Sludgy doom from India? Yeah, that’s right and it’s as dirty as that fecal pool in Slumdog Millionaire and heavy as fuck. I asked bass player Abhishek Michael and guitar player Namit some questions about their music, India, getting recognition and future plans.
This year the band released their debut album titled ‘Stereolithic Riffalocalypse’, filled with riffs and grooves that would not be misplaced on a Sleep album. This is one of those bands that should be playing Roadburn in the near future. Not recommended for Bollywood fans. This interview was originally published on 3rd-Eye Magazine.
Hey! Can you please kindly introduce yourself and your band? (Have you guys been active in any other bands you’d like to mention or doing any side projects?)
Michael: Ahoy! I’m Abhishek Michael, and I play bass, Deepak’s behind the kit, Namit’s on guitars and we’re all on vocal duties.
I joined Shepherd in 2012, after Muneeb had left, and Dee asked me if I wanted to come jam with them. I still remember Dee asking me if I wanted to play bass, back when they started off in 2011, but back then I didn’t think I could commit to it, as I was playing bass for Inner Sanctum. But, when he asked me again in 2012, I decided to give it a shot. I had always wanted to play this style of music and I felt like I needed to a change from Sanctum as well.
I used to play with a thrash/death band called Inner Sanctum till about a few months back, which was awesome fun too. We released an album earlier this year as well. It’s been a great year for me musically, haha.
Dee also plays with stoner doom heavyweights Bevar Sea, who also released a belter of an album last year. Definitely a shit ton of good music coming out of the subcontinent I must say.
Namit: Sup! This is Namit, and I play guitars and share vocal duties with the rest of the band. Shepherd has pretty much been the only band I’ve seriously been involved in.
How did Shepherd get started?
Michael: Shepherd started out as a bunch of dudes wanting to play some heavy, ballsy, rock n roll. Basically music we enjoyed listening to ourselves. We’re all into different styles of music, but everything slow, heavy and dirty, brings us together. The band started off with Dee and Namit jamming together, and back then the sound was a lot different, it still was Shepherd, and you can hear that from the early demos, but compared to what the album sounds like, it’s really matured over the years.
Namit: Always wanted to be a part of a band that writes the kind of music we do, but there wasn’t that vibe with any drummers in college – in fact there were no drummers at all in the neighborhood. There were quite a few guitar mates with whom I shared the same taste in music – more than anything else that resulted in me filling in on the drums for a quite a stretch.
I had met Deepak a couple of times and had an understanding that if he ever was in Bangalore we should try to do something – the weird acoustic riffy jams that had been recorded and sent over interested him as well. It was really after college, when Deepak moved to Bangalore that we decided it was time to take shit to whole new level. Our initial jams were productive in terms of riff content, on the fly tempo changes indicated good understanding and willingness to adapt – hence we thought that basing the band around an improvisational jam based structure would be a good place to start.
Why are you called Shepherd?
Michael: From what I hear, a fungus had something to do with that. Crooks in hand, we’re just here to lead the sheeple towards the opium mist.
Namit: It was during a trip to Kodaikanal, where we were lazing around amidst nature and discussing band names. In the distance, there was a dude trying to herd a flock of sheep. Out of all the names that we floated around, Shepherd sounded cool and it stuck.
What is it like to be a sludge/doom band from India, what kind of scene is there to step into?
Michael: Not much of a scene here actually, and if you’re talking specifically sludge/doom, then it’s even smaller. That being said, I think we’ve got this whole exotic factor going, since we’re a sludge band from India. So that probably helps with getting out to an international audience. There aren’t that many gigs here either, we probably play once a month if we’re lucky.
When we started out, I guess Bever Sea were the only other band, that I can think of, that were doing something similar. There have been others who’ve popped up and disappeared just as quickly though. It’s growing slowly though, you see newer bands in the genre slowly popping up, which is a good thing. I guess people realize that there is an audience for this style of music here.
Namit: In a way, it’s good to be doing something that not a lot of people are into. There’s no scene so to speak of and gigs are hard to come by. It is tough trying to survive as a musician in India – especially if you it’s against your principles to sell your soul to the devil of Bollywood.
In the past couple of years there have been more bands that worship the riff – Dirge, Witchdoctor, Grim Mage, Primitiv has elements of stoner doom. Existing stalwarts of doom – Bevar Sea, Djinn and Miskatonic keeping gigging and releasing new stuff consistently.
If you’re a new band, there would always be a show or two to get you started and it would mostly depend and how you would take it from there.
