Karsh Kale speaks to AsianVibrations.com about this newest album Broken English. He also drops hints on what's in the pipeline for him and how he feels about the state of music at large. Hope you enjoy.
Note: The words in [ ] are added by me to clarify the point that I felt Karsh was trying to make.
AV: So how did broken english came about? What were you trying to do with the album.
KK: After putting out Liberation, the next thing I wanted to do was something more universal. Encompassing a universal language. With the concept of broken english being the language that is spoken all over the world.
AV: Ah I see! Ok. I was wondering what you were trying to say there. I was wondering if you were referencing to the broken english that all our parents speak.
KK: It was partly a reference to that. [But mainly I wanted to reference the language spoken all over the world.]
AV: I felt, when listening to the album, that you departed from what you had done in the previous albums. How much of that was an attempt to not do a South Asian Fusion album?
KK:I don’t think I was really attempting to not do something. I was [more trying to do something and] not be concerned with what I had done before. You know, right after that I worked on an album with Anoushka Shankar in India.
AV:You are talking about Rise?
KK:No no. Not Rise. I just came back yesterday from India where we had been working on a new album which is a collaboration between the two of us. So we had been working with a whole bunch of new musicians. On one hand this work [from her perspective] is more of a western record and other hand [from my perspective] it is more of an Indian record because we both were pushing each other in a different direction. But that being said, then I am also doing a Kollective compilation which is much more about underground music. I also want to do a live cd with the Realize band. So I am never thinking in terms of “what am I supposed to be doing” [or not doing]. I do what I feel like I need to do - at the time.
AV: Talking about Kollective, how much of that part of your personality fell into Broken English? Or not at all?
KK: It’s all there. Everything that I am doing is my personality, everything I am interested in winds up in my music. The thing about Broken English that was different was that I didn’t sit down in front of a computer and start this record. I started this by sitting down on a guitar and a piano. I finished songs before I ever touched a computer or worked with other artists. I was writing songs by myself. I feel that [more and more] people aren’t recognizing that all of us musicians are actually working on these songs in the studios and creating these melodies and progressions. I think everyone is seeing our loops, being put up on a screen, to make a track [which might sound fantastic] but ultimately it’s viewed as music that is disposable. I just feel like what makes music timeless is when you really sit down and compose something [on an instrument].
AV: So you don’t think you had that with Realize?
KK: I did have that there also but it was a lot sitting in front of a computer with synths. And then going to India and working with artists and collaborating with the artists. As opposed to creating it myself. After that I would go finish the songs with other artists.
AV: I actually went to a live show of yours and it was fantastic. So referencing other artists - I wanted to speak about one of the musicians you had up there. Todd Michaelsen. How did you meet him?
KK: I had actually heard his music and a friend of mine had told me that he was a fan of the stuff I was doing. I reached out to him and he was very into coming down and to the studio to collaborate. We were supposed to work on one song but he wound up working on half record and playing with the band. It was just one of those things where we connected on more than just one song. We connected as musicians. He is a fantastic songwriter, guitar player, musician and it worked great. He listens to a lot of different types of music which is very important to me when I am working different people because it tells me that they are open to a lot of different styles of music.
AV:[Changing topics a bit], how much of your travels influence you to try different sounds?
KK: All of the time! I spend [a lot of time] with these different musicians at these events [and we] all end up inspiring each other in different ways. My life just plays out that way. So the sound on Broken English is kind of a journey through a week in my life. Our culture is so diverse that it allows me a chance to work on a record with one person where I am a songwriter, another where I am a producer and then next night I am dj’ing [with someone else]...so it’s never a dull moment and in all of this it winds up coming out of each time.
AV: That sounds awesome! So, talking about [these] disparate roots - I read that you don’t like your music being called exotic?
KK: I think that term connotes music that comes from somewhere else. For me I am very conscious of being true to who I really am. I am a boy from Long Island. Not somewhere else. I grew up listening to Rock and Roll, Led Zepplin - besides Indian music. On one hand when I was making Realize there was a different time in music. The industry acknowledged indian music in a different way. But now I think there is an Asian identity in music and there are a lot of great artists that come from different parts of the world, even someone like Anoushka Shankar, they are coming from places where they are international in their approach to music. They feel like world citizens and not necessarily indian citizens yet, [they are] trying to be true to where they come from.
In the same way I wanted to make a record that represented that. For me on one hand I am able to sit with classical musicians and compose in raag (a pure classical form) which is very eloquent and also sit with punk musicians and [compose] that whole different form of music. So [I am] able to approach music from all the different perspectives and not be seen as someone [only] coming from indian electronic perspective because that’s [actually] something that I came to later. The first two-thirds of my life was just playing music on different instruments and any music I could write on instruments.
AV: So how would respond to listeners who are confused by Broken English - who are either confused by the new sound or not happy that your music is very different on this album compared to your previous works.
KK: I mean for the people who are confused by it..I would say to listen to it again. I know the response that I have gotten from my peers and the people I respect. [They have] been nothing but positive and gave been very supportive of this record. They get what I am trying to say and they get me because they know who I am as an artist. To those people that are misunderstanding it I would go as far as saying that maybe you were misunderstanding what I was saying before.
AV: Previously, when we spoke, you had coined the term Asian Massive - which for a little while had its own website and this time I hear you are using the term Rocktronic Organica...is that the new planned direction?
