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Interview: Keshav Dhar(Skyharbor)

SkyharborKeshavDharSo what’s cooking in the underground metal scene for this month? We can count on the much anticipated album release by Delhi-based SKYHARBOR, the brainchild of Keshav Dhar to whip up some hardcore djent which borders on Ambient and Experimental Metal. It features appearances by Marty Friedman (Ex-MEGADETH), Daniel Tompkins (TESSERACT, HAJI'S KITCHEN, FIRST SIGNS OF FROST), Sunneith Revankar (BHAYANAK MAUT) besides many others, which would be announced soon. Judging by the demos distributed by SKYHARBOR on, what lies ahead in the album is set to be a class apart. This is Keshav himself sharing his experiences.(Photo Courtesy: Siddhartha Menon)

IMR: I can’t resist from asking you this first, Keshav...HOW?! Even while mainstream artists have not been able to do it, you’re kicking off a debut by bringing in the biggest names in the genre. From a bedroom studio project, how did SKYHARBOR evolve into something that was capable of grabbing the attention of these big names?
Keshav Dhar(SKYHARBOR): Honestly, I don’t know. I have gotten a fair amount of good feedback for the music thus far, but I was equally astonished that artists of such high stature and regard were interested in collaborating with me. All I can say is that I’m really humbled and hope things keep going the way they have so far!

IMR: How did you correspond with Marty Friedman and Daniel Tompkins? Are their inputs as professional as we expect them to?
Keshav Dhar(SKYHARBOR): Pretty much all the talking happened online, via email and chat/skype. I had the honor of meeting Daniel when he toured India with TESSERACT, and we did speak a bit in person but pretty much all the actual discussion regarding the music happened over the internet. Regarding their inputs, all I can say is that they are both far greater musicians than I am, and although I was expecting amazing things from them, what they ended up contributing was so far and beyond all my expectations that I was just floored.

IMR: From HYDRODJENT to SKYHARBOR, why the change? Did you feel your music was beyond the genre of Djent music?
Keshav Dhar(SKYHARBOR): First off I’d like to say that in my personal opinion, the word Djent has nothing to do with being a genre, at least for me. It’s a word that a lot of the guys in the scene used to throw around initially as an onomatopoeia – the sound of a palm muted power chord. Basically it’s a palm mute played in a slightly unconventional way. That’s all there was to it. HYDRODJENT was just one out of a long list of silly plays on the word Djent. Plus, at that time the name wasn’t really important for me. I was just experimenting with sounds and working on my recording skills. Before I knew it though, my songs were starting to get heard by a fair number of people, and the word djent had suddenly taken on a whole new meaning and people were calling it a new genre and what not, and as with any new genre that people suddenly popularize, it gets its fair share of negative press. I just want people to give the music a fair listen before dismissing it as “just another djent band”. With people having turned djent into a genre all of its own, having a name like HYDRODJENT will inevitably conjure up a mental picture that these guys are just going to be chugging around in random time signatures, tuning their guitars down to drop infinity, and nothing more.

I felt SKYHARBOR suited the music a whole lot more, it was sufficiently ambiguous to not pigeonhole itself into a genre, and I’m happy having made that decision at what I felt was the right time. I don’t consider SKYHARBOR "to be a Djent band”, whatever “being a Djent band” may mean.

IMR: All your tracks deserve highest praises for the programming of so many intricate layers of trippy guitar riffs and ambient sounds that smoothly blend in with them. What sort of effort did you put into the recording of the tracks?
Keshav Dhar(SKYHARBOR): Thanks for the kind words! Layering, for me, actually requires the least amount of effort. It’s just a completely feel based thing, I don’t even work the parts out (like I do with riffs). I just let the track play on loop, hit record and just jam over it. Once I’ve got something I like, I stop, save the take, and repeat the whole thing again and again, stacking up the layers as I go. Then I play around with panning and effects and automation and all that stuff, till I feel like I’ve got a nice “image” going for the song.

