Thursday, November 30, 2006

The 13th Day.

Never happened.

Living up to its’ lucky reputation, our 13th day in the studio never happened. Imran and OK were supposed to make the trip this time because Yasir and I were both out of town. The night before the shift Raza called me saying he wanted to cancel because he was feeling sick. I refused because we’re already behind schedule. (Turns out he wanted to cancel our shift so that Ashfaq Bhai (ref. to pic) could do some mixing for another artist.) So anyway I thought we were good but the next morning Lodhi sent me a message telling me that the Raza had cancelled the shift anyway.

I was livid.

It’s bad enough that we’ve already paid these guys. It’s bad enough that we are funding the entire album with our own bloody money. But it’s worse when they go ahead and treat us like some bacha band and give our time to someone else. Raza had agreed to give us a make-up slot on Friday but he still suffered an earful from me.

I was disappointed because this was my first bad experience with the studio guys who I thought we had a genuine rapport and understanding with. Maybe they took advantage of that and rolled us over. I suppose one has to be thick skinned in this business. In the end we just had to cut our losses and move on. The way things are going, I’m guessing the album won’t be out officially till March 2007. However I think we’ll be able to release some songs earlier than that, so we won’t keep people waiting too long…I really don’t want us to be one of those bands that keeps hyping an album that never comes out, so I’m just praying that we can work it out.

The other problem is the video. Now we’re in talks with a bunch of people regarding the video for our first release (will probably be “Sultanat”), we’ve got some good concepts and som
e really weird ones. What we don’t have is any money to fund this. I’m loathe to get a sponsor and have them puke ads all over our product. I think we can raise some money through concerts and some concentrated ass-kissing but it’s a long road. Any suggestions? I know whining is pointless, just needed to let of some steam.

So to
cheer us all up, here's here's a picture of me in the vocal booth doing the takes for "Sultanat". This is about as far as I will get "making love to the mic"

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

That same Sunday...

Yasir and I were going to IBA to go see our boy Omar Khalid perform at a talent show. This was IBA’s annual "Talentopia" where a whole bunch of students from the University Campus would be performing songs/ skits etc. I love the IBA crowd, this was the same venue where we had one of our best ever performances at Battle of the Bands about 6 months ago, I have fond memories of the place and the people.

OK was performing some covers with his buddies so I thought it would be fun to go and cheer him on. Yasir of course was hoping that he could leap on stage and perform a gut-busting pelvic-thrusting darbuka. I gotta admit the guys enthusiasm is infectious. Like dengue.

The IBA crowd was loud, raucous and really energetic, I had a lot of fun just sitting in the auditorium. There were some outrageous skits, some great singing and some not so great singing. My favorite moment came when this girl came out to perform an instrumental piece on her keyboard. Poor thing must have gotten stage fright because she froze right after playing the first couple of bars. Then she tried again and froze. And again. And again. The best part was that each time she stopped, the crowd would rally to her support and cheer her to carry on, it was a truly heartfelt moment when she finally overcame her jitters and played her version of "Aitebaar" and the entire audience sang along. God I love music.

These days OK is cultivating a mast-malang look complete with full length beard and unruly uncut hair. I think it suits him. However, I fear he might be hosting several different species in his facial hair.

So OK and his boys took the stage and launched into a rendition of Audioslave’s "Like a stone". Would have been awesome if an errant mic hadn’t been squealing the entire time. But they really pulled it together when they did Junoons’ "Mitti". Along with being the "best drummer in Pakistan" Omar is an exceptional guitarist and he pulled out a mesmerized solo that drove the crowd wild. Great stuff. It really humbled me when I realized that I wasn’t even the best guitarist in ADP, let alone the Karachi music scene!

Our buddy Saadi was playing our darbuka for the songs. This incensed Yasir who claims sole rights to all darbuka-ship and I had to physically restrain him from jumping on stage. (Other things that incense Yasir include people calling the darbuka a tabla, dhol, tarbooza, tamboora etc.)

Here's a picture of the two darbukas we used in the recording.

I vowed that ADP would come back and perform exclusively at IBA whenever this album gets out. Now there’s a crowd that truly knows how to enjoy itself.

