A deep conversation/QnA session with the best in the business — Vishal J Singh — The Showrunners exclusive pick of the week
In my early days of music, I was losing my mind over Amogh symphony albums and for the entire year, I had no idea about who Vishal is, who’s doing exactly what in these albums. I wouldn’t be ashamed to admit that I was a complete noob and my life was revolving entirely around Classic rock, Grunge, and Metal. So I had a hard time understanding the sound that Vishal was trying to create at that time but when I started understanding the concepts, the compositional approaches, the instruments he used and the arrangments of compositions, the entire definition of metal music suddenly changed for me and I’m so fortunate that it happened.
Today I am feeling proud and excited to talk some real deal with the man who has inspired me with his music and a humble personality. He needs no introduction and it’s my immense pleasure to do this QnA session with the most talented and experienced musician — Vishal J Singh.
Let’s begin the conversation!
1. First of all, it’s a pleasure to have you in this series. Please tell us how did you find your way to music? Also, tell us about your childhood and how it was connected to music?
Thank you so much, Mohan. Pleasure is mine.
I was about 5-6 years old when it started. I used to visit my Maternal Grandmother’s house with my parents and witnessed teaching and performance of vocals and instruments. Everyone in my Mom’s family are well known musicians (including Mom) in the hometown. There was one room where Grandmother used to teach Piano, Israj, Vocals etc to her students, one of my uncles teaching Guitar in another room, another uncle listening to various records in his room - the vibe of the place was always musical. I found a spot in Grandma’s house where all these different sounds intersected at. It was a very different experience to 5 years old me. It was atonal, it was dissonant yet it was something i felt like home or heard before but couldn’t recognize. I tried to find that sound everywhere else. So i started listening to everything that plays in the record/cassette players in our house. Mom introduced me to Indian and Western Classical, Dad introduced me to pop, rock, country and blues and after sometime, my elder brother introduced me to heavy metal/thrash metal.
Before picking up an instrument, for almost 2 years, i only listened to a lot of varieties of music and observed their patterns and structures. My memory is very sharp and strong since childhood and i could memorise longer classical pieces with lesser repetations. My Parents were observing me and asked me to choose an instrument. I picked up Drums as my first instrument at a very early age of 9 or 10. It was funny. I got this pair of two drum sticks and had to figure out how to play. Dad wanted to see whether i can figure out things by my own way or not. I had to imagine the kick drum pedal and play. I picked up a few songs of Boney M, Michael Jackson, Abba, Willie Dixon, Tony Williams etc. Hours and hours of practice on thick pillows while keeping each and every note in sync with the songs made by limbs very strong. It was a little tough for me later to shift to a Drumkit because i was exploring rebound strokes with much powerful wrists. Wrists which are capable of speed tom fills. Eventually, i figured my own wrist and finger technique of drumming. One of my uncles Ujjal Das (a very fine Percussionist) taught me african beats, latin rhythms and the whole new introduction to percussion world.
After that, i started jamming with my older brother on guitar and later with a known local blues rock guitarist named Podum Buragohain whom Dad asked to jam with me during weekends. Dad used to pack up my Drumkit to his Van and we go to his place, assemble the kit, amps etc and we were given different songs(Rock, Pop, Blues, Country, Jazz, Heavy Metal) to rehearse in every session. I used to practice everyday for minimum 3 hours after school. But very soon, after 1 year of regular jams and rehearsals, i was curious to experiment with things like - "What if i use double bass pedaling on a 12 bar blues but with heavier tone blues guitar and harmonica?" Some guy told me that Black Sabbath already did something like this in the 70s. I was disappointed with myself. I told myself "No...i am missing something. I could hear that sound in my head."
I tried to explain my brother and also the other guitarist - "No...can you play this riff reverse? Use that upstroke or whatever you call...and then do that eddie van halen thing after every 5th measure...can we?" They go like "What do you mean? That’s not even possible." So, to be able to have a proper communication, i decided to write musical pieces(not exactly songs). This enthusiasm influenced me to learn Guitar, Bass and Keys. So i started using Guitar as a "composition" instrument for melodic patterns while Drums being my key instrument. I wanted to record these ideas and recording studios were very far away from our hometown. Due to school, i couldn’t go to those studios to record.
