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News |  14 Dec 2016 16:56 |  By RnMTeam

The cons of being without a label are the biggest pros: Skyharbor's Keshav Dhar

MUMBAI: There's an exciting buzz every time Skyharbor announces a new development, especially if the update concerns multiple live shows at some of the country’s best live venue outlets. Such has been the band’s influence on the ‘independent’ music scene that not only did the fans instantly inquire about the availability of merchandise on the band’s event page for the tour that would end tonight in Pune, but the venues have banked on the popularity that arrives with the band. As Skyharbor returned to the music festival – Bacardi NH7 Weekender 2016 – where it all began for the progressive metal outfit, the perception towards the band had obviously changed. In fact, it has changed to such an extent that aspiring musicians look up to the Skyharbor members for inspiration, especially the only surviving member of the original line-up – Keshav Dhar. Not only that, Dhar’s phone been constantly buzzing with the Bollywood producers keenly tracking the musician’s growth, one project after another.


The 2016's Weekender performance, second stop of its ongoing India tour, received an impressive turnout, but a music festival can never provide an accurate number of dedicated turnouts present for a particular act. However, the Weekender performance followed the tour opener at Kolkata’s The Festival where the response impressed Dhar as he took to social media to confess about the “most love” he ever received at a show. A surprising - by all means - growth for an act whose genre (in the subcontinent) to a certain extent is still niche within niche. But none of that reflected on the shows that followed the second show of the tour.

Close to 300 fans turned up for the antiSocial leg of the tour, whereas the franchise’s Mumbai venue was a full-house. (An impressive figure considering the tickets was priced at Rs. 1000 and Rs. 750 for the respective venues).


Skyharbor isn’t new to the world of touring. In fact, possibly, strictly among the metal bands, Skyharbor continues to remain the most toured band beyond India. However, what magnitude of an impact ‘live shows’ has on a band’s sustainability and survivability continues to remain a debatable issue. But, when you insert the term ‘international’ before ‘tour’, not many arguments or doubts remain anymore. “In fact, touring, especially internationally, is a huge money drain at the start. It’s almost a given that you will go into a considerable loss in the beginning. But if you stick it long enough, you’ll start breaking even and then eventually making profits. It takes many many years though,” informed Dhar. Towards the late of 2015 and the mid of 2016, Skyharbor went ‘international’ – not for the first time - to extend its outreach further to a market where the band’s genre isn’t niche within niche (or niche, in the first place).

Skyharbor provides the example of the successful North American tour to showcase the most lethal element for survival of a band in an unknown competitive territory. “Audience wise, America feels very welcoming for sure. It is by far the hardest market to break into, given that you’re competing with practically every big band of all time that’s existed, but it’s a real test of your endurance. If you can harden yourself enough to power through your first US tour and not come out wanting to kill yourself, you’ll be fine,” replied the guitarist, when asked if tour have become yet another teacher to a band that dared to explore opportunities that knocked the first time.

Guiding Lights

Skyharbor will head to its final leg of the seven-city India tour after a performance in guitarist Devesh Dayal’s hometown (Mumbai) sans the guitarist, and Skyharbor’s founder, in more ways than one, has adapted to similar situations that arrive with being an ‘indie’ act. The music producer and songwriter has witnessed the ‘scene’ evolve along the lines of adapting to the necessities and the pattern, more often than not, has been bit of a troublemaker for any dreamer.

A no non-sense band, Skyharbor dealt with familiar unfortunate departures and subsequent fortunate arrivals, and one can sense how the tradition has affected the only surviving member of the original line-up. “The thing to always remember is why one started a particular musical project, or band, with certain people. The answer in almost every case comes back to - ‘because it’s fun’. When a project or a band grows to a point where it becomes more of a responsibility and less of the outlet that it used to be when you started out, for some people that can simply be a deal breaker.”


