Sitar meets metal in Rishabh Seen's genre-blending band, whose debut album is autobiographical, melodic

Aarushi Agrawal

Oct 04, 2019 09:33:27 IST

Rishabh Seen began learning to play the sitar before he turned five years old. He has the distinction of being a fourth-generation sitar player; the instrument has been in the family for close to 200 years. For many years, he accompanied his father Pt Manu Seen — also his guru — on tours, performing at Indian classical concerts all over the world. But in 2015, his career took took a drastic turn; he decided to play metal on the sitar.

Though metal was new, it was not unfamiliar for very long. When he started releasing covers of metal songs, Seen was pleasantly surprised at the similarities between the two genres. The first cover that got him noticed was Animals as Leaders’ Tempting Time, which he realised uses one of his favourite Indian classical ragas, the Kirwani raga. His covers quickly gained popularity. “The first video I uploaded in June of 2015 garnered 10,000 views overnight,” he recounts. Next came more videos and shout-outs from Metallica and Steven Wilson.

His reputation as a musician also grew, and he was invited to open for the Aristocrats in Nepal (where he met bassist Bryan Beller who invited him to collaborate on the track ‘World Class’ off his 2019 album Scenes from the Flood). Encouraged, Seen released Mute the Saint, an EP of original music in 2017 which, although had merit, didn’t get the kind of reception he had expected. He received more opinions about how he should change his music than genuine listeners, and other bands mocked him for various reasons. “People just don’t get it sometimes,” he says, “When Mute the Saint came out, I was kind of young and unable to ignore a lot of stuff… the Indian music scene is truly brutal.”

So affected was he by all this that he shelved the idea of composing metal for a whole year. During this period, he toured America and Europe with Arijit Singh’s band. “Suddenly you’re thrown into seven-star [hotels] and you have a ton of money, everything you’ve ever wanted in life. But it’s not exactly what you want to do… you will not have the same drive,” says Seen.

Eventually, he decided to return — to India and metal — and it was during this conflicted period that he composed the song ‘When Time Stands Still’ which he describes as being about chaos. It now serves as the opening track of his band Sitar Metal's eponymous debut album, which released on 1 October.

 Sitar meets metal in Rishabh Seens genre-blending band, whose debut album is autobiographical, melodic

Sitar Metal. All photos courtesy Rishabh Seen.

Sitar Metal was founded by inviting bassist Tushar Khurana, guitarist Deeparshi Roy, and drummer Joel Damian Rodrigues. “It’s the first band in the world to be fronted by a sitar,” he proudly claims. Their music presents a fresh take on heavy metal while being deeply rooted in the Indian classical tradition, successfully, melodically bringing together the two worlds. Mixed and mastered by Adhiraj Singh, Sitar Metal also features Robert Alex on bass (also the bassist of aswekeepsearching) and electronic music by Swastik Chakravarty.

Seen had determined that he was going to write an album "which is legit songs” instead of worrying about speed or showing off his skill in other ways. “So I decided to write this whole album, again all by myself,” he adds. Thematically, the album is highly autobiographical, exploring different moods and times from Seen’s life.

The second track on the album is ‘Beyond Me Beyond You,’ almost 10 minutes long and inspired by the view Seen witnessed during a hike in Himachal. “I don’t exactly have a storyline for that song, but I have a scenery in mind,” he says, following in the long tradition of ‘lone artist observing nature from hillside’. It is followed by ‘We’ll Never Exist Again’. “I just want to celebrate me, I want to celebrate the sitar, [and] metal… like, we will never exist again, Sitar Metal will never exist again,” he says of the song. The track is appropriately bouncy and melodic, defining the bends and beauty of the sitar.

Next is ‘I’m the Wakeup Call’, immediately signalling a change in mood, being much darker and angrier than the general tone set by the album so far. It’s also the only track with vocals, for which the band invited Ankur Nanda. This track is a result of the frustration Seen felt in the past two years when people weren’t responding to his music with the positivity he’d hoped for. “I’ve written that song about me, how I felt in that moment. It’s exactly what went [on] inside me… Because when you’re creating something and people don’t get it, everyone gets frustrated at some point. And you have to have an outlet. My outlet was music.”

Sitar Metal album cover. Design by Aditya Damle.

Sitar Metal album cover. Design by Aditya Damle.

The fifth track ‘It All Ends Here, Vol 2’ is a follow-up to the track ‘It All Ends Here’ off Mute the Saint. The song is written to signify that “the suffering and all just ends here… I’m going to start over from scratch and all the good shit will happen now.” Appropriately, it is the peppiest song on the album, more rock than metal, and featuring shayari in his father’s voice. His father always uses such shayari as a way of uplifting him, Seen says, and he thought he should give people a look into what inspires him. The final track of the album ‘Dreamers We Never Learn’ features rapper Rider Shafique and follows in the same thematically positive direction. It responds to the idea that ‘people who dream in this world are bound to fall’ with ‘we are dreamers, we will never stop following our dreams, we will never learn’. “That song is my thank you to and pat on the back of all the people just following their drive, the people who just dream, dream big,” he explains.

With the band now planning a launch tour, Seen discusses what it takes to front a metal band as a sitar player. The basic difference lies in the function of the genres themselves. “Indian classical has always been an inward thing, it’s spiritual, a meditative thing. It’s not a social form of music,” he explains, “Rock and metal are supposed to socialise, bring people together on something.” This affects his approach to performance. With classical, Seen sits in a quiet room, starts slowly, and caters to a focused audience; with metal, he has five minutes to “blast out” and “attack all the senses of listeners”. “It’s the same musical form but the presentation is different… the business is a whole different way, the audience is a whole different way,” he says.

Updated Date: Oct 06, 2019 09:34:57 IST