Interview by: Gagan Atreya
For anyone who’s in touch with the underground music scene in Kathmandu, “Ayurveda” is probably a familiar name by now, so I’m not going to spend much time ‘introducing’ them, except saying that you have been missing out on some super awesome high quality music if you’re somehow still in the dark.
You can go to their website (http://www.ayurvedamusic.com/) for more information about this amazing band.
For a little band that started out at a college, you might say that they have come a long way; but if you have ever been to one of their shows and seen what these guys are able to do on stage, you’ve probably wondered how these guys are not selling out stadiums (not to say that is what defines a good musician).
This is the interview that I conducted with them via email. I would have loved to do it face-to-face but that is just how things turned out.
Tom Burchinal – Vox, Keys
Diwas Gurung – Guitar, Vox
Shikhar Bajracharya – Guitar
Dan Halperin – Bass, Synth, Live Drum Sequencing
Mike Parker – Drums
First of all, congratulations on achieving everything you guys have gotten so far. You have toured the entire country several times, played in Festivals with artists from all around the world, released three albums, several EPs and continue to gather more and more admirers everyday. And you just crossed 3K fans on Facebook. Tell us how the journey has been like.
Mike – Ayurveda has never been a hobby. We are all working hard every day, pushing ourselves and each other to be better musicians, and better people, learning from our victories and mistakes. We love what we do and we are always striving for more. I am proud of what we have accomplished so far, but I feel like we are just getting started.
Diwas - It is easy to get wrapped up in daily tribulations to realize how much of an “impact” we have already made. When we started we really had no idea what shape or form the band would take. Any development we have had has been organic and at a slow and steady pace, like the preparation of a succulent biryani.
Dan – Thanks, we absolutely thought we would make it at least this far. The plan from the beginning has been for the five of us to live off of our music. So there’s still ways to go.
Tom – Frankly, I thought we’d be a lot further in our career by now, but it certainly has been an interesting ride.
Shikhar – I didn’t have any idea how far we would go when we started out, which was in the beginning of college. I just figured if we stuck together and wrote good music, then good things would eventually happen to us, which they have. The journey has been extraordinary. I consider myself lucky to be able to pursue a dream with four other like-minded individuals. Still, my Hajurma and Hajurbuwa think I’m crazy. And so do my parents.
I know a lot of your fans know this, but can you briefly describe how the band started? And why you decided to stick with the name Ayurveda?
Mike – The other boys can fill in the back-story, but I joined the band after playing on the self-titled EP. As far as the name is concerned, it was in place long before I came along. However, back then it was just a name. I think we grew into the name Ayurveda between 2007 and 2009.
Dan – Diwas, Shikhar, and Tom started the band at Ithaca College. Mike Parker and I joined shortly before the release of the band’s first official EP in 2006. The name has been something we’ve grown into. I think it’s an important word, one that demands us to make sophisticated, nuanced music.
Shikhar – Tom and I met at Ithaca College during orientation. We both had a desire to start a band in college and we were fortunate to meet each other during that time. I met Diwas because I was looking for other Nepali people to hang out with. Shortly after that, the 3 of us started playing together with a revolving lineup of bass players and drummers, until Dan and Mike joined the band. With their additions, we became more serious about the band and the direction we want to head in. “Ayurveda” was a name that we picked because it sounded “cool” for lack of a better term. We wanted a name that was one word and but had a presence to it. Its meaning, “The Knowledge of Life,” is a perfect example of the band we’ve grown into, one that defies categorization and strives to create smart and honest music.
Can you tell us about your (individual) influences as musicians?
Mike – I’m all over the map on this one… I love so many players. But usually when asked I answer with these fellows Matt Chamberlain, Vinnie Colaluta, Steve Gadd, Dave Weckl, Will Calhoun, William Goldsmith… this list goes on forever. I think that I have been influenced in some way by everyone I’ve ever really listened to… for better or worse.
