How did you first get involved with synths and electronic sound?
I migrated from India in 2015 after launching my album ‘Eyes On The Radio’. The album featured my six-piece band ‘Avi And the Uprising’ and had a distinct Hindustani flavoured blues sound. When I moved to Australia, I had to leave my band behind, leading me to Ableton Live as a new way represent my sound live when performing solo in Australia.
Ableton completely changed how I approached arrangement and production and introduced me to a whole world of creative possibilities while also being fully D.I.Y., my next three albums were all electronic and fully self-produced.
How would you describe the sounds you make today?
Electronic Rock with an Indian flavour.
My track ‘One Connection’ was born from the MESS Professional Development Course – I’ve started moving towards a Hindustani Electronica direction.
In some ways, I’m at the crossroads between defining myself as a rock musician bringing in Indian / Electronica influences into the genre and as a Hindustani musician who is contemporizing the form.
Where do you find inspiration, what motivates you?
India started liberalizing as I grew up, making it a place of rapid change. MTV opened a strange new world for middle class Indian kids like me, and Nirvana, Pearl Jam and R.E.M ignited a fascination for digging into this thing called rock and roll. As a child, I was particularly obsessed with The Doors and Pink Floyd’s somewhat hypnotic music, and would buy cassettes with my pocket money.
In the nineties, there was no such thing as Googling your favourite artist, and finding cassettes could be tricky, so having a cassette collection was a somewhat exclusive hobby. Somebody’s cousin would have a ‘Quadrophenia’ tape from their two years studying in the UK, and you would be lucky to borrow it, go through the booklet with cool artwork that spoke of Mods and Rockers and be transported into another scene. I was the guy with the massive tape collection because I discovered hacks of getting very old obscure tapes from strange places all over Delhi – Vegetable bazaars, second hand import markets, you name it. I often sold or traded these tapes for a profit – I think I was more entrepreneurial as a kid than I am now!
I always wrote songs in my head, but being neuro diverse – I just banged on the drums for three years when I started playing music without any lessons. I started taking Hindustani Classical Vocal Classes about twenty years ago, and that gave me some structure in which to compose. I’ve been playing various instruments since – guitar, keyboard, bass but I find immense joy in approaching groove boxes as instruments.
My process is still largely trial and error, feeling and playing; in that way my work is slow cooked because it takes way more time than someone who reads the manual.
I still listen to my old tape collection on the old Two in One that my folks got from Japan, and I try to make records that find their own place in that hallowed collection, while creating an authentic expression that brings in new lyrical perspectives, sonic textures, and musical traditions into the mix.
What’s been one of the most rewarding or satisfying moments of your journey so far?
There have been many – playing a show to about 10,000 people at Central Park in Connaught Place to celebrate 100 years of Delhi. Playing one of the biggest festivals in Asia where the soundie completely cut off everything on our monitors and still playing for twice as long as scheduled because the crowd demanded encore after encore and finding my own music video shot on no budget in a slum that housed the biggest colony of entertainers in the world on high rotation on MTV, cleansing public consciousness in developing countries of Justin Bieber’s ‘music’ all be it for a brief flashing moment in time.
Most recently, finding a whole a world of analog synthesis unlocked with the Professional Development course at MESS and composing my fifth album Nostalgia with these synths, was a definite highlight.
And the most challenging?
Putting thousands of hours of work into every record, and then having to deal with algorithms and industry gatekeepers just to get the music heard makes it tough to survive in the music industry as an original artist.
Lockdown was particularly challenging for me, I was worried about my family back in India. I also had to accept that my new reality might be never gigging again.
This rocked my mental health, but the Professional Development Course at MESS was a therapeutic experience. Listening to the overtones, sounds and patches of vintage synths, and being part of a supportive community helped me get back to my work as an artist. I was eventually able to reach a point where I recorded my fifth album Nostalgia using almost exclusively using vintage synths from the MESS collection.
Do you have a current ‘go to’ set up at MESS? Any favourite machines or combos that you’re currently digging?
Playing and recordings synths from the MESS collection including the Hammond Novachord, Moog System 55, Yamaha CS80, Fender Rhodes and the Minimoog, gave me an understanding of the history and evolution of electronic music.
Robin Fox made a killer bass patch on the Moog System 55 that sparked a super creative 3 day burst, where I recorded basslines for all 8 tracks on ‘Nostalgia’ over beats that I had played on the Push.
I then layered the Hammond Novachord ,Yamaha CS 80 and Minimoog with the occasional sprinkling of some soft synth patches that made using samples from a jam with folk musicians from Rajasthan in 2013.
Are there any machines in the MESS collection you’ve had your eye on but haven’t tried yet?
I’d like to challenge my very tonal sensibilities and get into some West Coast synthesis on the Buchla200e System.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice when you first started what would it be?
Focus on making great records mostly for your own listening pleasure. Accept your own creative process even if it’s weird. Get off on learning. Go to a park every day. Embrace imperfection and don’t let the bullshit derail you.
Avi Launches Nostaliga at the Toff in Town on March 2nd, 2023
He will be joined by fellow MESS Professional Development alumni, singer-songwriter Camilla Rose Sullivan and Live Electronic Musicians of Melbourne (L.E.M.O.M.) director Simon Quinn’s synth wave duo ‘ The Safety Word’.