Coshish have had a steady buzz going about them and have released a few live videos which sound fantastic and they’re definitely one of the best progressive rock acts from the country. Here’s one of India’s finest drummers, Hamza Kazi. It’s not easy to come across a drummer with a strong sense of technique and musicality. He’s played for numerous bands covering a wide range of genres. Hamza discusses his recent Paiste endorsement, the upcoming albums by his bands Coshish and Workshop, his favourite band- Tool, polyrhythms and a lot more in this interview.
ID – Hey Hamza, it’s great to have you here. Firstly, congratulations on the Paiste endorsement. How did that come about?
Hamza - Hey Sumanth, thanks for considering me for this interview J. And yes, it hasn’t sunken in completely. I’ve kept the contract on my desktop to ensure that it isn’t a dream from which I wake up. I’ve been a fan of Paiste Cymbals since I heard them on Lateralus, way back in 2001and I’d dreamt of using the Signature Cymbals some day.
Initially I made do with only one pair of Paiste hats instead of buying an entire Sabian starter pack. Over the next few years, I saved up and bought over 20 Paiste Cymbals. Till date, I haven’t played a single gig without them.
Mr. Mukesh Bhargava, knew about my fascination for Paiste since 2002. I used to randomly walk into his store, admire them for hours and go back empty-handed. He’d even gifted me an Alpha Splash in 2006, probably out of pity haha. So last year when I visited Musician’s Mall to pick up some cymbals he asked me to give him my profile along with a few high quality videos and the deal got finalized in May 2012. I can’t explain how awesome it feels to be on the same brand as Danny Carey, Josh Freese, Pat Mastelotto, Bill Bruford, Stewart Copeland and John Bonham! I’ve had to go through years without cymbals, begging friends in the US to hand deliver them, facing Sahil Makhija’s nagging and even resisting the temptation of switching over to the Z side when Bob and Kim (for Zildjian) offered to give me Gavin Harrison’s custom bells if I’d switch. But I’m willing to do it all over again without even the shadow of a doubt!
ID – Talking about endorsements, are there any misconceptions people have when it comes to endorsing products?
Hamza - The fact of the matter is, everyone in India wants to get an endorsement. It might not have anything to do with fame but most definitely to do with the discounts! Anyway, an important fact that musicians forget, is that you have to love and believe in the brand first. It honestly doesn’t matter how good or famous you are. That being said, all brands need to maintain a certain level of endorsees. My endorsement, for instance, came about because of my obsession with Paiste. There are however, rare exceptions, where you’re so good and so famous that brands would want you on board irrespective of what you currently play. There are also a few musicians who feel that some endorsees are not worthy of their endorsements. Nobody has ever stopped them from sending in their profiles for endorsement considerations. If the brand sees value in their proposition, an endorsement is highly possible.
ID – How do you think endorsements help the overall music scene and the dealers grow inIndia?
Hamza - There are several ways in which endorsements can potentially boost sales.
1 – Convince you to buy an instrument if your favourite musician is playing it. These endorsements are not as lame as Shah Rukh’s Navratna Tel endorsement. We all know he’s probably never even held a bottle in his hand. When it comes to instruments, you see your music gods actually play them live and if you’re looking for the same sound, you’d definitely buy them.
2 – Creating brand awareness (this has nothing to do with me being an MBA Grad). It’s really simple. When you see a live video or a music video of your favourite band, there’s plenty of focus on the instruments, enough for you to notice the brands. I’m a drummer and I know that Steven Wilson uses PRS Guitars and that Les Claypool uses Carl Thompson Basses.
3 – Spreading of goodwill by endorsees via clinics, interviews and personal chats. For instance, whenever I teach or conduct clinics, I make it a point to tell my students about the gear I use and why they should use it too. Whenever I get enquiries online, I always suggest the brands I use and or endorse. It comes naturally when you believe in the brand you endorse.
As far as the scene is concerned,
1 – Endorsements help musicians get better gear at a cheaper price, thereby raising the bar of the quality of instruments used.
