In the studio with Keshav Dhar

„The creative process is a tricky one, and it varies dramatically from profession to profession, and from one individual to another. We’re fascinated with that creative process here at Nicobar, and for us as well, one of the most significant cogs in that wheel is the space in which it all takes place. For artists and musicians, this place is the studio, and we’re sneaking into the studios of a few of our favourite makers. Each one is entirely its own beast; some are creative chaos while others are pristine, some are spendy investments, while others are more DIY. We want to see them all.„Our first stop was Keshav Dhar’s studio. The producer and lead guitarist in Skyharbor is a quiet and sort-of reluctant subject, but he was kind enough to let us meander around his workspace and tinker with the many, many awards lining his shelves while he answered all our questions. His cross-cultural progressive rock band functions across continents (its other members reside in the states), and has been on our playlist for a while now.

The man is also a little bit of a dark horse, having studied biomedical engineering in college and scoring a whopping 97.4 percent in his CAT exams, an odd bit of trivia that’s a great counterpart to having witnessed him play. We know that the man can rock. Guitar-cradling, head banging, hard-strumming flat-out rock.His start in music was a more mellow one, with piano lessons at the age of 6. As he progressed to listening to heavier sounds, the guitar was the one instrument he could realistically carry around, and he has since collaborated with Marty Friedman (Megadeth’s former lead guitarist, for the clueless), and toured the world with Skyharbor. He answered our Nico Q&A:

What projects are you currently working on?
Quite a few! I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of indie artists from the local scene trust me with producing their records, and it’s always a great learning experience for me. Plus, it helps me stay up to date with the way the scene is growing and developing with time.

You’ve toured a lot with Skyharbor. Highlights?

There are many - India is always beautiful; the kids just come out in droves to our shows and it’s an indescribably proud feeling. Russia was bloody manic as well. London also has been kind to us in terms of great turnouts, and when we did our first North America tour last year I have to say Toronto and New York were both absolutely fantastic shows, and cities. Toronto was actually one of the worst shows we played. We were missing a member and were plagued by technical issues the whole way, and there was no bass on the PA, but the kids were loving it regardless. We sold more merch that night than we have ever before, or since!

Your view on creative / music collaborations?

I think collaborations are great and in today's internet age working with anyone anywhere in the world is effortless (well, almost). I also think it’s important for every musician to be comfortable working alone, and to reach a point where they can write a song by themselves, however rough around the edges it may be, without depending on others. From personal experience I’ve found that if you’re a strong songwriter individually, your collaborations with other, equally strong songwriters will be so much more fruitful and productive because there will never be a case of writer’s block at any point.

Any memorable collaborations you’ve done?

There are so many! Co-writing most of Marty Friedman’s (Megadeth) solo record ‘Tokyo Jukebox 2’ with him was very memorable in particular though, as was the White Moth Black Butterfly record I did with our old singer (and current TesseracT vocalist) Dan Tompkins.

Any odd work rituals?
I discovered completely by accident that a great way to break through writer’s block is to try writing at a point in the day that you’re just not used to writing. I was struggling with this one song for months. One day on impulse, I left the house at 7am and got to the studio. The whole building was completely empty and it felt like a different setting entirely, and somehow that inspired a crazy creatively productive day. So strange! But I like doing this every time I find myself stuck in a rut.

You probably have a lot of gear, but which is your favourite?
My two custom built Mayones guitars are probably my favourite pieces of gear. They’re built to perfection for my requirements and allow me to express myself effortlessly when I’m writing.I’m actually trying to stay the hell away from acquiring any more gear lest I go completely broke! But whenever I do, it’ll probably be some nice toys for the studio - couple hardware distressors maybe? As of right now I’m keeping the GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) well in check.

The biggest creative challenge in your career, till date:

I think writing this new (third) Skyharbor record that’s still in the works, has been a massive challenge, because it came right after a period of great turmoil when we had to replace two vital members. There was financial stress and we were in great debt. We considered calling it a day and resting our ‘laurels’ on our previous two records, but we pushed through and have written a great record (I’d like to think). It’s ugly and will be really polarising when it comes out, because we channeled through it so much of our emotional and financial strife, and it will peeve a lot of our fans, but I couldn’t be happier with the eventual result.

