Define Mental, Redefining Music

The Nepali underground music scene is becoming quite popular with an increase in the formation of and performances by new bands. There are many young music enthusiasts in the capital, Pokhara and indeed all around the country. Four enthusiastic musicians from White House College who previously jammed just for college functions, decided to continue making music together. And with that thought the band – ‘Define Mental’ came into being. First performing one year back at an underground gig, Define Metal has since taken part in band competitions, including a win at last years Qmost of the gigs organised by the local scene.

Here, we catch up with the bassist of the band, Prashant Maharjan, for a quick glimpse into the start of Define Mental’s short career.

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Members:
Samyam Shrestha ( Session Vocals) Dipesh Shrestha (Guitars)
Yudhir Gautam (Guitars)
Prashant Maharjan (Bass)
Surya Pun (Drums)
Past member:
Sulav Nepal (Vocals)
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How did you come up with the band name?

The band name came up an interesting and an easy way. We were just watching Shutter Island and then on a particular scene there’s a line with ‘define mental’, so, there you are.

What type of band are you?

Well, we haven’t exactly specified a genre for our band as we are experimenting with different sub genres of Death Metal. Each song we compose is different in one way or the other so I think it is a bit too early to be genre specific.

What are your major influences?

There are too many to mention actually. All of us have similar influences but if we have to name, Decapitated and Dying Fetus would be the first two names that will hit our head.

Who writes the songs?

As far as lyrics is concerned Sulav (our previous vocalist) was responsible, but now he has left for India. So right now we’re auditioning new vocalists who are also good with words. As far as the music is concerned, Yudhir and Dipesh (the guitarists) come up with a certain riff pattern and we improvise on them during  practice sessions.

Any say on the importance of crowd appreciation? 

Yes, very important keeping in mind that we’re a developing band. And as far as our performances are concerned we don’t think we have disappointed the crowd at any performance on any level. But that doesn’t mean we’re not trying to improve, we are and will certainly get better on each performance.

Is there anybody outside the band members and crowd that have played roles in supporting the band?

Yes, we have ktmROCKS that has been there from the very beginning with us. We also have another group Mortem; these two organizations have been organizing gigs at different periods which are always a good thing to us and other new bands.

Have you toured outside the valley?

No, not yet, but we are planning to play in Pokhara sometime soon and if things get better for us we will certainly go to other places too.

What are the bands future plans?

Right now it’s just practice and perform. We haven’t thought about anything big right now, but we are working on originals to come up with an EP (soon – hopefully).

At last, is there anything you’d like the readers to know?

Just want to say that you are the people, so, support your local scene, support the bands, and support the music. That’s pretty much it.

 

Upiano

There is a growing movement of music and musicians that is undoubtedly becoming a phenomenon here in Kathmandu. This diverse emerging trend has started becoming noticed as more and more artists refuse to limit themselves in a particular genre. It is welcoming to see that listeners also are appreciating such efforts by artists to overcome the monotony that has been felt from cover-only live bands.
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Members:
Upendra Lal Singh
‘“ Piano/Keyboard
Roshan Kansakar
‘“ Bass
Babu Raja Maharjan
‘“ Percussions
Raman Maharjan
‘“ Flute
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Upendra and Friends is one such group that has chosen to break traditional boundaries by performing folk tunes with the exception that the popular western instruments, the bass guitar and piano, blend with the flute and the percussive elements to create a unique ‘nostalgic’ sound. Upendra Lal Singh, on piano, has transcribed a whole range of folk songs over a whole range of cultures into recognisable melodies that one might have heard on the radio or someone might have sung; basically a repertoire of tunes showcasing the rich musical background of our traditional musical culture.

They have been invited to play at the Fuji Rock Festival this year in Naeba, Japan. It is one of the world’s biggest rock festivals and brings in crowds 150,000 over 3 days in several stages around the Ski Resort. Some of the bands featured this year are Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, The Chemical Brothers, Incubus, Wilco and Asian Dub Foundation.

