Oct 20, 2010
The Sound Of Stampeding Elephants - A Interview With Indy From Queen Elephantine
"The elephant trudges on and on, devastating everything in its path..." - Sludge Swamp
“This is doom rock and its brooding, soul-stripping best.” - Hong Kong Magazine
“Young psychedelic rock masters... It will blow your head off." - Doom-sludge.com
"An ocean of quicksand riffs and the dense fog of distortion… Queen Elephantine create a solid sound that's all their own." - Antimusic.com
"An absolutely blissful place to get lost in for an hour or three... Like Floyd without the legacy." - HK Underground
"So heavy that I couldn't wear headphones while I was listening caus it would be hard to hold my head up... really new and fresh." - ProgNotFrog
Queen Elephantine are all this and so much more as they are different from the usual Droning kind of Doom that people are used to hearing from their use of Middle Eastern influences. Their psychedelic spaced out doom jams are among some of the most original ever created and since their earlier split album recordings with Sons Of Otis and Elder, they have come a long way. Their most recent album titled "Kailash" is a 71 minute atmospheric masterpiece that is an essential purchase for everyone into not only doom but also creative progressive ambient music. They have shared stages with Earthride, Solace, Pale Divine, Cough, Black Pyramid, Elder and Admiral Browning to name just a few and from all reports their live shows are a total experience not to be missed. Aleks Evdokimov caught up with guitarist/vocalist Indrayudh Shome (Indy) for this great interview..........
Q: Salute Indy! How are you? I hope that you have some free time to answer a few questions and enlighten our readers with some information about musical projects in which you are involved. What's new about Queen Elephantine?
A: Hail, Aleks. Queen Elephantine is in the middle of recording our third full length, and we have a couple of EPs somewhere along the works. Since I moved out after 2008, we have only been meeting from time to time and playing shows sporadically, so it's been a little hard to move things along. But in the summer of 2009 we played a couple of Northeast USA shows with Elder, Kintaan, and Black Pyramid, and wrote a new record during then. Mike Isley and I recorded the guitar and drums in Los Angeles this summer with Trent from Whores of Tijuana engineering. We're still waiting to finish recording everything else, then I'll probably mix it, and if we're lucky Billy Anderson will help us master it again.
What else… some of our music was in an episode of Vice Guide to Travel on VBS.TV, which was about the Yellamma cult in India. It was more about the lives of some of the devadasis, many of whom today are effectively prostitutes, and unfortunately it doesn't go too much into the tradition of it or the conception of the goddess, but it's pretty cool.
We're also hoping to get Yatra, which is right now only available as mp3, remastered and released on 12", but who knows if and when anything will happen. There is no certainty.
Q: A lot of plans indeed, but why do you want to release another EP? Maybe split-release with some other great band is better? Such acts of friendship look very good in a doom-scene which is well-known by close collaboration between bands.
A: I don't know, it depends on what we play and record and end up liking. I like splits that are done with the particular project in mind so that it's a cohesive listening experience. For the split with Sons of Otis, we all tried to put that together as sort of an album, and I think it feels that way when you hear it. Personally I love splits, but you have to wait for a good opportunity to arise.
Q: Why did you decide to release "Yatra" as 12" if you could include both songs on this album in some new one?
A: Yatra was done before Kailash, but those tracks wouldn't have fit in at all. The new album is sort of one long song in three parts, so it would be strange to include two old songs. Yatra was a free EP because there was not too much thought put into it as an album, but it works pretty well, so it would be nice to give that a better treatment instead of try and squeeze that in where it doesn't naturally come.
Q: I learned about this band first time due to an Doom Metal Alliance sampler, how does participating in such compilations help bands?
A: I love the community that today's technology allows. Such small scenes can have great exchange when not bound by geography. It's great to get into other music that I might not have heard when they're put together by these guys who run blogs, because you know the ones who have similar tastes and you end up liking ninety percent of the compilation. And there's no money to be made, no bullshit, just love of music from everyone involved.
Q: What is the main idea which you transfer through Queen Elephantine? It sounds really distorted and bleak, why is it?
A: There are no ideas, everything is obscured, even to us. Truth is sensation and raw human dissonance, channeled through devotion to the goddess, which is unified underneath everything.
