Keeping it Original & Candid: The Local Train
On the second day of Nitrutsav 2k16, the NITR Junta had a tryst with an indie-rock band that came all the way from Delhi – The Local Train. The band managed to win hearts with their lyrical, original compositions, on-stage gimmicks and a live-wire performance! In a candid interview with band members Paras Thakur, Raman Negi, Ramit Mehra and Sahil Sarin, they told Team Monday Morning about the changing music scene in India, the key elements that help an independent band grow and most importantly the anecdotes that help us remain true to our passion. Read on, to find a witty, funny and original take on life – sunny side up!
MM: First things first, what’s the story behind the band’s name?
Sahil: That’s because three of the four members of the band were conceived in a local train. (laughs)
Ramit: Jokes apart, the reason was that we just got stuck with it! We were uploading our first song on MySpace and Raman asked me for a name, so I suggested ‘Train’, but there’s already a band based in the US called the ‘Train’, so we planned on calling ourselves the ‘Local Train’, but that name was also taken. Finally we just threw in a ‘The’ and that’s how we became ‘The Local Train’! Before anybody could change it, the song went viral and the name obviously spread along with it. Come to think of it now though, we really like the name!
MM: Tell us a bit about your individual selves, about your life before the formation of the band.
Ramit: I was a guitarist and played for other bands - almost every band that is possibly there in Chandigarh! I was a radio jockey for around three years, I took theatre with kids, directed school plays, wrote for magazines and also worked for Young Buzz, which basically goes and takes aptitude tests for a Bangalore based company. I believe that when an opportunity comes by, you shouldn’t say no to it.
Paras: I was studying Civil Engineering in PEC University of Technology and dropped out when I got accepted to the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, because I wanted to pursue music. That’s also when Ramit found me for this project, and though we were all doing our own music individually we realized that we could make this work together as a team.
Raman: I studied Computer Science Engineering and then took up a position in TCS for 6 years. In 2012 I quit my job, after which I met Ramit and through him I met Sahil. The three of us were doing music together when we finally got Paras to jump the bandwagon and this is what it’s all come to!
Sahil: I’m the only graduate in arts, here and the rest of them are demotivated engineers. So basically I started playing music professionally before all of them, and I also came on board with this project because of Ramit – who’s basically like the father of the band, and has a constant need to know more and more people!
Ramit: Can’t find a job, give me a call! (laughs)
Raman: Ramit’s basically the person who got this band together and he’s the one who’s keeping it together.
Ramit: Damn, and here I thought I was a slave-owner! (laughs)
Raman: So basically we’ve been like this, with this line-up since February 2011, when we got Paras on-board and he basically replaced two other guitarists and learned both their parts for a gig, in a single day!
MM: How do your influences help you draw inspiration for your songs?
Raman: This band offers a lot to the listeners as everyone has a different musical influence and that is what we bring to the table, otherwise we would have just been any other regular fusion band. Everything served as an inspiration for us – being broke, having fights, the blows that life doled out to us, everything added up in the end!
Ramit: Every kind of music has a different purpose. When I go to a club, I want to dance – I want EDM and don’t want Opeth played. When I go to an Opeth concert, I want to listen to Opeth; I’m not going there for the “Ooh Punjabi” kind of feel. Nowadays all the processed songs that you listen to, all these Shielas and Munnis – they have a shelf life! You listen to them for a few days, play them at a few wedding parties and then there’s some other song that replaces them. There is no good or bad song; it’s all your perception, but don’t let anyone tell you the genre or type of music you listen to isn’t good.
MM: In 2015, in "Top 50 Rock Bands of India" held by "Sennheiser India", you were named as India's No. 1 rock band. Walk us a bit through that competition and the experience.
Raman: It was the most amazing competition we have ever participated in! We were working on a song, then, called ‘Yeh Zindagi Hai’. In the competition you basically had to upload a song, a video and then an interview.
Sahil: Were we approached for participating?
Raman: No, we were one of the 10-15 bands tagged on a post in twitter and were asked to participate. So Ramit randomly made a profile for us.
Ramit: Basically, I made an incomplete profile and then they called me up and asked me to complete it. After the final submission, they started announcing the names of the bands, on a weekly basis backwards from 10th, 9th, in that order. We were working on our video on that time, and we kept thinking that we hadn’t made the cut.
Paras: As far as the judging criterion was concerned, 70% weightage was given to the decision of the actual judges and the remaining 30% came from public voting. So we were expected to actually go online, promote ourselves on social media and ask for votes. However, all of us were too busy for that kind of tom-foolery and ultimately we had 3 votes, one of which was cast by Ramit himself.
Ramit: I think we had slept around 4:00 am in the morning and after waking up, I checked my phone and I saw the mail saying “you guys have won”. I went and woke these people up and told them about it.
Paras: I remember him kicking my door open. I thought maybe the house had caught fire or something! Even when he told us, I kept looking at his face wondering, “What had we won?” And then it dawned upon me, “Oh shit, the Sennheiser thing!”
Sahil: And Ramit went back to sleep after that!
Sennheiser sponsors artists like Farhan Akhtar, Raghu Dixit and Papon, but we are the only band sponsored by Sennheiser in the whole country. The gear that we use has not even been launched in India!
MM: During a gig, what tracks do you enjoy performing the most?
Ramit: It depends on the occasion.
Sahil: But I love performing our original tracks because I feel like that gives something new and exciting to the audience.
Raman: Odisha is a completely new region for us, since this was our first show. If you came to Delhi, you’d be like, “Shit, these people are actually famous!” But for us to come here, and meet such a receptive audience that we could play about ten original songs, is phenomenal!
