“My ideal sound would combine the style of Kurt Cobain and the sound of Billie Joe Armstrong” – Amit Yadav
There are some bands that like staying on the fringes of the mainstream, the kind of bands that stay out in the deep waters of leftfield inaccessibility, only making rare forays into the mainstream. Think Radiohead, the Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age. On the other side of the sonic spectrum there are bands that like making songs with choruses so hooky they stick in your head till the end of time – bands like Weezer, Nickelback, Green Day.
Delhi-based Sifar are definitely that second kind, the kind of band that loves sweeping, hands-in-the-air sing-along choruses with hooks that everyone can sink their teeth into. Led by guitarist/singer Amit Yadav and songwriting partner Anshul Bansal, Sifar released their debut EP in June, three songs of unerring hook-laden pop rock. In a few weeks they will release their debut album on Beatfactory Records. We spoke to Amit Yadav about the band’s journey, its Nine Inch Nails influences and how Bollywood will have to accept Sifar’s terms.
Hi Amit, so tell us the Sifar story. Where did it all begin?
We actually started in 2008; it was basically just Anshul [Bansal, co-songwriter] and me. We knew each other from IIT Roorkee and were both living and working in Noida at the time. We were already writing songs but didn’t really know what to do with them; we thought we might sell them to other artists. We tried pitching our songs to a couple of people but nothing really happened. Someone suggested that it’d be easier to pitch our songs if we recorded a few demo versions. I was already dabbling in production at the time, so we decided to record the songs and see what happened. That’s pretty much where it all started.
Once we were done recording the songs we realized they sounded pretty good. Unfortunately, our production quality was pretty bad, so we decided to learn how to produce music. I got in touch with a studio in Delhi called Beatfactory and did a course in music production. Eventually I quit my job to focus on our music and by the end of the course I started producing the songs again. It took us a couple of years but by the end of 2010, we had 10 songs which were arranged and programmed pretty well. They still weren’t at a professional level because we were still working out of our home set-up.
Around this time we got in touch with some musician friends of ours and asked them if they’d join us in forming a live band. We called up Deepak [Singh, Sifar’s drummer] who was really interested in the project and started playing with us. Through Deepak we found our bassist, Yapang [Lemtur] and another friend of mine from Roorkee, Nikhil [Auluck, guitars], who’d played with Level 9 also joined us. hat’s how our live band came together.
In December 2010, a computer magazine called Digit got in touch with us and asked if they could feature our music in the entertainment section of their free CD. So we were like “Yeah sure, but these are just demos”. They thought they sounded good enough, so they just included them as they were. That gave us a bit of mileage, since that CD went out to about 250,000 people, which helped spread the music quite a bit. We started getting gigs, we opened for Strings at ISB Hyderabad, which was pretty big for us. We also played festivals at IIT Patna, IIT Gandhinagar and earlier this year we played alongside Motherjane. In February we signed a two-album deal with Beatfactory and re-recorded the album professionally at Beatfactory Studios. That’s basically the story so far.
Sifar mixes a Western rock sound with Hindi lyrics. What are the influences you grew up with that filtered their way into the Sifar sound?
Anshul has a lot of classic rock influences – Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, the Scorpions – though he’s also listened to a lot of old Hindi music. The thing is, though, since I do most of the arrangement and production, his influences are primarily in the songwriting phase. As far as the Sifar sound is concerned, I think it’s more my influences that find their way into the mix. I listen to a lot of late ’80s and ’90s rock – Nirvana, Alice in Chains and I’m a huge huge fan of Nine Inch Nails. Actually Nine Inch Nails might be my favourite band of all time. I love the Foo Fighters as well. That’s kind of the direction we’re coming from as far as our sound is concerned.
Listening to the three songs on your EP – “Roko Na Mujhe”, “Gunah” and “Main Jaaonga” – your lyrical themes seem to draw deeply from unrequited love, heartbreak and loss. Are these drawn from specific experiences?
When we started writing, about four or five years ago, we were balancing life and work and music was kind of like an outlet for us. As a result, whatever experiences we had sort of triggered these songs. There was always an experience or incident that moved us enough to want to write a song about it. So the songs you’re talking about from the EP, they’re all pretty personal and they’re definitely based on our experiences.
“Roko Na Mujhe” was written by Anshul and actually has nothing to with any romantic relationship. It has more to do with relationships with like a father figure – a parent, a teacher or even God. “Main Jaaonga” might seem like a love song but it’s not. The song’s actually about losing someone. A long while ago someone in my family had passed away but somehow that emotion never got resolved. One day I just woke up, picked up the guitar and the song just happened. I have a feeling that writing the song was my way of getting closure. “Gunah,” the third song from the EP does talk about romance and it’s a song that came out of something I felt guilty about, about a relationship from my life.
Let’s talk guitars. As a guitar player are there any guitarists who’ve shaped your sound and is there a specific sound you’re aiming for with Sifar?
I’m just someone who loves the sound that a guitar can make. I don’t have any big technique or big riffs. It’s definitely the main sound of what we do in Sifar, all our songs are mainly guitar driven. As far as our sound goes I’m actually looking to translate the sounds I have in my head and those sounds are actually a bit different from the guitarists who I’d count as influences. For example, I love the way Kurt Cobain played guitar, I absolutely love it, I love his playing style but that’s not the sound that I’m really looking at for Sifar. Another guitar player I really like is Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong. What I really admire about him is the sound that he gets, especially over the last couple of years. So I guess I’d say my ideal sound would combine the style of Kurt Cobain and the sound of Billie Joe Armstrong.
I’m sure I’m not the first to ask this, but Sifar seems to have been born with a lot of the sonic DNA from the great Pakistani rock acts, especially Junoon and Strings. Is there a connection there?
To some extent, I’d say you’re right. One of the bands that Anshul and I both love is Junoon. In fact, through the mid-’90s I went through a phase when I was listening only to Junoon and pretty much nothing else. So I’d say bands like Junoon and Strings have definitely influenced us but their influence has been mainly in the songwriting and not so much in our final sound. I think we’re aiming for a much bigger sound, a more international sound. So yeah, we are influenced in our songwriting by the Pakistani bands but when it comes to our sound I’d say we’re far more influenced by bands like Green Day and the Foo Fighters.
You write hook-laden Hindi pop songs with a rock edge. You’re virtually tailor-made for a Bollywood producer to snap you up and stick in a Bollywood soundtrack. What are the chances you’ll agree?
That’s a question I get asked a lot actually. People seem to think that the next obvious step is to go the Bollywood route but I don’t think that’s the case. We want to stick to what we’ve been doing because it’s a very personal journey for us. The songs we write are about our personal feelings and emotions. I don’t really see us making music for Bollywood because that’s sort of a custom thing. Someone tells you this is the story, this is the kind of music we expect, they’ll probably give us a bunch of reference songs, etc. I don’t know how it works quite honestly, but we don’t really see ourselves doing it because we don’t fit into that kind of a system. Our songs are based on personal experiences.
However, if a producer or director thinks we have a song which is in tune with their idea or fits into their movie in some way or the other, that’s something we’d definitely explore and we’d be really happy if that happened. I guess the important thing is that we shouldn’t have to compromise on our songwriting or on our production. If we can maintain that and still get the opportunity to place our music in Bollywood, that’s great. But writing custom-made songs for Bollywood might be difficult.
Sifar are: Amit Yadav (Vocals/Guitars/Synths), Anshul Bansal (songwriter), Yapang Lemtur (bass), Deepak Singh (drums) and live guitarist Nikhil Auluck. They release their debut album later this month. To listen to their music go to their website or their YouTube page.