Q: But can you say how will the new Queen Elephantine sound? Or everything can change in an moment?
A: Well, with the new album at this point we're just recording what has pretty much been sorted out last summer, so it is not about to change too much. As I said, it's sort of in three parts, and it's only about thirty minutes, so it's much shorter than Surya and Kailash, both of which were about an hour. Basically bass, drums, guitar instrumentation, with Raj and I doing vocals together, and some other instruments and sounds here and there.
Q: And speaking about the "obscured" world of Queen Elephantine… What did you mean for example with your "Ramsses-series" in the split-album with Elder?
A: We just… played, for thirty minutes or however long that was. I can't remember if we thought of Ramesses as the image for the suite before or after.
Q: Do not sure if it's right, but, man, we spoke with Igor (R.A.I.G. records) about your music and if I understood him right then you think that "doom is Indian music", did I hear him right? Did both of us get your idea clear?
A: Igor and his label are great, and it seems like RAIG are real heroes of the Russian scene. Heh, god knows what I say, but anyway that's not exactly what I meant. I think that the relationship to mood in psychedelic doom is akin to that in a lot of Indian classical music. Each note and phrase is given time to be really expressed and felt, and in both cases the result is an intense experience of mood. For example unlike scales in Western music, in Hindustani music each raag has a story, an image and spirit, which is meant to be felt and expressed in a genuine performance of it. And dissonance and minorish melodies don't have a long history in the West, even a few hundred years ago the ideal of music was to be plain, balanced, and symmetrical. But the appreciation of these expressive tones are pretty deeply rooted in India. There is also a similar spiritual realm accessed through the slower tempos, circular patterns, the low frequencies and all-consuming wavelengths. And, if it's a discussion of what "doom" we're talking about, fuck that and fuck purists, I'm not trying to play any genre name game, I guess I'm a pluralist for better or worse. My point was that I think India has a lot of potential to put out some good heavy music in the coming years, as the country is arriving at a state where people are starting to play in underground bands.
Q: Indy you're a full time student how do you have the time to deal with both of your musical projects Queen Elephantine and Throne of the Void in the Hundred Petal and your own label Concrete Lo Fi Records? What do you study? What's your future occupation?
A: I study mystical philosophy and music technology, so I get to be around things I love, and so it's very hectic, but it's do-able. The label has been quite inactive since I've come to college because of how hectic it is, and I'm hoping now that I'm nearing the end, that I'll be able to put more time and focus into it. Given what I'm studying, I just hope that I am employed at all and can afford some peanut butter and fruits to live on and that I can continue to play music. I'd prefer to not to work for someone else, but I would still like to eat and play music, so I guess I will have to see what balance I can strike.
Q: Your new musical project has the name "Throne of the Void in the Hundred Petal Lotus" and it's taken from a Bengali poem by the mystic of the Baul Lalon Fakir, what is this poem about?
A: Lalon Fakir is one of the most celebrated Bauls in Bengali culture, and because of people like Rabindranath Tagore, we Bengalis hear a lot of these wandering musical mystics. As I studied the Baul cult in more detail while I was researching some of the tantrik philosophy and rites of Bengal, I came to discover the several esoteric layers of meaning in Baul songs. Much of the philosophical background I was familiar with, but there secret sexual rites were new to me, and the conceptualization, sprouted from the visualizations of tantrik sahajiya Buddhism, and the passionate spiritual embodiment maybe of Vaisnavite and Sufi roots-all very powerful. But Baul verses, especially after they were popularized in the early twentieth century, have left their impression for their independent beauty and penetration of truth and the goddess, and less for their esoteric ritual meanings-obviously, as those meanings and rituals are esoteric and protected.
Q: Sahasrara, crown chakra, is imaged in a form of the Hundred Petal Lotus therefore here's a question: do you follow such natives beliefs of India or just find it suitable for the conception of experimental doom band?
A: The saharsrar chakra is most commonly visualized as a the thousand petal lotus, the hundred petal lotus is slightly less clearly, and less consistently, situated.