Since most people’s frame of reference of India includes little more than ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, can you tell a bit about your personal background and how you got into heavy music?
Michael: Apart from enjoying the occasional dip in the fecal pool around the corner, we all love the heavier forms of music, and that’s probably what draws us together. All of us are pretty much from what we call middle class India, we’ve grown up in an urban environment, and have had access to tapes and cd’s and we were lucky enough to be part of the generation that witnessed the internet boom. I think without the internet I wouldn’t have really got into heavier forms of music. My brother did play with a progressive rock band while I was growing up, so I had access to a lot of his music collection. I had an uncle who had a nice collection of classic rock tapes, which also played a part in me getting into the music I’m currently into. For me it’s been a musical evolution ever since I was a kid. I’ve always enjoyed music, and it’s a big part of my life.
Namit: I think it was the sight of bands in music videos doing cool stuff with instruments, and just the raw energy that made you want to jump and destroy shit, that attracted me to the music in the first place. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the power of generating music through your own fingers, and hence in a way expressing that fucking rage, is way more authentic and skillful than that artificial pop, Bollywood shit that was being aired when I was growing up – it made me stare in awe at the rack of guitars and drums in any musical store and that was pretty what I wanted to do. Black Album, Number of the Beast were the first few albums that blew my head out of water and really just wanted to play and try to reach the levels at which my idols could. Couple of years in a local music school back home was just an insane learning and mind opening experience – listening to stories from my school teachers – Miles, Giles and Axel about bands like G’nR, AC/DC, Deep Purple, Slayer, Van Halen, Metallica, Jaco Pastorius, etc. was the kind of fodder I’m glad I fed on.
What is happening music wise in India?
Michael: Well, there’s a lot happening. There’s obviously a ton of crap floating around, but we do have some interesting music coming out of here. I guess there are small pockets of good music, similar to everywhere else in the world.
We’ve caught onto the whole EDM boom as well. You can always see what the masses in India are listening to based on what Bollywood goes with, which is our mainstream. Right now it’s a ton of EDM, everything sounds like they just took a turd of a sample from some shitty DJ/producer. But then again, to most people who really listen to and enjoy music, we always are looking for something that you can really connect with and not just LCD radio friendly tunes.
If you look close enough you always find something interesting. I don’t think there are that many artists who are reinventing the wheel or anything, but they are still making good enjoyable music. We’ve got our fair share of good metal, rock, pop, electro and even hipster tunes, haha
Namit: Apart from Bollywood getting mutated and brainwashed by the likes of Yo Yo Honey Singh and the whole disco swag party DJJJ club mentality jing bang, (the stuff of ‘60s and ‘70s is pretty decent), you can find good bands from all genres if you tried to look for it. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a guy who is itching to check out new bands in India, but by the looks of it there are people trying to keep it real and do what they love doing. You could try to say that the blame lies with the apathetic attitude about people – who want new bands and killer gigs but don’t buy your shirts, cd’s, shit and don’t go to gigs. I’d like to blame, if I may, the naysayers that ceaselessly try to put their opinions in a relevant light, crib on social media for pointing out these maybe distorted facts about the scene. Everyone should know what they sign up for, because complaining is not good for your health.
Where do you get your inspiration from, both music wise as well as for lyrics and themes?
Michael: Well, it’s hard to pinpoint specific influences, but I guess everything influences us, from living in India to what’s going on in the rest of the world and the different music we all listen to. With the music, we don’t have any fixed way of writing. We just jam, and see where it takes us. Someone might bring in a riff and we take it from there, or we just jam. That’s what’s worked for us so far.
With the lyrical themes, it’s basically whoever is handling the vocals, would decide the theme and write the lyrics. Dee and Namit have handled pretty much all the vocals on the album, and have written the lyrics for all their parts. We all are really happy with the way the vocals turned out, and with 3 of us singing, we got to experiment a bit.
Namit: Some of it is personal experience, and the way you convey that could be down to how you’ve been influenced by and relate to the material of your choice. It’s tough to know when you’d feel inspired. When you do, it’s kind of rare, but you’re able to get a decent amount of work done. Sometimes it’s just a matter of keeping at it, and over time one fine day everything might just fall into place from your perspective- in terms of the words, the idea or the visuals you want to convey, the brevity of the structure and rhyme. Looking back, most of the lyrics I’ve written are shit and could be better – maybe it was the pressure of just finishing it as soon as we could, but writing lyrics is not something I look forward to. Working on vocal melodies is way more interesting!