Also, my Dad used to say "You have to earn things in your life. Focus and find how." I looked at my brother’s Philips Double Cassette Recorder/Playback Cassette System which also had a karaoke input. I asked my Dad how to create guitar tones like those records? So he introduced me to guitar magazines, analog pedalboards and a Zoom 1010 Multi-effect processor. Next challenge was having access to an electric guitar. Dad wanted to see if i am worthy to have an electric guitar so he asked me to study a bit more about electric guitar. We had a library of books on occult, history, encyclopedia, auto-biography, chemistry, mathematics, robotics, engineering and physics. I used to read all of them. I picked the book on electric guitar. So i bought this very cheap electric guitar pick-up from a local store, cutted the front hard paper sides of my science practical notebooks, fitted the pickup into it and attached it with tapes to my brother’s acoustic guitar. Initially, feedback was bothering me everytime i put the distortion patch on so i decided to fill the hollow body with clothes, sponge etc to minimize it and used headphones to record. It was also because the karoake fader in Philips was way too sensitive. It was my introduction to noise reduction process.
Anyway, so i brought about 10 Meltrack 60 degrees and 90 degrees Blank Cassettes and started recording everything using the Zoom 1010 as mixer/effects unit. For example - Cassette 1 labeled as "Drum-track beat 12 (6/8 x 12 measures) with Mic" and then put that Cassette 1 into the "player" while putting another new blank cassette in the recorder to record/dub "Guitar riff 12 (6/8 x 12 measures) on it with Cassette 1 being on and running. It was all one take and i had no other choice. It became my rehearsal motivation like "If i miss even one note...i will have to do it all over again from the top". To arrange the song ideas, i used to cut the tape reel with scissor after marking the exact spots and attach them with adhesive tape. Like this, I recorded dozens of ideas which later turned into full length songs.
My parents were observing me. After understanding my will power and enthusiasm, my parents took me to my oldest uncle to study and learn Jazz, Traditional Assamese songs and the basics of songwriting and arranging songs/musical pieces. At home, my parents were constantly helping me to explore more music, theory and many songs. Till now, i am a student of music and art. I believe this learning process will never stop.
2. How did the idea of Amogh Symphony come to you? Tell us about how did you plan the writing process? Were there any other projects as well?
Amogh Symphony (name inspired from Mahavishnu Orchestra). This name was given by me and my Late Father. I wanted to keep the name symphony because i pretty much live my life like a conductor of a symphony. Amogh means "accurate" that defines my focus and determination in creating sounds coming from various sources. The idea was developing since i started writing music. I wrote my very first musical piece at the age of 12. With every composition, my songwriting and arrangement started upgrading while exploring music yet i wasn’t able to find the sound i heard for the first time at Grandma’s house when i was 5. I understood that it wasn’t "musical" at all as per music theory. But i insisted to research and explore more which eventually lead me to study various genres of music and also more than 2-3 music instruments including analog and digital synthesizers. In Amogh Symphony, my writing process is something like this - Story/Concept < Sequence of the story in words < Imagine or write them on paper parallel to the first music piece < distribute the characters among instruments < listen multiple times as a songwriter < listen multiple times as a silent film with only music. Sometimes, the process is entirely reversed (for example - the new Amogh Symphony album IV).
3. What are those important factors you can’t ignore while writing music and why?
Depends whether i am writing music for a production house, film director or just for myself (without third party involvement). When i write music for films, I strongly need the visuals and what the film director heard for the first time when he thought about music and sounds. I like to see-through and hear from the filmmaker’s eyes and ears. Its quite an amazing learning process to understand how different creative people have different ways to express through art. In case, if the film director is clueless and wants me to take over the entire creative freedom to compose music, i read the script over and over again and memorise it before songwriting. Sometimes, in experimental films, the music has absolutely nothing to do with reel and storyline. In such cases, i just need myself alone in the studio.