Diwas – I am influenced by so many things its overwhelming to put it into words. I think I have stopped having distinctions between genres and styles. Some music may have simple music but have powerful words and imagery. I think currently I am into that style of music. Bands like Midlake and Wilco, are really redefining certain things to me. On the opposite spectrum, I have lately been quite inspired by a lot of electronic music, specifically minimal techno. I love watching videos of DJ’s who use their gear as instruments. There is art in that.
Guitar specific, I love Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin, Ali Farka Toure, Eric Johnson etc. I actually just came out of a couple of months of an intense Eric Johnson obsession; everything from his tone to his phrasing. It is easy to get obsessive about such a unique player like him.
Dan – As a kid, like most my age, I loved classic rock and grunge. When I joined the band, that changed to ‘prog’ rock stuff, like King Crimson and Porcupine Tree. Right now I mostly let Pandora pick the music for me. Currently I’ve taken an earnest interest in some of the new electronic music that’s coming out, as well as African folk music from Mali.
Tom – I have too many influences to possibly name… I feel like a good artist is constantly being influenced by everything. But thinking strictly as a vocalist here I’d say some major influences have been Tool, Radiohead, Bjork, Michael Jackson, and Jeff Buckley; and some fellas from Liverpool, named after an insect I believe…
Shikhar – I was always heavily influenced by the 90′s grunge bands. All of my cousins and my sister listened to it, so by default, I listened to it. Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains are big influences. Along with that, and in no particular order, I’m also heavily into Tool, Radiohead, Fiona Apple, Pink Floyd, The Beatles (and most of their solo albums), Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, King Crimson, Nine Inch Nails, Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Megadeth, Ali Farka, Herbie Hancock, Consider the Source, Villa Vina, Priestbird, Smashing Pumpkins, Narayan Gopal, Stone Temple Pilots, Mr. Gnome, Bjork, Beck, Jeff Beck, The Avett Brothers, The Roots, Michael Jackson, and the list goes on and on and on. There are simply too many artists in every genre of music that I enjoy listening to. In the past, I used to be really picky about what I listened to. But these days, I try to listen to everything. There’s no point in being closed-minded. That’s like being an asshole.
Your first full-length record (Being) was produced by Alex Perialas, who has worked with such artists as Testament and Bad Religion. And yet you decided to do everything (from recording, mixing, hand-printing the covers to distributing your subsequent records to even printing your merchandise) yourselves. And I believe you all have your day jobs on the side, but still tour the whole US twice a year. Not to forget that you’ve released four albums and an EP in less than three years (counting Diwas’ Rato Mato CD). Tell us what makes all of this possible, and what it is like working with such a figure as Alex?
Mike – Well, I am actually a Producer/Engineer. That is what brought me to Ithaca and eventually lead me to Ayurveda. Or should I say lead them to me?
I first met Alex in 1999. He produced a record for a band I was playing drums in at the time. About a year later I left the band and he asked me to come and work with him at his studio. And that is exactly what I did. For several years I just produced and engineered project after project. However, I was also playing as a studio musician on about half of the records we made. And that is how I ended up in Ayurveda.
Having Alex produce “Being” was a lot of fun, and it took a lot of the weight off of my shoulders. It gave me a chance relax a just be a musician for a change. Alex and I are very close friends and it always a treat when we get to work together. It just made sense for me to step back into the producer’s hat on the subsequent albums.
On “Down the Staircase”, we were really ready to move on from the heavier sound that had defined our earlier work. Being a member of the band, I knew our new sound was very intimately. It was a natural part of our evolution. I’m sure that someday we will try other methods and work with different producers, but for now the formula just seems to work.
Diwas -I think the months preceding the “Being” sessions, a few things happened. First, business wise, I think we all woke up from the fantasy of the “record label fairy tale”; the classic “get picked up by label-get famous-have nervous breakdown”, routine. And second, musically, we knew what we liked about our sound, and what we hated, and most importantly what we wanted. We believe that it’s better to be small but to have full control of everything that includes shows, merchandise, art, design, and the whole thing. And what makes it possible for us to do all that is commitment and priority. The band is the number one priority for all of us, and once that part is solidified between all the members, everything else is a lot easier. However, if you were to get to the heart of it, I think the biggest factor is love. Love for the band, the music, the fans and for each other.
