Friday, August 31, 2012

“I feel extremely lucky and honoured that a huge icon like Brian O'Connell agreed to work with me”

interview: music mix

Junaid Khan rocks and rolls away

After making his mark as an actor in several television plays and serials, as well as performing at the recently concluded Lux Style Awards, Junaid Khan returns to the world of music with his new song 'Keh Do', which features former Junoon bassist Brian O'Connell. The Call vocalist, who collaborated with American singer Jennifer Jandris on the song 'So Close So Distant' earlier this year, is now working on his first solo album, and also has a number of other projects currently brewing. Instep Today caught up with the singer to find out more about his new single...

Instep Today: Tell us about your new song, 'Keh Do'.
Junaid Khan:
Yeah, 'Keh Do' is going to be the first Urdu track from my solo album. The song has been produced by Sami Khan, who produced my previous track 'So Close So Distant' as well. Sami is very talented, without a doubt. He presented the concept behind 'Keh Do' and I absolutely loved it because it is an idea which I totally believe in myself too when it comes to life in general. In life, we usually hold back our feelings for people around us, maybe due to some personal differences, grudges, etcetera, but we only realize the need to express them when those special people aren't around us anymore. We usually regret it later on, that if they were around us we would have expressed how much we love them or care for them. So why not express now when you have them? Why not tell them that you respect them and care for them now that you have them around you? Forgetting all the grudges and leaving all differences aside, one should just express and spread love when you have time, and this is what 'Keh Do' is all about. The sound is very mellow and soft in order to go with the message behind the song, and yeah, it is different from 'So Close So Distant'.

Instep Today: What do you think sets 'Keh Do' apart from the music you've made so far?
: 'Keh Do' is slightly different from what I have done so far. It's more towards the ballad side and quite mellow as compared to the rough,  rock melodies I am known for. But I think based on the message that I wanted to convey in this song, this genre was best suited for it.

Instep Today: How do you know Brian O'Connell? How did he become involved in the project?
I had a chance to talk to Brian through a common friend, Qurat-ul-Ain Baloch, when she was visiting New York this year. I have always been a fan of Brian's since his Junoon days and always wanted an opportunity to share my respect for Brian's work and also to ask him for an opportunity to work with him. I had to convince the man a lot, but I am sure the love for this country and the respect that musicians like me have for him convinced him to do me this huge favour.

Instep Today: Brian is such a well-known and important figure in the Pakistani music industry and history. You must be very excited to have him on the track…
Well, I don't have the words to explain the love and respect I have for Brian.  Usually listeners don't pay much attention to what bass does to a song, but once you grow as a musician, you realize how important the instrument is and its true magic. During the initial phase of my musical journey, I deeply analyzed why we all loved so much the sound that Junoon produced, and once you start making music you realize how important and great the bass line is. The magic that Brian used to do with Junoon in terms of bass and engineering is something that you never got to hear after the Junoon breakup. I feel extremely lucky and honoured that a huge icon like Brian agreed to work with me on this track. I can't thank him enough for this. He sure is the best that this country has seen when it comes to music.

Instep Today: Tell us about the video…
The video is made on the same lines as the concept mentioned earlier. The video has been directed by Abdullah Haris who is making his mark in terms of the twisted ways in which he conveys the simplest of messages. 'Keh Do' will also be quite interesting for the viewer as the way it has been shot hasn't been done before in this country. I am sure the viewer will be engaged throughout the four minute duration of the song. There are two characters in the video played by me and Mehreen Syed.

Instep Today: Who chose Mehreen Syed to co-star in the video with you? Why did she seem like the best choice for the role? And how was the experience of working with her?
When I was discussing the concept with the director, we needed talent who was glamorous, gorgeous, and also could do a good job as an actor, as the concept required the talent to act as well, and we couldn't think of a better suited name than Mehreen Syed's. Mehreen is without a doubt a supermodel. She has also recently proved herself as an actor too, and is also doing a few Bollywood ventures. Abdullah and I were unanimous on the decision of asking Mehreen for the part, and luckily she agreed. She sure has done a fine job in 'Keh Do'. You'll see a different side of her.