I use keywords before i write any tune. Automatically, i discovered my own nomenclature/notation to pen down pieces i write before i forget them. It came from the habit of studying Chemistry. Unfortunately, only i can understand it.
When it comes to writing music with my bands - Amogh Symphony and Serpents of Pakhangba, i first observe the playing styles and signatures of the bandmates/instrumentalists/singers. The advantage for me being a Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist is that I can try to learn their muscle memory and their commonly used patterns (the habit i got from the process of learning 10-15 covers in a week in my childhood). I compose or let’s say "Re-arrange" the songs based on these musicians' capabilities. Its a very very important factor for me because if i put my own signature into the band’s songwriting, it will eventually sound like my solo project. In Serpents of Pakhangba, Aruna’s range of styles/techniques of vocals is infinite because she is not just a singer but also a voice over artist and a very good songwriter/producer herself. Fidel has a terrific free-impro jazz-fusion style and he is somebody who can always fill up the gaps and blanks. Manas can improvise on the spot, memorize longer pieces within no time and can also stick to just one pattern with discipline for an hour. Its a beautiful process where minds and souls are connected and one has to "arrange" the patterns with time. Its similar in case of my other band Amogh Symphony as well.
Picture: Serpents of Pakhangba — (left to right) Manas Chowdhary (Bass), Vishal J Singh (Guitar), Aruna Jade (Vocals), Fidel Dely Murrilo (Drums/Percussions)
4. What do you promote through your music? What is your perspective on music?
Besides being a free-spirit and experiencing life as a spiritualist, i would add these pointers :
- Accept yourself the way you are. Be shameless, be naked.
- Do not find peace in comfort if you want the complete experience. Don’t wait. Do it now.
- Stand up and shout out what you always wanted to say. But with the brain, with creativity, with peace.
- If you accepted yourself after coming out of hell, you will know why judging others doesn’t make any sense anymore. We all have stories to share. Let’s share.
- Art has to improve and upgrade with every upcoming generation. You leave a legacy for the future generations in the never-ending world of capitalism, chaos, and rat-race. Sooner or later, somebody will be the next "you".
5. Tell us about your favorite collaborations? Also any 10 Indian artists/bands you would like to recommend?
One of my favorite collaborations was with American Pianist/Keyboardist/Composer Jimmy Pitts in Fractured Dimension. The line-up was crazy. Some of the world’s best jazz-fusion/prog rock musicians were in it. Also, because Jimmy is a sweetheart and one of the nicest guys i have ever collaborated with. We are almost like family friends. His family is beautiful. Then, recently, i collaborated with German Violinist/Composer Lisiveri. She is an excellent composer.
Peter Cat Recording Company, Gumbal, No Hero, Corner Cafe Chronicles, Lateral, Kaysee, Runt, Godless, An Invitation To Be Resilient and Silver Tears.
6. As we all know the current state of music in the world if there could be a hard reset to it and you get to do the changes, what would you like to change?
Firstly, most importantly, softwares/apps that allows an entire band playing/performing in sync with each other through DAW/Soundcard output from different locations. That will give you a complete experience of a live show while sitting at home. I think its already happening. We have to change and upgrade ourselves with time. It will bring more viewers. I hope programs like OBS will upgrade soon.
Secondly, lesser "Music Schools" and more "Creativity development" online and offline training/workshops/courses. Changing the entire course. Bringing the experimental luthiers, technicians and art designers who can work on researching music instruments as well as Music trainers/teachers guiding the kids by understanding their pattern of hidden creativity. For example - how to play drums and bass guitar at the same time, how to play autumn leaves on piano and classical guitar at the same time by one person etc. Luthiers creating a specific music instrument based on the skills. In my childhood, i always wished to have a sarod in baritone tuning attached with a fende electric guitar. I made it by myself. It allowed me to create sounds which were in my mind. I used that in Amogh Symphony’s fourth album IV.
