Know Your Musician: Jishnu ‘Short Round’ Guha
The year is 2007, and it’s a school night. Hard Rock Café Mumbai is packed with students from the city’s most popular colleges. Scattered among the beer bottle holding 20-something newly employed lot, are the scarcely endowed pocket-money-run teens. Their idle hands are tucked into the pockets of their best evening denim, ripped and studded. Taxi drivers on the street outside, stood by their vehicles, perplexed at the hoard of black T-shirt wearing teens. One of them catches my hand as I walk past their puzzled pack, ‘Yaha kya ho raha bhai? (What’s happening here brother?) he asks me. Among the sea of dreadlocks, curls, pony & pig tails, stands a long haired version of me, fresh out of an early evening parental debate on my ETA after the gig. As I said, it was a school night. The newly opened pub was hosting one of its first gigs. Atop a precarious metal platform sage hovering above the bar, the band entertaining the crowd that evening was a group of kids no older than I was at the time. They were belting out pro-level covers of the years best rock music. Almost a decade later, I sit to talk to that very band’s lead guitarist Jishnu Guha who now plays under the moniker ‘Short Round’. We break the ice over this shared experience that, to him, seemed like an impressive recollection of a forgotten performance. We talk about his first steps in an infantile music scene, the release of his debut EP, lessons learned from busking and developing a unique musical character.
The Natural Child
At the age of 8, Jishnu and his family were residing for a few months, in pre ‘Borat’ Kazakhstan. It was there that he took his first guitar lessons from a Russian gentleman named Anatoli Alexander, “I started learning, pretty much on a whim after hearing The Beatles and Mark Knopfler. Like any other 8 year old I didn’t have the patience to learn stuff, I just wanted to do stuff.” Keeping this in mind his tutor skipped all the theory that the classical musician in him would have been so eager to pass on. “No one particularly enjoys scales if that’s that first thing you’re taught. When I was 11 I started taking lessons from Ravi Iyer in Mumbai. I remember being told by him to practice regularly. I didn’t really get into theory, until I was 13.”
Back when Jishnu was completing his undergrad studies at The Liberal Arts School in Beloit, Wisconsin, he took up a class in music theory that he soon dropped out of after figuring out that it would take him deeper into what he had kept his distance from. “I don’t understand it (theory), I’m a bit of a purist in that way. I’m sure it will give me the capability to write ‘better’ than what I am right now, but at the same time I’m happy with the way I’m writing. If something I’m playing sounds good, I just go with it. I don’t over think anything.”
The Perfection of Rawness
Released in 2016, his debut EP, Desperate Times and its themes reflect the simplicity and maturity that Jishnu’s musical sense has absorbed over his years of feel driven performance and writing. He speaks about the EP’s third track, Three Minute Record, “In the studio, as we were setting up mics to record another song, my producer, Zain Calcuttawalla heard me play it out. I just had the lyrics in front of me, and no structure in mind, on his (Zain’s) advice I decided to give it a quick go. After a couple of takes, it was written and recorded. Although we added some parts to it when I play it live with the band, it’s still a very raw effort.”
“These songs are a happy middle ground between my folk stuff, and some slightly rough-around-the-edges punk stuff. I want to perfect it a bit more because I think it’s a sound that I don’t get to hear too often.”
When I perform on my own, I don’t have to worry about leading or following someone. With the band, I prefer arranging stuff with them, instead of blindly fixing things beforehand.” The artists featured on the EP are extremely close friends that have worked with Jishnu extensively in the past. The chemistry that they share is so fluid that at times a basic gesture from him can convey the direction the performance of a song should take, be it live or in the studio. When creating a sonic atmosphere for a song, Jishnu relies on his instinct to read what the room needs. “If things seem to work, I’ll keep it going. The minute I feel like we’ve peaked, we’ll cut it. I definitely let my live performances feel as open as they can be.”
Getting Oriented with the Nouveau
Back in 2006, there wasn’t much a band could do other than college festivals and an occasional pub gig. Now, the scene in has grown in scale and the differences are apparent and much felt by Jishnu in his effort to re-enter its realm. After returning in 2014, he spent his time in figuring out what he needed to do and who he needed to know to get his work out there. “There’s always something happening somewhere or the other, and if you want to know more, you just have to sit in front of a computer and figure it all out. It took me these two years to find out how to get my resources together to figure out my trajectory.”
Lessons from the Street
Jishnu feels that while getting people to attend gigs has become an easy task, the entire reliance on the artist to keep the crowd entertained is where venues fall short. Due importance given to production value and aesthetics can deliver a great gig that both, venue and artist can gain from. Busking in England, was a true learning experience for him, “It taught me so much more than my music theory class could have. I realised that nobody owes you anything, nobody came or payed to see you play. My energy was incredibly vital to how I was being received. It’s the interaction that matters, it tells the crowd that their presence matters to me.”
Proud moments for a street performer like him are the sight of a jiving audience or a new friend found after a performance of a lesser known band’s inspiring music. Once, after he finished performing You Got It by Roy Orbison, an elderly gentleman who he’d seen before congratulated him. The man, an Alzheimer’s patient was advised by his doctor to learn a new skill to keep his mind active, he was contemplating learning the guitar. With Jishnu’s encouragement and directions to a music store nearby, the man lifted his chin slightly, squinted his eyes, and with one eyebrow raised he said, ‘You know what?! I think I’ll do just that!” And he strode on cheerfully. He admits, “This won’t happen too often if you’re playing a regular gig, breaking that fourth wall.”
“When I was on the street, I was in control of what I was doing. I had lots of limitations, but I can choose, which spot I want to be at, what time of day I want to pay, what I want to play, how I dress, and how I want to throw my voice. In that place I felt more satisfied, because there were no excuses. There were days when I made 4 pounds and there were days when I made 50. The results were tangible, I could see it physically. If the bag was full, I was doing something right, if not, then what I did yesterday was clearly better than what I’m doing today.”
Developing a distinguishable sonic identity can involve many things for a musician. Along with his exposure to great musical influences over the years, he’s taken the time to craft a sound that is not common to what we hear at venues today. The People are looking for something new, and Jishnu has moulded just that right sinusoidal character (both vocal and guitar based) in his 5 track debut EP. Patience is a virtue that helps one craft beautiful work of art.
He ends our chat with something that qualifies as a good bit of advice for budding musicians all over, “When you get it right (musically) it sounds great. I’m not going to win any guitar offs or competitions, so all I’m going to do is be myself and make sure not many people sound like me and try my best not get over indulgent about that.”
The year holds the release of another EP that he’s already begun working on. Jishnu wants to collaborate with singers and musicians on a duets project that he aims to release by August 2016. We’re super excited about it!
Get your copy of Desperate Times on iTunes
Photo Credits: Jason Rasquinha