IMR: Besides SKYHARBOR, Keshav also handles guitars duties for ANOTHER VERTIGO RUSH(genius!), churning out psychedelic-prog metal. How has the journey to June 2011 been in terms of transition of music?
Keshav Dhar(SKYHARBOR): ANOTHER VERTIGO RUSH are actually on a hiatus right now. We all have our individual musical endeavours which we’re trying to get off the ground, and that’s taken priority in our lives at this point of time. Nikhil the bassist plays for INDIGO CHILDREN who are on a roll at the moment – definitely catch them live if you can, they’re amazing – while guitarist Viraj has his solo electronic project KARAJIMO, and Akshat the drummer has started an amazing venture called Akhil who also plays guitar in the band has moved to Mumbai. AVR may probably get around to writing new stuff sometime in the future, but I can’t say exactly when. It will happen sooner or later though.

IMR: Has the Internet been instrumental in spreading your music to larger audiences?
Keshav Dhar(SKYHARBOR): Haha the internet has actually been the sole reason I have ANY audience at all! I used to post on forums quite a bit, to get recording advice, because at that point in time I was pretty serious about becoming a full time producer/sound engineer, and making music was less of a priority. People on the forums had nice things to say about the music though, which actually gave me the confidence to focus a lot more on building my songwriting chops. I think the fact that bands like Periphery and Tesseract exploded over the last couple of years drew a lot of attention towards this brand of Progressive Metal, which was being pioneered by (primarily) one-man writing projects out of basic home studios. That has undoubtedly helped get my music much more of an audience as well. So yeah, the internet has pretty much been
everything as far as reaching out is concerned.

IMR: What artists do you hope to collaborate with in future Skyharbor projects?
Keshav Dhar(SKYHARBOR): I have absolutely no idea, haha...the songs that will appear on this debut album are mostly old and my general headspace with regards to writing has changed a lot, with all the collaborative projects I’ve been involved in recently. So once this back catalogue is out of the way, the more recent material that I’ve been working on will develop in a somewhat different direction. It will probably be a lot more eclectic, more experimental, focusing more on sonic subtleties and generally less aggressive. So I can’t say who I would like to collaborate with until the music develops more.

IMR: Where do you draw your influences from?
Keshav Dhar(SKYHARBOR): There’s definitely a lot of influence drawn from video games and books, and art. Any form of art that’s honest and doesn’t seem contrived.

If I had to name bands/artists that have influenced me – Devin Townsend, TELEFON TEL AVIV, OCEANSIZE, Jakob, MESHUGGAH...the newer Progressive bands like TESSERACT and PERIPHERY for sure, some electronic stuff like BLUETECH and BOARDS OF CANADA, and a whole lot more really.

IMR: What guitar tuning do you use?
Keshav Dhar(SKYHARBOR): Mostly drop B, although a couple of songs are in drone A (it’s basically standard tuning with
the thick E dropped to A an octave below the next string).

IMR: Can we expect the album to be based on a specific theme?
Keshav Dhar(SKYHARBOR): Not really, this is just a bunch of songs I’ve written over the last few years. There was no “big picture” concept in mind when I wrote them.

IMR: How about live shows? Have you contemplated that yet for SKYHARBOR? I’m really curious about the touring line-up. Have you managed to round up a bunch of musicians who are talented enough to keep up with the complex structures of the music you wrote?
Keshav Dhar(SKYHARBOR): I want to do it, but I won’t do it just for the sake of it. Touring and playing live is stressful and takes up a LOT of a band’s time, and if there is no real future to it I would rather spend that time writing and recording newer and newer material. Before taking SKYHARBOR live, I want to have a long term plan in place first, with every detail planned out which I will work towards slowly and steadily. I’ll focus on it once I get done with this album release, but I can’t say when this project will get on the road. I have spoken to some amazing musicians who are up for it, just need to sort a lot of other things out first before I go ahead with it.

IMR: The reception for the released demos has been amazing; So far so good. Cheers to better times ahead! Thank you for taking time off to speak to IndianMusicRevolution, Keshav. All the best!
Keshav Dhar(SKYHARBOR): Thanks a whole lot for this interview! I’m sorry once again for the endless delay in the release of the debut, but I can guarantee you guys won’t be disappointed when it’s out, thanks again for all the support!

Arjun David Alexander is a law student at the National University of Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS), Kochi who constantly dreams about doing 'something else'. All genres from Psychedelic Rock to Dubstep & Electronic catch his fancy. He is a die-hard fan of Porcupine Tree, Tool and A Perfect Circle. Always on the lookout for something new to listen to. Drop in a word!

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