Instep Today: How was the experience of working with Abdullah Haris?
Abdullah is very comfortable to work with and is a gem of a person. He has immense passion for this field and is always searching for unique ways of execution, and I think that is the reason he is finding his way up the ladder very quickly. Of course his recent work has been very creative, thus it was very easy for me to make the decision of choosing him for the task. If you ask me, I am convinced with what he has done with 'Keh Do', but now it's up to the people to judge.

Instep Today: Can we expect a solo album from you soon?
Yes, of course. I am working on the production side these days, and will soon announce the release date.

Instep Today: Are there any other music or acting projects that you're currently working on?
Well, there are a few projects that I am working on these days. Apart from my solo record, I am shooting another serial now for Hum TV by the name Qadoorat, which has me, Sanam Saeed, Moomal Sheikh and Imran Aslam in the leading cast. There's another play Madiha Aur Maliha. Plus, I recently performed at the Lux Style Awards, which will show quite a different side of me; I actually did a dance performance alongside Ahsan Khan, Faisal Qureshi, Meera, Sana, and Mathira, so that would be something interesting for me to watch as well.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 31st August, 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Charming, melodious pop

album profile

Their twinkling single 'Kiss Me' brought them mainstream recognition in the late '90s. Now Sixpence None The Richer have returned with a cohesive record that treats simplicity as an asset

Artist: Sixpence None the Richer
Album: Lost in Transition

Their twinkling single 'Kiss Me' brought them mainstream recognition in the late '90s, when the Nashville-based group had a massive hit with this gorgeous song that originally appeared on their 1997 self-titled album. But, marred by record label woes, it took Sixpence None the Richer nearly five years to release their next album, Divine Discontent (2002). Led by singer Leigh Nash and guitarist Matt Slocum, the group saw some of their other singles - like 'Breathe Your Name' and the covers of The La's 'There She Goes' and Crowded House's 'Don't Dream It's Over' - achieve some success, but their musical union did not last; not long after the release of Discontent, the band decided to part ways. Attempts at solo careers and new projects inevitably followed. Then in 2007, the group decided to reunite. A Christmas album surfaced a few months later, and the promise of a new studio record featuring original material excited their eager fans. Thus began the wait for their comeback album, but delays, once again, got in the way.

Now, after years of holdups and, yes, even more label issues, the aptly titled Lost in Transition (it was originally set to be called Strange Conversation) has finally been released. Made up of 12 songs, some of which will already be familiar to those who have been following the band since their reunion, Sixpence None the Richer's first full-length album of new material in almost a decade picks up where its predecessor left off. There is some musical growth, but there isn't a drastic change in direction, nor is there any attempt to create something that is overly concerned with mainstream and commercial trends.

Lost in Transition is an offering of mostly mid-tempo, melodious pop with occasional tinges of country and folk. Sixpence have created a cohesive record that treats its simplicity as an asset, merging Leigh Nash's ethereal voice with sweet melodies. The horns-laden 'My Dear Machine' gives a confident start to the record; their Christian rock roots show in tracks like 'Give It Back'; and songs like the breezy 'Radio' and 'Should Not Be This Hard', which stands out with its perky vibe that masks the heartbreak buried in the lyrics, are a testimony to the group's talent.

Some of the tracks convey the struggles the band endured as it was held back by circumstances. Yet, despite its underlying bittersweet sentiments, there is a sense of understated confidence on Lost in Transition that shows the group is making the kind of music that they really want. The set manages to evoke '90s nostalgia with its familiar sound, but it does not dare to venture into any new territory or try anything different or particularly interesting and exciting. It isn't an album that screams for immediate attention; it may be easy to like, but there's nothing exceedingly remarkable about it. The album does display some good (albeit uneven) songwriting, and while you won't find another 'Kiss Me' on it, Lost in Transition is still a charming and heartfelt record that Sixpence None the Richer fans are likely to embrace.

- By Sameen Amer

 Instep, The News on Sunday - 26th August, 2012

Monday, August 20, 2012

5 minutes with Poor Rich Boy

interview: music mix

Instep Today talks to the band about being nominated at the Lux Style Awards, the upcoming new album, and more...

