New-Delhi based group Peter Cat Recording Co. is quickly establishing itself as one of the most intriguing alternative projects with a larger-than-life sound, teeming with trumpets, disco beats, and flowy ballads. Atwood Magazine caught up with the band discuss their cult following in America, the philosophy behind their methods of creating music together, and India’s indie music scene.
“Floated By” – Peter Cat Recording Co.
There wasn’t much discomfort. We don’t really try to write about specific personal experiences. It’s more so we are all producers and we put music together that way. We look at ourselves more as producers and less as a typical band.
India’s alternative rock scene might not necessarily be one’s first guess when it comes to locating and identifying the next alt musical group to buzz about.
And that’s probably because there’s not much of a scene, according to New Delhi-based Peter Cat Recording Co.
In the capital city of New Delhi, Carnatic, Hindustani, and Bhangra groups are in abundance, circulating the perimeters of Bollywood, teeming with the rich history, culture and instruments unique to India. Five-piece indie rock bands with members sporting long hair, playing Epiphone Hollowbodies and utilizing jazz centric samples? Maybe not so much.
Enter Peter Cat Recording Co. Formed in New Delhi in 2010, the group confronts any and all musical boundaries that might be associated with their cultural and regional roots. Rather than fully embracing classic Indian style or completely shunning such influences, a beautifully intricate culmination of sounds, styles and inspirations combine to create the mature, genre bending experience the band creates.
Niche sub-genres such as gypsy jazz, psychedelic cabaret, ballroom disco and supernova have all been thrown around. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is going on in the musical, cynical mind of frontman vocalist Suryakant Sawheny – but that’s something he takes delight in.
“Listeners are too dumb to understand the quality of the music they’re listening to,” Sawheny says with a dry smirk. “Our listeners are certainly getting better.”
“Yea, we’re mean and moody,” Sawheny blankly said in followup to my probe into such a polarizing claim. Another smirk was cracked.
Did I mention the band has an epically dry sense of humor?
Regardless of the comically bleak perception of musical maturity towards the group’s listeners, a significant level of trust certainly exists for Peter Cat Recording Co., whose two full-length studio albums Portrait of a Time and Bismillah deal with vulnerability, intimacy, spirituality, political satire and self-exploration. And from the moment Sawheny’s vocals cut through whatever synth-pop, jazz entrancing, brass beating marathon the group has crafted for each and every individual track, mesmerization is induced.
Recorded in 2019, Bismillah is the group’s latest evolution of sound and style, featuring brass-forward tracks following the band’s latest addition of Rohit Gupta, who plays trumpet and keys alongside Kartik Pillai (trumpet, guitar, keys) Karan Singh (drums) and Dhruv Bhola (bass). Bismillah is celebratory and grandiose, a testament to the joy and jubilee of Sawheny’s wedding day (check out Bismillah’s album cover, featuring his father’s beaming smile while spotlighting a flowing bottle of champagne).
There’s no rigidity or guidelines to the construction of Bismillah, which results in the record’s ability to present itself as an experience rather than a typical 10-song album. Forget intro tracks, built-up bridges and perfectly rhythmic choruses – try sonically ambiguous samples, mellow jazz outros quickly transfused into disco beats, sudden tempo changes and a magnificent, velvety croon from Sawheny. Musically, the record is vibrant, smooth, and eclectic, and then you realize you don’t know whether to focus on Sawheny’s showman-esque hum or that jazzy disco beat strutting along, masquerading itself as a track being spun at an ‘80s disco bar.
“Floated By” encapsulates – quite literally – the flowy nature of this record.
Introduced with a beautiful trumpet and guitar duet, the track quickly cuts to Sawheny’s reconciliation with the celebration of change amongst the blurriness of the progression of time.
Time just floated by
Where I wanna know
Right between these eyes
Is how I wanna go
The track is paired with a beautiful video featuring moments from Sawheny’s wedding day, showcasing the friends and family that have been in accompaniment as time continues to float by despite having any sense of direction. There’s value in grasping onto the sure moments of celebration that represent progression in life, and in Peter Cat Recording Co’s case, that would be Sawheny’s wedding day, a basis of inspiration for the record.
Oh something changed
I’ll deal with it
Was always there
All I wanna be-e-e
Is something so good
Something so good
Something so real
I know that I should
I know that I would
A peek into the life of Sawheny, the video presents attendees dancing untroubled, wearing beautiful vibrant colors and dresses; a state of bliss that some may agree can only be felt on a wedding day. However, despite such significance, a wedding is simply just a moment in time that marks transition. Time continues to float on by.
