Interview: Praveen and Benoit
Tue, 19 Aug 2008 15:11:32
There are times when Praveen and Benoit's breathtaking debut, Songs Spun Simla, evokes the feeling of flipping through an old photo album. Each song presents itself like a faded photograph; a shell that feels strikingly ethereal compared to the timeless luminescence of its core. In the album's case, this emotive center springs from Praveen Sharma's trip to his family's native town of Shimla, India. The tracks find Praveen weaving together field recordings from his trip with electronic and live instruments to create a warm and wistful pall of electro/folk that's hemmed together by the delicately crafted vocal melodies of Thomas Meluch (aka Benoit Pioulard). It's hard to believe that two artists could create such a cohesive and deep work on their first collaboration, and it's almost impossible to fathom that they did it while living on different coasts. Though Praveen lives in New York and Thomas resides in Portland, we were lucky enough to get both of them on the phone to discuss their collaboration, Praveen's trip to Shimla and their thoughts on the Internet and music.
You guys have been getting some well-deserved buzz on the Internet, but for those who aren't familiar with you, do you mind introducing yourselves?
Tom: Ok, I'm Tom Meluch, I record as Benoit Pioulard for a really excellent record label called Kranky, based in Chicago. I sang on several of the songs and produced the basis for one of the instrumentals. Praveen did a whole shit lot more than I did, and he can talk about that.
Praveen: [Laughs] Yeah, my name's Praveen Sharma, I've been going under the name Praveen. I released an album on Neo Ouija previously. I have a lot music, I have a lot of compilations on AI records and expanding records. I released my first 7-inch and a bunch of stuff on Moodgadget more recently.
You guys live on different coasts and your solo projects both fall into slightly different genres, but your respective styles come together so beautifully on Songs Spun Simla. What sparked your collaboration?
Praveen: Originally Tom and I met when he was working at Ghostly [Records]. We met on-line at first because he was working on a site called atmosphere.org that I had actually done the on-line streaming radio with my site Percussion Lab. Tom was writing reviews, and he reviewed my debut album on Neo Ouija. Then we got in touch. At the time, Tom was working on what would become his first 7-inch. I absolutely fell in love with the music. I thought it was just amazing. We just kept up our relationship and eventually met up in Brooklyn a couple time and spoke about collaborating on some music. After that, it just kind of took off. I started sending him music, and he was singing on it.
So, except for the one instrumental track Tom started, the tracks all started as instrumental tracks that you created and then sent to him?
Praveen: Basically, I had the groundwork for a majority of the album done. As I was working on it, I would be sending Tom stuff, and he would come back with vocals.
Tom: I'm not even sure that we started with the notion that I would be doing vocals, it just seemed like the most appropriate. His production is considerably cleaner and more respectable than mine, so I had a tough time thinking that I could throw any musical elements on there besides the voice, and it seemed to work out ok.
Praveen: Yeah, once we had this album worth of music, I decided that we needed to go the full mile and make sure that Tom was a part of everything on the album. So, even the instrumental tracks, he worked on and added some elements. He also provided the basis for the drone-driven track.
Praveen: Yeah, exactly.
Thomas: I titled most of the songs. I think, Praveen, you titled "The Tunnel Is Still There" and "Chiaroscuro."
Praveen: Tom actually did most of the song titling, and he titled the album.
Was Praveen's trip to his family's native Shimla in India a big inspiration? Are the scattered sounds throughout the album all from your trip?
Praveen: There are vague field recordings on some of the other songs as well—the sounds of trains or birds. The whole concept behind the album started after I took this trip to India. I went with my father, and he hadn't returned to his hometown for over 20 years. We were on a small toy train from Chandigarh on our way up to Simla, which is now Shimla, and that was where I got he recording of him telling the story at the beginning of the album. A lot of the percussion sounds throughout the album were taken from that trains ride, like the sounds of windows closing and people walking and stuff like that. The whole album began when I got back; I had purchased tables and a small harmonium. Once I got that harmonium, I started work on the album.
When you were sending Tom stuff, did you give him direction to make sure it fit you concept or did everything happen organically?
Praveen: Tom can definitely talk about his contributions, but I need to mention that I never gave him any direction. I just felt like the results were always totally integrated with the existing.
Tom, how did you reach into that experience that Praveen was drawing from, as well as your own experiences, to come up with such well-fitted vocals and lyrics?
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