Menwhopause, Delhi's 15-year-old rock 'n' rollers to head to SXSW festival in Austin
Safe to say that perhaps Menwhopause have got to a point in their 15-year-long career where they’ve seen most of it all, if not everything. The Delhi alternative rock band, promoting their third album Neon Delhi, set up a one-of-a-kind tour of the North East, going where few independent bands from the metro cities have gone before.
And what a trip it was – from getting on stage at 3 am in Diphu to a chance meeting with rights activist Irom Sharmila in Imphal to the inevitable tensions resulting in fights among band members.
Menwhopause know rock ‘n roll inside out, even if their latest album is more of an art rock ode to the capital’s dark, distrusting and dejected side.
The band’s manager Sahaj Umang Singh Bhatia – also the star of their wicked-fun video On A Boat, says, “I know that on a tour like this, shit is going to go down. Your brain gets fried, dude, in a place like this. The kind of things we pulled off are way much greater than anything. Every place we went exceeded what we expected.”
Despite getting into a scuffle with Bhatia just days into the tour, drummer Bhanu Thakur says, “I got to know my band-mates really well. Obviously I knew them a while ago. That explains, you get to know them every day and how they work. As a band, I think that really brings you together. It’s part of what we do. You’re not just on stage, you’re as important as everyone. Among the four of them, we’ve never felt more comfortable.”
Tensions do get the best of bands often, and seeing a fight play out as the band were tired and waiting on their South Indian thalis at a restaurant in Guwahati definitely freaked out keyboardist Shiv Ahuja, who had joined the band just a few weeks prior to the North East tour. He says, “There were definitely moments where my patience was tested, but I think that’s normal for anybody. It’s also part of it. You’re going to play a gig, you hang out and go home. But on tour, you’re with them 24 hours a day. You don’t get any alone time. It gets a bit thin sometimes. You push each other a bit.”
The month-long trip through villages, dirt roads, scenic towns in seven states in the North East was probably just prep for the three weeks they’re spending in the US this month, as they travel to Austin, Texas to perform at the South By Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival on 17 March, followed by a few weeks in New York with the aim to jam and record new material.
It’s Menwhopause’s second time in Austin, exactly a decade after they first played there. Guitarist Anup Kutty says about their debut in 2007, “I think that was the real eye-opener. I think until then, we were doing our jobs and just moving along. We had got a bit of press about the album (Home), how we worked in the day and played music at night, as if it was a big deal. Then we went there (Austin) and found out everybody does it. You realise what an independent scene is like – everybody is juggling jobs. What it really means and how big it is. Just being exposed to so many different bands and people, it was quite an eye-opener. That changed our outlook on how we take music as an art form and a profession, this whole DIY ethic. That’s what changed us.”
In the decade that’s gone past, Menwhopause had applied to perform at SXSW after 2007 as well, but the selection and curation process remains tough. Kutty says, “They screen every application. You have to write why you want to perform there. It’s a pitch.”
But the guitarists feels that with a new album, a new sound and a new lineup, it’s worked in their favour this time around. Of course, there was a bit of uncertainty over visas, considering it’s now Trump’s America they’ll be entering. Kutty adds, “We might play that showcase gig and play a few non-profit gigs and find a way to sell the album and find promoters to get us back. It might be the worst time or the best time – depends on how you look at it.”
Anybody in Austin who’s seeing Menwhopause again will notice they don’t have singer Sarabjit Chadha nor their guitarist IP Singh, the psychedelic swirls are now being provided by Ahuja and drumwork by Thakur and bassist Randeep Singh on vocals.
For both Thakur and Ahuja, it’s insane that a band they just joined is already taking them for their first international gig alongside the likes of Wu-Tang Clan, Ryan Adams, Spoon and more. Ahuja says, “That was surreal. I was like, ‘What the hell?’ I’ve been playing in another band (Five8) for eight years and there’s not been this much activity ever. What I love about them (Menwhopause) is that they’re freaking relentless. For 15 years, they’ve been at it. They’ve settled into a pattern. That’s what I like about them, that they’re moving on so soon. Even with Neon Delhi – it took me a while to get into it. And I’m a huge fan. I used to stand in front at all their gigs, back in the day, and it’s really surreal to be playing with them.”