Working with Alex, personally, was an incredible opportunity to be schooled. It was like recording boot camp, but I loved every minute of it. The things I learned from him will always help me. As a producer he is amazing, but as a person, he is a legend. The sweetest, warmest and the raunchiest person you will ever meet.
Dan – We have a great relationship with pyramid sound studios and Alex Perialas, who’s allowed us to do tracking and mixing in the studio for little cost on the last two records. Alex has also gotten us up to the studio at Ithaca College, which has turned into some released material. In order to release as much material as possible, we all work together and force ourselves to learn new skills, like screen-printing and show booking and web design. No one has our interests in mind more than us, so it’s important that we can do it all ourselves.
Tom – Well to answer the first question, I would say it’s possible because it’s what we want to do. That’s all there is to it. When you have a goal, you find a find a way to make it happen. No one else is gonna do it for you.
To the second question, I think each member of the band has a different relationship with Alex. For me, I see him as kind of an old-school sonic Guru. He knows way more about the studio process than I could ever dream. The first record we made with him was my first record ever, so I was really just trying to soak it all in and learn as much as I could. But it was a little overwhelming for me – it’s a lot to learn. The main thing that wore off on me was his work ethic – which is unparalleled – he works harder than anyone I’ve ever met. But in addition to that, he’s just entertaining. He has a way of keeping high-work-load-intense-situations very light hearted and fun. His sense of humor is wacky to say the least.
It just so happened that our Mike Parker was his principle studio-disciple for years before Ayurveda ever came along. So Mike had the best training you can get, direct from the master himself. Which I guess goes back to the first question. That’s a big advantage, and certainly helps us do what we do.
Shikhar – Our collective attitudes and our ability to work together has been vital to our success, and everything we’ve achieved thus far has been a result of that teamwork. That, plus having a recording engineer in the band really helps. And having money…lots of money. I’m kidding, we don’t have any money. But our parents do.
Working with Alex was a great experience. He has a no-bullshit approach to making music which I love and he’s got a great sense of humor. I had never recorded a full-length record before “Being,” so I learned a great deal about how the recording process works.
Your latest record is just heavy-duty in so many aspects. Please describe the making of H. Luminous. Was it a conscious decision to come up with a concept album or was it just something that happened?
Mike -H. Luminous just sort of happened… and fast. We were just sort of working on some ideas and boom… there it was. We went into the studio as soon as it was finished. We tracked the music together, live in the same room. One continuous take with no overdubs (Of course we didn’t get it on the first take. It took several tries). We then tracked the vocals the next day in one 4 hour session. We wanted to keep it as raw and as real as possible. No studio magic. We just let that piece speak for itself.
Dan – At first we started writing one song, and we just kept adding parts. After a few parts were strung together, we just decided to go for a concept piece that just flows as one work. We were just off of our first tour and feeling antsy to produce something new, so we hunkered down last winter and wrote the whole thing in a few weeks.
Tom – When we started writing that record, we intended it to be a 4 or 5 minute single that we could release online before the winter break for our fans (what was essentially the first track, “serpent & shaman”). But we just couldn’t find a way to end the damn song! Each new riff that was intended to be the conclusion just turned into another segue – one after the next after the next. And before we knew it, we had 12 consecutive minutes of music, and another part of about 8 minutes, or something like that.
At that point we just decided to give in and make a whole record. I think it was mutually understood by everyone that it would be some kind of concept record in the end, but the specific concept came a bit later, and primarily from my head after a few very late nights with some very interesting books and internet videos. I shared the general concept with the fellas, but they mostly just trusted me to get it done, and do it well. And I trusted that the Universe would help me write what would need to be written when it should be written. I don’t believe in forcing creativity. When inspiration strikes, it strikes. And you have to be ready to jump on the impulse. But that trust was a really inspirational part of the process for me. In fact, I left town for almost a month on a personal trip just to separate myself from the whole process and clear my head.
