By Aniruddh “Andrew” Bansal
When it comes to the Indian metal scene, Bangalore-based sludge outfit Shepherd is most definitely a one-of-a-kind band. Their dirty, crusty sound and extremely heavy sound is great not only because it’s different, but more importantly, because the band executes it well on stage. I was hit hard by their relentless sonic avalanche when I first saw them at last Saturday’s Riff52 gig. For a band that was playing only their fourth show, they did an excellent job and impressed me straightaway. That led to me contacting them and asking for an interview, and the result was a meet-up with guitarist Namit Chauhan and bassist Muneeb Peeran at the Legends Of Rock pub in Koramangala, Bangalore, last night on April 4th 2012. We sat down with a few beers and had a chat about Shepherd’s musical style, the work that goes into creating their live sound, and many other things. Enjoy the conversation below, and check out Shepherd’s facebook page once you’ve done so.
I saw at the Riff52 gig, where you were the opening band. I really liked the crusty sludge sound. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it in Indian bands. So, when you started the band, what drew you towards that particular style?
Muneeb: The heaviness. It’s mainly heavy and dirty, that’s what we were aiming to do.
Namit: Yeah, and there’s a lot of anger. We let it all out when we play that shit.
Muneeb: Besides being heavy, it’s just really easy music to play, and the bottom end is there, so that’s the main sound we were looking for when we had the idea of Shepherd.
Did you expect that this style wouldn’t exactly be popular when you started out, simply because its so heavy and dirty?
Namit: I don’t think we give a shit about whether other people like our stuff. We just play the music that we like. So I don’t think any of us gave it that much of a thought, but it’s really good that there are some people who appreciate the kind of music we are playing, so that’s cool.
In this kind of music, I feel that the most important thing is the tone. Did it take time for you to develop that before you were confident of playing it on stage?
Namit: It’s cool that you liked the sound, because at this point it’s just on a trial-and-error basis.
Muneeb: The main thing is, everybody should be heard first individually, and then depending on that we set our tone and it’s trial-and-error after that. You have to sound good as a unit, but the personal tone is important, and so is the heaviness.
Namit: I’m still working on my tone, so let’s see what happens in future gigs. There’s definitely room for improvement because in the soundcheck there’s always some issue of the other. We found a good sound engineer in Anshuman Mishra who plays for Escher’s Knot. We make it a point to call him for all our gigs because he somehow understands the sound we need, and when we’re playing we can hear each other pretty clearly.
You said that you work on a trial-and-error basis. From gig to gig, what do you change in the sound?
Namit: In the Riff52 gig, I had a good pedal. So that’s when I settled on it and decided that from now on I’m going to use this pedal and nothing else. Before that, I was using some other pedals and just fiddling around, but it wasn’t really working out.
Muneeb: Don’t forget about the pedal you lost (laughs).
Namit: Oh, I don’t even want to talk about that. I left a pedal in the back of an auto-rickshaw, and it blew a big fucking hole in my pocket, man.
I was listening to your demo and the live recording from the Kyra gig, and pretty much all of your tunes are long. But the thing is, they sound just right and don’t really feel long to me. So, was it important for you to just forget about the duration while composing the tunes and just let it flow?
Muneeb: See, if you drive slowly, it takes you longer to get to where you’re going. And our songs are pretty slow, that’s why it takes a long time for them to finish. If you play the songs at normal speed, as in, our songs at ‘pop song’ tempo, they will last about 3 to 3-and-a-half minutes each. If you slow it down, you get 6 to 7 minutes. And if you see, there’s not too many extra parts as such. Two parts of this, two parts of that, and you have a break, which is a simple song structure. If it’s adding up to the time, it’s even better and we have more space for the album.
You were the opening band at Riff52 gig. Does it get challenging as an opening band to try fitting in as many songs as you can?
