LISTEN: The Mellow Turtle’s new album ‘Dzong’

Rishabh Lohia aka The Mellow Turtle from Ranchi, Jharkhand is bringing a fresh sound into the ever-growing indie scene in the country with his new experimental trip-hop album, ‘Dzong.’ The Bhutanese word “Dzong” translates to “Fortress,” symbolizing the impact The Mellow Turtle envisages to have on the indie music scene. The album represents TMT’s ideologies through lyrics and sounds.

With already two EPs under his belt, Rishabh Lohia conceptualized the ten-track album with assistance and special features by producer and good friend, Tre Ess. From scenes of a post-apocalyptic party in Bhutan with the excess of “Rums and Bacardi” on a track like Mojo Park, to several other guitar-driven tracks blended with a concoction of eastern instruments and chillwave beats such as on Laced and Kanke, the album is able to create an imaginative visual experience through the convoluted storytelling of a Jharkhandi artist who is deeply influenced by a Buddhist way of life and looks upon the politically-charged environment that has shaped today’s and yesterday’s world.

Our Pick: Mojo Park (featuring Tre Ess)

We got the opportunity to speak with The Mellow Turtle himself, and conversed in detail about his artistry, album, and his experience as an indie hip-hop musician in the scene today.

This is your very first album. You had released an EP earlier with Tre Ess which had similar stylings, but ‘Dzong’ seems to be a distinctive and well-thought out album. When and how did you conceive the idea of the album?

The first EP I released was in collaboration with Jayant Doaraiburu, who is an amazing musician and sound engineer. While working on this EP, I came across Tre Ess who was working on his solo project at Jayant’s studio. He put a verse on one of our songs, and I loved it. I have been working with Tre since then. He ended up featuring on a couple of more tracks on the ‘Elephant Ride’ EP.

Then, Tre and I made ‘Blues Off The Ashtray,’ which was recorded in 21 days. We became really good friends after that EP, and he wanted me to have a solo album, as he had released a solo album already. He became the executive producer, and hence started the journey of ‘Dzong.’

I have always been inspired by mystic poets Rabindranath Tagore, Rumi and Khalil Gibran. Spirituality is an integral part of my life. After reading ‘My Gita’ by Devdutt Patnaik and a couple of books explaining Buddhist philosophies, I was really inspired and expressed the same through music.

Tre Ess was not only the executive producer on ‘Dzong,’ but also a collaborator on the album and a featured artist in tracks like Mojo Park and Dzongkha. How did his involvement influence the sound and the overall goal of the album? Was he an integral part of the making of the album?

He was definitely an integral part of making the album. He instructed me not to pick up the guitar unless he asked me to, which pushed me to try out various instruments and experiment with sampling techniques.

Most drums you hear in the album is produced by Tre. This album is as much his as it is mine. It would not be possible to finish this album in 7 months without him. He is also the engineer, so he has mixed and mastered all tracks.

So were you a guitarist first? How did you get introduced to the world of experimental hip-hop sounds that forms a major part of the album?

Yes, I’ve been playing guitar since I was 13 or 14. I loved hard rock and metal in school (Led Zep is still my favourite band). In college, I was introduced to The Black Keys and it changed my life. I loved the blues rock sound, man, and started exploring the history of blues. In my free time, I usually listen to BB King, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, etc.

Now, The Black Keys did this album called ‘Blakroc’ where they collaborated with a bunch of hip-hop artists. I loved the way they mixed blues with hip-hop. Then, I started listening to a fair amount of hip-hop. Mos Def, Kendrick, Maspyke, Noname, etc. But I loved how the Gorillaz, Morcheeba and Ratatat used hip-hop elements.

Tre keeps making me listening to a lot of cool hip-hop too, and I love hip-hop now. Also, I have noticed that hip-hop is a genre which imbibes every genre on this planet. From folk to pop, you can find elements of all genres in hip-hop. It’s so dynamic.

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Indeed, your influences are varied which makes you a conscious musician. In spite of that, the overall ambitious but artistic structuring of your tracks might be too complex for most people to understand. So ultimately, do you make music for yourself, or the people?

Ok, so I make music for myself first. But every artist aspires to have a following and a fan base. But I’d rather let my music do the talking. I would never change something for mass appeal. I make music for my soul.

There are no listeners for the kind of music I produce though. We have played quite a few gigs here but the crowd wants us to do covers of Hindi songs and old English songs. I have stopped doing gigs in Ranchi now.

You’re from Ranchi, Jharkhand. How has a place like Ranchi influenced you as a musician?

Ranchi is a beautiful city, surrounded by Gulmohar, Sal, Sagwan, Pipal etc. trees. I could go on, I love trees, haha.

Life here is slow, which allows me to have a day job and also produce music. I don’t waste time in traffic at all. I don’t have many friends here so hardly any social engagements, which again gives me time to make music. And I really like the kind of life I lead here.

How has Nrtya as a record label helped you to push your creative vision forward and assist you on releasing the kind of tracks you want to make on the SoundCloud platform?

Nrtya has been of great help. They are pushing our music to the right audience, getting us interviews, reviews and gigs. They have given us complete artistic freedom which is great.

Getting signed by them was exactly what we needed.

Also they are great people.

You are also very lyrical on the album with clever hooks like “Rums and Bacardi” in the track Mojo Park. What kind of approach did you take while writing the album?

I’m learning to write those hooks, man. But that hook was written by Tre.
Minor Men has my lyrics. I tend to write that way.

How would you rate ‘Dzong’ in comparison to the ‘Blues Off The Ashtray’ EP?

Honestly, I like both EPs. But we have evolved in ‘Dzong’ a lot. I would say it was way more thought of, a lot more work went into ‘Dzong’ and I’m happy with the outcome.

You have been doing gigs for a while now. How has the experience been so far and would you be hoping to secure quality gigs after the release?

I love doing gigs. The best one I’ve done so far is the one for Sofar. I’m hoping for gigs at venues like AntiSocial, The Humming Tree etc. I would also love to play at festivals.

But I don’t want to do gigs where I have to play something just because the audience demands it. I want to play gigs where we can play our original stuff.

So your artist moniker is The Mellow Turtle. Does that perfectly describe your musical personality? How did you come up with it?

I think it definitely defines me well. It defines how I am as a person and the kind of melodies and lyrics I come up with.

In school, I was teased for being a slow runner and the way I talk. It’s my personality. I’m just slow and mellow, man.

Turtles are associated with good vibes and wisdom, and I aspire to emit good vibes and be wise in my decisions. I never lose my temper and am basically peace-loving.

Lastly, your very first album just dropped. How does that feel?

It feels great man. I’m a bit nervous but hoping for a good response. It’s been a lot of fun making this album.

We have already started making new content so now I’m looking forward to dropping some singles this year and hoping this album gets us some gigs. Really want to be playing gigs man.

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