In the early days of social media, Orkut wouldn’t amount to much, but it did introduce a lot of youngsters to a world of underground gigs, bands and likeminded people on the road to musical exploration. One among many who started as a mere spectator at gigs and rehearsals was Thane based guitarist, Chinmay Agharkar. As I speak to him I discover what it takes to unlearn and redo what was perceived as satisfactory, to create a work of art that will be chronologically relevant beyond its first unveiling.
While many pick up an instrument—usually the guitar—to get into or start a band, he was thrown open to the whole band culture after a year of guitar lessons.
On hearing Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters for the first time, he admits, “The the time, all I knew was how to strum chords. What these guys are doing is completely different.” The over driven guitar sound of the song was to him, a world apart from what he knew and understood about playing the guitar.
The first time he witnessed a band rehearse, he was amazed at how an effect processor can modulate the tone of an electric guitar. This is was what really drove him to learn more about band craft, “It was real. Someone was making this happen in front of me and not on the internet. So I could do it too!”
Having Sanju Aguiar—master Axe Man for Devoid, Joshish and The Hoodwink Circle—as a teacher, was a window to a world of infinite possibilities. He says, “Suddenly I wasn’t just strumming chords. I was happy and excited about learning something that I liked.”
While many Thrash Metal aficionados initially pass through the Nu Metal phase, Chinmay passed through a different trajectory: “I was heavily into bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth before one of my friends introduced me to other kinds of metal, like Metal Core and Nu Metal. I had a huge Nu Metal phase by the way.”
In its early days, Paradigm Shift first approached Chinmay to fill-in for their guitarist who wasn’t able to make it to an upcoming band event at IIT Roorkee. In comparison to his experiences performing at regular college events with other bands, this opportunity was at a whole new level not only for him but Paradigm Shift as well, “The crowd at the college really took a liking to our music. Since we were a Hindi band, people connected more with us at that gig.” They were competing against another Mumbai based band, Coshish who took home the winning trophy. The experience however, didn’t leave them disappointed. As a fact, this was the band’s first and last appearance at a competition.
Although Chinmay was substituting for another member, the band gave him complete liberty to play their songs in his own way. Their music being on the softer side of rock, he turned the knob on the distortion way towards the right giving them a much heavier and fuller sound. Post the band event, they continued gigging with the original guitarist and their native sound.
In time he drifted towards covering music by popular guitar-centred bands. He says, “I began covering songs that were way out of my league, so to even play them sloppily, was helping me get better. I now began focussing on my right hand technique by attempting songs like Hangar 18 and Laid to Rest..”
With the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Rage Against the Machine also on his list of covered bands, he managed to imbibe a good deal of what funk-rock has to offer.
In 2010 he and a couple of mates got together and started a wildfire with Funk the System. Jamming was never a problem for them as the drummer’s neighbours were ‘exceptionally tolerant’.
As a casual disconnect, I would like to bring in this Adarsh Balak poster to shed light on the mystery behind such serendipity.
After winning every competition they (Funk the System) played at, they decided to record their music and score opening slots for bigger bands. Having opened for bands like Blakc and Split they were on the way to making a big name for themselves. It was at this point that Paradigm Shift requested Chinmay to join in as a permanent member.
Tempted by the challenge of playing with a pair of bands with two distinct sounds, he took on both projects testing his potential. From shaping the ballsy kick of Funk the System, to the ambient caress of Paradigm Shift, he was pouring all of his musical grit on to the stage as well as the studio.
In time, Funk the System faced a calm split over the future of its musical direction, thus liberating Chinmay to delve into the musical treasury of Paradigm Shift.
While the fusion of Carnatic music and metal isn’t a popular concept, Paradigm Shift has received a huge amount of support and acclaim for such an attempt. With the heavy side of their music that the drums, bass and guitar shape, many dedicated patrons of the heavier genres populate the black-tshirt-long-hair demographic at their shows.
Their debut album Coalescence was produced by multi-instrumentalist Vishal J. Singh who came down to Mumbai from Duliajan, Assam to work with them. Having heard the demos, he first wanted to know what they wanted out of the album. In their discussions, he suggested that Chinmay re-work his guitar parts to a degree that he would have to put in some more practice.
“Vishal suggested bands that I should listen to, that would help me write my parts better. He advised me to go through entire discographies to understand how a band’s sound evolved over the years. In this process, I realised that I had to pay attention to so much more: my tone, my strings, as they were going to matter a lot. He made sure that I knew that.”
In all the musical studies that Vishal put him up to, he felt the need for a second layer of guitars, both following independent lines, yet complementing each other, “There was a very distinct space for the second guitar that I had created when recording.” For this reason, they got Srikanth Shrinivasan (Coshish) and eventually Desikan Gopalan to deliver live, what Chinmay’s had created in the studio.
He says, “Our songs were based around the violin being the primary instrument and Vishal wanted to maintain that. Hence, except for a few changes in how the violin was tracked and harmonies were written, Vishal didn’t want to change it much. What he wanted to do was to mould the other instruments around the violin in a way that it stood out uniquely. So along with the guitar work, the drums and bass were rewritten as well.”
When the album was finished, it was evident that the band’s identity wasn’t lost in the process. “The music was taken up a notch in terms of arrangement and instrument tones, but it was still us at the end of it all.”
Chinmay’s discovery of technical hail storm of prog-rock giants, Dream Theater drew him into a maze of fluctuating time signatures and key performed with unmatched skill, “I realised that there weren’t any rules to writing their kind of music. The last few years of my writing were based on the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-outro-end template, listening to songs that extended up to 20 minutes or longer changed me as a guitar player and as musician.” Under the guidance of Vishal J. Singh, he managed to take a couple of steps towards his goal.
For any musician, stepping over the threshold of comfort with one’s instrument can be an experience of self-discovery and a display of perseverance. Chinmay risked what was safe, to push the limits of his work on Coalesence, thus producing a quality effort that is so much more intricate, incorporating all that inspires him. We look forward the band’s follow-up to Coalescence.
Make sure you follow Paradigm Shift by clicking here.
Listen to and purchase a copy of Coalescence on Bandcamp.com
Photo Credits: Veeraj Nair, Roycin D’souza and Adarsh Balak