Keshav Dhar: “Skyharbor will be releasing our third record in early 2018”
We recently had the opportunity to have a brief chat with the connoisseur and practitioner of progressive rock/metal in India, Keshav Dhar. Keshav is someone who doesn’t need an an introduction in the independent music scene in India; he is a pioneer in churning out successful records. But for those of you who need some schooling about the independent scene, Keshav Dhar is a guitarist, music producer and a founding member of Skyharbor. He’s worked with multiple international artists including Marty Friedman, Dan Tompkin, Anup Sastry etc, and has garnered appreciation from reputed international artists.
In this interview, Keshav answers a few questions about his inspirations, releases, music production with a bonus of some random KD facts that you should know!
What’s the first musical memory from your childhood that you still retain? Like what was that one moment that sparked the latent Super Saiyan talents in you?
The very first musical memory I have is of my dad getting me a small red keyboard when I was 3 or 4 years old. At that time, I think I was more struck by it visually than by the sounds, it was this bright red colour and had a few flashy lights on it that I just found fascinating.
As far as actual musical memories go, I think the first time in my life that I felt that thrill in the pit of my stomach was much later, when I was about 9 or 10 years old. My mom had taken me with her one day to visit some family friends, whom I had always remembered as having a really big and intimidating CD collection, but I hadn’t ever gathered the courage to ask them if I could check it out. That day, the grown-ups were having a conversation that was even more boring than usual to my little kid brain, and their dog who I was utterly in love with was fast asleep, so I asked tentatively if I could look at their CDs, and of course they said go ham.
I remember the first thing I pulled out was Dire Straits’ ‘Money For Nothing’ CD, and the cover had this glowing neon silhouetted character playing a sexy electric guitar and his face was completely hidden. I put the CD on, and as soon as that intro guitar lick leapt out of the speakers, I felt this delicious thrill trickle down my spine and I spent the next couple of hours just reading through the liner notes and lyrics from cover to cover while the songs played, and then the next album, and the next…
You have spoken about your musical heroes in the past. Who are the non-musician folks who’ve inspired you in music?
Great question! I think one non-musician person I can unhesitatingly say has inspired me musically is Zinedine Zidane. I happened to get into football around the same time that I really really got into music and specifically writing music, and I had the privilege of growing up in a time when he was playing, and of course he’s the greatest football player to have ever graced this earth. One thing I remember very consciously taking away from his style of play was the word “elegance.” There was nothing overtly technical or complicated about the way he played; it was in fact very simple, just so incredibly elegant and smooth and a delight to watch.
I realized that that’s what I like the most when it comes to entertainment, be it visual or auditory. I love watching and listening to simple and elegant things. I have never been turned on by technicality per se, [which is] one of the reasons why I never really got into the whole guitar shredding thing myself. But things like melodies layered upon melodies, harmonies, counter lines, music dancing around other music, sexy grooves that sound tricky but never lose that pulse that you can dance to, that kind of thing was always what got my juices flowing.
image courtesy of keshav dhar
How did you get into music production? What is in your opinion a perfectly produced record?
I was in college in Manipal which is a remote student town, and I had all these weird ideas in my head for songs which I wanted to try out, but no one around at the time was really interested in writing original music – or at least the kind of music that I had in mind! I was listening to a lot of Devin Townsend, Oceansize, Meshuggah, New Way Home and the early Bulb demos, and I was just fascinated by the possibilities that that kind of music presented.
My musical brain felt like a dog on a leash that was just screaming to be let free and explore this crazy new world of free-form, progressive music, where you didn’t have to conform to any kind of conventional rules about what’s right or wrong when writing a song. So I figured the only way I could really explore the ideas I had in mind was to record them, just so I could hear if they would sound in real life anything like they sounded in my head haha!
