Technology is often maligned for being responsible for social isolation and disconnection, but for Indian/American intercontinental prog collective Skyharbor, this couldn’t be further from the truth. We spoke to mastermind and guitarist Keshav Dhar regarding their newest opus, ‘Sunshine Dust’.
His tone immediately crackles with excitement. ‘We always get so excited when an album’s about to drop,’ he remarks. ‘We’re all eagerly awaiting all those notifications popping on our phones, seeing people’s first reactions and sensing their initial excitement.’ Their phones must be melting right now – the response to the album has been overwhelmingly positive and met with high praise.
He meets the topic of the new album with much nostalgia about the metamorphosis from one-man studio project to international recording and touring outfit. ‘The initial idea was never playing live,’ he notes. ‘It started as a studio thing and as a creative outlet.’
As an aspiring producer, Dhar notes that ‘one can often struggle to get work, because you’re unknown and artists aren’t yet trusting of you – sometimes the easiest thing to do is create some music for yourself and let the results do the talking.’ Which is exactly what the studio-bound guitarist did, putting instrumental tracks up online for free.
The rest of the story is even more serendipitous: ‘There was this festival called the NH7 Weekender, which is one of India’s biggest international heavy festivals’. Knowing the organisers personally in the tight-knight Indian music community, Dhar was asked to put a band together. ‘Luckily, Anup (Sastry, ex-drummer) emailed me; he’d heard my stuff and was keen on doing some drum covers. I asked if he’d like to play a festival so he, Nikhil (Raj, ex-bassist) and I played the show.’ Even as an instrumental piece, they received enough attention that, after recording their first album, Chris Adler from Lamb of God emailed Keshav personally: ‘‘Would you be keen?’, Chris asked me, and I was like, ‘uh, f**k yeah!’’ Dhar exclaims.
The rest, as they say, is history.
As of today, Skyharbor is in a challenging position, as they are split between the continents of United States and India. This logistical issue was burdensome, and a reason that former members sought leave. ‘We struggled with the whole DIY thing for a while,’ Dhar admits. ‘We tried the self-management thing – we thought we could handle all the aspects of making an album, making a band work, all the larger machinery. It was just so stressful.’
‘But now things are good!’ Dhar beams, relief in his voice, obviously happy to have seen Skyharbor sign to the Goodfight/eOne labels, and now also receiving management support. ‘We were lucky to find good management in Empire Reign,’ he remarks. ‘They realised what we need more than anything is time to focus on being creative, and not the logistical issues.’
Glad to have creative energy to channel back into their work, the band spent a month in Australia at Studio Circuit in Burleigh Heads to record ‘Sunshine Dust’. Interestingly, Dhar notes that they’d ‘been listening to so much Australian prog – Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus, The Butterfly Effect et cetera’. Thus, when Forrester (Savell, producer) asked for a brief, Keshav had one request – ‘Can you make this sound as Australian as possible?’
By ‘Australian’, Dhar refers less to country tunes and more to a reportedly unique and iconic sound we possess. ‘I don’t know who to describe it,’ he admits, ‘it’s just this big, juicy, anthemic, rocking, ambient sound, it makes you feel like the band is right there in the room with you!’ Indeed, this fourth-wall-breaking sonic element is apparent in spades on ‘Sunshine Dust’. ‘There’s something to be said about Forrester’s production and this sound – today, when everything is boxed, digital and sterile…to have that feeling the band is there with you is something special.’ Dhar also cites many other non-Australian influences like Oceansize, Radiohead, Deftones, Devin Townsend and others in forming their unique, wall-of-sound prog on the new record.
Another important external support the band rely heavily on is communication, via technology. ‘We’ve done what we can with what we have,’ Dhar reflects. ‘Things like Dropbox, text and chat apps like WhatsApp we’ve really embraced’. More importantly, according to Dhar, is keeping it relaxed but consistent. ‘Even when we’re not talking shop, we try to chat as much as possible, send each other stupid memes (laughs), talk about our lives, all that. Making sure the humour and friendship is there.’ Sound advice for any modern band trying to make it, especially over such distance. As for coordinating the music, Dhar compels band members to ‘strike while the iron is hot with their own inspiration, as we can’t be reliant waiting on others for the right moment’.
However, when the band do get together, he feels a tangible sense of electricity and excitement in the group. ‘It’s a good feeling,’ he acknowledges. ‘There’s this energy which suddenly comes up from nowhere. ‘For example, when we came to Australia and met up again, it was like: ‘Woah, this is like new relationship energy!’ He assures that transference of that energy worked its’ way into the new album and will do so when they begin touring to support ‘Sunshine Dust’.
Speaking of tours- ‘I can’t make any comment on that just yet,’ Dhar chuckles, ‘but let’s just say the wheels are in motion for the future. Stay tuned, guys!’
GET YOUR HANDS ON “SUNSHINE DUST” HERE!