Kulwinder caught up with the members of the electronic pop band- Swami, DJ Swami, Sur, Liana and S-Endz who have worked determinedly for four years on their latest album ‘‘Upgrade’’ featuring the incredible new single ‘‘Do it again’’.
Kulwinder caught up with the passionate and hard working band talking about their album in depth and how they have taken music to a different level.
Hey Swami! How are you lot doing and feeling about 2015?
DJ: Very good thanks..hope you are all doing great out there too! Making plans for UK, India and USA for Swami in 2015..!
S-Endz : Feeling pretty killer and ready to destroy 2015! We’re on a roll following the release of our new single and ready to follow it up with some more jams!
Sur: Wonderful. The last few months with the release of ‘Do it again’ wrapped up 2014 nicely, and we have a lot more coming your way for 2015!
Liana : Great thanks, it feels amazing to be back out there doing what we love- very exciting times ahead now with what we have in store for you guys! We have some awesome remixes of ‘Do it again’ coming your way soon too!
So give us an insight into how Swami formed?
DJ: Swami started as a studio project fusing Bhangra, Asian Underground and electronic music back in 1999 between myself and my brother Simon Subs Duggal. It was an experiment in the studio that somehow got out of control, escaped and became a monster live band..!
Liana : There have been various different line ups in Swami. Diamond and S-Endz have remained throughout, Diamond set up the band and since the start others have come and gone. I think it's hard to find the right balance in a band musically but also it's important that the chemistry between everyone is right. Sups joined the band in 2005, there were a few inbetweeners before and after him and I was the last member to join! And thankfully I'm still here 8 years later!
How did you come up with the band name SWAMI?
DJ: Swami is an acronym for So Who AM I? A journey of discovery through music of our British and Punjabi roots through contemporary music.
Very interesting name and loving the meaning and thought. Let’s move over to your latest song ‘‘Do it again’’, the video is very bright, crazy, fun and of course unique where did the idea come from?
DJ: Another one of those crazy ideas where we decided with our director to use 10,000 light bulbs and go for a world record. It is fun, dazzling and dare I say a bright idea.
Sur: Prior to shooting the video for ‘Do it again’, we were throwing some ideas around internally. We all agreed that the song deserved a video that stood apart from what other British Asian artists were doing and it was very important to us that it had an impact in India too. Eventually, director Mandeep Khurana presented us with the idea of using light bulbs (10,000 of them!) and the rest kind of fell into place.
We wanted to express the emotion of the song through the story that plays out in the video; guy loves girl, girl loves guy, life is good, good turns bad, guy can’t let go, wants to relive the moment - ‘Do it again’!
Absolutely loved the bright visual! How long did it take to work on the song?
DJ: Wow, we know it has been some time…! This song took about 4 years to get right along with the rest of the album. We are always striving to do something different and often scrap ideas that sound familiar. We also decided to incorporate Hindi into our lyrics but it took us a lot longer than we thought to get it just right!
S-Endz: The song was actually one of the first ones we started working on about 4 years ago, and we even performed some early versions of it live on tour across the UK and Canada. Something was always missing though, and it took a while to figure out what. True to form, we were still working on the song the day before shooting the video and ended up adding a final section literally just a few weeks before releasing it.
Incredible! 4 years for a song and still working on it just before the release that is defiantly passion and perfection. It has also taken four years to work on the album ‘‘Upgrade’’ why has it taken so long?
DJ: It has taken a long time and the album has taken many twists and turns along the way. Being in a band and getting the best combination of vocals, lyrics and melodies with all the different textures we use has been a complex task. But we want our songs to have that instant simple pop feel too. So there were a lot of studio recordings that didn’t get used in the end. When you know you are taking out good stuff, you know you have something great.
What problems occurred during the creation of the album?
S-Endz: Pretty much everything you can think of. We haven’t spoken about it much but there were times where we simply didn’t know how we were going to be able to move forward. We’ve all been through so much during the course of making this album - from illness, to loss, to heartbreak and more.
So problems occurred simply because if one person in a band isn’t in the right headspace, or the same page, due to whatever they might have going on, then the whole machine can’t move forward. It’s like trying to drive a car with a missing wheel. And all 4 of us have been through difficulties - individually, and as a unit too.
But, what we do is cathartic….and it all comes out in the wash. We really have to thank our fans for their dedication to us. They’ve been waiting for a while.
As it has taken a long time to create the album ‘‘Upgrade’’ do you feel you could change anything or you are now pleased?
DJ: We are all happy with the way the album is sounding now. From lyrics to hooks to beats it is truly representative of Swami from 2015 onwards. I am sure there will be some remixes but that is normal.
When is the actual album going to be released?