KK: Rocktronic Organica was more of a tongue in cheek thing rather than an actual genre. I wouldn’t categorize this music. Nor would I categorize the music I made before. I feel that when you start to make music and [there] becomes a scene around it then [after a while] it starts to become a mockery of itself. Then people start complaining about other people's music saying that it’s not enough of this or that [and] I start to get disturbed by the whole thing. I never set out to make Asian Massive music. To me Asian Massive was a movement of artists who were very distinct in their own musical statements. It wasn’t a style of music, it wasn’t just asian classical music plus electronica for me - it was a particular thing that I wanted to say and I used these two mediums [to say it].
For me it was music [that expressed] where I came from: my environment of NYC. Even a record like Liberation - it meant so much to me, when I was playing a show in california and a bunch of skater kids showed up [and] said that Liberation completely [spoke to them]. Skater punks, raver kids - people who are outside the “identity of asian electronic” or second generation asian - [enjoyed my record and I was able] to make music on a universal level.
[For example], someone like Bob Marley was a style of reggae music. Even then his music reached the rest of the world because he was very universal. To me that [was] not reggae music - it [was] just music. Not to compare myself to Bob Marley but for me that was inspiring. That’s what I have always been trying to do. As soon as I felt like I was being pigeonholed [I decided] to break out of that. [So], to the people that say that “you are not doing what you did before” I would say: thanks!
AV: So actually talking about previous albums - any plans in the works for something like Redesign? Any plans to remix Broken English?
KK: Yea, its already been remixed - four or five tracks that have been remixed. At this point all of us are listening to each others records as like an “old boys club” where everyone is ready to remix each other records as soon as it’s done. That happens automatically. But as far as putting out a broken english remix record, I am not really feeling the whole remix thing right now...it’s cool and if someone does a mix that blows my mind then yea I will put it out but I am not looking to put out a Broken English remix record. I would be much more psyched to do a Broken English covers record!
AV:That would be pretty interesting. That’s a whole different perspective I had not thought of.
KK: Yea, I would like people to hear is my music live. It’s kinda what you saw at the live show. We weren’t [there] to sound like the record. We were trying to catch the essence of each song and form it the best way we could live. It's like reading a book and making a movie out of it or, taking a movie and [doing] it in a theater setting. We can take out some laptops and play all the loops, make it sound like the record and have some instrumentation but that’s not the point. The point is not the sounds but the song. You sit down and play a song on a guitar even though on the record [it was done by] an orchestra...that’s when the [show becomes] real.
AV: So anything else you wanna share? [I had run out questions at this point!]
KK: We have been harping at the same point of what this record is. [Ultimately] there are artists who react to the pigeonhole that the press or the clubs and promoters push [for them by doing] something different. [By doing] something out of that box. As soon as there’s a box created we want to bust out of it. And music is far too dynamic and life is too dynamic to live in this little space to say that “I only listen to this one kind of music” or that “music should be this way.” I have met many people over the years who are inspiring and pushing to break those walls down but, I have also met a lot of people who are pushing to say that “it should sound like this” there’s not enough “drum and bass” and there’s not enough [this or] that - [these] “purists” [are] all over the place. [There are] indian classical purists, psy trance purists, electronica purists, asian massive purists but I think anyone who’s locking themselves in [these boxes is] never gonna be able to get out.
AV: Truthfully, when I was at your live show I had not heard your album at that point. I had not bought a copy of the album. So when I did listen to the record I was honestly not expecting what I heard, I was surprised. So to me you are creating a sound that is a mixture of all different sounds and besides the word awesome I don’t know what else I can say to that. Especially as a South Asian kid in NYC I have to thank you for that.
KK: Yea, I definitely was trying to throw people off guard. It’s not supposed to be easy. I felt I should challenge [the] listeners [because] we are losing our ability to hear pure music. When somebody can get in front of an audience and play [a song on instruments] then there’s something real about that. We are losing the ability to do that. We are in the electronic age now and we are putting a emphasis on the wrong thing.
AV: I definitely got that perspective in your live shows because you went from your drums to your tabla then the guitar and I honestly did not realize the versatility in your musical capabilities and I was blown away. Definitely, was not expecting the guitar!
KK: I think a lot of people [weren’t] because the nature of the music [now] is that you can have [no] real capabilities on an instrument but still make great music if you have a musical mind and the right software and gear. All you need is Reason, Logic and you are off and running. But, that’s not what I do and have never done that. When I get to the studio that’s what I do. There’s a little bit more of that in this album. There’s more of the live show. I realized that people needed to see that.
AV: Awesome. I guess we did kinda harp out everything about the album! So you want to tell me how everything else is going in your life?
KK: Everything is crazy, I just got in from India, I was in NY and now I am in LA. I was in India working with Anoushka Shankar and Gaurav from [MIDIval] Punditz. I was making a film as well. I was at [Anoushka’s] father’s studio and then we were in Bombay for 10 days. Then Madras to work with the orchestra. We were writing music the whole time. It was 30 days of intense work. That’s what I just finished and now came back here to launch Broken English. Same time we are gonna be launching the new Kollective. So it’s never a dull moment.
AV: That sounds great! Alright thank you so much of your time.
KK: Awesome, thank you for having me!