Interview with Rachit Sachdeva of Symphony Novel26th October 2014
I’m a huge fan of Indian progressive / experimental rockers Symphony Novel. I was really impressed with their debut album ARIA, and their new single ‘Ethereal Ash’ is simply breathtaking – and by and away my favourite release of 2014 so far.
I was therefore delighted when Rachit Sachdeva (band founder, main song writer, and guitarist) said he’d love to do a skype interview with myself for All about The Rock.
Interview with Rachit Sachdeva of Symphony Novel
Written by Rich Dodgin, 19th October 2014
First of all Rachit, a huge thank you for doing this interview – I love what Symphony Novel are doing, and it’s great to have this opportunity to talk to yourself and for myself and out readers to learn some more about the band, and the new single.
Do you want to start by telling me about how Symphony Novel came to be?
Sure. So, I started Symphony Novel in 2012, and at that point it was basically just a home project for me because I’d just come back from the US where I’d graduated from MI (Musicians Institute) and I didn’t know anyone from the music industry here in India. But I had the songs ready and so I got in touch with Gino Banks, one of the best drummers in India right now, and showed him the songs and he was very excited and keen to collaborate with me.
So Symphony Novel started from then, and we didn’t involve anyone else and went to the recording studio and recorded the first album. Because I didn’t know anyone else at that time, I played all the lead and acoustic guitars on the first album, but at the studio we got introduced to Sheldon D’Silva who played bass, and who agreed to play bass on the album. And my girlfriend introduced me to a couple of vocalists – Bhavika Shetty who sings on ‘Chant’, and Gauri Aayeer who did the vocals on the rest of the tracks. And we recorded the album and it was released at the end of 2013.
Right. So would you describe the Symphony Novel that recorded ARIA as a band at that time?
No. The first album it was me getting in touch with other musicians to record the album. A collaboration really.
But that has changed with the recording and release of ‘Ethereal Ash’, right?
Correct. After the first album was released, Symphony Novel was really me and Gauri, we were the two permanent band members. And we were looking for a guitarist, and got in touch with Vivek Khati over Facebook, he is a incredible guitar player with deep influences from Progressive Rock, Neo Classical, Jazz Fusion, Indian classical, and Carnatic music. I sent him the songs from ARIA. He really liked what he heard and said he’d like to join the band as a permanent member.
And for ‘Ethereal Ash’ I didn’t want to be restricted to just to western vocals – that Gauri would be doing – I wanted classical Indian vocals as well. So I got in touch with Savarna Tiwari who’s been into Indian classical music for fourteen years and who teaches music and everything. We had a jam and really jelled musically. She has been into the Bollywood industry for a very long time contributing songs to daily soaps and movies, so this was like a very new discovery for her giving Indian classical harmonies for a progressive rock band. And she joined the band too.
So we four (Rachit, Gauri, Vivek, and Savarna) are the permanent members of Symphony Novel. We don’t have a permanent bass player and drummer, but we are in talks with a few players. It’s a bit difficult as there is more likeness to being a sessions musician in India, rather than being restricted to one band.
So for the recording of the single, you had Gino and Sheldon but they were effectively session musicians?
Correct. Along with Jake Charkey, who is a brilliant cello player from the States.
Well, the end result is amazing. And I have to say that I really liked ARIA, but for me ‘Ethereal Ash’ has taken Symphony Novel to the next level. Do you guys feel there is a big difference musically between the two?
Yes, we feel it ourselves. We really feel like we stepped up to the next level. ‘Ethereal Ash’ really shows what we are capable of as musicians.
And I’d like to mention Forrester Savell from Australia who mixed / mastered ‘Ethereal Ash’. He’s worked with bands like Animals As Leaders, Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus, and is also working on the upcoming Skyharbor album.
And we recorded the track at Double Shift Productions in Mumbai, and they were so good. They really listened to us and helped us do what we wanted, and also helped make the sound so good.
So how on earth do you follow ‘Ethereal Ash’? You’ve really set the bar high for yourselves.
Yeah. Shit. (laughs). We all want the next song to be as good or better than ‘Ethereal Ash’.
What was the song writing and recording process for the song?
So the starting point was the lyrics and music that I’d written. And then during recording the others contributed their own ideas. I had an overall vision for the song, which we tried to stick to, but I was completely open to their ideas too, and so for example the Indian vocals, guitar solo, and cello parts were what the guys came up with themselves.