DJ: We are releasing 2 further singles and will make the whole ‘UPGRADE’ COMPLETE available by the summer. There will be lots of free mixes along the way too.
Free mixes!? You know the fans will love you for that! You have used electronic music with English, Punjabi and Hindi lyrics- now that is breaking barriers. Were you lot somewhat sceptical?
Sur: Initially we were a little unsure about whether or not audiences would be able to relate to our new sound, one that we genuinely feel hasn’t been done in this way before. To us, being born and raised in the UK while still feeling so connected with our Indian/Punjabi heritage, the blend of sounds and languages makes total sense - we’ve lived with this mix our entire lives. It wasn’t always about breaking barriers; it was more about being real.
Around the time we were first exploring sounds, lyrics and ideas for ‘UPGRADE’, we often found ourselves questioning whether or not our current following would understand the progression of our previous sound to the new one - as well as constant doubts about new audiences getting it. In the end, we decided that we love the sound enough to just go with it!
There have been a lot of calculated decisions (using Hindi more now than we ever have before) but the heart of Swami is still the same. We have complete faith in the sound we’ve worked so hard on for so many years and we can’t wait to share more of it!
Liana : As Diamond had explained the concept to me before I even joined the band. Short term and long term vision of where the band was at the time and where he wanted it to go, I personally have never felt too unsure of mixing it up. I was probably the least sceptical if anything I think!
To me, language is irrelevant if the music is amazing and is bringing everyone together. Being English, I find that people who don't know Hindi or Punjabi will sing along to the track anyway, as Punjabi and Hindi are languages which are so melodic spoken let alone when they are sung. Okay, some people don't know what is being sung exactly but I find they love the music regardless. Response to our music on the whole has been very positive so I'm not sceptical at all.
Totally agree that music has no barriers, it’s great that you as a band are creating new different sounds and thinking outside of the box. Do you somewhat feel you have opened doors for others to experiment with music, like you have?
S-Endz : I believe that in music, the greatest skill you can have is fearlessness. There are a lot of talented people making mediocre music because they are scared to think outside of the box. That’s not our style. We’ll try any idea - no matter how crazy it might seem. Sometimes it’ll work and other times it won’t, and that’s the risk we take.
I want other musicians - especially in the so called Asian scene - to take the kind of risks that we do. Right now, all I hear is people playing it safe. Not good enough. Somebody has to take the initiative to try and move things forward. And that’s what we’ve always tried to do with Swami.
With the release of your upcoming music, would you say you have targeted a wider audience?
Sur: Definitely. The sound of Swami has always been experimental and even described by music journalists as a little ahead of its time. But now, we’ve noticed that music in Bollywood is moving at a speed it never has before and music directors and audiences alike are open to new ideas.
We really dived into the world of Hindi, discovering what kind of lyrics and vocal tones resonate with audiences in India, while Diamond spent hours understanding the magic behind the American billboard. With these new skill sets I feel very confident that we have hit upon a sound that targets a much more international audience.
Where would Swami like to perform and why?
DJ: I would love to perform at The Grammys...Have they ever had Punjabi music there?
S-Endz: Anywhere where we haven’t performed already! But I’d love to play at First Avenue in Minneapolis, where ‘Purple Rain’ was filmed. As a diehard Prince fan, that venue is pretty special to me. Maybe somebody can forward this interview to their booking agent!
Sur: As a proud Punjabi, I’d love to play the IPL final while Kings XI take to the pitch - in Punjab! That would be pretty epic.
I love it! I hope you as a band get the opportunities to perform in those places and I really hope Sur your wish comes true; I would love to see Swami perform at a cricket ground! Moving on, what has been the best and difficult part of your journey whilst creating the album ‘‘Upgrade’’?
DJ: The best part has been seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and realising that all the hard work in the studio makes sense once you start making videos and are travelling the world promoting and doing what you love. The difficult part has been losing loved ones along the way on this long journey.
Sur: For me, the whole process has been amazing. I really enjoyed testing the new songs in their earliest stages on tour in India, Canada, UK and parts of Europe. Recording at studios around the world, working with writers in L.A., Delhi and Mumbai. Shooting the video with a team of 90+, the lights and sets were all fantastic. The hardest part was singing convincingly in Hindi over such new wave music. But anything worthwhile always encompasses an element of difficulty, and this was totally worth it.
How did the album idea come about?
DJ: The ideas for ‘Upgrade’ was always to follow on from DesiRock and EQUALIZE. We wanted to create something new, fresh, different and exciting. That all seemed to be captured in the word ‘Upgrade’. We wanted it to be risk taking too...we like that.
Thank you for taking your time and we from Simply Bhangra wish you all the best and success this year and the future. We defiantly can’t wait to hear more remixes of ‘‘Do it again’’!
Interviewed by Kulwinder Kaur Kainth