We met up with Kartik Pillai and Karan Singh from Begum and had a good conversation about the band, the music, etc at the PCRC Penthouse.
How did this band start off?
KARTIK:Two smugglers Kshitij(the previous Bassist) and Kartik were caught illegally transporting guitar riffs across the border. During interrogation they conceded their guilt and were summoned to deliver their sweet/bribe in the court of the Begum.
While presenting their bounty to the all knowing Begum they accidentally hit a set of sacred occult notes. One of Begum’s guards, Karan ran to stop them and before anyone could notice, they were transported to an alternate universe. Now the three men have joined forces to jam till they find the correct set of notes to go back home.
Why did you name the band ‘Begum’?
KARTIK: We named it after the emperor/empress (because she did not have a gender) who is an intangible object which rules our dimension and she is fair and kind and we love her. That’s why we named the band after her.
What other projects are you guys involved in apart from begum?
KARTIK: I have a solo project called ‘Jamblu’, it is an electronic project and both Karan and I are in ‘Peter Cat Recording Co’ also Tushar plays for ‘Nigambodh’.
Considering the fact that you play in different bands, how do you manage your creative ideas? (What goes Where)
KARAN: See songwriting wise, we have two approaches. One is like either Suryakant or Kartik comes up with an idea and then they try working it with me or Rohan and most of the time we are just jamming; also if me,Kartik and Tushar are jamming, so whatever collectively we make, we use it for Begum and whatever collectively we make with PCRC we use it for PCRC.
KARTIK: Sometimes we transfer some songs; like if we can’t play it with Begum we play it with PCRC. It’s more about a collective decision.
KARAN: It depends on who was playing at that jam.
KARTIK: Like the new stuff…. the Congo stuff… we decided no this works better for PCRC.
KARTIK: Because we don’t like sticking to genres and all like you don’t jam thinking of a genre.
How has the line-up changed since begum took off?
KARTIK: The bassist has changed.
What is the writing process like?
KARAN: Getting stoned.
KARTIK: In a fervour… like… inapprehensible emotion….. like…. actions no, …I’ll give you an example.. like ‘ Imposter’, which is my favourite song from the album, it was literally.. like.. me… and I was sitting in Goa with the rest of the PCRC as in our friends and all we had just taken a house…. four in the morning or something I’m just sitting and playing dun dun dun( mouthing the notes for imposter) and doing that for like an hour… just repeating…. and he(Karan) gets up and he goes tung( mouthing random notes ) on the same keyboard and it keeps on recording and we didn’t change that.. like mistakes or whatever… but that’s how the songs are made literally I’m playing something and he comes…
KARAN: We’ve tried lots of times playing that same piece again but it doesn’t happen.
KARTIK: It doesn’t happen.
So you don’t play it live?
KARTIK: We can’t, we play the ‘.wav’ file.
Who writes the lyrics for begum?
KARAN: Mostly he (Kartik) does. Sometimes on the spot also like on the stage
KARTIK: You know I don’t sing the same lyrics
So you change the lyrics every time?
KARTIK: Yeah. They don’t make sense anyway.
So the lyrics you sing are on the spot or do you have something written down beforehand?
KARTIK: Most of the times it’s on the spot but the first time I wrote the lyrics was when these guys said let’s put some lyrics on the website otherwise it’s just me mouthing consonants and vowels not actually saying anything half the time.
How do you get the space and the distant feel in the vocals?
KARTIK: That’s a mixing thing. It’s more like a production aesthetic.
I heard in a PCRC interview that you record your vocals in the bathroom… in the shower area, to give the echo.
KARAN: Yeah. For some tracks. For PCRC also we tried that and…For BEGUM also we did that on the first album.
KARTIK: For ‘Marry Me’.
KARAN: Yeah ‘Marry Me’. So if you use your own house, right…. so different rooms will have different sounds. Bathroom has like a good… you know… like a unique tone… lot of echo and reverb and if you manage to capture that and it suits your sound and style then you know why not.
How did you come up with the title ‘Raj D Minor’?
KARTIK: Raj is essentially this miner working in a sulphate mine and whenever he farts, it’s in D minor.
What role do samples play in creating the soundscape?
KARTIK: In the first album there were no samples.
So when there were sounds like “acha yeh take achcha tha”…
KARAN: Woh toh baat kar rahe the..
KARTIK: In the next room we do live recording. So the drummer is hooked up and everybody is playing at the same time. Like today all three of us are having a conversation at the end like “bhenchod tune kya kar diya”, “chorus mei kya kar raha tha” or Kshitij, our old bassist is being funny like “I fucked up somewhere but you don’t know where it is so good luck finding”.