"Singing to an ocean, I can hear the oceans roar
Play for free, play for me and play a whole lot more, more!
Singing bout good things and the sun that lights the day
I used to sing on the mountains, then the ocean lost its way."
- Led Zeppelin "The Ocean"

Day 12: The Lodhi Strikes Back

This was a pretty crazy and eventful Sunday, we were pumped about going to the studio because Lodhi was making his comeback. He was going to attempt to finish his guitar parts on his songs (FYI: Lodhi plays guitar on four songs, while I play bass. We switch duties for the other six ) The poor guy looked in pretty bad shape and he was chugging Energile like it was the only drink on earth. (I wonder how much we could get if ADP endorses an ad campaign for Energile…). This however gave him several R.Kelly type tendencies and he had to go pee every couple of minutes.

We had a lot of fun recording my guitar parts for the album because we experimented with all sorts of settings and weird mic settings/combinations (a closely guarded secret…). Lodhi too had some pretty far out ideas on how he wanted to blend the guitar sounds using a very experimental setup. This had me, the resident mic technician, completely baffled. It took us at least an hour of fiddling with knobs and mic placements to hit that sweet sound but when we did, it was a great feeling. I celebrated this great feeling by pretending do shoot Yasir and dance over his body. (Please note: Yes it’s true, we delight in torturing Yasir. But it’s only out of love. And well…sadism.)

While the guitar sound he was getting was awesome, Lodhi was pretty rusty getting back into the groove of things. We still managed to slap on some guitar riffs for "Gaata Mein Chaloon" and "Dhoop". He was beginning to fatigue and was getting out of sync when we started "Merey Dost" so we decided to call it a day.
I for one was the most relaxed I had been since we went in the studio since I had finished all my bits. With the result that I was acting like a bit of a jackass. There was a mini-keyboard lying around so Yasir and I decided to torture the already frazzled Lodhi by playing cartoony sounds over Lodhis’ playback and making him screw up…(hahaha…ok so you had to be there…)

Despite all the horsing around, I was getting a little tense. I knew it would take extra time for Lodster to get back to the top of his game, but Raza told us that we barely had any booked sessions left. The studio had been booked all the way through January by other artists, so we were gonna have to work over time to complete the album recording/mixing/mastering by January, which is our target. I don’t know how we are going to do this. Gulp.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I'm in love...

My sister gave birth to this beautiful baby girl a couple of days ago. I'm finally a mamoon! They named her Dania. Mashallah.

I can't believe how overwhelmed I am by all this...the baby and mother is in London, so I won't get to see her till next year. I really need to write her a song.

Love you Dania.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Day 11: I'm free I'm free I'm free

9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Lodhi is still in recovery and OK is still an ass-bandit (translation: he had to go to a college thing). They both enjoy breaking the rules. (Please see pic). Also they occassionally attack furry animals together. Once again it was Yasir and I, making the trek to the studio on a Sunday morning.

Today I was extra nervous about the two songs we were doing “Likhta Nahin Mein” and “Sheher key Aansoo” (See stories). Although I was relieved that these were the last two songs I had to sing lead vocals on, I considered them the two hardest ones. Given my ordeal during “Sajna” the confidence wasn’t exactly flowing.

Yasir had gone to see
Overload last night and he was telling us about the awesome show they put on at Bahria Auditorium. I must confess I am always double minded when I hear about good concerts or attend them because while I enjoy great music, I always start thinking how awesome it would be if it were us performing instead of them. Then I get all crabby and start flinging poop at people.

As usual my voice sounded terrible early in the morning but I was also unreasonably
cranky today. Early on in the takes Yasir(with similiar expression as pic.) had boldly suggested we change one of the lines in “Likhta”. This resulted in full-fledged diva behavior from me as I cursed him for trying to ruin my precious lyric. Poor guy was not expecting such a spaz attack. Neither was Raza. I could feel the uncomfortable silence in the studio as the two were recovering from my profanity filled outburst and I felt guilty. I guess it’s sometimes hard for me to take criticism over something I’ve created and I’m often tempted to pull the whole “you think it’s easy writing songs? You try doing it!” schtick but I have to remind myself that it’s their song too. Not wanting to ruin the mood, I took a break and offered an olive branch. Yasir claims that he did it on purpose to fire me up. I contemplated beating him senseless to fire him up. (Pic: This is how I look after similiar self-righteous rants)

It was still hard to get into the singing, The song has me singing at a higher-than-normal register so I was croaking a lot. In fact during one of the takes, on a particularly high note, my voice cracked completely and I entered a second puberty. This of course sent Raza and Yasir into fits and much to my chagrin, they kept playing the recording over and over again, while rolling on the floor with laughter. Aargh.