But that presented another problem, because the only recording studio in the entire town belonged to the communications institute and was certainly not open to randoms coming in with a guitar and a noisy FX processor. So in desperation, I started reading up on forums and to my surprise (and overwhelming delight) found that a lot of these artists that I was going crazy about, were actually recording their music themselves in their homes! Literally a guitar and a computer and very little else. Drum parts could be achieved by pasting samples, bass parts could be achieved by recording them on guitar and pitch shifting them down by an octave – the idea wasn’t to sound great or professional, it was literally just to be able to put one’s idea down in a listenable form.
So the next time I went home for summer break, I bought the cheapest sound card I could find (a secondhand M-Audio 2496), packed up my entire PC and hauled it back to my hostel over a 48 hour train journey, and dove right down the glorious rabbit hole of figuring out how to put my ideas down and then manipulate them with the tools at hand.
Once I graduated, I was wondering what to do with my life when my friend and mentor Zorran Mendonsa, whom I had been corresponding with online for a couple of years and whose work I was a huge fan of, asked me if I’d be willing to be his assistant engineer for a record he was producing. That literally changed the whole game for me. It was one thing bumbling around cluelessly on my own, but another thing entirely to watch a pro make a record with a band, from the start and setting up the drum kit in the room, to the final mastering.
Afterwards, I joined my good friend Anupam Roy who had also been making waves as a ‘home studio’ producer, as his assistant and worked for him for a year making dozens of records. At that point, I knew that this was all I wanted to do.
The closest thing that comes to a “perfectly” produced record for me is Sound Awake by Karnivool. It’s the perfect example of not following any rules or what is technically considered good or correct when it comes to recording or mixing. It’s neither as bright, nor as loud as most ‘commercial’ records but it is literally the perfect presentation for that body of music and those songs. That album really taught me that the core purpose of a mix is to serve the song, and to serve the song only.
Making a commercially acceptable or “radio friendly” record is a skill set in its own right, but the most important thing without which no amount of polish or studio trickery will ever connect a record with a listener, is to have the production serve the songs and NEVER the other way around, which is especially important in today’s day and age where far too many kids are obsessed with getting the perfect snare EQ or guitar tone, when they really should just shut their eyes and listen to the song and dial in the sound that makes the riff speak to their heart.
image courtesy of keshav dhar
Top 5 songs that you’re listening to right now?
Thrice – The Whaler
Rhye – Woman
Deftones – You’ve Seen The Butcher
Karnivool – The Last Few
Vennart – Infatuate
We’re always waiting on Skyharbor releases. What are the upcoming releases that you are working on now? Tell us a little about them.
Well, one of my projects White Moth Black Butterfly just put out a new record, not sure if you’ve already heard that but you should check it out if you haven’t! I’m really proud of what we achieved with this one, and it’s a chance for all the Skyharbor fans who have been wanting to hear Dan (ex-singer) and I write music together again. Aside from that, I’m actually working on a totally brand new project with a really special singer that we plan to release a record for in the coming year – it’s completely unlike anything I’ve ever done before musically, and I think people who know my style of writing will be very surprised. But I think they will enjoy it a lot too! More info on that as things fall into place 🙂
Skyharbor of course has developed into nearly a full-time concern now. We will be releasing our third record in early 2018, and all I can say to the fans who have been waiting patiently is, you will not be disappointed – there’s a very big reason why it’s taken as long as it has, and you’ll know once you hear it.
What do you do when you’re not making music or audio production work?
I love to read, do yoga, devour yummy food, play video games, just like anyone else really!
Any advice for the up and coming musicians and bands in India?
Don’t get sidetracked by bullshit. Make music for the love of it and manage your expectations wisely. Don’t try and make your band a career or full-time concern until it organically reaches a certain level of popularity on its own. Keep your day job, if it’s related to music like teaching/producing/doing sessions gigs and recordings, that’s even better, but make sure you do, or else you’ll struggle to pay the bills, and that will make you resent your passion project. Above all else, keep it real, and don’t be a dick. Be kind to people around you and the musicians and professionals around you. That’s about it!
Keshav is currently touring with Skyharbor across the country and will be playing alongside prog-metal giants Textures as a part of the NH7 weekender Bangalore edition 2017. Catch them in your city!