Discovering the meaning of the word 'artist' with Mumbai's highbrow rockers.
On a cool late-monsoon evening in Khar, the boys from Spud in the Box talked to me about their debut full-length album, Lead Feet Paper Shoes.
They talked, I listened, and I learned.
I learned about creativity, vision, and imagination. I learned about persistence and comradery – about dedication, craft, and sacrifice.
After the conversation, I felt a new weight within me; a new responsibility. I thought to myself: ‘this is what it takes to be an artist.’
Lead Feet Paper Shoes is a cohesive concept album supplemented by photography and video from photographer Parizad D, featuring model Himanshu Singh. It explores the complexity and duality of the human self, through the mind of an unnamed protagonist.
But rather than try to tell the story of Lead Feet Paper Shoes in my words, I’ll let the band tell it in theirs.
With me that evening were:
Ankit Dayal (guitars/vocals)
Rohan Rajadhyaksha (keyboard/vocals)
Hartej ‘Teji’ Sawhney (guitars)
Joshua Singh (drums)
Q: Why is your band called Spud in the Box?
Teji: We don’t tell anyone why our band is called Spud in the Box. Because it’s such a basic question.
Rohan: We’ve never ever told any journalist.
Ankit: Every interview always starts with that question.
Teji: And we will never tell anyone.
Q: What is the album about?
Rohan: Without giving away too much, we wanted to explore the idea that every one of us, everyone in the world, has this kind of Jekyll and Hyde thing going for them.
They have their public persona, and then they have their thoughts on the inside.
Everyone’s trying to find that balance. Everyone’s trying to figure out: which one am I, really? Because you spend a good amount of time
Teji: Being both.
Q: Are we equally our social selves and our private selves? Or are we more one than the other?
Rohan: Me? I think there’s who you are, and then what you put out in the world. How you represent yourself.
Teji: To be healthy, you have to be both.
Ankit: You definitely do.
Teji: There’s another tier to this. There’s social you, and there’s alone you, and in between that, there’s you with close friends, which is a weird line.
And then in between that, there’s you with people that you’re getting closer to, so you don’t know what world they fall into.
Hold your horses
Q: I think what every person struggles with, myself included, is: how do you express who you really are, in social situations?
Rohan: That’s kind of also why, in the artwork, the character is alone.
Ankit: Throughout, he’s the only character.
Teji: He’s not alone, he has himself.
Q: Did you give the character a name?
Rohan: Uhhh… no. There’s one we’re thinking about, but we haven’t decided it.
Ankit: First the band name, now you’re asking for the character name.
Q: How did the photography and visual presentation of the album evolve?
Rohan: The main thing is that we wanted to try and raise the game a little bit, in our own small way. Put out something that we want to see from other independent Indian artists today.
A lot of people are thinking more, now, about the whole package. About the aesthetic. And the aesthetic is very important to us, because: controversial statement here, but as Indians, our aesthetic sense is not fantastic.
So in that sense, we wanted to make something that at least, in our own way, tries to touch an international standard. Not that we’re ashamed of who we are or where we’re from. All of this, everything you see, is an extension of who we are.
Teji: I wouldn’t say our aesthetic sucks, but really…
Ankit: no, not our aesthetic, the “Indian” aesthetic. To push the boundary of the Indian aesthetic. That’s the point.
Q: So you decided that you couldn’t just create an album. You had to create an entire package.
Rohan: We worked with a fantastic photographer friend of ours called Parizad D, who helped us conceptualize it.
And then we needed to find a model who could flit between those two sides of himself, express that duality we were discussing earlier.
Rohan: We could have put one of our faces on the album. We considered it, probably this guy (points to Teji) or Zubin, our bass player who’s not here.
Teji: When the fuck did this happen? Thank God. Please. No. That’s not gonna happen.
The model we worked with, his name is Himanshu Singh. He was incredible. Sid’s in love with him. He calls him a stallion.
Q: That’s a weird thing to say about another man.
Joshua: He does have a vibe, though. Himanshu. The man’s got a vibe.
Q: I respect that.
Teji: He brings it with him. He enters a room, and the vibe changes.
Josh: Once he gets into his, ‘camera on’ mode, he just…
Josh: Yeah, like a change in character.
Ankit: During the shoot, we told Himanshu to do all kinds of weird stuff, like he would put things in his mouth that were lying on the ground, he would just get into the music and do it, and he wouldn’t question it.
Q: Do you guys ever wonder: why am I investing so much in this? Why am I spending so much time on this process of making music?
Ankit: Honestly, every time something from this process comes to fruition, it automatically validates itself. It automatically justifies the amount of hours that we’ve put in banging our heads on the wall to get something right.
I’m happy with the result. That’s why, now, it is gratifying. Two years later.
Rohan: For me, we’re musicians. I’m a musician. I want to make music.
Q: But why music?
Teji: Because that’s what we’re good at.
Josh: I have nothing else in life. This is what we’re supposed to be doing.
Rohan: Realistically, unless this does well and we do well, we won’t get too many more chances to spend this much time, effort, money, in our lives, in something that we all care about this much.
But we’re a band. We make music. It’s what we do.
Q: What do you aspire to?
Teji: Some common elements that we all appreciate would be Kendrick (Lamar’s) To Pimp a Butterfly
Teji: All of us.
Ankit: Including our producer, KJ Singh.
Rohan: In terms of the music, and in terms of many other things that we couldn’t even list, KJ’s sorted out our lives.
He’s been a mentor, he’s been a friend, he’s been a producer. And he’s taken this to a level that we dreamt of. We dreamt of it, and we had those aspirations, but
Ankit: We didn’t know how to get there.
Rohan: He made it real in ways that we couldn’t have imagined.
Q: Do you want to entertain people?
Ankit: Yes. Because when people talk to you about a particular song or a particular gig that they enjoyed, then you do feel like this is something that’s worth doing. Because if you’re putting out some art, once you’ve finished making it and it’s out in the world, it’s not yours anymore.
Rohan: It’s theirs.
Ankit: Otherwise, you don’t put it out. You keep it in your room and shut the door.
Teji: Jerk off to it later.
What can we expect from the album launch gig?
Rohan: Dude, I was feeling like, Zen, before this, and today we came here, and now I feel like playing the gig right now.
Teji: Sorry my phone keeps ringing. This guy keeps calling. This food guy for my sister’s engagement party.
Rohan: I hope that the people who come feel like this isn’t something they’ve experienced before. And they’re taken into the world that we want them to be in. We’ve been trying really hard.
Teji: Gigs, especially the best ones, create that community feeling that you get from music. People simultaneously experiencing the same thing.
Ankit: When there isn’t a wall between the stage and the audience.
Teji: And not just the stage and the audience. Between everybody.
The last bit I think, the most important part for me, is that I want people to take some of it home.
Either in their heads, or through a visual, or a note, or a lyric. Just some aspect of it, take it home.
Q: What can we expect from the album launch gig?
Rohan: Josh broke a glass with his butt.
Josh: That’s not related to the record. That’s part of life.
Teji: No, not about the record. Like, talk on the record.
Josh: Oh. I guess when we worked, that one year, when we put money together to make this album, that was some funny shit there.
Rohan: That’s a whole different conversation. A whole ‘nother rabbit hole.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Kunal Bambawale
Photographs by Parizad D