2 – Local bands and musicians get a spot on the global website of the brand, thereby increasing their exposure and chances of getting noticed by a major label.
3 – Endorsements are also indicators of a brand’s interest in a particular market or country. If they’re willing to give out endorsements, it surely means that there’s a possibility of a price reduction or expansion of their portfolio.
4 – Seeing their fellow musicians getting endorsements inspires musicians to practice harder to become better to get their own endorsements. Or so I’d like to believe.
ID – What else have you been upto?
Hamza - Apart from jamming with Coshish and Chandresh Kudwa, I’m working on the artwork concepts for Coshish’s debut album and working with Sahil on Workshop’s second album. With a few programming sessions, video lessons, clinics, IIT classes and my regular corporate job, I’m not left with much time on my hands! Writing some tech metal songs for a collaboration, completing my instructional book and designing some new hardware are on the cards though.
ID – What’s been happening on the Coshish front lately? We’ve seen a lot of quality live videos which sound fantastic.
Hamza - Thank you for the kind words J. The boys will be happy to hear that. The album is currently being mixed by Zorran Mendonsa inNew Zealand. It’s sounding HUGE and we can’t wait for our fans to hear the final mix. Imran Ladak is currently working on the artwork and Sahil is helping us out with the all the label business. Hopefully, we should hear some good news soon. Apart from that we’re working on our very first cover in 5 years and acoustic renditions of our songs!
You can watch some of our videos here. We’d like to thank Neal from Blue Frog for the awesome drum sound!
ID – Is it hard being in a progressive rock band whose lyrics are in Hindi? Or does it work in your favour?
Hamza - There are positives and negatives about being a Hindi Prog Rock band. The positives being, we’re doing something different. The only other band that’s doing something similar is Paradigm Shift. In that context, we’ve got a good recall value. Singing in Hindi automatically broadens our target audience. The downside however is that we can get too proggy for certain audiences. And sadly, hardcore fans of progressive rock don’t want to listen to us simply because of the language bias. I don’t blame them, but I’d appreciate it if they’d give us a shot first. Anyway, nobody’s complaining. May be we’ll release an instrumental or an English album sometime in the future!
ID – Tell us a bit about how writing went about for the Coshish album.
Hamza - The album is a 10 song concept album based on the protagonist’s journey towards attaining salvation. It didn’t start out as one. Mangesh and Shrikant had composed 4 songs before Anish and I joined the band. We brought in our own influences and changed the songs a bit. Then we noticed that they had a common theme. So we took a conscious effort to write the remaining songs for a concept album as a band. Usually Mangesh and I come with ideas that we bring to the jam room. We jam on them for days until we get a few concrete parts, which is when we record a demo draft. We usually work and rework the demo and take months to complete a song. We’re very picky about every tiny detail. Mangesh usually takes a while to write the lyrics as he relies a lot on inspiration. I’m glad with the work we’ve done on this one as we’ve managed to link the songs musically, lyrically and conceptually! The best part about some of our proggier songs is that we have no idea how we wrote them. Haha I guess they just happened, like Danny says all the time, “forget your individuality and let the music guide you”.
ID – I hear Workshop is coming out with an album slated for a release towards the end of the year. What’s happening with Workshop at the moment?
Hamza - Workshop has been lying low for a while due to various reasons but now we’re getting back into the swing of things. We’re done with drums that we recorded live at Promethean Studio with the help of our ace sound engineer Mr. Chinmay Harshe. Bass has also been recorded at Demonic Studios. Only guitars and vocals remain. As far as the artwork is concerned, Gaurav Basu has done some kickass work on it. We’ve got a few shows lined up and we can’t wait to play the new songs for our fans!
ID – Which other bands do you play for at the moment? You do a lot of sessions work as well from what I’ve read.