I was floating by
Where I wanna be
Right between these lines
Is how I wanna see
I’ll deal with them
Was always there
All I wanna be … he he
Is something so good
Atwood Magazine caught up with Peter Cat Recording Co. to discuss the band’s cult following in America, the philosophy behind their methods of creating music together, and the indie music scene in India.
At the end of the day, you can throw in all the experimental sounds and stuff you want, but the songs have to work, you know, so I think it’s basically the songs are working, people are in touch with the songs and on top of that, I mean, that’s the foundation of all songs.
A CONVERSATION WITH PETER CAT RECORDING CO.
Atwood Magazine: You all recently found major success during your first North American tour – how was that experience?
Peter Cat Recording Co.: It’s great traveling a country and getting to see new things. We definitely weren’t expecting the success of the American tour, but I think that makes us want to return and do even better.
Some of your music deals with emotions and personal experiences, such as wedding days and special moments with your family. How does it feel to let the listener into such intimate moments of your life?
Peter Cat Recording Co.: There wasn’t much discomfort. We don’t really try to write about specific personal experiences. It’s more so we are all producers and we put music together that way. Yeah, We look at ourselves more as producers and less as a typical band.
I feel that must contribute to your unique sound and style – and as you’ve said before, a sound that doesn’t quite fit within a single genre.
Peter Cat Recording Co.: Yeah, but I don’t know if we are able to look at our music and figure out anything specifically unique. But I think there are parts that we can say “Oh, that works really well and that is cool.”
The brass instrument sound has been a forefront of Bismallah, and works quite well – how did that come to fruition?
Peter Cat Recording Co.: Some members started playing brass instruments. It started out very simple but we started using it in more of our recordings because of how nice and relaxed the tone is. It fit the vibe we were going for well.
Being an up-and-coming indie band in India, what exactly is the scene like over there?
Peter Cat Recording Co.: The indie music scene is definitely getting better; there’s more room for shows. I think hip hop has definitely helped that out, but there’s still not much of an alternative scene here. We record in English because most people don’t realize we grew up listening to music in English and honestly that’s probably everyone [in the band’s] first language. Our mothers, our fathers, they were all listening to English songs. English is more universal and obviously has a large reach.
You guys are certainly growing, but I imagine it’s still been a challenge playing shows in India and creating that alternative scene you say is missing there. How do you feel best supported?
Peter Cat Recording Co.: What’s getting clear is that hopefully people who enjoy our music sort of will carry it, carry forward listening to it throughout their entire lives and probably pass it on to more people. And there’s a certain kind of people who really appreciate the music and enjoy it and I think there’s a lot of people like that in the world. So honestly, just sort of figuring out how to get this music out to them. It’s sort of mysterious how this stuff travels now because you’re not really controlling the spread of your music. I guess the American audience developed without us knowing at all. Maybe this stuff used to happen in the past, but much slower, you know, like a record would come out and people will discover it and then over the next decade, people would be like, “Oh, this band was awesome then.” So I guess that’s just sort of happening at a more rapid pace now.
In a decade it has grown so much and it is pretty much in every place in India, so it has connected us and our music to other parts of the world.
Has social media played any role?
Peter Cat Recording Co.: I don’t think so. We don’t even have TikTok in India. It’s banned. So we’re not really part of that. I think in general, that’s just kind of true to us. I don’t think any of us have it in us to be sort of constantly on social media upping ourselves.
What’s getting clear is that hopefully people who enjoy our music sort of will carry it, carry forward listening to it throughout their entire lives and probably pass it on to more people.
Organic and experimental and you’re still making it work!
Peter Cat Recording Co.: At the end of the day, you can throw in all the experimental sounds and stuff you want, but the songs have to work, you know, so I think it’s basically the songs are working, people are in touch with the songs and on top of that, I mean, that’s the foundation of all songs. I mean, popular music, I would say a lot of even popular music is pretty experimental.
I think a lot of people are getting what our music is about, which is a good thing, you know. That’s only growing – they’re experiencing something when they did not even expect it. It’s all subjective.
What are your goals moving forward as a band?
Peter Cat Recording Co.: Pretty much right now, we want to finish some new music and we’re working on a European tour. So making that happen, might have some shows next year, and then probably another tour in the US.
What do you want our readers to know about Peter Cat Recording Company?
Peter Cat Recording Co.: That we’re not a restaurant in Calcutta. Or a jazz cafe in Japan.
“Floated By” – Peter Cat Recording Co.
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© Salihah Saadiq
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