I came back with nothing written. I remember Mike asking me if I was going to be ready to record in two weeks, and I had nothing. The guys hadn’t heard any of my ideas at that point… it had to be pretty crazy for them. But about a week before we went into the studio, I spent two consecutive nights in seclusion and had a very deep and profound connection to the piece (or perhaps it was something else?), and wrote the whole thing in one fell-swoop at the end of that second night.
The Universe provides, my friend! That’s been the easiest and most natural record to write yet
Shikhar – H. Luminous just happened. There was no plan to make piece that spanned 25 minutes while integrating many styles of music at the same time. We started with a chord progression that Mike had, then we just kept adding parts to it. Everyone had riffs, sounds, and ideas that eventually gave birth to a concept piece. At the same time Tom had been researching Mayan culture, specifically the prophecy of the year 2012, and brought that to the table as a narrative to the piece. This was also the first recording that we did live in the studio in order to capture the raw experience of listening to the band.
Speaking of evolution, Down the Staircase marked a stark change from the ‘riff-heavy’ sound that Ayurveda was generally associated with until that point. Did you have any reservations about stepping into new territory at first?
Mike – No reservations at all. We are always growing and changing. Who wants to remake the same record over and over again? Just wait until you hear what we’re working on now;)
Diwas – No reservations at all. In fact, we couldn’t wait. We were getting quite sick and tired of playing the “metal” songs, part of that is due to the fact that we would always get lumped with other “metal” bands, except they weren’t even metal. More like lame meathead metal. I love metal, I grew up on metal, I should know
Additionally, the Nepali Nights we were doing then were a huge help. The looseness of those shows, and the sheer amount of fun we were having, was quite revelatory. I think at some point we talked about how we can be any band we want, have any sound we want, we have no label, no obligations, the only thing that was stopping us, was us. So we didn’t.
Dan – None at all. It was important early on to step out of the derivative metal-driven sound we had established with Being.
Tom – We had anything but reservations. We were all pretty anxious to explore something new (a pattern that we will hopefully continue with for our entire career). Also, four of us were living in the same house at that time; I know that effected how we were writing together. We wrote more like a hive-mind.
Shikhar – Not at all. Music, and art for that matter, is about exploration. We wanted to explore other avenues. It keeps things fresh and interesting; otherwise, all of us would get bored.
You have toured the country three times and also played in Canada. Tell us about some of the best/worst places that you have played, and any interesting tour stories.
Mike – I’m just happy to play. And I love doing it everywhere and anywhere.
Let the other boys cover this one
Diwas – The best thing about touring other than playing sold out arenas to thousands of hysterical preteens, is the amazing food we get to eat with the families we stay with. Most of the time its Nepali food, which is the best!! Last tour, we played in St. Cloud University and Louisiana Tech, and those guys made some amazing stuff for us. No starving artists in this band for sure.
Personally, I also really enjoy meeting the Nepali youth in the U.S, it is always a real pleasure for me, to talk to them and play for them.
Dan – Our very first tour, which was hardly a tour at all, we showed up to our first show in Akron, OH, only to find the club had changed ownership and they had no idea who we were. The second show in Kent, OH, was double booked with a local hip hop act. During our stay in the hotel, the first night our room got flooded, and in the second room we found bed bugs. It’s gotten much better since then.