However, it was finally over and much to my relief, it came out quite well. More importantly I managed to harness some real emotion into it.

Emotion was the key element to “Sheher Kay Aansoo”. I wanted it to be a fiery, angry song but with a hint of lament over my beloved city. To channel this I clenched my fists and pressed them into my gut and I belted out the lyrics. I really intended for this song to be an indictment of the law and order situation in Karachi, just to show that not everyone is resigned to accepting it.

This was my best vocal performance yet. I knocked out the song in just under half an hour, and we needed just another hour to slap on some backing vocals. Although after listening to the playback, I still thought I sounded a little flat, but Raza assured me that this was not the case and that I was in fact quite stupid.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I was done! Barring a few mandolin overdubs and some percussion, I had nothing more to play or sing on the album and I was overjoyed with the way the songs were sounding. I know we are still a long way from being over because we still have to record the songs where Lodhi sings and plays guitar. I know he’s raring to go so I hope he’ll be fit enough to do the entire day. But as for me, I’m free…
I’m free, I’m free! And freedom tastes of reality” – The Who “I’m Free”


Day 10: Sajna Sajna Kya Kiya?

(You guys have probably read this one already, but keep scrolling down for Day 9...i promise the confusion ends here!!)

A Sunday morning shift is never easy, it was extremely hard to motivate myself to get out of bed at 8:30 a..m, pick up Yasir and OK and drive over to the studio, but the spirit of rock’n’roll kept me going (insert devil horns here). So I called up Omar to wake him up, and I was shocked at how sprightly he sounded. I never thought OK was a morning person. So I verbally abused him. Then I called Yasir, who sounded just as cheery. He too, suffered copious abuse.

Picking up OK was the funniest thing, as we approached his house, we saw a tall figure with a full grown beard, tousled bed hair and brown shades, effortlessly dragging on a hapless cigarette. OK’s effortless cool was a sight to behold at 9 in the morning. I think he’s the only real rock star in the band sometimes. But then I decided he was too much of a mela.

Further drama ensued when Raza, our engineer was nowhere to be seen and the studio was locked. Frantic calls to Lodhi were made, who had to be roused from his mellow yellow state (cruel joke I know….) and establish contact with Raza who answered the phone in his customary dignified "Huylyoo?" Laughing and abusing ensued and he said he would be over in 5 mins, which was eventually half an hour. So we sat in my car listening to the radio debating on why Yasir was such an assbucket and what makes quality porn.

The song I was going to attempt to sing today was "Sajna". Now, although I had written it, I wasn’t too fond of this song. It was one of the first songs I had written in Urdu and I thought it was a little immature. But it turned into an interesting little ditty through our recording process and now it was up to me to breathe life into my crapass lyrics. Yasir was the most profoundly affected by the lyrics and despite me administering several stick beatings, he was adamant that we should change them. I grudgingly agreed to change one line.

To be honest, it was a line I was always going to change it but I never got around to it. It goes like

"sajna sajna kya kiya, dil ko kyun barbaad kiya, idhar sey aa key udhar sey jaa key, tera hi intezar kiya".

Crap, I know. What I do sometimes is insert dummy lyrics in songs so that I at least have a tune to sing, then I usually replace them with something a little more poetic. Hence the "idhar sey aa kay" just ended up being one of those things we overlooked, but soon became the object of much ridicule amongst my family/friends. A jirga was assembled as we maniacally tried to fashion one line between the four of us. Missing Lodhi terribly, we called him up, but instead he said, "You choo*****, stop using studio time to write f****** lyrics". He made an eloquent point.

Anyway, getting the lyrics right, I started to do my first couple of takes with singing. This early in the morning my voice sounded uncontrollably bad. I could see Yasir and OK wincing through the booth window as I tried to hit any high/sustained notes. I sounded raspy and quivering, like a cigar smoking rabbit. I prayed that this would sort itself out after a couple of takes. But I was shocked at how horribly out of key I was singing.