Thirdly, I would like to bring an online consultancy/guide kind of service where senior artists and musicians and young, new enthusiastic artists and musicians can connect transparently to discuss how to tackle with the complex minds of artists in this age when infos and datas are available everywhere to read and discover. Veterans must share stories of how they fought against all the odds and the younger generation must share how they are fighting now. Because minds are just getting complex with every generation. We must hold for sometime instead of remaining silent and ignoring. Not every person’s mind is designed to handle everything.
Fourthly, pension for independent musicians and artists.
7. Top 10 music recommendations?
- Lionel Hampton presents Buddy Rich
- Mari Boine - Idjageidas
- Trilok Gurtu - Crazy Saints
- Nativity in Black - Tribute to Black Sabbath by various artists
- Fantomas - The Director’s Cut
- Ozric Tentacles - Waterfall Cities
- Nile - Black Seeds of Vengeance
- Gorguts - Obscura
- Cynic - Carbon Based Anatomy
- Frank Zappa - Joe’s Garage
8. What do you think can be done to remove toxicity from the music? I believe to become one big community, we have a long way to go. What’s your take on this?
Its a very personal perspective. Depends what is "toxic" according to you and what "long way" is for you. For some musicians, Bollywood is their dream. For others, progressive rock is their dream. If you are talking about lack of respect and understading between musicians, its entirely depends on their upbringing, the kind of atmosphere they live in and their own mindsets. Question is - how you take it and use it. I believe we cannot change one person’s habit or nature but we can try. If he or she still doesn’t want to change, you shouldn’t blame him/her. Instead, you do it by yourself. People will anyway talk, criticize all the time. Say good things and bad things about a person.
But with time, we, as a society have a poor habit of forgetting everything. You wish to become famous and loved by all - you will get that anyway once you are dead. People who didn’t even know you will say "XYZ was my inspiration." What we must focus at is doing it in our own way and sooner or later "some" will be inspired by your constant effort.
This is how you make "one big community". The music, the art that you’re creating now is not for your generation of people. They will get married, they will have kids and those kids will understand and follow your creation. That’s how it’s always been. You live even after your biological death. Through Art, the struggle of Pointing at the flaws of the society will go on from generation to generation.
9. How important is music education for a person? Also please shed some light on the mistakes many musicians generally make these days?
Well, different musicians have different "belief" on this topic. We all learn things differently and i think it should be given respect and importance. This is also why I am kind of against the concept of music schools after seeing what most music schools in India are delivering. Of course, there are some schools which are doing fantastic job in training the best students but unfortunately others are scam.
In my own case, i was left alone with music to figure out how do i understand to use them. After 3-4 years of self-taught struggle, i was taught basic music education and theory which i found very interesting because practically, i already experienced them. It also forced me to think "Why do we have to learn Autumn Leaves?". Gladly, my uncle taught me theory. Music Education is very important once you realizes that you are born to become a musician. I think a basic self study of music, initially, is very important.
Few mistakes. But quite enjoyable mistakes.
- Focusing more towards speed playing and less focusing towards clarity in "notes".
- After years of study and practice in Jazz, Classical Music, Tech Death and Prog Rock, joining Bollywood session gigs only to make money and lose chops that came after years of practice. Its not a rocket science to balance your practice routine with motivation and paid session works. Release your own music if you want to build your identity and existence alive. You will be amazed with your own skills.
- Learning covers, learning music pieces in school only to form a cover band. Learning more than 20-30 different genres of covers actually benefits you much later in your music career as songwriter. But directly jumping to a cover band is as equivalent to studying B.Tech/MBA only to join a BPO. Absolutely nothing wrong in that. Just waste of time and effort due to lack of clarity in vision.
- Spending way too much time on social media. Prepared to criticize, troll and fight against other musicians. Today, you may say you hate mainstream music and any mainstream media like TOI, MidDay etc. Tomorrow, you shouldn’t feel worried to say thanks to a mainstream music director or singer who asked you to play in his/her band and these mainstream medias who finally featured you for your hardwork. Also, the guy whom you trolled may become your mentor in future, who knows? Have fun but don’t do non-repairable mistakes.