Bauls have roots in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, and many of these traditions are very deeply intermingled in our region. I do not follow the sexual practices, which actually may be the core of their tradition, but a lot of their philosophy, the centrality of sound and music, the place of the body as our vessel of enlightenment are very meaningful and have been very influential to me. The sensational world is our primary meeting with experience, 'metaphysics' is an absurdity in terms, at least beyond a point, as is 'supernatural.' Everything is physical, everything is immaterial, the separation has come out of confusions of conventional and ultimate terms of reality. That Bauls spend most of their days wandering, singing and playing music in the name of God, which for us is more like natural vibratory energy and not a bearded dude in the sky, and living off alms, is one of the most beautiful and noblest of visions.
I am Indian, born in West Bengal and born Hindu. I don't subscribe to any religious institution, but I have found a lot of resonant material in Hindu philosophy. It's difficult, because 'Hindu' is a really broad term that refers to a variety of peoples, philosophical, religious, scientific, and other cultural traditions that was applied originally by foreigners to describe South Asia as they encountered it. Upanisadic, Vedantic, and Yogic philosophies are what have been most valuable to me.
Q: It maybe sounds as some stereotype for you but do you do any yogic practice? Of course I do not expect your revelations about success in tantric sex because I just know that it's better to cleanse yourself first and only after that wake the Snake.
A: I also do daily meditation and some stretches and exercises.
I would very much like to have some revelations in tantrik sex, but unfortunately I think doom-drone music probably attracts the least groupies, and so sadly I have no one to practice with!
Q: Do you feel right to give for sacred teachings a form of drony doom vibes? All music is a different forms of vibration, but can we suppose that there are "good" and "bad" kinds of it?
A: Swami Vivekananda has said, music is the highest art, and for those who understand it, the highest form of worship. Music is the most sacred Hindu teaching, and it transcends even those categories because it is pure, there is no ism, just sound, just energy, just attunement with soul and cosmos.
People can be influenced by any number of ways by their environments and because of their own reception of the environment, I am not sure if this is this is what you were asking… But frankly speaking there is also a lot of music that sucks, and a lot of it that I can't deal with, and I'm sure a lot of people feel that way about us too.
Q: Don't you feel yourself ready to remind people of the West about treasures of Indian cultural heritage as Vivekanada or Paramahans Jogonanda did? It is a fathomless source of unique inspiration for artists in every form, but it is left mostly untouched as most of "underground" musicians prefer to deal with Northern mythologies or different forms of paganism.
A: Western culture is fed up with religion because it has mostly seen a real narrow and repressive form of Christianity for a long time, which has sometimes oppressed knowledge and expression and has caused a lot of dilemmas for Western thinkers. It was really a political presence, and I don't think it was received purely spiritually for the great part. Every place and people have their own trajectory and will come to terms with the world in their own ways, I am not trying to proselytize or replace religious images with others. If other mythologies and pagan ideas are more sincerely inspirational to others, what sense would it make for them to express anything else? Do what's real to you. I mean, I am inspired by a lot of imagery from a lot of cultures, and often my knowledge of that is shallow, I try not to get too involved and just go with the feeling and images that come.
What the East has to offer, or had, perhaps, since now we are in a post-colonial era and a lot of our self-understanding is through a Western lens, is the idea that religion and science are not opposed. In fact, if either is to be true, they must accommodate each other and make sense of each other. The entire domain of human experience should be considered, and the spiritual and the mechanical are entirely related to us, and any system that claims one over the other is claiming to know more than it does.
People should be reminded of their unity underneath their division, should be aware of the alignment of mental, corporeal, spiritual, and for that, we need just music, not necessarily words or images, though they can be helpful. I have my beliefs, inspiration, and influence, and that is expressed. It is up to the person at the other end to get into it as deep as they want.
Q: What are the lyrics of Throne of the Void in the Hundred Petal Lotus about? Don't you think that using of your native language in doom songs would be an interesting turn?
A: The lyrics on the demo we've put out are "Red birth / Us the tongue-ripped / Home is this carcass of old tree. Here I ride / a chariot / with no horse. Words / you're also gone / now what am I / less / and purer for it."
There is Bengali scattered throughout Queen Elephantine, for instance the end of Chariot in Solemn Procession, but I don't really think about that. Whatever comes. I think most of the time English feels more natural in this kind of band.
Q: Well, Indy, you're from Providence, Rhode Island - how long have you live there?
A: I moved here from New York in January 2009. I studied there for a year and a half, and was in Hong Kong before then. It's a very nice community and there are a lot of great bands here, and it's the first non-big city I've lived in.