Tom – Santa Fe has been one of my favorites, and probably because of how our relationship with that town even started…
On our first tour we were booked at this weird all-ages indie-art space in town, not really a music venue necessarily, but you settle for anything when you are on tour and are just trying to make ends meet – especially your first tour. Long story short, we drove hours to get there, and when we arrived, the “venue” informed us that the show had been cancelled. No one had even bothered to tell us. We decided we’d just go into the downtown area of Santa Fe for a while and at least check it out before we shoved on down the road with broken hearts. The five of us split up, I was with Diwas, and while we were walking around we figured we might as well as some locals in various shops about other venues and see if maybe one of them would let us play. We had a small list of places within walking distance to check out (given to us by this awesome dude who had a hat shop with $1000 hats!), the last on the list was a place called Corazon. Diwas and I briefly described the situation we were in to the bartender there who sympathized with our situation and grabbed one of the owners, Mikey (the club booker) from the back. After we told him the situation and where we were from he goes, “Wait, what’s the name of your band again?”
“Do you guys happen to know Noah Drew in Ithaca?”
“Heck yeah we do!”
“Noah and I are old friends from guitar school! He already told me to come out and see you guys, I was planning on coming to your show tonight anyways. I would love to have you guys play here.”
And that was that. It was one of those rare perfectly aligned moments (I won’t say coincidence because I don’t believe in coincidence). We had an amazing show with good turnout, considering it was booked just two hours before, and it was a Monday night. We made some great friends that night too, who I’ve stayed in touch with even outside of tour. Santa Fe continues to be a spot that I look forward to every tour.
Shikhar – First of all, touring across the States has been an eye-opening experience for everyone in the band. We’ve met new friends and reconnected with old ones through playing our music, and that’s only one rewarding part of touring! Amongst the five of us, we have a huge network of family who feed us, house us, and make us feel like we’re at home. For me, it’s nice to catch up with my cousins, uncles, aunts who are spread throughout the States, along with meeting family members from everyone in the band. Without that kind of network, touring would be a lot more difficult mentally, physically, and financially.
In addition, we’ve had the good fortune of having Nepali people in America coming out and showing their support. No other American-based band I know of has this kind of advantage. It means a lot to us, so THANK YOU to everyone who has supported us.
Best Place we’ve played: Corazon in Santa Fe, NM. We went to Santa Fe with no show on a weekday. They let us play that night and we had a great show along with making some great friends. I always love going to Santa Fe.
Worst Place we’ve played: The Bug Jar in Rochester, NY. I think this was during winter on a Thursday or something. We arrived that evening at the bar and no one was there, except the sound man and bartender. I don’t think the bar bothered promoting the show or anything, so we literally played to one person. But hey, you know what? We rocked the fuck out of that guy!!!!
Interesting story: We were on our first national tour with Consider the Source from New York City and went to Potsdam to play La Casbah, a Moroccan restaurant. After both of us played, we were looking for a place to stay and we asked the owner of the bar if we could stay at the restaurant. To our surprise they said yes! And in addition to letting us stay, they also fed us and let us use their kitchen to cook a late night meal. The first night, both bands help cook a meal for everyone. After we ate, we watched a rented movie on one of our computers while using the PA system for sound. The next morning, the restaurant served us coffee and fed us again! On top of that, they let us play that evening as well. After we played, the owner told us we could stay again and this time hung out with us while we cooked another meal together. He even joined in on cooking when he thought we were moving to slow! When the cooking was done, everyone sat down at the dimly light restaurant tables and we ate together. It was an unexpected, but pleasant surprise.
Diwas, tell us about the whole Rato Mato experience. How it came about, what your expectations were, and how you see it in retrospect. Also, when is it going to be available in Nepal?
Diwas – Rato Mato was born out of the Nepali Folk nights we used to do in Ithaca. The reason we started those nights was partly out of necessity, and partly out of trying something new. I think it all kind of congealed in me when I went back to Nepal for a couple of months and learned from some amazing musicians there. My father had a harmonium in the house so I would come home from the lessons and practice my vocal exercises pretty much daily.
After I got back to the U.S we started recording the album. When we were recording it, there really was not a lot of expectation. I knew that some people would like it but as far as the general public, I was unsure, because I really was not a good singer then, I was still learning, and I still am. As far as the music goes, I and Mike did most of it and it seemed quite obvious, there was no time spent on the proverbial drawing board, to try and come up with a “new sound”.