- Don’t let your songs imprisoned in your laptop/desktop/hard disk for more than one year. Things become quickly obsolete. Also, it makes you jealous and irritated if you are young.
- Drugs are not for everyone. Being creative doesn’t always make you eligible to try drugs.
- Your DAW is the slave of your creative mind and it must follow every orders from you. Your mind isn’t the slave of the DAW. You still don’t need all the latest plugins and VSTi’s if you haven’t explored the previous ones. Write and compose so many ideas that finally you can remember each and every patch and modular settings. If you hear a Moog Synth riff in your head, then make sure you bring out the exact same sound without getting distracted by "trial and error" of new available synths.
- Preferably, stay single and avoid relationships when you are super famous. When you are dating, please don’t be a music nerd. Don’t romanticize "Depressed, heart broken lightening fast shredder who is angry" if you are dating an intelligent guy/girl. Don’t skip shopping or to go out with her/him even if you have to record a song idea. Better to keep a barrier between your job and your love-life. After rehearsal/gig, when you see her/him, forget that you are a musician. And don’t take this point seriously. Love makes impossible things happen.
10. (Last question) What advice would you like to give to the new musicians who want to pursue their journey towards Bollywood and film scoring? Also what is the basic homework one should be ready with?
Be versatile and open minded as much as you can. Listen to all kinds of music and observe everything. When i say everything, not just music but every sound. In film BGM’s, there is no limit. Its a fun playground to explore. But first you must decide whether you want to be a "producer" or a "music composer/director" because both are two different roles. If you have a dream to become a composer, learn how to manage your team. It starts with managing and communicating between collaborators and your bandmates.
Vishal J.Singh is a renowned Mumbai-based Multi-Instrumentalist, Songwriter, Film Music Composer, Producer and Mixing Engineer, globally known for his Multi-genre/Multi-national band "Amogh Symphony" in the world of Progressive Rock and Avant-Garde music.
Grandson of Late Labanya Prabha Hazarika (Assam’s first female Multi-Instrumentalist, Singer and Composer recorded by Megaphone and HMV in 1935-1938), Vishal globally collaborated with several musicians across the globe, into the realms of Prog Rock, Free Jazz, Jazz fusion, Metal, Soundtrack, Electronica, Pop, Hip-hop and World music. Vishal has also composed/produced music for various Indian and International brands such as Mahindra Rise, Jaguar, Tata Housing, Habib, Stapler Levi’s, Giorgio Armani, etc. One of his noted experimental music production works is the soundtrack of Anurag Kashyap’s game-changer film "Gangs of Wasseypur" which he made with good friend/music director Sneha Khanwalkar. He also composed music and sound designed for several European experimental films and documentaries.
Vishal is a certified and experienced Sound/Mixing engineer who was trained under the biggest name in the Indian music industry called Daman Sood, well-known engineers Mujeeb Dadarkar and Vijay Benegal at Digital Academy, Mumbai.
Some of the noted singer-songwriters/bands with whom Vishal worked as Record Producer/Co-arranger are Paradigm Shift (Mumbai, India), Peura (Gydnia, Poland), Acrophase (Seattle, USA), Banat Kaur Bagga (Mumbai, India), Mainak (Kolkata, India) and Coma Conscience (Mumbai, India)
Vishal founded Pargot Studios in 2018. Pargot Studios is an online audio studio with a giant team of lyricists, singers, instrumentalists, engineers and sound designers who work remotely.
Follow Vishal and his incredible projects on social media by clicking the link below :
VISHAL J SINGH :
AMOGH SYMPHONY :
SERPENTS OF PAKHBANGA :
PARGOT STUDIOS :
So that was it for this week’s QnA edition featuring Vishal J Singh (Multi-instrumentalist//Music Producer//Film Composer). See you next time with another amazing musician as the Showrunners exclusive pick of the week. Stay safe and see you soon.