Namit: We’ve always been the opening band till now. It’s cool because you get to do the soundcheck right at the end, plus you set a stage for the bands to come after you. So, I don’t mind if we’re the opening act as long as we put on a good show.
The final song in the demo starts off with a clear punk style. Where does the inspiration for that come from, and do you intend to infuse that in future material or is it going to be strictly sludge?
Namit: We’re all Black Flag fans, and we really like the hardcore stuff that was going on back in those days. But yeah, we do plan on playing some faster songs as well. So I’m glad you noticed that influence in the fourth song. Even for the third song we played in the Riff52 show, the ending was a little different and it was more punky than it originally was, so that was pretty cool.
You were supposed to play two new songs at the Riff52 gig. Tell me about those songs.
Muneeb: Well, we couldn’t record this show, so we don’t have a recording of the demo for the new material yet.
Namit: And the first demo that you heard is just a random jam. We were just jamming, and we split it into sections to make it into four songs. We actually thought of playing two songs at Riff52, but we didn’t have enough time to work on the second song. So we just played one of them. The final original in the setlist was a song called “Bogslime”. That’s a song written by Deepak, and it’s got the faster Melvins-influenced stuff right at the end. And then, what we try and do is, towards the end of every song we just try and have a jam because we want to retain the randomness of a jam, and the jam influences that we have.
So, would you say that the live versions of your songs are very different from the recorded ones you put out?
Muneeb: It depends on the mood of the show, that’s it (laughs).
You mentioned that the demo was a jam which you ended up recording. Is that your preferred style of recording, as opposed to recording each individual part separately?
Muneeb: When recording a jam, we just record it right away. But there’s an issue between how much should we jam and how many songs we should write. So we try to keep a balance. It’s better to record songs and have them for a show, rather than just aimlessly jamming. But we try to keep that jam factor as well. So it’s different all the time.
Namit: Preference-wise, we just do the recording in one take. The point is to be tight as a band, instead of just going and tracking it over and over again. So yeah, that’s what we’re looking for all the time, having one session and all of us playing together. So the true essence of a live band is captured as well.
Muneeb: Chemistry is easier also, because the tempo slowdowns are easier when you’re playing it together. When you’re doing it alone, you have to stick to that metronome.
Namit: Alone, you never know if there’s good shit happening. You might have a good piece that you won’t be able to reproduce again.
Muneeb: Yeah, you won’t have the time and patience to reproduce it again.
I feel that this style of music has scope for experimentation. You can always put in new tones, textures and things like that. But from what I know, the gear availability in India is limited. Does that restrict you as a band in some ways?
Muneeb: True, but the gear that we use isn’t that expensive. I’m using the same bass that I bought when I started playing bass. He’s using a guitar which is, I don’t know how old!
Namit: Yeah, the only reason I picked it up was because I could put thicker strings and tune down to as low as B.
Muneeb: I depends, man. If people sit and work on their tone for two to three hours, they can get their tone. It’s difficult. With a better guitar, you can easily get a better tone. But even with a shitty guitar, if you work hard enough you can still get a decent tone.
So your gear requirements are pretty simple.
Muneeb: Yeah, and if you keep the music as less as possible, it becomes easier to control. So for example if I play one note and give a huge sound to that, I don’t need to play 64 notes with a better bass.
Yeah exactly, I agree with that. Other than the demos and live recordings, you put out a cover of Melvins’ “Night Goat”. That’s a band I love also. They don’t give a fuck about anything. Does that attitude inspire you?
Namit: I don’t think they’ve ever given a fuck about anything, and we’re exactly like that.
Muneeb: Yeah, we just want to play metal, man. It’s dirty, it’s not commercially viable, it’s heavy. We’re just having fun and that’s about it. For a long time, we wanted to play music and chill out. Music that’s real, and songs that are heavy, easy to play and easy to relate to.
