By Aniruddh “Andrew” Bansal
Delhi-based ambient metal outfit Skyharbor have progressed in leaps and bounds since guitarist Keshav Dhar started it as a studio project. Through the music, Skyharbor managed to get noticed not only among music enthusiasts, but also impressed musicians like Marty Friedman, Dan Tompkins and Vishal J. Singh, to the extent that they ended up featuring as guest musicians on the band’s debut album “Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos”, which came out late April 2012 via Basick Records. Besides, they earned praise from Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler, who called Skyharbor one of his current favorite bands. It’s only befitting that Skyharbor has now been confirmed to open for Lamb of God at their upcoming Bangalore show on May 26th, at Clarks Exotica. I caught up with the man himself, Keshav Dhar, to discuss this show, the debut album and lots more. Read the conversation below, and buy tickets for the show or visit Skyharbor online using the links posted at the bottom.
You started Skyharbor as a mere studio project. First of all, tell me about how it feels to see your band evolve into what it has become today.
It feels fantastic! However I’m acutely aware that this is just the beginning, and now that people are starting to take notice of us, the difficult part now is to hold that attention, not get complacent and to take it one step further. But yeah, I did allow myself a pat on the back (laughs).
How did you manage to put together such a stellar list of guest musicians for this album, including the likes of Marty Friedman and Dan Tompkins?
As astonishing as it sounds, it was both of them that approached me with a desire to collaborate. I’d been following Tesseract since before it was even a band, and was completely in awe when I heard ‘Lament’ which I think was the first single they released with Dan. He has this voice that is so unique and instantly recognizable, yet when you listen to all his projects so far you never get the feeling that he’s ‘imposing’ his style onto the music – he simply melts effortlessly into whatever music he’s singing over. It’s a rare gift that too few vocalists nowadays have, and everytime I hear anything new from him I’m blown away by his versatility and his stunning knack for melodies.
So yeah, he sent me a message around October 2010 saying he’d heard ‘Order 66’ on Youtube and asked if I’d like him to do a guest spot on it. And then I sent him a whole bunch of songs to check out, and our writing chemistry clicked so well that he ended up singing on all of them…and eventually he ended up singing on all of disc 1 of the album.
With Marty Friedman it was even more random – I just woke up one morning to find an email from him in my inbox saying he liked my stuff and wanted me to collaborate with him for HIS album. Again, we started off with one song and the vibe was so good that I ended up co-writing and arranging over half of the album [it’s called Tokyo Jukebox 2 and was released last September]. To return the favor he guested on ‘Catharsis’ and ‘Celestial’ from our album.
How did these people make their contributions? Was it done remotely or did you actually get to sit down with them face-to-face discuss ideas?
Everything was done over the internet, I’d simply send them the instrumentals and they’d send me files back with their takes on it. I never actually discussed ideas with either of them. For me to tell them what to do would be ridiculous and even insulting to musicians of their caliber. I simply let them do whatever they wanted, because they are so good that I knew instinctively that whatever they put down over the song would be immense.
What was the reason for making the transition from this studio project to becoming a live act?
I think, somewhere inside, anyone who writes music dreams of playing it live. I mean, if someone actually claims that they have never dreamed of rocking out on stage in front of thousands of people, then they’re lying haha. And in the case of rock and metal musicians, well it’s a no-brainer! It was just a matter of how it could be done in a manner that was feasible and practical to execute. I also wanted from the start to have an album’s worth of material ready to play before actually taking it into the live environment.
It was great! We played to a good sized crowd, the sound was great, the vibe was great, we were surrounded by so many great people and musicians, and in general that festival was just a lovely experience.
When you perform live, do you try to improvise on the studio versions of your songs, or is it exactly the same? I think the ambient, progressive nature of the music allows you room to experiment on stage.
For our first show I wanted to keep it simple and stick to the studio arrangements. I do want to be a little more free-form and improvisational with our live shows though, so it is something that we will work towards for the future. But at the same time we play with a lot of backing tracks and to a metronome and all that, and everything is syncronized and very precise. So until we actually figure out how we can allow our set to be a bit more flowing and improvisational without it turning into a giant clusterfuck, I’d rather play it safe. Still, it’s something I do want to do and it will happen eventually, as like you said the music does call for it.
Would you hope to bring in some of your guest musicians to perform with you on stage at some point in the future?
Dan is actually going to be performing with us on the 26th of May when we support Lamb of God in Bangalore! It is a very rare opportunity and it is quite likely that it may not happen again (for various reasons including that Dan has other long term commitments that may not allow him the time to work with us). But yeah, very kicked about that!
As you said, you’ll be opening for Lamb Of God in Bangalore later this month. It must be a great feeling to get that kind of exposure, performing with one of the biggest names in metal. What are your expectations from that gig?
I’m still having trouble believing that it’s actually happening – we’re supporting Lamb of God and it’s only our second ever show! It’s surreal and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous as hell, because I really want to make this an absolutely epic gig and put on a show that will really get people talking.
Lamb Of God’s musical style is vastly different to yours. Is that something you thought about before you took up this gig?
Not really – we’re much too young to worry about stuff like that. I just want us to grab every opportunity we can and put on the best possible show we can. Sure, we might get booed by some of the more hardcore metal fans in the crowd, but I’m sure that anyone who’s there to enjoy some good heavy music will like us. Plus, going by what people seem to be saying on the internet about the show, it looks like a lot of folks are coming out specially to watch us, which is fantastic.
Lamb Of God drummer Chris Adler has spoken in high praise of your music. What was your reaction when you first heard that from him?
He first told me that in a private message on SoundCloud about a year ago. My first reaction was that it was a prank – someone was joking with me, because why the hell would a legendary musician like Chris Adler be interested in some nerdy kid’s bedroom project from the opposite end of the planet?! But it’s so amazing that he digs our music, and I really am humbled by the awesome things he’s said about us!
Your band has a truly global presence, not only because of the guest musicians but also due to the musical style itself. Do you plan to perform outside India in the near future?
Oh, absolutely – we’ve had a fair few offers from some great European festivals and even some tour offers. It really all depends on what offers are worthwhile and wouldn’t end up with us being completely broke and on the streets, haha. I’m fairly sure we will be hitting international shores later this year though!
This is something I’ve talked about with a few other Indian bands as well, and I’ll throw you the same question. Does the lack of opportunity for playing local gigs in the Indian metal scene frustrate you at times?
Actually, I think we have it quite easy in India. Sure, there aren’t many tours that happen, but the college festival scene is really doing well and they are quite lucrative! For example, since the start of this year, we have had quite a few college festival headlining offers which offered us a sizable chunk of money along with flight tickets, hotel rooms and everything else. We had to turn them down due to other commitments, but it just goes to show that if you’re a good band that’s creating a good buzz, the opportunities are there for the taking. The Indian scene is obviously not as far reaching as the US or UK/European scenes, but it’s getting there and I believe it’s going to be a metal hotspot very soon.
What does the near future hold for Skyharbor? What plans do you have for the rest of the year?
Hopefully lots of shows, and if possible some shows internationally as well! I have also started writing new material for our second album, so if all goes well that should be ready late next year. There’s definitely a lot of ideas being thrown around in our camp, so you will be hearing quite a lot from us in the near future.
Related: Lamb Of God interview