A Passage From India

Tushar talks Skyharbor and more with Goddess Gagged guitarist Devesh Dayal…

San Diego is a very very long way from London. I had just over twenty four hours to complete the journey in time to catch Skyharbor’s headline performace in London last month and it took me nineteen. I was, of course, not expecting much sympathy for that journey in the company of a band that was scheduled to play twenty-eight shows in less than a month.

I had a chance to catch up with lead guitarist Devesh Dayal before the show. Devesh is yet another musician whom I met for the first time at what is turning out to have been something of a nexus for the Indian prog and rock community- Porcupine Tree’s Mumbai show in 2009. We sauntered into the nearby World’s End Pub after the band’s soundcheck and engaged in a friendly round of ‘who has slept less in the last seven days?’ I lost.

Currently in the middle of a programme at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Devesh has been part of a few bands in India worthy of note, none more so than Mumbai-based Goddess Gagged, the topic of the next installment of Passage from India. With Devesh in Boston and guitarist Arman Menzies in London, Goddess Gagged is currently on ice, but with the hope that, if everyone returns to India, a follow up to their acclaimed debut, Resurfaces, will see the light of day. In the mean time, fellow Goddess Gagged alumnus Krishna Jhaveri handles duties as Skyharbor’s bass guitarist.

Skyharbor’s trajectory over the last five years or so has been remarkable, having started off as a low-key recording project at the hands of founder Keshav Dhar.

‘This band was never supposed to happen’ is an oft-repeated refrain according to Devesh, who recounted the story of how Lamb of God’s Chris Adler played a pivotal role in Skyharbor’s transition from project to band, insisting that they get the opening slot at Lamb of God’s 2012 show in Bangalore. (Just as Devesh started telling me the story, as if on cue, Lamb of God’s Redneck blasted out over the speakers.)

‘I had been a fan of Keshav’s music for a long time and decided to approach him about the possibility of being their second live guitarist. This was before the Lamb of God show. Once it became clear that it was going to happen, and Keshav needed a band, I got the call. I already knew all of the songs. We brought in Anup [Shastry] who had done a couple of drum covers of Keshav’s stuff on youtube, [Tesseract frontman] Dan Tompkins flew in and went out and played for the first time ever in front of 10,000 people opening for Lamb of God!’

There is a historically significant clip on youtube worth having a look at. It is Skyharbor’s first ever performance- as a three piece at Pune’s NH7 festival in 2011.

‘The band’s come a long way since then! But we do have a history of playing instrumental gigs. Dan wasn’t able to make it to a couple of shows on this tour and we decided to play on as an instrumental band. I think those were some of the best shows so far… There was a bit more of a focus on us as instrumentalists. There have been a few times when one of us has played something really cool and looked up, only to find half the audience staring at Dan!’

This is the first tour of this magnitude attempted by an Indian rock band, quite an achievement considering how different the culture of rock bands is in India as compared to other places in the world. Largely buoyed by the support of engineering colleges and other such institutions, the Indian rock scene can have a slightly stifling effect on its bands, limiting their reach outside the country.

‘I don’t really like to think of us as an Indian band,’ was Devesh’s response to my bringing that up. ‘In India, because most of the shows played by bands at a certain level are sponsored, they come to expect certain things- accommodation and travel expenses, and the odd headline show every couple of months. That’s a very different experience from ours, where pay for our own flights and we’re playing to a couple of hundred people every single night. But this is the way to get your music out. Hopefully we get to do this more and more.’

‘It has been an amazing experience to go to places and win fans over. It’s great turning up at a gig and playing to your own fans, but it’s even better to blow the socks off new people!’

True to his word, Devesh and the rest of the band delivered a pitch perfect and agonisingly short set which saw the recently sock-deprived crowd screaming unsuccessfully for more. Not a bad turn out for a band that was never supposed to happen.