We sat down with Suryakant Sawhney, of PCRC and Lifafa fame, to discuss his process, celebrations and misgivings alike, regarding his journey as a musician.
How would you describe the sound of “Bismillah?”
I think it’s a really colorful, sort of cross-cultural, encompassing a lot of humanity and many ideas. It’s not a single cultural experience, you know? It can apply to many people from many cultures, many languages and many backgrounds - it’s a very universal album. A planetary album.
Can you tell what you’d like your listeners to be left with when they listen to the album?
Sort of a spiritual feeling.
How has New Delhi influenced your sound over the years? Do you derive a lot of inspiration from the city?
There are many sounds that we do take from Delhi. There’s an aspect of Delhi that does manifest in a sonic way. Not just with samples but also the way the horn sounds, the mosque sounds…all these things and sort of, I guess, behaviourally – Delhi can be such a clusterfuck. Not a single obvious thing about Delhi but the fact that I live here, it tends to force some sort of compulsions on you like where you stay, how you live, going out lesser. All these things manifest themselves, you know? It’s not a very clear thing. The difference in our music from other music can often be attributed to the fact that we are from Delhi, yeah!
Do you have any dream collaborations that you would like to have?
We don’t really dream of collaborating but it would have been nice to have recorded with some people. Not necessarily musicians. There are some producers that would have been nice to record with. But they’re all dead now so It doesn’t matter I guess.
Any names as such?
Rudy Van Gelder. He was a very interesting man but ah well, he wouldn’t have recorded us.
Can you share an interesting gig experience or story with us?
Nothing really weird has happened to us…yet. Or maybe we don’t realize It’s weird, I don’t know. I can’t give you a particularly crazy story. Most of the gigs have their own charm.
Any particular venue or city that has stood out in your memory while performing there?
OK well, this year, we particularly enjoyed our “Bismillah” shows. They were quite nice. Particularly in India. We also had a couple of shows in Paris this year that were really fun. I think we had an actual audience that came to see us. We packed out places. So, that was really interesting. And, then we played at this lovely island in the Netherlands at a festival called “Into The Great Wide Open” which was really interesting. It was the last show of the European tour and we ended on a really nice high note. That was nice!
Can you tell us a little bit about 'Miya Biwi'. You conceptualise your own music videos. What narratives and themes do you find yourself exploring?
Well, ‘Miya Biwi’ is something my wife and I started. It didn’t really start with doing music videos. It started with us doing work for brands like Raw Mango, which I was initially editing for. She came on board and started shooting. We started working together and because we both travel so much, we found in our careers, it was a good way of being together and maintaining a marriage. You know, there are not a lot of people I collaborate with. So, it feels nice to collaborate with only a few people we’re really close to. She’s been a part of so many music videos – ‘Copulations,’ ‘I’m Home’ - I think most of the videos except the ‘Where the Money Flows” video are never planned. There’s a pattern. Although, now we’re running a proper production agency. We’re doing a lot of work with labels and brands. So, it’s a nice shift. It also makes decent money.
How did Lifafa come about? And do you find it easy to separate your identity of Lifafa from PCRC?
I mean it is definitely easy to separate it for now because of the language and certain stylistic elements. For now, at least. I basically did it because I needed exactly that. I needed some fresh place to execute other ideas. Do shows myself, have a different experience of being a musician. It’s also easier to understand that it’s extremely lonely to be a solo musician. I’m super fucking grateful and glad that I’m actually in a band. You go nuts. No wonder those guys kill themselves. Going from hotel, flight, play - it’s a sort of weird, depressing place. But, it was more of an escape from the music being done for Peter Cat. I had so many experiments I wanted to do – social, musical – which required me to have this fresh identity.
Can you tell me a little bit about what your songwriting process is like and how do you confront writing blocks? To be honest, most of the songs I’m working on are usually a year-two years old. There’s a sort of a backlog and for that reason I don’t experience a writing block. I sort of leave it and work on something older. There’s a backlog for a couple of years, at least. I’m also quite often doing many other things so I don’t necessarily get stuck in the art of writing music. I don’t think writing block is a danger. Although, what can happen is that you can go out of practice writing music, which can be a scary place to be in. It’s hard to get back into it. That is generally something that I’m wary of. Which is when I fall out of practice in doing certain things and I have to go back, it takes a while to go back to it. It’s not that good. That’s a bigger problem. In terms of generally writing new material, I’ve never really had a problem. Getting stuck to one kind of music can be a bigger problem. I think that’s where the writing blocks come from. You eventually run out of ideas – doing the same thing.
From your early days in Delhi to now – how have things changed?
Well, the composition of the band changed. That was a big part of how we moved forward. I think the previous composition had its pros and cons but ultimately, it felt like we were plateauing. And, bringing new people like Dhruv Bhola, Rohit Gupta - really fresh-minded, younger people who’re also really talented helped break that plateau. As you get older, you get more settled, you become better at understanding what your instinct is telling you, you become better at doing certain things like producing the music. It all just gets easier; you just got to keep doing it. There’s no other secret – it’s just that really!
Do you see yourself continuing to write in Hindi for Lifafa. And, why the choice of Hindi as opposed to English for PCRC?
At least, with PCRC, Hindi is also coming. Initially, for me it was about getting comfortable with writing in Hindi. I’m a purist like that. I spent some time writing in Hindi, figuring it out. Something that worked for Lifafa will work for PCRC and at least for me personally, I’m going to take it back there. It’s unexplored territory for me, writing our kind of music in Hindi, ironically. I guess with Lifafa, I’m treating it like a Hindi and a dance medium, which is bereft of language getting involved. I don’t see English coming in there.
How do you feed yourself as an artist?
I’m a workaholic, I literally spend 2-3 months in different phases like, and I’m obsessed with something new every 2-3 months. I got a kindle for myself because I’m reading again. In another 2-3 months, I’ll be off it. Soon, I’ll be interested in economics and I’ll start picking on that. I do film when I’m not doing music and that actually takes up a lot of time. Also, trying to make a shitload of money so I can do nothing, eventually. Seems like the smart thing to do.
Is there any new music we can look forward to?
Yes. There will be a new album for Lifafa coming out soon. The first half of 2020. After that, a new PCRC album too hopefully. We’ve already started that because we have a lot of material. We just have to figure out how we want to do it. There’s also this desire to break away from the album format and try a completely new way of delivering our new music. An exploration of dealing with the same industry.
I was talking to your management and they said that you press your vinyl from France? Any reason why?
Oh is it Germany? Everything other than that is Indian, right?
It’s a mix, you know? I mean the label is French and the vinyls are contracted by the label to make. It just so happens that the plant is in Germany and apart from that, everything else is Indian.
That’s why you have a lot of marketing coming from France?
Yeah, that’s exactly why I was telling Alina earlier that there’s obviously a natural push there which has obviously worked quite well and I mean the way we figured it out was by letting them handle pretty much the rest of the world while we did India.
Usually a lot of people go independent but you guys decided to sign with a label and you know, it’s bearing its dividends.
I think it works well when you’re independent if you’re already sort of doing well immediately. But, if you’re making something which sort of needs to seep through and takes time, it definitely helps give it that marketing push.
Thank you for your time, Suryakant!
Words by Alina Gufran