Sunday, May 27, 2012

“I believe that the sound of this album is way more mature than the previous one.” – Zeeshan Parwez


After making their debut with One Light Year at Snail Speed in '06, Peshawar-based music duo Sajid Ghafoor and Zeeshan Parwez is back with a spanking new record, The Harvest

It may have taken them nearly five years to release their second album, but the result has definitely been worth the wait. Sajid & Zeeshan's sophomore album, The Harvest, is a confident record which proves that it was created by two very competent musicians.

The follow-up to their 2006 debut, One Light Year at Snail Speed, the new album was initially released online as a free download, one song at a time; the group put out two songs per week earlier this year, but the tracks were eventually pulled from their website. “We went ahead with a free release as enough time had passed and our fans were getting restless and so were we,” says Sajid Ghafoor. “We made it available for free to everyone but then after giving enough time, we turned off the download section. Why? Because we're planning on selling it and [we want to] see how it goes, though we're still thinking how to go about it.”

The artwork, as Sajid explains, depicts “a person who has covered enough distance in cosmic space and time, and ended up on a planet where his respective end of the journey relates to the scenery in place. The fields of crop - mature, ready to be harvested - are waiting to face the blade (if you will) so that the next cycle can begin. It's a platform of change, an end and a beginning.” Designed by Sher Jamal Khurshid, the image fittingly complements the album's title. “We did the work,” continues Sajid, “and did it more seriously this time and added more perspectives to it. It's all about making it through the hard times, growing, facing all the rains and storms, and still coming out a winner. It's about life.” “To sum it up,” adds Zeeshan Parwez, “it is a journey of the self but evaluating the journey itself in a way that the result doesn't matter as such as how you've attained it.”

The Harvest sees the Peshawar-based duo continue their own journey; they're still doing music in English, blending lyrical poetry with interesting tunes while experimenting with their musical canvas. Comprising of 16 tracks, three of which are instrumentals, the set incorporates a number of different sounds, instruments, and genres. “Each song relates to the title of the album but in essence is different from every other song,” says Sajid. “Each track deals with a different intensity, has its own flavour, and innuendos are of the utmost importance. It is acoustic, electric, dance, alternative, experimental; has a bit of everything for everybody.”

The songs that make up The Harvest were written and composed by Sajid, and produced and mixed by Zeeshan. “This album took quite a bit of time to record,” confesses Zeeshan, “not because we didn't have the material. We never rush recordings so that's why things like vocals and guitars would be taken care of initially and then the production of the rest of the things would follow and that would take a bit of time. Things like Coke Studio, Ufone Uth Records, and other video projects would take my time but I never rushed the production in any way.”

The tracks make use of a wide range of influences, which is something that listeners with a diverse musical palette will appreciate. “We actually had 18 to 19 songs on us,” reveals Zeeshan, “but we discarded the remaining three because of how they were sounding. All the songs, especially the second half have different dynamics but you'll still be able to spot a feeling of consistency throughout, and that is because of two things: a general flavour in sound that is recognizable by people who've been following us, and Sajid's lyrics that make songs connect with each other.”

Zeeshan feels that the group's sound has progressed since One Light Year at Snail Speed. “I believe that the sound of this album is way more mature than the previous one in terms of both composition and other technical things. There is significant sophistication in this album if you compare it with the first, but sophistication isn't naturally a main criterion to judge an album. Let's face it, 'King of Self' was one of the simplest songs we've ever made but it is the song that gets recognized the most and we stand by it because it is a great tune. The Harvest, however, doesn't have that sort of songs, but it still holds a special place.”

Fans got their first taste of the album in the form of 'Walk on Air' last year, when the band chose this track for the first video from the album. “There's no special reason why we went for this track first,” tells Sajid. “I guess it kind of sounded right that way.” And what is the song about? “The title says it, really. You gotta keep walking, even when you think it's all ended; no dead ends really, all are merely obstacles. So when you meet one, you don't turn back; you work around it, change perspective, rely on a deeper perception. It's about moving ahead and with your head held high.”

In a similar vein, 'Start with a Scratch', the second release from The Harvest, also makes good use of Sajid's lyrical prowess and Zeeshan's arrangement. “It's about not paying attention when you should,” explains the lyricist. “We all have our own fixations, deeper connections, be it with people or even things or concepts; it could be a habit, be it good or bad. Somehow the situation speaks of entrapment for the one who suffers it as a loop effect (going through it over and over again). He may or may not be aware of it but still pays the price for it, or in some cases others do, and at times it could be a heavy one.”

Throughout the album, the duo hasn't shied away from trying something different and adding subtle, unique touches to their songs. “There have been small experimentations done in the album in the form of sampling,” says Zeeshan. “You'd be surprised that some of the songs have audio samples of things like an old jazz and blues record, ISDN modems starting, actual rain in Peshawar with music playing in the background, tin cans being beaten with spoons, and over-processing of beats played over certain tables and chairs.” 'Black as White', the duo, agrees, is the most different and experimental song on the album. “I would have to pick 'Black as White' because of the intense programming needed to be done on that track,” says Zeeshan. “Mind you, that track was made in 2008-09, and back then we didn't have glitch producing real-time software. We had to make it ourselves and it would take hours. Now I just got some software that would enable me to do that with the touch of a button. I'm happy that the stutters of this track were done manually; I'm proud of that.” “I had to rap for this one,” adds Sajid. “It was fun but different than what I am used to. Plus it's not a typical rap song, so in that sense it's quite different than what one would expect.” So why did he choose to rap? “Choose to? It demanded it instead and so I humbly submitted to the vibe. And yes, I am glad it came out the way it did.”

The group has drawn on their experiences to construct some of the songs, like the touching 'I Hope We Remain', which has personal significance to Sajid: “For me, they're all personal - my expression and interpretation of something I considered worthwhile. Though 'I Hope We Remain' is personal to me for one more reason: I wrote it for my late parents.”

Album closer 'Sanity' is going to make its way to television screens soon, and it also happens to be Zeeshan's favourite song from the album. “I fell in love with it when Sajid called me over and he said he had a tune. He started playing it on the guitar and I was mesmerized. The way it's been constructed is because I always wanted this to be the big end of this album. It's special for me and Sajid, and I hope it is for all who listen to it. I should also at this point tell you that 'Sanity' is the first video that is not being done by me. It's directed by Shahab Qamar, an extremely talented musician and motion graphics artist (of Naseer and Shahab, 'Za Pukhtoon Yam' fame) who stepped forward and made a video for 'Sanity' using typography. It'll be out soon, Insha'Allah.”

Also set to receive the video treatment are the tracks 'Personal Beast' and 'Everything Changes a.k.a. Out of My Way'. Why these songs? “Just because we cannot at this point afford to make videos for all of them, or else we'd do that too,” answers Sajid. “They are all special to us in their own way.”

“Every song has a different impact to be honest,” says Zeeshan. “'Sanity', 'Cause & Effect', and 'We Make Up To Break Up' make me want to keep on driving on a clear road; 'Personal Beast' makes me happy; Every song has a different feeling and I guess that goes for everybody. I think to date it's one of the things that I'm proud to have constructed with Sajid. No matter how it does in the market, I'm proud of this album's honesty and its purity. We've given it our best shot and we always will. I don't think we compromised on anything as such, took our time, and then released it over the Internet. It'll be out on CD soon, so keep a look out for that.”

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 27th May, 2012

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