We recently sat down with two very gifted players, Srijan Mahajan(drummer, Half Step down , Parikrama, Cyanide ) & Carl Abraham(bassist)of the Delhi rock band Half Step Down. In this interview they gave us in great detail, their journey in music, how important writing good drum parts and bass lines is, upcoming plans and a lot more.
ID: Hey guys! How have you both been lately?
Srijan: We’ve been great, thank you!
Carl: I’m good, on a small break from music, so it’s a little relaxed.
ID: Half Step Down just turned 6 a few days back, how has the journey been so far with Half Step Down?
Srijan: Well, it’s been one hell of a party all these years! We’re grateful to be doing this and feel things can only get better!
Carl: In one word, FUN. Though, I did join much later than Srijan (one of the founding member) But I’ve been playing with them for almost 5yrs now and it’s great to see how both the band and us have individually have progressed over these years.Especially between the 2 of us, it’s been a steep learning curve.
ID: What do you mean by break? Are you guys planning/practicing for new song/album? Or is it more of a personal break?
Carl: Well it’s just a coincidental break. We have a few weeks off between shows, so we decided to have a little break. The last 3 months being so hectic, I think we all needed it.
ID: How different was the music scene in Delhi when you guys first started out as a band?
Srijan: When we started out in 2005, the scene was gathering momentum and gigs were just about starting to happen on a regular basis. Then came the explosion with a lot of gigs and festivals happening and Delhi was exposed to all sorts of music. RSJ, I feel is responsible to a large extent in making the Delhi scene as it is now where we have 4-5 gigs at different venues through the week now!
Carl: By the time I joined the music scene here was already picking up. It was easier to get shows, more events were being organized. There were more and more companies that started handling these events (showcasing Indian rock bands). Over the last 4 -5 years, I can safely say it’s been a huge increase of not just shows, but number of organizers, bands, mangers and other related people.
ID: When you guys first formed the band, what was it that you set out to achieve music wise? A lot of different sounds and influences can be heard in your music.
Srijan: I don’t think we started out with an agenda to achieve anything in particular. We just wanted to play what we felt, whatever it was. There never has been and never will be any constraint on what to do musically, we’re an indulgent bunch! Thus, each member’s different influences can be seen in the music that we make.
ID: How difficult is to maintain this harmony between all these different elements?
Srijan: Musically, we all sort of come together somewhere in the middle and do what sounds right to us, personally there is no harmony!
Carl: Well most times it comes naturally, because we’re like minded people. But there are times when things clash and ideas mismatch. We usually end up voting on things, unless 1 person has a really strong view on something, I think it’s all about getting the right feel. That’s something we always agree on. So even if some things might not be the ‘technically correct’ way, if we think it sounds good, we go for it.
ID: Individually, who are your major influences?
Srijan: As a drummer, my influences range from Buddy Rich to Keith Moon and John Bonham to Gavin Harrison to Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, Vinnie Colauita and Steve Smith.
Carl: I try to pick up things from everywhere actually. Ranging from funk/Jazz musicians like Victor Wooten, Stanley Clark etc, to Flea from RHCP, a lot of Michael Jackson. Recently I’ve been introduced to electronic music, and I’m trying to get some elements of that as well.
ID: Srijan, being a drummer & even taking it as profession, is not an easy task for anyone, especially in INDIA. Please tell us about how you manage that?
Srijan: All I can say is that this is what I love doing and this is what I wanted to do always, so I just put my head down and do it without bothering about consequences and the rest of it. I’m grateful to be blessed with the most supportive family and friends and always managing to find like minded people to work with. It was a lucky break that HSD and Cyanide both started to work out and then I got picked up to play with Parikrama.
ID: Carl, How has your journey from piano to bass guitar been? What made you make the shift? Also, were you a part of any other band(s) before HSD and do you have other projects going on at the moment?
Carl: Ha! Ha! Nice hmm, well I started playing the piano when I was about 9. I did my grade 4 exam from Trinity when I was 14 (or 15?). Then sadly my brilliant teacher had an accident and passed away (just a few days before my grade 4 exam actually) After that I just didn’t feel good playing the piano (also because I never found a like minded teacher) So I picked up the bass when I was about 16 -17 . Initially I had no idea about the bass, so I used my piano techniques. I was then lucky to find Brenon Denfer. I learnt from him for about a year, which really gave me a strong foundation. After that, I played a lot myself, in college I played with my first real band. And since then it’s been a fun and experimenting journey on the bass.