Paras: The whole point is to remain original and unique in whatever we do, so that the kinds of songs that we create remain in their own place for many years to come. So many people message us to tell us that they liked this or that song, and that’s what really matters – that we’re reaching out to people with our music.
Raman: I think with our next album, it’ll become very clear where we’re trying to go and what we’re trying to get at. Those ten songs will definitely revamp and reinvent a lot of things. It’ll help people understand the identity and stronghold of this band. We’re really pushing for it next year, along with two other videos and a couple of other songs. Let’s see how far it goes.
MM: You’ve come to perform in Orissa for the first time. What were your expectations and how was your experience?
Raman: Honestly we were really nervous, today.
Sahil: Since this was our first show, the whole challenge today was to let people listen to all our songs and have fun with them. After the 3rd song we realized that this is a very good and receptive audience. We could have done two more songs also but we were asked to cut it short. Also, the fact that we had to give a show for 2 hours, added to the fact that we haven’t slept in a long time and have been travelling a lot made us really feel stressed out, but we feel it was kickass experience.
All: We are really honoured to be here. We are going back happy!
MM: How do you feel about the current scenario of bands in India?
Ramit: Back in the days of yore, people in India couldn’t really appreciate the band culture. I mean people just looked at the vocalists! Things are changing now, because when we go and perform in a small town, there are musicians from these small towns who actually approach us and speak to us about our technique and method – we’re absolutely loving it! Otherwise previously, people would come up to Sahil and tell him, “Man, whatever you played on that tabla like thing looked like a lot of fun!”
Paras: Oh, and I remember this particular incident when this man accused me of not playing on stage! So the bass guitar is supposed to be played with your fingers, without a plectrum and it produces a very low key sound. So this guy sent a message to our Facebook page complaining that I was just strumming with my fingers and not playing any actual music!
Raman: And through our work, we’re basically just trying to give Hindi music the respect that it deserves! Over the years its degraded exponentially. So we’re just here to sing simple songs about things like love, life and hope rather than somebody’s ass and somebody asshole.
MM: When you compose a song where do you get your ideas from and how does a song evolve?
Ramit: We can’t just give our secrets away!
Raman: There is no proper way or formula to it! Somebody just comes up with some idea and we all sit down and develop it.
Paras: If there are four people sitting and you throw an idea, you can actually watch it grow. One guys says something, another one says something else.
Sahil: In the end you may have something totally different from what was thought of originally.
Songs are done over and over again, maybe for even two years. The fact that we live together definitely helps make the process a more organic one. We jam at home, it’s a comfortable setting and we’ve developed a rapport among ourselves whereby it becomes easier for us individually to pitch and play with ideas.
MM: Your songs are very lyrical; do you think your music conveys a message along with it?
Raman: Of course! Every song has a message. ‘Choo Lo’ is a love song, ‘Khudi’ is about self -belief, ‘Aaoge Tum Kabhi’ is about hope. We are just like you guys. Even though this is a roaring business and it’s a lot of fun now, each of us went through our own personal hell to get here. So yes, these songs are about us, and the people that we meet on the go.
Paras: If you take something personally you can make a story about it and that makes it easier for people to relate to it as well!
MM: Can you chronologically take us through the highs and lows of ‘The Local Train’?
Raman: We released ‘Choo Lo’ in 2009, and we were just working on some scratches and releasing them online. I think the struggle continued till 2014.
Paras: A lot of things – you can’t do on your own. If you’re making your own music, conceptualizing it and making the videos, you at least need somebody to take it out there for you. You can’t expect yourself to do everything at the right time and to do it well. So eventually you will have to branch out and meet people whose help you will need!
The lows that we hit were just roadblocks. Hopefully tomorrow when you guys will have start-ups, and you’ll be doing something you’re really passionate about and you’re really determined about doing it – you’ll know what we’re talking about! When you’re really motivated to do something it just boils down to problem-solving.
Sahil: There were things that kept happening, but we kept doing what we had to and now we’re here – isn’t that what matters most?
MM: Because you spoke about MySpace, this is a generic question: are such social networks a good thing or a bad thing?
Raman: It is an amazing thing. It is the best thing ever. This band is an independent band. We released the album ‘Aalas Ka Pedh’ independently and it is one of the top selling albums in India. The Song ‘Aaoge Tum Kabhi’ was featured in the movie ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’ just because of the fact that it was shared on social media and a producer saw the video online and approached us. It is definitely a blessing!
Ramit: What you need to understand is that the paradigm is shifting. When computers were coming to India for the first time there were protests all over the country because people thought that if a computer can do the work of ten men, then people will eventually lose their jobs. But look what we have now – software engineers are being recruited in the largest numbers! What we need to realize is that social media is very important. I have the same platform as anybody else out there – Taylor Swift is releasing stuff on YouTube so am I.
Raman: So why should I complain about it? People may be downloading my music for free, but that means they are listening to us. The whole point is they should know our songs.
Ramit: The source of income has changed – before, there was a lot of money from the sale of records, but that’s not the case anymore. So there are other ways of income of coming up.
Sahil: We won the Top 50 Rock Bands of India contest through an online competition. If there was no internet this band would have been very different and it would have been very difficult for us, because labels don’t put money in bands anymore. Even as musicians we would have been very different.
Being independent means we can do what we want. The kind of music that we are making, nobody can come and tell me what kind of music they want from us, we have the freedom to do what we want.
MM: Finally, what is your message to the NITR crowd?
Sahil: The message is to just do your shit man, sooner or later it’s going to stink, and people will find out! Be honest in whatever you do!
Ramit: Just do you thing, and every problem should be faced like a challenge because it has a solution – you can trust me on that!
Paras: Don’t be let down easily, because that’s like putting an end to something you really liked doing.
Raman: If you share, and your team is strong things eventually get better for you, and that’s something that social media taught me!