Gradually, I became a little more confident and Raza started to record me, verse by verse. But I was still too forceful and high pitched. The guys decided I needed to be softer and sing more personally, ala. "make love to the mic". This was no easy task. You try to sex up a big black pole with wires. (well actually, some of you might be into that kind of stuff...)

I could feel my temper rising up the back of my neck as I failed take after take. I kept receiving instruction from the guys and Raza. Either my tempo was off, or my key was varying, but most of all I didn’t have the right "feel’. Finally OK closed all the lights in the studio to put me in "sexy performance mood". He encouraged me to make hand gestures. I felt silly but I agreed. So there I was in pitch darkness flailing my arms around in the vocal booth trying to remember where the bloody mic was positioned. I remember thinking "So this is what Stevie Wonder feels like".

Raza drove me into the ground once again. I was getting more and more frustrated as each take seemed to be worse than the other one. Yasir kept telling me to sing like I did on "Nazar", but I just couldn’t channel the same emotion. But the boys stuck to it, and kept encouraging me and bit by bit, we got through he whole song. I was relieved and expected some joy from Raza. But all he said was "okay take". I was like "okay take?! That was f***** brilliant!!" I later realized that this was the highest compliment Raza would give anyone.

Yasir and OK were chomping at the bit, desperate to get involved so I thought that we should have a little fun with backing vocals. I worked out a three-part harmony for the outro of Sajna and I had barely finished explaining it to them when they both rushed into the vocal booth like pixies on crack. An amused Raza said that it would probably be better if we did them one at a time because they were at different heights.

Omar went first to record his bit. A lot of people don’t know that Omar has a surprisingly pleasant and melodic voice. He sang the part perfectly and got it one take, but what I loved about it was that he changed the tone ever so slightly from what I told him and it sounded so much better. You can hear him chanting "Aaa bhi jaa, aa bhi jaa" towards the end of the song.
Yasir was a little more difficult. Yasir too has a pleasant voice, but his singing voice is a little high pitched, so it tends to cut through the mix and it’s a little tricky to work him into a harmony part. I was missing Lodhi, who is so much better at organizing harmonies. But with a little bit of echo to round off the sharp pitches, Yasir managed to a breathy chant in the middle of the verse.

I was really happy hearing the whole the thing. He got it exactly how I imagined, I was proud of the little guy.

Backing vocals really do add a new flavor to the song and we were so happy, we managed to work it into "Nazar" as well. It was slightly harder because the song is so sparse, the melodies have to be very precise otherwise they start clashing.

A gruelling days work, but as usual we ended it by listening to our completed mix of Sultanat. It is a great feeling just listening to this wonderful thing we’ve created.

"Where are we going boys? To the toppermost of the poppermost! "– John Lennon


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Studio Day 9: Back after Eid

6 p.m. to 12 a.m.

It’s been three weeks since Lodhi got diagnosed with jaundice. I have to admit it got us all pretty down. Smack in the middle of Ramzan, we were all pretty pumped about finishing the songs early and then using the rest of the month for mixing. This way we would release the album on New Years and become rockstars. (Random hilarious fact: if you type “rockstars” in Word, the spell-check corrects it as “jockstraps”…wtf?)
And then we could make unreasonable demands on the public. Such as these.
1) Chocolate covered dancing midgets, provided at all times.
2) These midgets must serve us further midgets. However these must be plain. Or with nuts.

Anyway, having clearly forgotten to take my pills, I tried to salvage some resemblance of getting back to work by asking Yasir to book us for an evening shift. I was unaware that Yasir was smoking unreasonable amounts of crack at the time and had in fact booked us for an all day session on a weekday from noon to 9 p.m. So we had to call Ashfaq Bhai (Studio Owner) and tell him our session began at 6. In the meantime I had attached electrodes to Yasirs’ nipples and was generously shocking him when he blurted out that OK would not be coming either because he was having his hourlies (IBA monthly exams). Shit.

