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Interviews |  31 Oct 2017 18:00 |  By RnMTeam

Working with other artistes opens a whole new level of experience and ideas: Nikhil Suresh

MUMBAI: He created all the buzz with Shake Dat Monkey and Into The Light and is ready to make some more noise with 91 Sound Studios. Well, we are talking about the LA-based sound engineer, music producer, Nikhil Suresh. This musician took a liking for the guitar at the age of 11 and by the time he turned a teenager, he was already strumming the chords of the instrument. He polished his musical skills and soon mastered sound engineering and later went on to work with musicians around the world, such as India, UK, and Japan. Having produced work for Billboard artistes and worked on various Indian and international festivals he is trying to bring in a change in the music and sound engineering space. 

In an exclusive interview with Radioandmusic, Suresh talks about his musical journey, his understanding of Indian music and wish to collaborate with Indian artiste. Excerpts. 

How did music happen to you?

What really got me to pick up the guitar was the video for the song Smells Like Teen Spirit, by Nirvana. I remember once I got the guitar, I used to play along to the song, watching the video, hoping I could be on stage someday myself. Although I do remember having seen a guitar when I was younger at a store and wanted to play it, I believe I was 11 - 12, my strongest recollection of wanting to learn the instrument wasn’t till I was 13-14, watching videos of Nirvana. So it’s safe to say Kurt Cobain of Nirvana was one of my earliest influences as a guitar player. Along with that, around that time, when I started playing guitar, I listened to Simple Plan, Korn, MLTR, In Flames, just a variety of things that kept me interested in the instrument, although I was only able to play the simpler songs. Then in high school, I had my first guitar lessons, the teacher's name was Roy Zimmerman. It was actually based on a conversation that my parents had with him that I was allowed to go to school for Audio Engineering. So, if it weren’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be an audio engineer/musician.

You gradually developed liking for hard metal.

In high school, I started listening to more rock music, Green Day, System of a Down, Likin Park, Limp Bizkit etc. I mean it was around 2006/2007 and these bands were really big around that time. Around winter 2007 I explored more metal music. I did listen to Metallica, Korn, Iron Maiden and In Flames when I was younger, but I didn’t know it was part of the “metal” genre. Once I found out what metal was, due to the highly intricate guitar performances in metal, I was drawn a lot to it. Also, the aggression and vibe of it drew me, being a teenage boy, towards the music. Once I started listening to metal, it was all out from there. I’m still very much a heavy metal fan, a metalhead as we’d call it. Although nowadays, my appreciation for the other genres has grown a lot. In my free time, when I listen to music, it’s mostly Rock and Metal.

You're a guitarist, sound engineer who has worked with people from different countries. How did these collaborations happen?

Well, to be honest, most of these collaborations actually happen from meeting people at college or meeting them at other places, for example, the engineering work I did for Costi, Drei Ros, Adrian Sina and Larry Gheorghiu were all linked. I attended the Recording School with Larry, and he needed someone to help him with the engineering on a couple of sessions and he called me for the gig.

The Quarantine gig I had was through a friend I met at SAE Institute. Art of Decay, I actually met the guitarist of the band at the gym. 

You've performed at various international festivals. How did you get through these fests?

As a performer, I didn’t push much to get onto different festivals. I was fortunate enough that the bands I was in already had some traction going on and they were already getting booked. I wasn’t handling the management side of things with any of the bands I’ve performed with -- except for a few I started in London – so, it wasn’t much of me doing anything. The agents/bookers wanted the band to play at the show and I just had to show up and play.

Does a countries culture influence a musical fest or they share something in common universally?

There are some differences I noticed when I look back at it. To be honest though, at the end of the day I felt it was pretty similar regardless of where I’ve been. Of course, the cultural differences do play a factor when it comes to the music itself, but not as much the festivals. Only one thing I do vividly remember was one of the first major festivals I worked at in Bangalore. The cops showed up to the venue, they held up the show for about 15-20 minutes and asked the organizer to show the permits for the festival. Once everything was cleared they allowed the show to continue. It was only at one show though. I had a feeling that being a rock show with tons of 16-27-year-old boys and girls dressed in a very “rock” attire, all black with chains and ripped jeans etc, and making a lot of noise had a lot to do with it. 

Overall, music is music, and music is universal. It has always been my experiences that at a show people forget all differences, whether they be cultural, political. They are just there to enjoy themselves

Sound engineers usually go unnoticed. What do you have to say about it?

When an engineer has performed the task well, he/she is unnoticed. It’s primarily because I feel when an engineer has competently recorded and mixed any given song, then people’s attention should go directly to the song. If someone notices an edited sound or a bad fade or worse, unnecessarily used techniques which distract the listener from the experience the artiste is trying to capture, that’s when they start realizing the whole process behind it. When everything is done fantastically, people shouldn’t even think about the technical crew involved. They should be fully surrounded by the world the artiste is trying to create within the piece, regardless of if it’s a movie or a song.

You've worked with artistes around the world. How was the experience?

I’ve been very fortunate to be able to experience the things I have and working with artistes around the world is just one of them. Just being able to learn from these artistes and their vastly different approaches have helped me understand things for myself. I do love working with other people on projects because you open a whole new level of experience and ideas by bringing someone into your project. Everyone sees things differently and so there might be a really cool idea which you might have not ever thought of. The idea could be brought to your project if you just share and collaborate on it with others.

Who are you collaborating with next?

Currently, I’m collaborating with a couple of people in different bands actually, working on two new tracks, for my project Reveries. This features drummers from different bands in the area. One of the songs will have Athanasia’s Caleb Bingham on drums, if you’re into pure old school heavy metal, check out Caleb’s band Athanasia. They’re fantastic. He actually does the vocals and guitars for that band. The second track will feature Art Of Decay’s drummer David D’Auria on drums. Both the tracks are shaping out to be great.

How connected are you to Indian music?

Well, at some level I’m sure my roots lie in Indian music. My parents love “film music” and my dad always used to play Bollywood and Carnatic songs. I didn’t necessarily dislike anything I heard. Also, to be honest, I was recently thinking about this and a lot of the rock and especially heavy metal music have a lot of similarities with Carnatic music at some level. Many of the popular ragas that we have are very similar to the scales used in heavy metal. During my time in India, I noticed that heavy metal was gaining a widespread popularity in the country, and I do understand that at a certain level that it has to do with college kids being very "edgy" at that age and associating with the edginess of the music. But, I also think that at a very subconscious level possibly that having grown up listening to ragas and melodies with a similar, often times “exotic,” as they would call it here as compared to western classical music, tones, the Indian audience might potentially be “hardwired” to appreciate metal music.This is what is making metal a more appreciated thing in the east as well. 

Any plans of collaborating with an Indian artiste?

Would love to, if anyone reading this would like to collaborate please do shoot me a line through the 91 Sound Studios website. I’m always open to collaborations and creating new music.