the city if it were done right. Only a hint though.
Begum’s performance at the Magnetic Fields Festival in 2014. Photo credit: Sachin S Pillai
Not completely unlike other indie artists, Begum and their friends at PCRC pretty much take care of everything with their self-management. The album, the production, the distribution, the gigs, tours, and a mess of other necessities are done in-house. Performances at house parties and cross-country tours, all somehow managed by the band despite their apparent lethargy. For now, the band’s too relaxed to be planning a tour for the album, or much else. A music video is being planned for one of the tracks on the album, but there's no definitive time of release. That's Begum for you. You'll only know what's happening, once things have actually happened. If at all.
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By Aditya Varma
Cover photo credit: Saptarishi Sanyal