Black Letters of indie notes

Sarang Menon of Black Letters, one of the leading alternative rock bands in the country, talks about the indie music scene in India.

Originating in Kochi and based in Bengaluru, alt-rockers Black Letters are one of the most popular rock bands in south India. The success of the band is the result of constant efforts put in by the foursome – Akash Chacko on drums, Sarang Menon on guitar, Arjun Radhakrishnan on bass and Sharath Narayan on guitar and vocals. They released their debut album Shapes on the Wall in 2014, followed by an EP, Petrichor, in 2015 to critical and popular acclaim. Sarang says they have a number of projects in the pipeline and the band is putting the best efforts week in and week out.

"We have a new album coming out in the beginning of next year. We have been promising this for a while now, but we wanted to be more diligent and improve a lot of things. We are very close and can't be more excited. We are also headlining the 22nd edition of Strawberry Fields on January 5, which we are looking forward to very much."

Also, Overfeed Records, an indie record label, is another initiative through which they promote the kind of music they like. "We started off the projects of Overfeed Records, with the release of Black Letters' music video Falter in 2017, followed by the self–titled EP of the Kochi based band, The Derelicts. We have a lot more music coming out."

Black Letters is one of the leading and fastest-growing alternative rock bands in the country. When they look back, since the band's inception, what kept them going? "We have definitely had some good moments over the past five-six years. We won some of the country's biggest competitions when we were starting out, we released two studio records which we are proud of, performed at some of the best venues and festivals in the country which is always a pleasure; but I think what's more important is sticking together and doing it when things don't go your way and that happens a lot when you are an indie band. So, for me that is more important than all the good stuff," opines Sarang.

When asked whether they have got recognition in their homeland Kerala, Sarang says he thinks every indie band is underrated, and understandably so. "You have artistes trying to make original music struggling, while doing covers or performing regional music gets you a big audience even if you aren't that good; it's quite ridiculous. But we don't have a sense of despondency. We ignore it. We make music that we like. If people get on board, that's great; if they don't, there isn't anything that we can do about it. So we stick to what we do best."

Indian music scenario has changed a lot. In an ever-changing world, songs like Childish Gambino's This is America and Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines are making waves by talking about politics, gender inequality, colour discrimination and all. And Black Letters feel such revelations are happening in India too. "I don't think there's hesitancy in the Indian indie music scene. We have a lot of artistes talking about politics and gender equality, but I don't think there's enough people hearing and understanding what they are talking about. We have personal experience with our single Falter and its music video which was actually about sexual abuse. But we didn't come out and say we wrote a song about sexual abuse, because marketing it with hashtags didn’t feel like the right thing to do. There were people who thought that was a love song, and that's what mainstream does to you. You lose your ability to have a perspective. We are no Childish Gambino, but those artistes are the result of a social structure. Great art can't stand in isolation. Hopefully, that will happen soon here as well,” says Sarang

The band conducts live concerts and the number of music lovers present at their performances can put any indie band to shame. "I loved it when Peter Cat Recording Co played in Bangalore with The F16s at The Humming Tree. Anderson Paak playing Backdoors festival was unforgettable. Talking about live concerts and performances, there's some sort of live music ban going on in Bangalore where gigs are getting cancelled because of a very dodgy permission requirement. We couldn't be angrier, though we haven't had any of our gigs cancelled," he says.

"We have performed at a few festivals in front of an international audience, but nothing out of the country so far. It's quite difficult. We were working on a tour in Asia and the numbers just did not add up even though we had interested promoters and venues. A lot of artistes have this misconception that anything international is easy business, and people pay huge amounts of money and it's easier to make it there. You would be very surprised how blessed the scene is in India or how decent the main venues are with bands. You still get bad promoters and venues that do not pay up, but that's part of any business. Renting back-line gear, living in vans and virtually not making any money is the deal normal indie bands get on international tours," he adds.

Inspiration comes from good art, says Sarang. "It can be a good film, good music, good music videos or good paintings. I think we are all well beyond the age of hanging posters in our bedroom."

According to Black Letters, indie music in India is going in the right direction, but the music industry is still tangled in films. "Yes, it is actually film-bound and most of it is very bad, not to mention plagiarised," he concludes.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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