KARAN: He’s like “take toh bohot hi perfect tha siwai ek mistake ke”.
(Everyone Laughs Again)
KARTIK: “Ask me where the mistake is”. Most of us are usually like “Never mind it’s okay”.
So you just keep it?
KARTIK: Yeah. Lots of mistakes and ..like… lots of fuckups here and there. Tempo fuckups also.
So you don’t mind the record being imperfect or something?
Do you think it adds to the aesthetic of it?
KARTIK: Maybe. It’s just nothing more but honesty, towards the music.
KARAN: It’s more about like the way we are jamming together, we tend to have a chemistry and as musicians, we’re not like the best musicians around. But, when we get together, we have a chemistry and we end up making something, you know and for us, that is more important to us than playing perfectly.
Karan, you play both the keys and the drums in the band. How do you manage it live?
KARAN: For ‘Chinbien’ like I play it live.’ Impostor’… like I want to do that we have been trying to do but we haven’t been able to achieve that.
KARTIK: It’s just gay when two guys sit down at the same piano…
KARAN: Although that’s how we actually made, him on the left and me on the right.
KARTIK: “Oh! I love you dude”
KARAN: Both of us have tried playing it individually with both hands you know and we never got the same… like we know exactly the piece but we don’t get the same swing or maybe we just need to practice it. We usually play it as our opening track
Are Chinbien and Arugambay like the prologue and epilogue to the album? Do they work that way?
KARTIK: I think ‘Arugambay’ kinda is… actually, we wrote that song long ago before the LTTE actually got out of Sri Lanka and Arugam bay is this beach, this extremely beautiful beach, and during the LTTE’s stay, and they had taken that area and they used to hide their ships and boats. It’s just a prayer for that place. It used to be a migration for whales and dolphins before that tension started. So the idea was just play a song that just kind of pays tribute to it.
What according to you is the most important element of your sound?
KARTIK: Literally it’s just the jams and the emotions we get out of it.
Which was your first gig as begum?
KARTIK: Summerstage, Noida (2013) before the album.
Which was the best gig as Begum?
KARAN: I liked the first gig.
KARTIK: Summer stage was kickass. Antisocial also.
KARAN: Antisocial was good before Magnetic Fields….
How do you think the music scene in Delhi has grown since you guys started off?
KARAN: The scene was growing before we came also. Now it’s getting even bigger… and…Every second week you see a new venue with a live stage, scratching their heads. Okay now we have to fix the sound.
KARTIK: It’s cool man.
KARAN: It’s been happening for quite some time now. It’s just that more people are writing about it. Facebook is also here now. Luckily more gig venues also. So opportunities have increased.
Have people started doing more original stuff than covers?
KARTIK: A lot. That’s the coolest thing about it. So many good bands coming out.
Do you think covers are more appreciated?
KARAN: Depends on the crowd.
KARTIK: I think they are still more appreciated. But yes it depends on the crowd.
KARAN: But in Delhi, in most of the places they appreciate covers. I mean cover bands get paid more.
What is the best part of being a musician in India right now?
KARAN: Getting the full sound system and getting paid for it.
KARTIK: It is an untapped market and the industry is growing.
KARAN: Right now it’s like a really tight-knit scene. Everybody knows each other.
KARTIK: Yeah! I think that’s one thing that’s really nice and I love it. Like you go for a festival and you know everybody. Now the festivals are also bigger. It’s like “I know you! “It’s nice.
Which other Indian bands/artists do you like?
KARTIK: ‘Skyrabbit’, there’s this old band called ‘Envision’, ‘Teddy Boy Kill’, ‘Toymob’, ‘Audiopervert’, ‘Smoothrelax’, ‘IJA’, ‘Third Sovereign’
KARAN: We used to listen to a lot of ‘Third Sovereign’ back in the day. Their shows at Cafe Morrison were kickass. ‘Plague throat’!
When do you plan to release your second album?
KARAN: As soon as Kartik rolls his joint.
What can we expect from it?
KARTIK: This is the album through which we basically solved the crisis… because… when we’re playing, there’s a whole thing about how it happens and stuff; it’s a story. We basically solved the crisis in another dimension with this music but now we’ve been sent to this dimension with the same music and there it was easier because everybody had a non-linear format of time. Every action you do you could see for 10000 different reactions to it so everybody knew how to act. Here nobody has that. So it’s hard to make people understand
The responses were recorded on an audio device and have not been edited for grammar.