Q: Indy, please introduce other members of Throne of the Void in the Hundred Petal Lotus. Are they the ones who play in Queen Elephantine with you?
A: Matt Becker who I met in an ethnomusicology class at college plays bass, and Nate Totushek, who was introduced to me by friends from a music forum, plays the drums. And no, alas, there is no Queen Elephantine in Providence. We are a nomadic group nowadays.
Q: As you said Concrete Lo Fi Records, your label, was started in 2005 when you was in school - it's amusing, man. And I wonder how and why did you start it! There are plenty of labels who release and promote slow and heavy music in USA so why did you think that your act will be successful?
A: It was good in Hong Kong because we didn't really have a label there to promote or distribute that kind of music. It's a very small, unique, and transient scene in Hong Kong. We have White Noise Records and a small presence besides, but I was able to help out and work with a lot of people while I was there. Now that I'm in USA, I agree that there are a lot of labels, and I'm not trying to compete, especially because as we said I am a full-time student right now and it's impossible for me to put enough energy into it, but hopefully one day I can put a lot of time into it again and help bands.
Q: How did all of those bands agree to collaborate with an young label? What did you have to offer them? Who else is in the label crew or do you all work alone? Did you learn how to promote and distribute bands of your label in better way?
A: I think it's just a great scene where there is a minimal amount of bullshit, and I was just sincere about what I wanted to do and bands like Sgt Sunshine and Sons of Otis were just rad and wanted to do it. As I said, being in Hong Kong was an advantage because this music wasn't really represented well. And absolutely. I feel like I am able to reach out to the audience I am looking for, all five people…
Q: How many releases do you have with Concrete Lo Fi Records?
A: Ten or so?
Q: Indy, you plan to release albums of Indian classical/experimental singer Gayatri Krishnamurty from Calcutta and Gendo Taiko, a Japanese percussion ensemble. Who are these artists and why did you want to produce their albums?
A: Gayatri Krishnamurty is trained in Karnatik music, which is the classical music of South India, but she is also interested in music without formal boundaries and so we started working on stuff. We are taking our time with it, and we work on it every few months when I am in Calcutta, but I am excited about that project. Gendo Taiko is from Providence and they are nuts. I want to bring some of this music to the psych/drone/doom community, because as we were saying above, I think there is a strong connection in mood and I think people would dig this.
Q: Why don't you release Throne of the Void in the Hundred Petal on your label? Well, and which labels do help you to release your own music?
A: Queen Elephantine is unmarketable and I'd rather it be very mildly marketed if at all, and I'm protective of where our shit goes, so I have released all our full lengths. But I'm not against working with other labels at all, especially with non-LP releases. Queen Elephantine recently did the tape release of Kailash with Abandon Ship (USA), a split 7" with Alunah on Catacomb (UK), and a live CDR with Ruralfaune/Faunasabbatha. If the right label came along that was cool and also could do much more for us than I could, then I don't see any reason not to work with them.
But I'm not really looking to release all of my own stuff all the time. It's very nice to keep things your own but it's strange to promote your own things. So with Throne of the Void in the Hundred Petal Lotus, hopefully it will be an opportunity to work less through my label. Even if we eventually self-release because it can make a lot of sense, hopefully we can do it just as a band and not through Concrete Lo Fi. Or who knows what the hell will happen.
Q: And what's about your plans with Throne of the Void in the Hundred Petal? Do you have any idea how many songs will be on your first full-length release and when will it see the light?
A: No plans, no idea. We're still very young, but I'm dying to play as much as I can before I leave the country, or at least the city. It always takes some time to settle down to a new place and find the right people, so I want to make the most of it now that we've come together before the whole thing must happen again. I finish my studies in June, so who knows what will happen after that.
Q: Damn… I hope that we'll hear about Throne of the Void in the Hundred Petal in nearby future. But anyway thank you, Indy, that's all for this time! I would like to know more news about your projects so let me know when you'll get new info about them and tell me if I could help you with that. Good luck, man!
A: Thank you so much. You guys run a great site and do a lot for this kind of music we all believe in, and thank you also for your interest and support of our shit. All the best.
Interview By Aleks Evdokimov
Queen Elephantine Myspace
Tags: Queen Elephantine