There’s maturity in what Dhar offers in terms of ideas and solutions through his interactions. An ideal subject to speak about the music industry and despite the growth in demand for his services, the musician still, highly and fondly, speaks about the ground realities. One can sense a tone of discontent or worry when the guitarist speaks about the instability in line-ups and the subsequent hindrances towards its outcome. “If it’s not fun anymore, then the music will suffer, because you won’t enjoy the process as much. And if the music suffers, then the eventual vision and obviously the style will change, albeit not for the better. It will become a watered down version of what it could have been.”

Usually, an influential member’s exit from any band (and it’s a global phenomenon) leads to followers walking out on the band thus leading to a downfall in its popularity and sales. Daniel Tompkins’s exit, the former vocalist, shocked almost every Skyharbor follower then, and some fans have still not accepted the new reality in the form of Eric Emery, the replacement voice for Skyharbor. However, as Dhar rightly points out, in Skyharbor’s case, two elements continue to be the five-piece band’s priority.
“I would never hold it against anyone if they felt like being in this band was not what they wanted to do anymore, because the integrity and passion behind the music needs to always come first,” asserted Dhar.

One of the most astoundingly bizarre parts of the encouraging rise of the independent market of the country is the ‘hits’ and ‘misses’ in terms of record labels scouting for the next talent. Shockingly, none of the major record label has yet approached Skyharbor for a tie-up, a band that – as Dhar points out – enjoyed an increase in sales during the last two years. The band has enjoyed the privileges that have arrived with no associations to a record label and Skyharbor prefers to focus on the positives of the same. “I think that a label is a wonderful asset to have behind you especially when you’re starting out, as they are able to open doors that one simply won’t know how to find, let alone open oneself. There is a lot they take care of and that the band can take for granted, because you have no idea about what’s actually going on behind the scenes and the amount of work that’s needed beyond just the 4-5 musicians jamming, to keep the machine rolling,” added Dhar.

In fact, the musician cannot help but look at the greener side of the lack of associations with a major label force. “The cons of being without a label are almost in a way like the biggest pros, as it makes you have to take on all those responsibilities yourself, and I believe it’s extremely important for every musician to experience that so that they appreciate what it takes, and understands the workings of every part of the machine, not just the fun and vibes of the jam room,” educated Dhar.


For a band that once supported the biggies like Lamb of God (in 2012) and Tesseract (Polaris Tour, 2015), executed its India tour with support from the bands that hold the status of ‘headliners’ themselves; for example – post-rock outfit ‘Aswekeepsearching’ and instrumental/progressive rock outfit ‘Pangea’ in Mumbai. The perception towards Skyharbor’s evolution still has not reached to a unanimous conclusion as some still claimed most of the limelight arrived through Daniel Tompkins’s presence in the outfit. However, the ongoing India tour has not only argued the claim, but to a certain stretch, proved it wrong, and how. Skyharbor still remain the darlings for music promoters in the country and the band played smart with the timing for the tour.

The month of December hosts multi-band initiatives, and The Gig Week, Bacardi NH7 Weekender and The Festival further helped Skyharbor’s 2016 ‘live’ cause. Skyharbor enjoys the expertise in branding, marketing and promotional duties through the presence of Dhar that so effectively played a vital role in its six-year-long outreach.  


The band has hit the studio once again. Unlike previous studio efforts, there’s an assurance and confidence regarding longevity of the current line-up. Would it exceed beyond an album, and work on the success that has appeared with time? The new beginning differs from what the testing times Skyharbor experienced in its early years. With Krishna Jhaveri, Aditya Ashok, Eric Emery and Devesh Dayal, Dhar’s ‘only a bedroom project’ a few years ago has, now, arrived at a curve in its journey where things looks positively constructive, in terms of consistency and the balance between live and studio efforts. Dhar also informed 2017 will lay down releases for the third full length album that could also be followed with a short EP. Two Skyharbor records in a year? Well, surely grabbed our attentions.