Apart from HSD, I’m not playing for any other band. I think i have enough work considering I have a 2nd career to take care of
ID: Srijan, Describe to us how it was when you first picked up your instruments and how you have reached the point you are at today?
Srijan: I started playing the drums when I was 16 years old, and the journey has been awesome. There is just so much to learn, it’s all never ending. Things that I find trivial today seemed impossible at the time. And that is how it always will be, we keep learning new things and new approaches and understand the instrument better the longer we keep playing it!
ID: In your earlier days in music, who provided you most of the support?
Srijan: When I started out, my parents, my teacher of a few years, Pranav, and my friends were very supportive. I was very lucky to have people who kept pushing me.
Carl: Most of my early playing was with Pawan (Indian Drummer) and Arjun from my college. They really made me understand that the bass is a subtle but extremely essential part of a band and good solid bass-lines can pretty much make or break a band
ID: Carl, you got into HSD immediately after your college band, how did the band approach you? Was it difficult to get along initially?
Carl: Oh yeah. I was shit scared. Infact the FIRST ever show I played with HSD was in Mumbai on Channel V – launchpad. So apart from being my first show it was also being broadcast on national TV! It was hard, the first few shows, I had a lot of songs to learn (not just the band originals, but also the covers that they played). It took time; initially I was just focusing on getting notes right, chord changes and breaks. But as we played more and more, things got easier. I opened up my rigid playing style and started improvising. The band was very accommodating there, because as a bassist, usually you tend to get overshadowed by the other instruments. But here, I was given the opportunity and I could set the mood of the song. Most of our later songs now are very bass driven.
ID: Srijan, you’re a member of Parikrama and Cyanide as well, how do you manage splitting time between 3 of the best rock bands around at the moment?
Srijan: It takes a little bit of planning and organization on my part, making sure that the gigs are not clashing and informing everybody involved in the management side about the gigs that I’m playing so that nobody books a gig on the same day. It helps that all three bands are good friends and get along well so it’s not that hard to figure out commitments.
ID: Sri, how did the Parikrama gig come about?
Srijan: Well, one day out of the blue, I got a call from Subir asking whether I wanted to come and try out for being Parikrama’s drummer. I went and practiced for ten days with them, played three gigs and that’s it. I was in!!
ID: It’s up to the both of you to ensure the rhythm section of the music is held firmly, how important do you think is the ability of a drummer and a bassist to complement each other’s playing?
Srijan: I think the drums and bass hold the entire song together. They lay the foundation of the song on which the guitars and the vocals can sit and do their thing. The stronger the foundation, the easier and better the rest of it will be.
Carl: Bass and drums can make the world go round (Yeah the guitarists won’t ever admit it, but it’s true). Nothing speaks better than a tight grove on the drums with a perfectly locked bass line to compliment it. Well just imagine Iron Maiden without those triplet galloping bass lines or RHCP without Flea’s maddening slaps or even ‘we will rock you’ without the super simple but really awesome drum beat? What would MJ s Billie Jean be without the bass and drum rhythm? Bass and drums set the foundation of a song. It provides a platform for everything else to hover over, so a good rhythm is essential for any musician.
Good rhythm comes with perfect sync, not just with bass and drums, but with other instruments as well (whoever is adding to the rhythm). There has to be a connection for everything to work. Each one must listen to what the other is doing and fit in like a jigsaw puzzle to form the big picture.As a bassist you’re dealing with not only the percussive side of the rhythm, but also the melodic side, So we have to connect from both ends and act like a bridge.
Also its extremely important to note that the phrase ‘Less is More’ is quite an important factor in creating that perfect balance. For example, you can’t expect a drum solo happening at the same time as a bass solo and a guitar solo (yes in some cases it works, when its extremely well though of – like Dream theater ) So while there are a lot of times when I’m dying to go full on with some fancy lick on the bass, I have to take into consideration what everyone is doing so that the grove isn’t lost.
ID: How do you both approach your parts individually?
Srijan: We start out by just playing what we feel, and then tweak it around a little bit to suit what everyone else is doing. Instead of our own individual parts, we give more attention to the song as a whole and what the song needs and play accordingly.