How has the reception of Shepherd been this far? Are there things you’ve found particularly interesting?
Michael: The reception has been great! We didn’t expect it to do as well as it did. For a band from India to get the amount of international press we did, was pretty impressive. We’ve managed to make a lot of year end lists, which is really good publicity for us. The rest of the world usually never knows bands coming out of India, so it’s a good feeling having your music get out to a lot more people. Hopefully we can get the music out to more people outside India with a tour in the near future.
One thing I’ve really enjoyed about the whole stoner/sludge community is how supportive everyone is of each other. Bands are always helping out other bands, and the zines and blogs are all very supportive of new bands.
Namit: Getting signed onto Helmet Lady records was sick! Didn’t expect the kind of reception we’ve had so far, but it’s motivating to hear the stuff being said – that helps in us wanting to put in the effort to make a really good next record.
The passion with which people work and care for about the underground has really caught me by surprise.
Let’s talk about Stereolithic Riffalocalypse, what was the writing and recording process like?
Michael: Well the album was written quite a while back, and we’ve been playing most of these songs live for a couple of years now. Most of the music evolved from jams, which later turned into completed tracks.
When we decided to record back in 2013, we pretty much had everything ready before we went into the studio. We started tracking around October, in 2013, and we got done with the drums, bass and guitars pretty quick, and tweaked the songs a bit here and there. But then, we had to part ways with the vocalist. So basically, we had a bunch of instrumentals with us, with no vocalist.
I still remember we were trying to figure out what to do, and whether we should try and find a vocalist. We ended up doing all the vocals ourselves, and over the course of the year we sat down and figured out lyrics and vocals for the whole album. It’s funny, but I remember Dee saying something like “Fuck it, let’s just do the vocals ourselves” which I thought was a joke at the time, since none of us had any real singing experience. But I have to say, that we were all really impressed with the way the vocals turned out on the album, and it seems like a lot of people enjoyed them too.
Namit: The first time I heard Dee belt out the vocals, I was taken aback by how well he could sing and how much better the songs were starting to sound. Yeah, writing the vocals, and then learning to play the riffs and sing at the same time, was insane amounts of fun.
How did you get in touch with Brad Boatright to work on your album? And what was it like?
Michael: We decided to work with Rahul Ranganath, a live/studio engineer from Bangalore for the mix, but we were looking around to find someone who we could work with for the master. Brad was definitely one of the choices all of us thought would really work well for us, not to mention he’s practically worked with every band from the scene and put out some brilliant records. So we got in touch with him and he was quite excited to work with us as well. It was really easy to work with him, and the guy knows what he’s doing. We talked a bit about what we were looking for and the bands we liked, and basically the albums he had worked on that we liked the production on. When we heard the first master, we knew we had gone with the right guy, and we really happy with how it turned out. So everything was done pretty quickly, we did a few runs and we were set.
Namit: Brad is just super quick and super professional with his stuff. Not to mention the initial runs that came out couldn’t have sounded better.
Apparently, I understood from some other reviews, some people feel offended by the song titles ‘ Black Cock Of Armageddon’ and ‘Turdspeaker’. Did this surprise you and do you wish to say something more about these songs?
Michael: Haha! Yeah, honestly we didn’t think about that, but then again, if people want to get offended, they will. Someone is always going to be offended, even if you write a song about magical ponies. So no, we don’t really have anything to say about them, if people were offended by it, fuck that, they can move along. We’re not going to go about tip toeing around everything, just because someone is going to be offended.
Namit: HAHAHAHA! Good for them! 😀
What future plans does Shepherd have?
Michael: As of now, get back to writing some new material, which we’ve already started with. It’s a bit nerve racking since there’s a lot of pressure now to put out a really good album. Haha!
Apart from that, we’re looking to tour Europe at some point and play a few festivals. Also the vinyl of the album will be out soon, there has been a delay because it’s quite hard getting vinyl’s out now with all the delays in production. So look out for that!
Namit: Can’t wait to jam and write some stuff with the guys, because basically there’s a ton of riffs and semi-structured songs / ideas that are in there. Need to take a massive dump, and let it all out.
If you had to describe Shepherd as a dish, what would it be and why?
Michael: Haha, this is a hard one. I’m not quite sure actually. But maybe a spicy taco/burrito? It’s got a lot of different textures, it’s meaty and spicy, and it could give you the shits too.
Namit: Shepherd’s Pie? It’s a good thing to have when you wake and bake, but just like the dish it could get boring after a week or so…
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