In 2004, Hiraka Sang, the organiser of Fuji Rock Festival, came to Kathmandu with a plan of organising an open concert; Upendra Lal Singh luckily met him through a mutual friend and conversed about the audience’s choices for music. Upendra gifted him his CDs and soon Hiraka Sang became impressed and invited him to participate in Fuji Rock Festival. Since then, Upendra Lal Singh has been appearing in the annual festival.

Having been a renowned piano player in Nepal for more than two decades, band leader Upendra Lal Singh is no stranger to the instrument. Many say that his take on folk music is one that revives the oldies and classic tunes but with an approach that looks at the music from a different view: the music is still alive and he has chosen to express it in a special way with improvisation. Being an avid fan of jazz and blues, which he cites as his main influences, he is aware about making the music interesting and including improvisations live. ‘Keith Jarret!’ he replied, ‘and all other pianists, I could go on and on’, when I asked him to name a few of his influences.

Upendra has studied piano in Bangkok for 8 years. It is there that he says, he learned the importance of having to swallow his pride and start from basics. ‘You might know a lot of tunes, but if you don’t have ideas about the basics you cannot evolve in your musical venture.’ Having been offered opportunities in Bangkok, he chose rather to come back to Nepal and teach here in order to participate in the progress of Nepali music. It is in his work that his contribution to the already rich Nepali musical culture seen. Like for instance, in his third album, Nostalgia (2010), he has recorded pieces such as ‘Malai Maaf Garideu’ (Gopal Yonjon) and the traditional tune ‘Resham Firiri’. He says it is in expressing tunes such as these that he feels proud because there are so many ways to present them. In live situations, as seen in the performances with Upendra and Friends in different venues in Kathmandu, he is not afraid to play tunes even with a DJ. The presentation of familiar songs by this band is commendable. Surely as they have been doing annually, they will keep traditions alive and kicking in the land of the rising sun.

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The new DIY

Sunny Tuladhar is better known in the Kathmandu music scene fhis explosive performances as the electric guitarist in the popular underground rock band Jindabaad!!! Perhaps lesser known but equally impressive is the fact that in and around playing, recording, practicing and teaching music, Sunny manages to make guitars- from scratch! As the first real professional guitar maker in Nepal, Verse sits down with this humble musical genius to learn more about his craft, the intricacies of guitar making and how the internet enabled him to turn a dream into reality.

As a guitarist for more than a decade now, Sunny first became interested in repairing because he wanted to be able to fix his own guitars. ‘You couldn’t rely on anyone else,’ he explained, ‘because there simply was no one here to do it.’ After fiddling around with his own guitars, Sunny would then fix friends for free. It was here, some six years ago, that the idea was born to professionally repair and ultimately make guitars right here in Nepal. But how does one go about doing that when there is no school to attend or teacher to learn from? Sunny, like many others faced with limited tangible resources, turned to the internet to research, learn and teach himself how to make guitars.  Youtube and the Internet are the new DIY.

For six months Sunny spent ‘every free moment’ downloading tutorials and ‘reading the same stuff more than ten times’ in order to really comprehend the material. Surfing Blue Theory websites  and meticulously watching the process on Youtube, Sunny slowly pieced together parts of the intricate guitar puzzle. After a period of intense orientation study, Sunny spent the next two years concentrating on the technicalities of design and ‘the extent to which things could go bad.’ The proceeding six months were dedicated to preparation, until, exactly three years ago this month, Sunny made his first guitar. Unable to source proper wood at that time, he lamented that ‘the first one played well ‘“ it had the right measurements ‘“ but it didn’t finish well.’ After using it for a couple of jam sessions, the wood gave way because of its poor quality and the guitar broke.  But with the belief that ‘I could do it and I wanted to do it,’ Sunny headed for the books.

‘I would spend hours at the Botanical Gardens Library in Godavari looking through different books and I found that there were lots of woods supposed to be in Nepal but when I went to source them I couldn’t find them,’ Sunny reflects. The main raw materials he now uses include American Mapal, and the more basic supplies of rose, mahogany, elder, ash, berch and tone woods. It is ‘basically carpentry,’ Sunny says, ‘but you need to be really precise because when making guitars every millimetre counts.’ This is particularly important to ensure the string alignment is perfectly centred. It is these tiny details that distinguish a good guitar from an amazing one. The hardware for the guitar is supplied by the clients.

