When the members of Parikrama came together in 1991, there wasn’t an Indian rock scene to be part of. They had to create one, pretty much from scratch. Back then, there was no money to be made, no fame to revel in and no rock star perks. Back then, they did it because they had to, because rock ’n’ roll was in their blood.
Twenty years on, Parikrama is Indian rock royalty, hanging out with Iron Maiden and touring with Saif Ali Khan while staying true to the spirit of rock ’n’ roll that inspired them. Through it all, guitarist Sonam Sherpa has been one of Indian rock’s most iconic axemen, with his trademark bandanas, bluesy licks and his favourite guitar – the Les Paul.
Taking a break from his hectic gigging schedule, Sonam spoke with Gibson India about taking Indian rock to the world and playing alongside the mighty Iron Maiden.
You’ve been Parikrama’s guitar hero for 20 years now. How has the scene developed over the last two decades?
Since I started out, the Indian rock scene has really grown and nowadays, it’s not just restricted to urban areas. The number of live shows has gone up tremendously and there’s more money coming into the industry. Indian bands are now traveling around the world and getting the opportunity to share their unique sounds. In reverse, more international bands are performing in India and we get a chance to showcase our music to them, too.
This happened for us when we opened for Iron Maiden and they offered us a chance to perform at the Download Festival in the U.K. A lot of opportunities have opened up for us since then because of our relationship with Iron Maiden.
Another huge development is that gear, lights, sound and production quality has now reached international standards. And yeah, we don’t need to rewind a song on a tape recorder 100 times to figure out the lyrics and guitar solos!
It must be pretty cool to be mates with Iron Maiden.
Iron Maiden gave us a great opportunity and a platform that no Asian band had enjoyed. For that I’m forever grateful. Iron Maiden Rocks!
Tell us about the music you grew up listening to and what inspired you to start playing the guitar.
I grew up listening to and being influenced by The Beatles, CCR, Uriah Heep, Simon & Garfunkel, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Smokie, Deep Purple, Bad Company, The Band, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Traffic, Jethro Tull, CSNY, Velvet Underground – pretty much all the classic bands of the ’70s.
My mom bought me my first guitar and sent me off to start my guitar lessons. Luckily for me, my teacher was a really cool guy and he really inspired me to take my music seriously and enjoy it.
Parikrama’s had a long and eventful career. What have been your top moments over the last two decades?
Winning our first rock competition where I bagged Best Guitarist was special. Then there was our first professional gig for which we got paid 500 bucks! Also, releasing our first-ever video for “But It Rained”. Starting my music school, endorsing my dream guitar with Gibson, opening for Iron Maiden, playing the Download Festival in 2007. Sharing the stage with music legends and just generally being in their company.
You play more than a 150 gigs a year and you guys have been at it for 20 years! Where does your energy come from?
Being on stage is such a joy and as a band, we share a great chemistry on stage. It’s mad fun when we play live and I guess that’s what you see.
You’ve toured Southeast Asia and North America as part of a series of concerts promoted by the Indian government. Is Indian rock finally part of Indian culture?
I’m very excited to present a new sound to audiences abroad. As we introduce them to our version of heavy rock with Indian elements, it gives me a lot of pleasure to see their appreciation of this unique sound; in fact, many get blown away.
As an ambassador of Indian rock it’s my pleasure to set a high standard for Indian rock music so that more bands can travel abroad, and maybe one day, Indian rock music will be heard all over the world.
Indian Rock is definitely an integral part of young India and part of our culture today.
In addition to your work with Parikrama, you also teach guitar. Is playing in a rock ’n’ roll band becoming more popular among today’s Indian kids?
Yes, it’s not only the students who want to become rock stars, their parents share the same dream. So for me, as a musician, it’s really great to see the talent and dedication of the young musicians.
You’ve been a Les Paul player for a long time. What is it about Les Pauls that suit your playing style?
I’m in love with the beautiful tone of Les Paul guitars. The feel and craftsmanship of the guitars and how it sings so beautifully as I bend each note. As a guitarist, it’s all about the guitar you play and I just love Les Paul guitars.
If you could put together your dream rock ’n’ roll band of legends, who’d make it?
John Bonham on drums, Jon Lord on the organ, Janis Joplin on vocals, John Entwistle on bass and Jimmy Page on lead. Guitar tech, Jeff Beck.
Name five guitar players who’ve influenced your playing.
Jimmy Page, Slash, Ritchie Blackmore, Lee Ritenour, Jimi Hendrix.
As one of the godfathers of the Indian rock movement, you’ve seen a lot of bands come and go. What advice would you have for young bands who want to stick around for as long as Parikrama has?
Enjoy your music. Believe in yourself and your band members.
Parikrama started the ball rolling for Indian rock. Twenty years later, you’ve done it all. What’s next?
Rock ’n’ roll forever.