Instep Today: How and when was Poor Rich Boy formed?
Poor Rich Boy:
We formed three years ago. Danish Khawaja introduced Shehzad Noor to Zain Ahsan and then left for London to study. Shehzad Noor and Zain Ahsan carried on as a duo. Later on, we had new members.

Instep Today: How many members are there in the group? And what is each person's role?
Poor Rich Boy:
There are 6 members. Our roles vary from time to time.

Instep Today: Why "Poor Rich Boy"? What does the moniker mean/signify? And who came up with it?
Poor Rich Boy:
Shehzad's sister called him a poor rich boy because he was whining about something or the other. It signifies upper middle class people talking about some form of suffering with a lot of melodrama, and not even in their mother tongue.

Instep Today: How would you describe the sound of Poor Rich Boy? And in what genre would you classify the music?
Poor Rich Boy:
We aren't sure anymore. I'm sure we do fit into a genre but we aren't sure what it is. We have been called an indie band and I suppose that's fair. That's the trouble with having 6 members in a band.

Instep Today: What does Poor Rich Boy bring to the music industry that isn't out there already?
Poor Rich Boy:

Instep Today: Was it easier or harder than you expected to break through?
Poor Rich Boy:
It was just as hard as we expected.  

Instep Today: 'Alice' has been cited as one of the standout tracks of 2011. Were you expecting the song to be this successful? Or were you surprised by its success?
Poor Rich Boy:
I don't think we were expecting anything as such. We hoped people would like it. I guess we were surprised. It was nice.

Instep Today: Please tell us about your new song, 'Finger'. What is the song's meaning/significance?
Poor Rich Boy:
The song is about trying to feel better even though there is no reason to.

Instep Today: Please tell us about your upcoming album Old Money.
Poor Rich Boy:
It is almost done.  

Instep Today: How soon will the album release?
Poor Rich Boy:
End of 2014

Instep Today: Where does a band that's doing songs in English stand in the Pakistani music industry?
Poor Rich Boy:
We are a big hit in the burger community and with po mo hipster community.

Instep Today: Do you have any international aspirations? Are you working towards making a mark internationally?
Poor Rich Boy:
We did. We would very much like to just play live. Anywhere really. Abroad would be nice.

Instep Today: Do you think the music that you listen to influences the music that you make? Who are some of your favourite artists?
Poor Rich Boy:
Yes, we do. It would be hard to list down who our favourite artists are because there are 6 band members and no management.

Instep Today: How do you feel about getting an LSA nomination?
Poor Rich Boy:
Queasy. We went to it though. We had free food. It was awesome. The food I mean.

Instep Today: Where do you see the band in the next five years?
Poor Rich Boy:
In the next five years, I see the band broken up, with its members not being able to look at each other.

Instep Today: What can we expect from Poor Rich Boy in the coming months?
Poor Rich Boy:
Nothing but disappointments.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 20th August, 2012

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Embracing glossy pop

album review

Maroon 5's Overexposed, a twelve song set crafted for the mainstream audience, is less blue-eyed soul and more electro pop

Artist: Maroon 5
Album: Overexposed

They started out as Kara's Flowers nearly two decades ago, then eventually gained recognition as Maroon 5 when their 2002 debut album, Songs About Jane, became a global success on the back of hits like 'Harder to Breathe' and 'This Love'. Two more records - It Won't Be Soon Before Long and Hands All Over - subsequently followed, but just when they were in danger of falling off the radar after the lacklustre sales of the latter, lady luck decided to smile on them. Along came the American version of The Voice, turning Adam Levine into a celebrity in his own right, and then the surprise success of last year's 'Moves like Jagger', featuring fellow Voice coach Christina Aguilera, gave the band the biggest hit of their career and brought them back to relevance.

Now, in a desperate bid to hold on to their new audience and capitalize on their newfound “overexposure”, Maroon 5 have veered off the funk tinged alternative rock path that initially brought them attention and distinguished them from their peers, and embraced the sucrose pop sound that gave them their most successful single.