And what was the vision for ‘Ethereal Ash’ ?
Initially, I wanted it to be about the climate. I’d been reading lot of documentaries and articles about the climate. So I wanted to reflect that in the lyrics. But instead of getting too deeply into the subject matter I made the lyrics more poetic.
‘Ethereal Ash’ was funded in some part via a crowd-funding campaign. Can you tell us about that?
Sure. Well, I wanted to do a single rather than an album. But I wanted the value of the single song to be as good as the whole album had been. So the budget was going overboard as I wanted every part of the recording process to be the best. And it wasn’t long before the amount I’d spent on the single was more than I’d spent on the whole of ARIA.
So got in touch with Wishberry and told them the concept I had. I showed them the lyrics and talked them though my vision for ‘Ethereal Ash’. They were really excited about the song and accepted the project and gave me 60 days.
And Wishberry believing in what we were doing was a big help. But even so, it’s a daunting task because you have to convince people to give you their money, and that you’re not going to run off with their money.
It started well, and then for a few weeks it was a bit slow. So, me and all the band, and all our friends and families mucked in to help make it a success by telling people about the campaign. And by the end we had so many people contributing, right up until the last minute of the campaign. We’d aimed for 250 000 rupees (£1500 / $2400) but actually reached 275 000 rupees (£1800 / $3000) so it went really well. But it was hard, and I think the main thing I learned is how to market myself and the band.
I bet. So, just to pick up on what you said there – you had to sell the campaign to Wishberry? They could have said “No, that’s not for us” ?
Yes, they only accept campaigns for projects that have been thought about and that they believe are going to succeed. Which is a good thing because it means they believe you will deliver.
Fantastic! You had some interesting campaign rewards didn’t you, can you tell us about those?
Yes. The rewards included a digital download of ‘Ethereal Ash’, a Symphony Novel t-shirt, an individual hand-written poem by me (I actually had to write seven poems!), credits on the music video, and a jam session with the band.
And what has the reaction been like for the single?
It’s been really good. We’ve had lots of positive feedback and a lot of good reviews. Radio City, an Indian internet radio company, contacted us – and so we into their studio and played some live songs and were interviewed, as well as having the new single played. Mohan Kanan, the vocalist of Agnee (one of the most established and highly respected indie bands from India) personally shared the track on Facebook, and tweeted the song. It’s a great deal 🙂 Oh, and Mark Tremonti tweeted how much he liked ‘Ethereal Ash’ which was really special for us!
Wow. That is really cool!
So, a question about yourself if that’s ok – are you in Symphony Novel full-time, or do you work as well?
I teach guitar lessons. Which is where half of the money for ‘Ethereal Ash’ came from. The other half from the crowd-funding campaign.
And actually, while we’re talking about you, can you tell us a bit about yourself? are you from Mumbai originally?
No. I was born in Delhi, but when I was young my parents moved to a small place near Mumbai where I did my schooling, and then I came to Mumbai for my further studies – I’m a qualified mechanical engineer. Then I was working in Mumbai as a sales executive. But I was learning the guitar and I really wanted to take up music as a career. But it was hard to convince my parents. But finally they agreed and I went to LA to the Musicians Institute to do my degree in music. Then I came back to India.
What are your personal influences?
I listen to a lot of different genres – progressive, alternative, melodic death, and classical. But I try not to get influenced by other musicians, so I don’t listen to music at all while working on a new track.
What’s the music scene like in Mumbai and India right now?
In India now a lot of places have opened where you can play live. But last year there weren’t many open to play the sort of music we play – because we were seen as not playing a metal set, not playing a funk set, not playing a classic rock set, not playing a hard rock set. So it was like a completely new genre, and people were saying where shall we put you in? But with ‘Ethereal Ash’ we won’t face that problem as we have shown we are towards the metal side. In fact we should be playing some gigs in the near future.
So what are you guys doing next? Earlier in the interview you mentioned another song?
Yes. We should be ready with a new single by February. It’s going to be a bit darker. Heavy. And it may have classical vocals from another language.
That’s sounds very interesting – can’t wait!
Well, a massive thank you for giving me the time today to speak to you and learn some more about Symphony Novel and the way in which you created such an amazing piece of music.
Check out the amazing video to ‘Ethereal Ash‘ –