Namit: People love songs that are really fast, but everybody seems to have forgotten Black Sabbath and remember just the faster bands that came out after them. Bevar Sea were the ones that started this Sabbath-like thing again and it’s really fucking awesome.
Muneeb: See, you can even play an acoustic guitar and be heavier than any other band. It’s just how you play it.
Namit: Yeah, I would say we play heavy stuff with a little bit of feeling involved.
The Riff52 gig was perfect for you because all the bands that played the show are pretty riff-oriented. But generally, are you willing to play in front of any crowd, given the opportunity?
Muneeb: No issues, man. If we play in front of a “classy” crowd, we can call ourselves an act and play. If we call ourselves an act, it will create a buzz and people who don’t know about metal can just get into it. With our band, I think everybody can get used to the music if they have the tolerance. I’m just very curious about how the mainstream people will react to it. Mainstream in the sense that, oldies sitting with 500-Rupee beers. I’m just curious to know what will happen (laughs).
Namit: They’ll probably get a heart attack and just die there! But seriously, our music also has a bit of a blues feel going on, so it’s easy to relate to. But it really depends from listener to listener because we’re doing dirty shit, and not exactly happy stuff. If you don’t mind that, you should find it to be cool.
As you just said, the music is really dirty and sludgy. So have you had any negative reviews from people who don’t exactly ‘get’ it?
Muneeb: I don’t think so. I’ve not heard a negative review as such.
Namit: A lot of people know their music, and they know where the band is coming from. So that’s been a bonus for us. They’ve been good enough to point out the influences and we’re glad they can understand that.
For the rest of the year, what plans do you guys have? Can we expect more gigs?
Namit: We’re just taking things as they come. We have around 40 to 50 minutes worth of recorded material, so we’ve got plans of coming out with a full-length album. We think 40 minutes is more than enough. We’ve got a lot of material that’s just waiting to be played and to be structured. So we’re just looking forward to get this set of songs out of the way and focus on the next stuff, get that done and hopefully go further and not just stagnate at two albums.
One thing I also like about Shepherd is the merchandise. You’re selling CDs, shirts and posters, so that’s good. But don’t you think the merchandise aspect needs to improve in India, in the sense that people actually need to buy that stuff?
Muneeb: It will take time. Even I never bought stuff till like one year back (laughs). The thing is, kids don’t have money.
Namit: I buy CDs and stuff, so I get pretty pissed when people don’t buy other bands’ stuff. So I don’t know, I guess it’s the Indian mentality of saving up and investing in the future and all that shit (laughs). But yeah, these guys really need to start supporting the local scene.
Muneeb: If the people support the local bands by buying the merch, we get the money and then we can support ourselves. We can perpetuate ourselves because of the money coming in.
I love the artwork for the Crook rehearsal demo [picture above]. How important do you think it is? May be if the artwork is as special as this, people might buy the physical forms of music.
Muneeb: May be, yeah. Right now it’s all imagery. It’s not a gimmick as such for selling stuff, but that’s a good point. Tool always have kickass artwork. If you buy a Tool CD, that’s different from downloading it on the internet. You have 5-page leaflets.
Namit: If people aren’t buying the artwork, that means they don’t appreciate good art. I would buy all the posters that Rahul Chacko would release, for example, because they’re fucking awesome to look at. But I guess people don’t appreciate art enough. Deepak has done all our artwork. He just does his shit and it looks awesome.
Muneeb: After it’s done by him, it’s only then that we find out and go, “Oh yeah, good shit!” (laughs)
Finally, what art do you guys appreciate? Does an album cover come to mind?
Muneeb: That’s a very difficult question. Tool is good art. Their music, visuals and everything is good. I think Shepherd is good art (laughs). But yeah, Bevar Sea has good art.
Namit: I like the Earthless “Sonic Prayer” artwork. It looks trippy when you just look at it. That’s the first thing that came to my mind. Sleep’s “Dopesmoker” as well, specially the reissue.
Related: Riff52 Gig Review