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Interview: Musician Karsh Kale Discusses His New Release, Cinema

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CinemaIn late April, musician and progressive global fusion pioneer Karsh Kale (Twitter, Facebook) released his fifth full-length album, Cinema (Six Degrees). This latest album clearly reflects the wealth of experience that the songwriter/producer/film composer/DJ/world-class tabla player/drummer has collected over his many years. Cinema took two years to develop and represents, as one might guess, the impact that scoring films has had on Kale’s musical voice. With some assistance from Ryan Ramona, I was recently able to catch up with him to discuss his music in this email interview.

Karsh Kale is an artist who has co-written songs with a variety of people, including Sting, Norah Jones, and former Live lead singer Ed Kowalczyk (among many others). My discussion with him was an opportunity to learn a great deal about his approach and interest in progressive electro-rock and fusion music. Once you’ve read the interview, be sure to visit Kale’s website, where you can give the whole album a listen before buying it.

How has collaborating with various musicians over the years helped to expand your perspective on “the possibilities of what that sound can actually be for me” (as you recently described it)?

I have always taken great influence and inspiration from the artists that I collaborate with whether it be the Indian classical greats like Ustad Sultan Khan, or Zakir Hussain, or electronic production pioneers like [Bill] Laswell or the Midival Punditz, as well as artists like Anoushka [Shankar] and Salim Merchant. Having the great opportunity to spend time with these artists has absolutely made me a better musician, composer, producer and collaborator. I have also had the opportunity to look through the lens of a Indian musician, electronic musician and producer, orchestral composer, and even DJing, all being enhanced by what I learned from these great artists and friends.

What appeals to you about being a tabla player?

I have always had a push and pull relationship with the tabla. I have always been fascinated by the possibilities of tabla in how it can speak fluently in any musical context. I have however had issue with the role of the tabla player in traditional Indian music at times. I shied away from being a classical musician because of this fact. I wanted to re-approach the presentation of this music and the instrument.

How has scoring films helped fuel the creative experiments and risks you tackle in your new album, Cinema?

I think that composing music for films gives you a bit of a different perspective on the audience. It becomes less about style and trends and more about psychology in a way. I think in the end, helping to tell a story in films has definitely allowed me to tell better stories through my own work.

What are some of the most enjoyable aspects of collaborating with the Midival Punditz?

These guys are two of my closest friends. I think more than anything, our friendship has endured and that has been the key to our working relationship. With the Punditz, it’s like family, so we fight, disagree, yet continue to support each other both on collaborative projects as well as our own efforts. We have a lot of fun experimenting and trying new things, as it’s less formal than any other collaboration for me. No matter what we are working on … we are usually laughing a lot.

As someone who composes music partially intended to elicit emotion from the listener, how emotionally draining is it for you, when you embark on a project like Cinema? Is there any sort of emotional letdown once your finish the project?

I think the entire process winds up becoming quite therapeutic for me. Being in the studio and the writing process can tend to be emotionally draining at times. But in any case, it is usually better to face the demons that haunt us and making music is definitely a way for me to do that. The great thing is to let the music go at some point. Once I release a record, I tend not to feel like it belongs to me anymore, which allows me to move on to new adventures.

When you play these songs live, are there ways you try to explore them further and take the song in different directions?

I try and create music that can be interpreted. Although most of it is based in electronica, I do like to leave room for spontaneity. To me music is always evolving regardless of what you have recorded, if you allow it to on stage.

With the album’s first cut, “Island,” how did you arrive upon the idea of merging “nu-school electronica and an ’80s new wave guitar sound”?

These things just happen when inspiration hits. I never set out with these styles in mind. As I was building this song, it went through a few different aesthetics before arriving. Any style[s] of music that have influenced or penetrated my psyche over the years will find their way back into my music somehow. Once I am finished with a track, I tend to hear more clearly the influences in direction I may have subconsciously taken.

Where do you find your greatest satisfaction, when your album reaches #1 or when you are asked to perform an encore by your live audience?

Each has its own type of satisfaction, but I still do not think anything can compare to the first time you arrive at that moment of inspiration, whether on stage or in the studio. Sometime[s] it’s when no one else is around, but it is when music is most profound. Nothing really compares to that moment.

How did you decide to collaborate with guest artists such as Vishal Vaid, Papon and Shruti Pathak on this collection of songs?

These artists are friends of mine and have worked with me on many projects prior. Shruti was someone I met through Salim Merchant, who also co-composed the track “Ma” that Shruti is featured on..

How hard is it to name your songs? Do you conceive the name of the tune before you start writing it, or well afterward?

Ideally the name, the composition, the production all happen at the same time. But usually I start with a working title that evolves with the track. In some cases, if I had stuck with the working title, I might have track names like “Hard Boiled” or “Very Nice Track.” It’s good to reconsider the titles as they progress.

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