Anyway the two of us decided to brave the odds and go it alone. I was so confused about what we were going to record today, I loaded every instrument I could think of. Here is the list
1) 12-String Acoustic (here's a picture of my baby...)
2) Nylon String Spanish guitar
3) Mandolin
4) Bass guitar
) 2 Darbukas
6) 1 tambourine, 2 Marocas (Shakers)
7) 2 Harmonicas

These weren’t our main instruments but I basically wanted to use them for overdubs and just adding some color to the basic tracks, add a bit of ethnicity, like final dabs on a palette. But I realized that this was all just an excuse so that I wouldn’t have to start vocals. I was terrified of doing vocals and was trying to avoid doing them as long as I could.

Well basically here’s the deal. Vocals are the most important part of a rock/pop song. Basically it’s the first thing everybody hears. And criticizes. On stage, I could just sing loud and belt out on top of a loud song like “Sultanat” and it would sound find. But here, in the confines of a single, extremely sensitive mic and a dark soundproof vocal booth, I was terrified of a) singing badly and b) not being able to replicate the same emotion and energy I have when singing live.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, we got to the studio in pitch darkness. After 3 weeks of absolutely perfect behavior the electricity had gone. (Incidentally the last time it went was when WE were trying to do darbuka). We sat and prayed.

It wasn’t all that bad, we met a pair of charming young gentlemen who were mixing a live performance of Humera Channa (famous Pakistani singer from the 80’s 90’s, please refer to picture).

Turned out they were also sound engineers, so I happily exchanged information with them, you never know when we need an extra sound guy. They in turn, were fascinated by these two burger boys who walked in with their garish instruments and constant whining.
Luckily we decided to stay for awhile and the electricity did come back, albeit 90 minutes later. It was then decided that I should stop being such a pussy and then go ahead and do my first vocal recording of “Sultanat”

I stepped into the vocal booth nervous as hell. Raza seemed pretty calm. I would have to just rely on his Yasir and my judgement to get it right. Luckily Raza, our amazing sound engineer was an absolute pro. The guy could hear a mistake in pitch and tempo from a mile away. He heard everything. We couldn’t even bitch about him safely.
I ran through the song once and then twice and it was ready to belt it out take by take. Hmm, this seemed do-able. Wrong.

It took us TWO hours to record “Sultanat” vocals. I didn’t think I was singing particularly badly, but Raza was a perfectionist and he made me do every verse, and every line again and again till it was solid. However, around the 35th take or so I started to fatigue and needed a chai boost. Two hours later when we finally got it right and heard the playback, I was overjoyed. There were still slight mistakes in the singing but they glossed over and I managed an emotional delivery.

Riding the crest of excitement, we decided to go in and quickly slap on some backing vocals. I needed a single, high pitched voice to provide a counter melody for the chorus and Yasir had the perfect voice for it. Just for some extra flava, I replicated his very high pitched vocal line with and identical one of mine which was extremely deep and bassy (my friends refer to this as my ‘picking up chicks’ voice).

The song was complete. Yasir and me were hopping around the studio playing air guitar and air drums. It was an awesome feeling! I had tears in my eyes. Finally we had a product. I knew there would still be some time before it got out since we had to mix it properly. But I knew that it sounded shockingly good and I couldn’t wait to have people hear it.
I thought I’d be exhausted once we finished the song but we figured we were on such a high, we might as well record “Nazar” as well.

As I mentioned earlier, we recorded all our songs without a metronome (a beat keeping device for those who don’t know). I guess we were trying to capture as close a “live” feel to the music as possible. But it made recording overdubs extremely difficult as the tempos would keep shifting ever so slightly throughout the songs. With “Nazar”, Raza thought I should record the song completely “live”, the way I perform it with me playing guitar and singing at the same time. However when I tried, my fingerpicking on the guitar was getting a little jumbled, and it needed to be precise. So I ended up using a metronome and dubbing the vocals and Spanish guitar.

The result was a completely different feel. While in concert when I did “Nazar” with and electric guitar, it was smooth and I guess I was trying to channel Jeff Buckley. With the acoustic, it took on a different vibe, being more Spanish influenced and I loved it. This is another song very close to my heart (See the story of “Nazar”)

Tonight was difficult but extremely rewarding. We were so excited we called up Lodhi and some of our other friends to make them hear the mixes. Poor Lodhi, I knew he was happy but I knew he was wishing he was there. Inshallah, he’ll be back soon…

It’s been a hard days’ night, and I’ve been working like a dog” – The Beatles “A Hard Days’ Night”