After just three years, Sunny has completed nearly a dozen guitars, the most recent of which just toured Australia with Sarun Tamraka, a member of The Uglyz.  Yet despite making so much progress where he ‘gets better and better with each guitar’, Sunny insists there is a long way to go. ‘I will always be studying and experimenting. Real craftsmanship and professionalism comes from experience.’  In the future, Sunny hopes to expand and run a workshop that meets the demand. This includes having somewhere more secure to store the woods and even hiring an assistant to help in the construction phase.

‘The support from family and friends is beyond what I ever expected,’ Sunny reveals, as the interview draws to a close. ‘Especially in the past few months when I upload pictures to Facebook, the response is 98% positive. People are really interested in what I am doing.’ This interest, which is predominantly sustained through social media, is also instrumental in providing a free and ever expanding platform for Sunny, and artists like him, to showcase their work. ‘I already have 7-8 orders and most of them have come through people seeing my work on Facebook.’

Sunny’s experience of learning from and now operating predominantly by social media sites, is emblematic of a paradigm shift in learning and business. Ushering in an era of the DIY entrepreneur, social media affords people the unique opportunity to access a wealth of information and knowledge they otherwise would not have access to. Sunny epitomises those highly dedicated and self-motivated few who have grabbed this opportunity with both hands. ‘I didn’t know what would happen,’ he finalises. ‘But I tried and succeeded.’
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Sunny’s guitars: Where are they now?

‘¢ The body of his first ever guitar remains in Sunny’s room as a reminder of how hard work can finally pay off.
‘¢ The first Custom Stratocaster is with his teacher from music school, Iman Shah.
‘¢ Ryan Jordan of the Cruentus, had his Custom RG signed by Joe Satriani. ‘He is my ultimate idol,’ Sunny beams, ‘I was so excited to hear that my guitar was signed by Joe Satriani’.
‘¢ His sixth guitar, a Custom Flying V, is with friend, Sashank Shrestha.
‘¢ A Custom Modified JS remains a work in progress, but Sunny intends to keep it for himself.
‘¢ Originally made for Gokul Atreya, Sunny’s ESP Replica is now in the United States.
‘¢ Taking the order through Facebook, the Custom Telecaster for Sudip Ale is being put to good use in the UK.
‘¢ Prabil Bradhanang had the next Custom Stratocaster.
‘¢ Sarun Tamrakar’s Custom Telecaster just recently toured Australia on the Uglyz tour.
‘¢ A Custom PRS 7 String Replica is currently in the making for Sunny’s fellow Jindabaad band member and friend, Abhisek Bhadra
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ktmROCKS e-mag

Not only does ktmRocks organise concerts but also they also release an e-mag at regular intervals. And that too is very popular among people. The e-mag focuses on different themes in every issue, and in the current edition (published August 2012) they have focused on local drummers.  They interviewed different drummers from the local scene and some from Bangladesh, Srilanka and Germany. The team asked the drummers about their influences, how they started, their current playlist, their kit shell, etc. The team also managed to know about their practice routine, which I think has certainly helped some struggling drummers. Some of the drummers that were featured were ‘“ Surya Pun (Antim Grahan/Define Mental), Kiran Sahi (Jindabaad),  Mike Parker (Ayurveda, USA), Lille Gruber(Defeated Sanity, Germany). I would recommend any music lover to download the e-mag via internet from different locations. (Facebook, ktmROCKS website).  The drummer special issue also features drummers/bands from Hetauda and Pokhara too. The e-mag, however did not just cover everything about drummers. It managed to pull off an interview with John Gallagher (Guitarist for Dying Fetus) one of the biggest death metal bands right now, thanks to its team. The mag also covered some interviews  with some other bands/guitarists too. And yes, one name that no one ever forgets to mention when talking about ktmROCKS is Mr. Umes Shrestha, who has been there since the very beginning. Many thanks to him for what he has done till date and wish him luck to continue his great effort.