Hamza - Apart from my primary bands, I play with Chandresh Kudwa’s Solo Project and his Axetortion Collaboration. I love his instrumental rock feel. It’s also an honour to play alongside him and Crosby Fernandes, considering I learned to play drums from Allegros, their music academy. Recently, I’ve started jamming with a new electro / experimental band with Arjun Kanungo. We’re going to be doing some Skrillex, NIN, Mutemath, etc. Can’t wait to take that project live! I haven’t done a lot of live sessions off late. Those are restricted to programming now. And yes I’ve had my share of programming for Exhumation, Pangea, Gutslit, Bloodshed and most recently my buddy Riju’s new Albatross single.
ID – How do you think playing in bands so different from each other has helped you as a drummer?
Hamza - It’s actually broadened my scope of appreciation of music. Progressive rock/metal will always remain as my main source of inspiration but playing various styles has made me realize that there’s so much to learn from every genre. For instance, when I did sessions for Janeen Leah, I had to cut down my intensity to barely 10%. And boy is that difficult or what! When you stick to one genre, you tend to become close minded and your ideas get limited to a certain style. Surprisingly, I still have a problem programming Djent beats! It requires a very different approach to stick to the groove no matter what. May be if I play for a Djent band I’ll be able to think on those lines. Anyway, I’d like to mention that playing different kinds of music is what acted as a catalyst in getting a Paiste endorsement.
ID – Going back to the beginning of it all, when did you start drumming? It was a Tool album that got you into drumming, wasn’t it?
Hamza - Right on! I’m impressed with the amount of research you’ve done for this interview. Kudos to you! The drum bug actually bit me in the year 2000, when I heard the 5/8 jungle section of Limp Bizkit’s Take a Look Around. It was however, not until I heard the crazy 7/8 jungle intro of Tool’s Ticks and Leeches, that I decided that this is what I want to do. In retrospect, I’ve always had a fascination for odd time signatures haha. And yes contrary to popular belief, I can play a 4/4 groove when I’m required to .
Anyway, after hearing Lateralus, and desperately searching for a tutor for more than a year, I finally joined Allegroes. At that point I bought a practice pad kit from Gladnick and learned how to program drums on Fruity Loops. I used to program beats on FL and play along on the pads and pretend that they sounded as good.
Then sometime in 2004, I started taking lessons from my school friend and guru, Gino Banks. I also formed my first band (technically second), Eggless Love Cake, then. We used to have a real difficult time jamming because I didn’t own a kit or a practice room and there were no jam rooms on rent back then. I borrowed an old beaten up Gladnick kit from Crosby and we used to set it up and dismantle it during every jam, in Imran’s friend’s garage or his home or in ThadoomalCollege. It all seems kinda funny now. That lasted till I got my own jam room and kit in late 2004. I’ve been jamming there ever since. Phew that’s quite a story but it seems like yesterday.
ID – What’s your practice routine like?
Hamza - My practice routines usually have phases. Right now I’m revisiting my ‘learn Tool songs note to note’ phase. So everyday for atleast 2 hours, I sit and figure Tool songs out. Then I have my ‘increase speed’ phase, where I’ll just play a lot of double bass or blast beats to increase my speed. My most favourite phase is the ‘nail new polyrhythm’ phase. That’s my most common routine. I think of an impossible polyrhythm and try and play that. Once I nail it then I jam randomly and figure out how I can move into that polyrhythm from a normal groove in 7/8 or 4/4. So yeah, it’s got a little bit of everything.
ID – What’s your setup like? Do you change it with each band?
Hamza - In my jam room I have a 9 piece kit consisting of a Mapex Saturn Kick and 6 toms [22x18, 8x7, 10x8, 12x9, 13x10, 14x14 and 16x16]. I shuffle around with my primary and auxiliary snares. I generally use a 2 crash, 2 splash, 2 hats, 2 china, 1 ride, 1 stack and 11 bell setup. My cymbals are obviously all Paiste. Apart from these I use only Evans skins and Vic Firth sticks. Considering that carrying all this around is a pain, I only use my elaborate setup (minus the extra toms) with Coshish cause the patterns are created with that setup in mind. I have a pretty basic setup with all my other bands with a few changes thrown in every time.
