This is a of the chat that me and Karsh had, while having coffee in Manhattan. The recording was 41 minutes long, so as you can imagine - this is an edited version.
AV - Growing up in western culture most south Asians are very into r&b, hip hop etc. How did you veer off from that and go into South Asian music?
KK - Well, I actually grew up playing drums and listening to rock and classical music. Being a drummer took me on a lot of different explorations through different styles of music. I explored hip-hop through the perspective of a drummer and a musician. But, when electronic music hit me, a meeting place for it and the Indian classical music came about. Electronic music has two elements that Indian classical music is played with, pure rhythm and melody. So it lays down a really nice foundation for the merging of the two styles.
AV - For Realize, did you write any lyrics your self?
KK - Well the two lyricists on Realize are these guys that I have been working with for years, Vishal Vaid and Shahid Siddiqui. We have been playing in bands together for years now.
AV - So your hand wasn't in the lyrics at all?
KK - No, my hand is all in the music. Basically because we have a whole library of music that we have created over the years what I would do is sift through what we have done and use it when composing. What Shahid Siddiqui does on his own as a songwriter is completely different than what I do and the same with Vishal. But by now they know what I am looking for so that is really about how well we work together.
AV - So how long have you been working with both of them?
KK - Well before any of this even happened, I started playing with Shahid in a reggae rock band called 32 tribes and me and, Vishal used to tour the country playing ghazal concerts.
AV - Having done no lyrics or vocals yourself; if you look at the western pop musicians the singer is the one that is mainly the advertised one. But, if you look at Asian Massive with you, Talvin, Nitin, Badmarsh and Shri - the producer is the one that is on the album cover how would you explain that discrepancy?
KK - Well first off, its true in western electronic music as well. The reason why that is because this music is created is really through the attitude of the producer; the album is the intent of the producer - as opposed to a group like U2 where it's really about Bono and what he is really trying to say. But, if Bono played on a Moby record it would be Moby.
AV - So whenever you do a live performance how do you prepare for it? Any ritual?
KK - Well when the performance involves other artists, I try to work with those that I have worked with off-stage before or people that I know what it is that I want to get out of them. Like when I knew Ustad Sultan Khan was coming to the studio, I wrote three pieces that were exactly for him, pieces that we could perform also. I had been working with his music for so long that I knew how to write music that he could understand. So you plan for performances like that also.
AV - Any rituals then?
KK - Well I don't have any kind of rituals that I do before performances, I just try to be alone and by myself. Because, performance for me is very much a spontaneous composition, even though there are arrangements we are playing - once I am on stage it's based on the room especially. There is certain music that is meant to be played in a more festive atmosphere and some music that can be played anywhere so it just depends on the type of audience. So we can play for an audience where everyone is on their feet and they are dancing or in an environment where everyone is chilled out and relaxing.
AV - Turning to Bollywood, how do you feel about the entire New York City, Chicago, Toronto etc. Bollywood remix scene, do you feel that that entire scene is stifling the South Asian talent pool, where the artist finds it much easier to turn to remixing than to creating original music.
KK - Well the one thing about the Asian Massive scene or a lot of the artists that I find artists inspiring in the Asian Massive aesthetic, is that they are not gearing there music towards South Asians, they are creating music for everyone. However, a lot of the remix scene or the bhangra scene is mainly directed towards South Asians. So I feel the two scenes don't have anything to do with each other. And I think it's really up to the people to judge and put down a standard. Before Anokha came out there was a lot of ridiculous music that people weren't even interested in. However, when Anokha came along it set a standard that people who's ears were attuned to the bhangra scene or the desi scene were all of a sudden interested in. It's taken a whole another perspective so no I don't think that one stifles the other in any way.
AV - On your album, I loved the track 'Home.' How did that come about?
KK - Shahid came up with it, like I said we used to play in a band together so I know a lot of his content, it's a very particular type of content that he writes about, and he came with a song and basically my hand in composing that, came in choosing the words from his lyrics that I wanted to include into the song. Like he basically gave it to me unfinished, unarranged with all the different lyrics of the same brainstorm. I think the reason why I chose the words was because he was addressing, something very similar to the whole thing that happened on Sept 11th, which is just people's consciousness being shut down and not being - you know when he says 'these lights are all going out one by one, everyone is going to bed one by one' its realizing no one is really looking or realizing what's really going on in this world.
AV - Wow, I didn't catch that at all in the song.
KK - Well yea, I didn't really expect listeners to know what the lyrics were saying, especially if the song is in a different language. That's the beauty of it; I think that if a song is sung in a very honest way then the sentiment is there so we know when someone is singing about love even if you don't understand the words.
AV - You were saying that, that the whole scene is geared towards not just South Asians but everyone else also; along with that a lot of people not understanding the lyrics and the term that the media has attached to it - 'Asian Massive,' do you feel that there will be a negative affect on the scene because of the word Asian in the front thus, causing people to expect traditional south Asian or Asian music even though you aren't producing just one type of music.