With the assistance of pop industry heavyweights like Max Martin, Shellback, Benny Blanco, and Ryan Tedder, the band has constructed their fourth album, Overexposed, a twelve song set crafted for the mainstream audience. Musically, it's less blue-eyed soul and more electro pop; lyrically, it's standard and largely uninventive, offering yet more musings on relationship troubles. Lead single 'Payphone' is a catchy pop song that (almost unnecessarily) features guest rapper Wiz Khalifa and is tailored for chart success. The reggae tinged album opener 'One More Night' is vibrant, and the melodious 'The Man Who Never Lied' puts together some catchy elements to deliver an enjoyable track. 'Lucky Strike' is reminiscent of 'Moves like Jagger' (which is also included as a bonus track on some versions of Overexposed); in fact 'Moves like Jagger's' spectre lingers over much of the album, as many songs strive to replicate this monster hit's vibe. The most distinctive track on this mostly homogenous album is the stripped down piano ballad 'Sad' which displays Levine's vocals on a relatively effects-free canvas.

At no point on the record is there any doubt about the fact that Maroon 5 have embraced a gradual and calculated move towards a more pop oriented sound. This is glossy pop that is reliant on synthesizers, dance beats, and repetitive melodies. It's contemporary and slick, but there isn't much that sets it apart from other standard Top 40 fodder. Levine has chosen to work with an array of outside writers and producers; yet the melodies aren't as impressive as they should be, and the album's over-processed feel seems to have eroded the rest of the band's contributions.

Overexposed isn't a display of musical dexterity, but an album that wants to hold a wide-ranging appeal. The set doesn't so much cater to their long term followers, since it is not as funky or soulful as their previous work, although the tracks do have the tendency to get stuck in the listener's head. It is generic, over-produced, and largely influenced by the success of 'Jagger', and perhaps that's why there is something somewhat desperate about Overexposed; Maroon 5 seem to have given up craft for commercialism, and delivered an output that ranges from infectious to awkward, and sometimes even manages to be both at the same time. Fans of their earlier work might be disappointed by this change in direction, but those who like contemporary pop are likely to enjoy it.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 12th August, 2012

Friday, August 10, 2012

Celebrity Q&A: Independence Day


What do you think about the future of Pakistan? Where do you think the country is heading, and where do you see it in the next few years?

Haroon Rashid: Pakistan is full of incredible talent. Our biggest asset is our youth oriented population. I think it is time for the old guard of politicians to leave and let new people take charge. Currently, the most obvious outlook is to say Pakistan is doomed. However, I am personally very optimistic for the future. I believe that we are capable of great things and we will rise to the occasion and overcome this dark period.

Naukhez Javed: Being a true Pakistani, if you ask us, we will say that the future of Pakistan is very bright and positive. Our country is full of talented individuals and our youth is striving hard to make our country a more stable, progressive nation. But  unfortunately if you speak realistically, it’s a very depressing situation. I think the future of Pakistan is going nowhere. Our politicians are fighting over trivial issues. They have their own interests and give no value to our country’s future. All they want is commission and money with no self-respect at all. They fight on channels, parliament, and courts everywhere and afterwards they work for their common goals and interest that is money. They try to make fools out of us. We all know this, but the whole system is corrupt. No one wants to see the bright future of Pakistan. No one is taking care of the basic rights of Pakistanis, and dealing with problems like load shedding, inflation, [high] utility bills, and target killing. In the next few years, if this situation goes on we will be in the Stone Age. Our youth is migrating to other countries for work, and this brain drain is causing a severe dent in our country’s progression. All we need is a revolution to change the whole course of the game and we should pray to Allah to do it as soon as possible.

Junaid Khan: The future of Pakistan lies in the hands of our youth now. Rather than pointing fingers at the system or the government, we should check ourselves first and rectify what we feel should be improved in our nearby environment. The saying that ‘charity starts at home’ holds true here. We individually should do our bit, get ourselves right, follow the law, abide by the rules, and show discipline and progress ourselves so that we give inspiration to people around us and hence grow as a nation together. And soon there will be a time when a leader will rise amongst us who will work for the benefit of the nation. But that leader has to come from our youth who has experienced struggle himself and would want to improve [the conditions] for others in the country, too.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 10th August 2012