Carl: Srijan takes pangas and tries to put me off time, and I compete with him and try to take him off guard. lol. But seriously, we both connect really well. We can literally predict what the other person is going to do/thinking of doing. So that helps a lot, plus there is a LOT of eye contact
ID: How different is the writing process now with Alvaro as the guitarist and how was it when Karan was the guitar player?
Srijan: When KD was our guitar player, the songwriting was much more flowy and rhythmic, with not too many guitar “lines” per se, but more rhythmic parts. Alvaro has a different approach and plays more “lines”.
Carl: Well both have their own styles of playing. Both are quite different too. Alvaro has a lot of different styles that we (or at-least me) haven’t really played with before. So it’s a new thing, its fun to experiment. We ended up changing a lot of our songs to adapt with the new ‘sound of the band’ Also Alvaro is very particular about having the right notes, the correct scales and the right harmonies. So even though it’s annoying at times, it ensures that everything blends in perfectly.
With KD we were much younger musicians too. We used to be more aloof. We just did things spontaneously and if it sounded right, we went ahead. There was less ‘technicality’ and more ‘go-with-the-flow’ kind of writing at that time .Now we’ve matured, we know a thing or 2 more, especially after releasing 1 album, we started thinking differently as well and Alvaro helps with that.
ID: What is you approach to learning music and getting more proficient at your instrument?
Srijan: Practicing alone on technique is very important, but maybe not as important as listening to a lot of music and understanding how the instrument can be played. One of the things I love doing when I’m practicing is to pick up a song that I find hard and figuring it out on my own. It helps you develop new techniques and also makes you want to practice more. I’ve always found practicing techniques hour after hour with a metronome to be a bit boring, so this is how I keep myself happy!
Carl: Get the basics right. Build a strong foundation. There is no substitute for that. And there is no end to building your foundation. But once you have the basics, and your concepts are clear, THEN do what you feel. Go with your instincts, don’t be afraid to try things that are hard or even seem impossible to you, because someone somewhere IS trying it, and someone will get it right. That someone could be you!!
ID: Overture to Outerspace is a fine tune, Srijan how do you go about writing parts like those short fills which can be heard on the bridge of this song?
Srijan: Well, I personally don’t like playing solos and we felt the song required a small musical break, so we constructed a part around it which involved fills placed like a solo, but wasn’t really a solo!
ID: Carl, your parts sit really well in your songs, how do you ensure that the bass has a presence and role in the song writing?
Carl: Hmm, I don’t know how to answer that. I just play what I feel I should. I get a lot of inputs/feedback from my band-mates. A lot of times I’ve changed what I play according to what other people have told me. The thing that helps me the most is hearing a recording of me playing. We try to get live recordings wherever we can. I end up listening to those, changing/tweaking my bass lines around. In the end, it’s all about what you feel is right.
ID: During the solos, you guys manage to make sure the song grooves really well by maintaining a tight grip on the rhythm section. How do you approach writing when there’s a solo involved?
Srijan: We try and stay as much in the background as possible and make sure that we have a good base for the guitar player to solo on. A solo should have all ears listening to only that and that’s why we feel it important to stay in the background and give only what’s necessary instead of indulging and playing complex parts.
Carl: We don’t really have fixed parts, just fixed number of bars/ fixed cues so that other people know where to accent/break/or anything else. Almost all our solos are done differently every-time we play them.
ID: What are your tips to drummers and bassists entering the studio to get a good sound out of their instrument?
Srijan: You have to know your instrument sound inside out and most importantly, you have to have a mental idea about what you want to sound like. That will give you the direction that you need in order to pursue your sound. When recording drums, you need to realize that the drums respond very differently to mics and the tuning that works for your ears might not necessarily work when you’re recording.
Carl: I agree with him about the part where each should know his own instrument sound. More importantly you should know how to extract that sound from your instrument – be it adjusting the tone/volume/pickups etc or even with playing styles (in the bass, simple things like playing away from the bridge Vs playing close to the bridge can alter your sound drastically) so you should arm yourself with this knowledge. (Google is your best friend).
Apart from that, ASK your sound engineer, ask your bandmates, and ask random people. Take feedback from everywhere and then make your own sound
I mean if you need basics – then, new strings, clean frets/pickups. If you use a processor, then configure the tone with the recording facility. Even with all that, you need the sound engineer to help. That’s the best start
ID: Any other suggestions with respect to instructional DVDs or how to go about practice?