In retrospect, I am quite fond of that record, it seems effortless. We have been steadily working towards a Nepalese release but things are tough when you don’t have a deadline. But suffice to say 95% of the work has been completed.
I understand that you’re working on a new folk record, Diwas. Can you talk a little about it, and when we can expect to get our hands on it?
Diwas – It’s not really folk; I really don’t know what it is. It’s going to be a three song EP, the music is heavily reliant on electronics and its manipulations, and Dan (Halperin) is manning most of that stuff as well as the overall production and engineering.
After the folk album, I wanted to do something different, but still try to make it as genuine as possible. It’s going to be an EP because this stuff is very time consuming, due the experimental nature of the music, but we are in no rush, it will come out when it is ready. I will be posting more sneak peeks of what we have on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/diwasg) Also, in no way is this going to be a “remix” dance album with “jhankar beats”. I despise those things and will only dance to them ONLY if I am sufficiently inebriated.
What can we expect in terms of a new ‘Veda record? Have you guys started working on it yet?
Mike – We’re always writing, but there are no official plans for a new full length album at this time. I can say that we are thinking about recording a song at a time as they come and releasing them online as soon as each one is finished… but that’s just something we’re talking about. I guess we’ll just all have to wait and see.
Diwas – No not yet, we all have ideas; suffice to say it’s going to be different. We are definitely embracing technology, but that’s a good thing, I promise.
Dan – In fact we started listening to some song ideas last night. We’ll probably be writing the rest of the month, but no solid plans for a release yet. I think we’re going to have a lot of new material. Also, as a reminder, Diwas and I are working on 3 new Nepali songs that may be released digitally in March.
Tom – We are always working on something.
Shikhar – We haven’t started writing any songs yet, but everyone has ideas for the next record. Dan, Diwas, and I are all utilizing computers and midi controllers in our rigs now, so I’m sure there will be lots of crazy sounds. But other than that, I have no idea! That’s half the fun though.
What advice do you have for young and aspiring musicians?
Mike – Practice hard and work hard. No one is going to come along and make something happen for you. You have got to do it yourself. You must truly love what you do or you will never be happy.
Diwas – Stay true to yourself, your vision and your music. It may take time and patience, but time flies by when you are doing what you love. And practice your craft whatever that might be; it could be writing lyrics, practicing modes or just listening to new music and try to understand and appreciate the things that you might not get right away. Most of all, get out there, form a band, practice hard, play shows, make albums and make sure people hear it!
Dan – Find other like-minded musicians. Preferably who are more experienced than you, who will constantly motivate you to improve.
Tom – My first advice would be to make sure this is really what you want to do. Think hard about it. It’s a decision that will consume your life to a point you never imagined. If you are even hesitant answering yes for one second, you won’t make it.
The old-school scenario of “getting discovered” and then having a huge record all of a sudden that millions of people love, just doesn’t happen anymore. The people out there making real music, and having a career, spend years of hard work building up to that point.
I would also recommend not studying music as a degree. If you go to college, get a degree in business or money management or something to do with the business world. The bottom line is that music is a business just like anything else, and you’ve got to learn how to work it. The learning curve was slower for us, because we didn’t understand that for a long time.
Today’s musicians are truly renaissance men & women. You are the creator, the writer, the manager, the booker, the promoter, the merchandiser, the recording engineer, and on top of all that you have to still find time to progress as a person and musician.
But start with smaller goals and don’t try to build up too fast. As long as you always continue to grow, no matter how slowly, you’ll be doing fine.
If what I just wrote is overwhelming to you, then perfect! It is overwhelming. Think about it. And then follow your intuition.
Shikhar – Practice, practice, and practice. Don’t limit yourself to one style of music. Listen and appreciate different kinds of music. Play with other musicians. Don’t do too many drugs. Listen to your parents most of the time. Don’t clip your fingernails or cut your hair at night.
Originally done for ktmROCKS Emag Issue 8, released on March 15 2011
Photos by: Bikash Rajkarnikar