KK - Well I think, Asian Massive is not Indian classical or anything traditional - those are all specific schools of music. Asian Massive on the other hand is a cultural movement, kind of a growth or of a generation who are responding to their environment, in an attempt to make sense of their being or existing here. I mean the reason why I particularly chose to play Indian classical music is because of my relationship with it since I was a kid - not even because I am Indian but because I haven't heard a style of music in the world that can express emotions quite like Indian classical music. It's almost scientific. Although, so is electronic music. If you know what affect you want to find, what affect you want to get out of a person - both styles of music approach it in almost the same way. And that's really where it ends for me as far as why I play Indian music and of course why I play any other style of music is for the same exact reason. Why I would chose a drum and base track because it'd be the perfect style of music for that particular sentiment. As far as the negative thing, I don't think the word Asian will have an affect, because at the end of the day it is about styles of music. To compare to hip-hop, which isn't its own original form its borrowed from all these different styles and has created its own culture and attitude. Same thing with Asian Massive - its less about the label Asian but more about the fact that it is the heritage of the performers. For instance I am producing a group, basically songs in English written mostly with folk flavor mixed with Indian classical music. It's a group of musicians I am working up with in Boston. That to me is Asian Massive - its not about a particular artist, its not even exclusive to a particular generation its just people that subscribe to this notion that this music needs to be reinvented, this culture needs to be reinvented because we have reinvented ourselves. In every art form that exists, whether it is in films or in writing or in painting or in music, it's really about the need for reinvention.
AV - So going along with that, are u trying to figure out a place for yourself or, because you are doing fusion - are you trying to be part of the mix?
KK - Well, this is who I am and if it's a particular type of music its because I have a particular combination of things that make me who I am as an artist. I have just as much experience within the Indian music world as I do playing in thrash bands - (laughs) I used to hair down to my shoulders.
AV - Need to see pictures of that one.
KK - (laughs) We'll keep those locked up. I mean, our generation has grown up where we have kept things separate, we have our Indian friends and our American friends and we won't go see an Indian movie with our American friends or at least that's not how we grew up - and now our generation is actually doing that, that's part of making our existence here make sense. I grew up in a school of mainly white Jewish kids out in long island - I was one of two Indian kids but, people didn't know me as Indian they knew me as a musician. And, I hid the fact that I was Indian because there wasn't anything they could connect with at the time. But, now to be able to compose a way to be able to explain us to them, so that its not foreign, so that its not coming out of our parents mouths speaking in an accent that they can't understand. It's us. We have figured it out and now we are sharing it and by sharing that we give to the culture we have taken from in order to actually belong.
AV - So, how do you approach your remixes when you do them?
KK - I try and strip it down to just bare bones. I don't like to take tracks that are complete and add things to them. I like to really reconstruct the song, recompose it. So if get a track, I'll just take the vocals and maybe one melodic element and rewrite the whole track. I am liberal to myself for the remix because the possibilities are endless. So when I am done, the track is neither the original composers nor mine. It's a marriage of two things, so basically I approach it by stripping it down to its bare bones. I try not just create dance remixes; I try to mainly reinterpret the song.
AV - Talking about other artists, are there any ones that you identify with or that have influenced you?
KK - There are a lot of different great artists out there - I just got Pete Yorn which reminded me of Jeff Buckley meets Radiohead. I mean, we all know about Radiohead. I have also been big U2 or Police fan, so any derivative of that vibe.
AV - So how would you react to those guys that are taking Asian massive tracks and mixing them up with Bollywood or the artists that are taking Bollywood tracks and attempting to reinterpret them without having studied any type of Asian or south Asian musical composition?
KK - I think it all only serves as something positive, I mean if somebody thinks that that's as good as it gets - their attitude will change when they hear something better. But, if someone doesn't know anything about it and that opens their ears - that's all good. I mean this Asian massive scene is something that exists separately from the desi or bhangra scene. For a lot of people even having those scenes around, it wasn't enough - this is for them to be able to say 'this is where I bring my boys my Rasta friends, my Jungalist friends all of my friends to and we come down to this party', that's what Asian Massive is - this is our way of inviting people over for dinner. It's our way of saying this is my identity and defining that and saying 'I am going to incorporate everything that I am into what I do, without leaving anything out.' But on the other token, I don't appreciate when people take from Indian music without understanding what the sentiment is. I mean if you want to take something that is meant to be sad, and make it angry you can do that - because you know what it is you are taking. But, when you take something out of its context for the sake of its sound, because maybe it sounds like a cool twangy sound - I think you are disrespecting the music.
AV - So on a final note, how do you see this scene progressing without having the numbers. Us being a minority among minorities in America, how do you feel that the scene will thrive inside this culture?
KK - I think because, besides the name Asian Massive, we aren't wearing any tradition on our sleeve. When you come to people with music from a tradition, then in order for them to truly accept the music they have to truly accept all the tradition. Which is why it would be tough. But Asian massive is allowing people to not have to adhere to anything. Its something like what Deepak Chopra was able to do with literature and religious texts. He has simply made things available to the rest of the people. He basically takes all of the best parts of the greatest texts in the world and breaks it down so that we see the similarity between the bible and the bhadvad gita and the Koran and the communist manifesto and work of edgar allen poe and shows that they are all talking about the same thing. Which is what the idea is, it is that now you have forgotten that this guy is Asian - I mean you will never forget where this information is coming from - but he has created it in such a way that you can accept it without any baggage. Its not like, if you accept this knowledge you have to accept some sort of tradition along with it, which is what makes it more universal, which is why people can just take it and say yea I believe in Deepak Chopra. And I think that is the similar direction in which Asian massive is heading.