Srijan: Just keep at it…in any way. Keep playing your instrument and give your heart to it.
Carl: As I said before, the basics are THE most essential. Boring things like scales etc really make life changing effects on your playing. Learn to convert the boring practices into fun, but at the same time progressive.
As the great victor Wooten says “It’s called a ‘bass’ for a reason”. I think all musicians should take inspiration from that.
ID: Give us a description the equipment the both of you use.
Srijan: I use different a setup as each band requires a different sound, but my basic setup consists of a 4 piece kit and depending on the situation, I add maybe a second snare and cymbals. I play on a Mapex M series at home, with DW 9002 pedals and a Tama StarClassic Maple Snare with Parikrama and a Pearl Chad Smith Sig. Snare with HSD and Cyanide. The second snare that I use sometimes is a 10X4.5 Sonor which has a very powerful crack. My cymbal setup consists of a 20” Zildjian K Heavy Ride, 18” Sabian HHX Stage Crash, 18” Sabian AA Stage Crash, 18” Sabian AAX Extreme China, a couple of Wu-Han Chinas, a 12” Zildjian A-Custom Splash, a LP Ice Bell, and a spock made with a 14” Paiste Mini China with a 6” Splash clamped up real tight on top of it. I’m currently using Zildjian New Beat Hi Hats but am looking to change my sound. I use Vic-Firth Standard 5B sticks and Evans Hydraulic Heads.
Carl: I use an Ibanez BTB 405, with a line 6 bass pod XT live
ID: Getting a good mix while on stage is a problem for a lot of bands, any suggestions you can give related to this matter?
Srijan: Fed up with getting a bad mix on stage, I invested in a small mixer and a headphone amp with a limiter so now I’m on in ears and I make my own mix.
Carl: Personally this is what I suggest, keep yourself louder (say by 15-20%) than the rest of the band, because listening to yourself is the MOST important. And make sure the entire mix is never too loud (most of the times this happens, if someone can’t hear something, they ask the sound engineer to push UP the volume, when in reality they actually might need to push DOWN everything else EXCEPT the thing that they can’t hear)
One has to remember that the monitors are relatively smaller speakers, so going too loud will distort your sound and only make it worse for you.MOST important, be respectful to your sound engineer. Yes I’ve seen some bands that are cocky towards them and trust me, if you annoy them, they can literally break your sound completely.
ID: What have been your favourite shows so far?
Srijan: Too many to count!
Carl: For me, I think my best show was at Hard Rock Cafe, on the day of our album launch. And a close second is the one we played at Calcutta- Princeton club.
ID: What can we expect from you guys in the future? How do things look for the rest of 2011?
Srijan: A lot of new and interesting things are on the cards, and we’ve started writing material for our second release. We also might do some interesting collaborations in the studio so stay tuned!
Carl: We’re writing a lot of new material now, so if everything goes smoothly, we hope to start compiling another album. So hopefully we’ll get into the studio by the end of this year
ID: Anything you want to say to your fans, family, etc.?
Srijan: None of this would have been possible without your love and support so thank you!
Fans – if you’re a hot chick, please give me your number.
Family – Thank you for all the support. Most people don’t get such opportunities and I’m extremely grateful for it.
Friends – Keep coming for our shows. Buy me drinks.
Everyone else – Listen to our music, love us, and have fun in life. Don’t give up on things you love to do.
ID: What is your view on INDIAN DRUMMER?
Srijan: I think Indian Drummer platform is a step in a good direction as it helps connect and educate drummers from all over the country and supports a large community of like minded people who hang out with musicians!
As they keep reminding us all the time.
Carl: I think it’s AWESOME. I’ve been involved with ID right from the start, from the concept, to the brand designing, website etc. So I know exactly what the vision is. I think it can benefit a lot of people, not just drummers or even musicians, but even generally spreading awareness. You and your team are doing an excellent job and I hope u guys make it really big one day. You deserve it.
All the best
Thanks a lot for doing this interview guys. We wish you the very best!!
Photo Courtesy :
A J RAINA Photography
Rahul lal Photography
Mahima Bhatia Photography
Rohit lal Photography
Questions by : Sumanth Venkatesan