The musician / band you are inspired by (locally and internationally):
There are so many! There’s the obvious bands that I grew up listening to - Oceansize, Deftones, Karnivool, Devin Townsend, Meshuggah, Jakob and so many others, and there are bands I’ve seen transform from being bedroom studio projects into arena-headlining touring outfits - Periphery, TesseracT, The Contortionist. It’s a great time to be in music.

Strangest thing you’ve seen at a concert:
Watching the members of the Black Lips making out with each other mid-song, on stage, has to be the all-time top WTF moment I’ve witnessed at a gig!

Your top travel tip for anyone heading to a music festival:
Drink lots of water, wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be walking a lot, and CARRY EARPLUGS!

Tips for traveling as a musician?
Be on top of things. It’s very tempting to break out the beer and herbs as soon as you’re done playing your show and shaking hundreds of rabid fans’ hands, but calm yo tits and wait till everything is packed up, every piece of gear is accounted for and tucked away safely in the trailer, your backpacks and suitcases with your passports and other paperwork are accounted for, and then break out the sauce. Remember that it’s a party for the fans, but it’s your job. One misplaced item of equipment or a lost passport could mean you not being able to put on or even play the next show the way it’s meant to be done, and that’s a disservice to the people who will be paying to see you perform.

When you’re not working, you are:
Reading Murakami, hanging with my friends, reflecting on life, and other broody things that musicians do.

The one thing not too many people know about you:
I see two of everything all the time. It’s called Diplopia.

Your favourite fiction film / documentary on music:

There’s a video called “Why you do this” on Youtube, which is about the band Car Bomb. It’s one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen about the touring music business, and I think it’s essential watching for anyone who wants to get into this business long term, because this shit is NOT easy. It’s full of frustration, financial struggle, playing to crowds of ten, relationships back home falling apart because you’re away for months on the road, the stress of not having a ‘regular’ job with a regular paycheck, the constant thought at the back of your head to throw it all away and join the rat race. I’ve experienced every one of these so hard, and it has changed me completely as a person, and the way I look at music and the music business.

What’s on your playlist these days?
Telefon Tel Aviv, Jakob, Tomas Dvorak, Mree, Thrice, The Contortionist, and a bunch of “related videos” on Youtube.

If you weren’t a musician + producer what would you be doing?
I’d probably have done an MBA, got a crappy regular day job, and been wondering everyday of what might have been.

What’s your personal style on stage / your go-to gig outfit?
I like to keep it simple, a dark button-down and trousers and black shoes is usually my thing. Our shows can get very sweaty, and we have to reuse a lot of our stage clothes because we don’t get laundry everyday, so the less elaborate the outfit the better!

Your biggest fashion faux pas:
I once played an entire show not realising that my jeans were completely split up the crotch. Thankfully my guitar covered it all for the whole time, but I got off stage and was mortified!

A pieces of clothing you can’t do without:
I can’t say that there’s anything I can’t do without, but I am very fond of this one particular shirt that I think looks great on stage. It has dark green checks and just makes me look so much classier. Haha!

A music festival you have to be at in this lifetime:
I’ve actually checked off most of my bucket list festivals already! But if Sonisphere comes back I would really love to go for that one.

For the uninitiated, what Skyharbor tracks should they listen to as an introduction to the band?
I think the songs ‘Patience’ and ‘Blind Side’ are really good (and relatively accessible) examples of what we sound like, and they have gotten a lot of love so far, so yeah probably those two.

What can we look forward to with Skyharbor?

A new record in the coming few months, hopefully a bunch more tours around the world, and I’m just happy to take things as they come - it’s incredibly stressful being in a touring band, and I’m just grateful for every opportunity we’ve gotten so far.

Music to you, is synonymous with...?