You can see my home setup here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_LiEDdQ-cI
Here’s the gear I used for my Coshish recording: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqirIX-4LLQ
And this is what I used for my Workshop recording: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-1rqdRjHYs
ID – What do you think has been the most important asset that has helped you grow immensely as a drummer?
Hamza - I guess I owe a lot of whatever little I’ve achieved, to the great drummers that have inspired me so much. I think, being a prog-head even before I took up drums, has a lot to do with how I’ve grown as a drummer. I’d be nothing without the musical genius of Danny Carey, Gavin Harrison, Tomas Haake, Josh Freese, Terry Bozzio, Marco Minnemann, Stef Broks, Virgil Donati and many more. Personally, I think it is my ability to get inspired enough to learn and push my limits, that drives me. Therefore it is very important to listen to a wide range of good music and learn from it.
ID – When I look at videos of your drumming, a lot of what you play is really out of the box but still really musical. How do you go about writing your parts?
Hamza - That’s actually my objective whenever I write a part. I want it to be really really technical but really really musical at the same time. I think the most awesome grooves are those that you discover over time. At first they may appear really simple but when you pay attention to them, you realize that there’s a lot more going on. I also like making my grooves memorable, in the sense that normal listeners should be able to identify the song with just the beat like ‘Sound of Muzak’ or ‘Bleed’ or ‘Schism’. I use the ‘simplify or complicate’ approach. If I’m making a beat first, I generally tend to make them complex, so I simplify them to fit the song. If I’m making a beat to a tune, then I lay the basic pattern down and see what else I can do to make it sound better.
ID – Odd time signatures and polyrhythms is a topic I want to bring up. What’s the best way to go about learning all of this? Is it as hard as it appears to be?
Hamza - I was wondering when you’d come to that . Learning and playing polyrhythms is as tricky as it is simple. But before you advance to polyrhythms, your sense of odd time signatures needs to be really solid. There isn’t a best way to learn them. Some drummers count and play while some feel the pulse. It’s nice if you can do both. Sometimes a little theory and some counting skills go a long way in making a great composition. As far as learning polyrhythms is concerned, you first need to be able to hear the different rhythms involved. Then you need to take one rhythm and play it long enough for it to get engrained in your muscle memory. Then you need to be able to just count the other rhythm over the one you’ve just learned. Finally you’re supposed to play one groove over the other and forget about the signatures involved and just feel the cyclical rhythms. Either that or you can be a drumgod and just nail them naturally. Polyrhythms might not be physically demanding but they sure require a lot of concentration and patience. I’m going to be doing a video lessons series on this topic that’s going to be uploaded on the ID channel.
ID – What’s you advice to all up and coming drummers out there?
Hamza - All I can say is listen to some good music, get inspired, learn new techniques and practice till to your butt gets worn out from sitting on the throne. Oh and please buy good gear. When you start using nice gear, you’ll notice how your playing will improve to justify the expense. There’s some great Mapex, Paiste, Vic Firth and Evans stuff out there. Please save up and buy.
ID : Can you tell us a bit more about your custom bell stand ?
Hamza : The idea came about from my fascination for Gavin Harrison’s bell stand. I checked his stand out and pestered him a lot, only to find out that he assembled it himself using some Sonor hardware parts. Being a Mechanical Engineer, I decided to design my own stand that could accommodate up to 12 bells. I contacted Jason from Gladnick Drums, for its fabrication. He helped me out with some design, structural and material changes. He also helped with cutting the bells out from bigger Paiste cymbals. And voila, that’s how the bell stand was born. You can hear it best in Maya. I’m working on a remote hi-hat stand at the moment :)
ID – This is your space. Feel free to say anything to your fans, friends, family, students, etc.
Hamza - I’d like to thank you for this interview. It’s probably one of the best I’ve ever given. So much detail! I’d also like to thank Pawan for the fantastic job he’s done with ID. And to everyone else, please watch out for the Coshish and Workshop albums and thanks for reading this.
ID – It’s an honour to have you here Hamza. Thanks a lot for doing this interview. We wish you the very best and we’d love to have more content from you on the website.
Hamza - It was my pleasure J !