Saturday Features

Music is a state of mind

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Dec 2, 2017-Diwas Gurung is a Nepali musician currently based out of Brooklyn, New York. His earliest fans know him as a vocalist/guitarist of the progressive rock band Ayurveda. While his work can be found in both Nepali and English languages, today, he is more popular for his fresh interpretations of Nepali folk songs. He has to his name, as a solo artiste, two albums Rato Mato and Jharana Sahara, and the EP Adhunique. In this conversation with the Post’s Abha Dhital, Gurung talks about what it’s like to be a full time musician and what drives him. Excerpts:

What’s your oldest musical memory? 

My first memory of music is listening to Like a Virgin by Madonna. I would play it on the cassette over and over again. It was on loop for a long time.

Did you already know you wanted to play music back then? When did you start playing? 

I was in ninth grade when I played my first song—Nothing Else Matters by Metallica. After half-heartedly trying my hands on guitar for five years, at 15, I finally decided that I had to learn to play and play it well. Once I mastered Nothing Else Matters, I learnt to play Oasis’ first album. I’ve not looked back since.

Almost two decades later, you are a full-time musician now. What’s that like? 

Full time music is great, but it’s also a struggle. It’s like any other freelance work—there is risk involved. It took me a while to get to a point where I could sustain myself as a full-time musician. While it is important to do what you love, it is more important to keep it real. There are expenses you have to take care of and hence you have to learn to live with the means. But, if you want to do it, you have to stick with it, because you never know what project might launch you. 

What process do you go through while creating new music? 

I have a recording studio at home and I produce and programme all my music using an old Macbook from 2008. 

When I make music for myself, it always starts with either a phrase or a musical idea followed by multiple demos. I do a lot of work and then refine it into something solid. Some songs come instantly; others take a couple of years. While working on someone else’s project, people send me sound memos with acoustic guitar and vocals. I inquire about their mood, genre, idea; and then it’s a lot of back and forth leg work of recording and editing. 

Either way, when I produce music, I need a vision of the end product. I sketch an idea of how the song is eventually going to sound and then work towards it. 

But is there a timeline or do you keep working until you are happy? 

There has to be a timeline. When I worked on my last album Jharana Sahara, the songs had been in my head for a long time. But to get them out there, I had to make a schedule with an list of what I was going to do each month. Having a timeline helps a lot. 

Talking of albums, you have two (besides one EP) to your credit, Rato Mato or Jharana Sahara. Which one do you hold closer to your heart? 

Hands down, Jharana Sahara. The album is very special to me because every sound you hear in the album is me. I did all the recording, arranging, producing, mixing, and mastering independently. Of course, I hold Rato Mato close to my heart too, it’s my first album, but it was more of an experiment with a friend that came to fruition. 

At this point in life, can you imagine yourself doing anything but music? 

Actually, I can. I might as well take up computer programming full time in the near future. A musician has to devote a lot of time to producing and mixing not just his own but also somebody else’s project, which is great, but exhausting. When it becomes a job, your relationship to music inevitably changes. I feel like if I did something else for a living, the music I make could be so much more personal. But it goes without saying, I’ll always make music no matter what I do. 

You have mixed your father’s original songs and you have a band, The Rungs, with your wife. How important role does family play for an artist?

In Nepali context, having a musician in the family is hardly ever a sense of pride. Thus, just to know that you have your family behind you means a lot. It helps the artists push forward and thrive. I, for one, cannot imagine my life without a partner who understands and appreciates music like I do. Music is a language and it’s important that you are able to speak in it with the people in your life. 

You don’t like labeling your music. You draw elements from various genres and put it all into one place. Does it help as a musician when you’re open to work with any genre, or is it better to stick to one?

In most cases, I think it helps when an artist sticks to a genre. If you’re consistent at the kind of music you produce, the fan base keeps growing. That’s one of my defects. My mind’s always all over the place. I try to push my music as far as I can in all directions—sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I know my music sometimes confuses my audience. Just when they think they like my music, they also realise that it’s not exactly what they are looking for. But then I think of it in terms of legacy. Perhaps, 15 years later, the audience will be able to spend a lot more time engaging in one of my albums than they can in others’.

Is there a risk of losing one’s personal touch and identity when a musician grows bigger and fans multiply? 

Of course, the stakes are very high. As soon as you start catering to the audience, it’s a downward spiral. I feel like it is important that the artist disconnects from the audience every now and then. I am a big fan of Radiohead for instance. They produce good music and then take a backseat until they have something good to present again. Instead of being out and about and constantly meeting their audience’s demands, they kind of go back to square one to make sure their purpose is still intact.

Do you feel like you have a solid fan base? What’s the favourite crowd you have ever played for? 

Because I have produced different kinds of music, I have different kinds of fans in different places. And my fans are few and far in between, but I feel so thankful to have them. 

Kathmandu shows are always amazing. I played my first show here in 2012 and had a blast. Because I had only known of my audience online, I had no idea how the response would be. I had such a good time that it’s all a blur. The best shows are when everyone in the audience is in the same headspace. That night, it felt like the audience connected to one another, and I connected to the audience as a whole. 

Is there like a daily mantra that you live by? 

Well, when you are producing music, you have to be honest and upfront about it. You have to know who you are and what you want. How you feel about your music always comes across in your performance and the people pick up on that. Music is so much more than just a skill, it is a state of mind—it is an immensely emotional, and an equally spiritual thing. If you’re not true to it, you’ll never make good music.

Anything interesting up next? 

Besides a new album, possibly a video. It’s about time that I give a face to my name. So often, I go up to the stage and people only recognise me when I start singing. But then again, I feel like I have to think about it, and do some homework before the final 

presentation. 

Published: 02-12-2017 08:31

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