Interview by Rachel Jablonski
Back in Cedar Rapids, this time on the Congress of Corruption tour, Sahaj Ticotin, the mastermind behind the band RA, spoke with me prior to the night’s show at 3rd Street Live.
Rachel: I’ve lived here in Cedar Rapids for only 2 years now and you guys seem to have played here a bunch in that time. What keeps bringing you back?
Sahaj: Our booking agent.
Sahaj: But no, this is a place that respects the band and enjoys our shows. Any place that has a good time at our shows and keeps showing up we’ll come back to.
Rachel: So you’re here on the Congress of Corruption tour. What is this tour all about?
Sahaj: It’s the launch of Cement Shoes Records. The bands on the tour are all signed to it, except The Dreaming, but The Dreaming is managed by the same team. So everybody here is tied to the record company in one shape or another. It’s just kind of a way to step out. It’s a small label, but we’re going to try and make as much noise as we can as we come through. All of us have records coming out.
Rachel: When does your album come out?
Sahaj: October 24th.
Rachel: How did you get picked up by this label?
Sahaj: They’re tied in with Universal, which is the label I was signed to before. So it was kind of a referral.
Rachel: What does Philadelphia Phillies’ shortstop Jimmy Rollins have to do with the label?
Sahaj: He is one of the premier financial backers. He put several million dollars into the financing of the company.
Rachel: Huh, I wonder why.
Sahaj: Because he’s got more than 5 million dollars sitting in the bank and he wants to be in the rock n’ roll business. I met him once. I was there at the studio and this Ferrari rolls in and this guy gets out. I shake his hand and he says “Hey, I’m Jimmy Rollins. Nice to meet you.” I was like hey nice to meet you too. So I got to talk to him a bit. He’s one of the guys who believes in the partners of the company.
Rachel: Cool. Even with four bands on this tour, tickets are only $10. Are you able to make much money on this tour?
Sahaj: Well the label is basically paying for everything. What they’re doing is everybody here is on salary and whatever money they’re losing they’re just offsetting by how much money we make. The tour is going to lose money ultimately, but it’s not going to lose a lot. It’s just a launch.
Rachel: You have a new album, Raw, your first live album, coming out, which was recorded in Flint, Michigan. All I know about Flint is what I’ve seen in Michael Moore movies. What is it like to play in that town?
Sahaj: When I watch those Michael Moore movies I remember all those locations because I’ve driven around the town a million times so I know the area. It’s very depressed, very poor and this one rock club just seems to capture the soul of all the music fans in the area. There’s really no other way to say it but because it’s a depressed area the people need their music that much more so it just makes them that much better fans. It just makes them really, really emotional and connected.
Rachel: It’s probably hard for a lot of them to afford to go too often though, don’t you think?
Sahaj: It is hard, it’s very hard and yet this guy has shows there three or four times a week. He sells out a lot of them because if people have 10 dollars in their pocket and their favorite band is coming to town, it becomes an issue of like… and the other thing is it’s only 45 minutes from Detroit and there’s not a lot of good rock venues in Detroit. The bands that play in that area that can’t sell 1500 to 2000 seats are gonna play the Machine Shop. So anyone within a 50-60 mile radius is going to drive up to Flint.
Rachel: That’s true. So when you played that show you had the intent record?
Sahaj: Yep, we took over the entire club. We’ve played there so many times that the owners said do whatever you want. So we wired it up the way we wanted to and did basically whatever we wanted.
Rachel: Do you have a DVD associated with the performance?
Sahaj: We have footage that was shot, but the owner of Cement Shoes Records also owns a huge DVD company. He saw our footage and he’s like you know your footage is cool, it’s kind of underground, but I’d like to wait till we put out the full length record next year and actually shoot some professional shows. Then we can make a really awesome looking DVD and then include some of your kind of crappy footage with it and make that the DVD, which makes more sense anyway.
Rachel: You have a new studio track, “Don’t Turn Away,” tacked on to the live album. Will it be tied to your upcoming album Black Sun or be left strictly on Raw?
Sahaj: The idea is that if the song continues to perform the way that it is performing right now, which is good, we’ll just include it as an additional track on the next one. But I think that there’s nothing wrong with it staying on the Raw album either. It’s really meant to be a teaser for what the next album is going to sound like. The next record we’re really going to try and be a little closer to the format, a little heavier. The stuff that’s heavy on the next record is going to be heavier than it’s ever been and the stuff that’s going to be pretty on the next album is going to be prettier than it has ever been. So we’re going to try to make the dynamic that much wider.
Rachel: Can you talk about the Black Sun record some more?
Sahaj: Black Sun is going to be… I’m naming it that specifically because the first record was From One, the second record was Duality and there are kind of spiritual connotations in all of that. I think this record is going to have the same level of spirituality but it’s going to be darker and that’s why we’re calling it Black Sun. I just think it’s going to have a little more old school Metallica and Tool rather than The Police kind of U2 aspect that we did in Duality. Actually the best way to describe it is that it’s going to have a lot of Peter Gabriel in it. It’s going to be a Peter Gabriel, Tool, Metallica record. It’s going to be a little more that and tribal, a little more ethnic, but still with some interesting Metallica type stuff going on. But old school – I mean “Creeping Death” kind of stuff.
Rachel: Speaking of spiritual… you spent some time studying in India at some point.
Sahaj: Yeah a long time ago and I won’t give away my age by telling you how long. It was for three months and I played with a band, it was a house band. It was in the high season in December which is when everybody goes. So we were playing in front of 10,000 – 11,000 people every night and it was all improvisation. It was half Western musicians and half Indian musicians and it was just amazing because I would sit there and play regular guitar while another guy would play sitar and we would play off of each other all improved. We would basically come up with ideas and we would improv within them. Each night we had to come up with completely new music.
Rachel: Was it tough?
Sahaj: Not for me. It’s actually what my name means; Sahaj means “spontaneity” so I’m all about making shit up on the moment.
Rachel: You have said that music that uses the Hindu/Arabic scale will never lose melody. What is a Hindu/Arabic scale exactly?
Sahaj: Anytime you hear anything that’s supposed to sound kind of Indian or Arabic or Sting with “Desert Rose” or Beyonce with that one track that she did with Sean Paul or all of that stuff. It’s a specific scale. There are certain intervals that are maintained throughout the scale, but you recognize it, it’s that very exotic kind of flow. The great thing about it is that you can play the meanest Meshuggah, heaviest rock riff you could possibly imagine under any scale and you if you sing over it in a harmonic minor scale it doesn’t lose its heaviness, but it also doesn’t lose its melody. It still manages to be cool, but also melodic. You can sing stuff that’s melodic that just kind of takes the balls out of heavy stuff or you can sing something that’s so simple or straightforward and it’s just kind of dull, you know screaming or whatever it is on one or two notes. So if you can play within that scale it always sounds neat. It just always has an exoticness that is built into it.
Rachel: Makes sense. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
Sahaj: Just that our record is
coming out. It’s called Raw to confuse everybody. The idea
is that it’s kind of the first of a double album in that sense that
the second we finish this tour we go in the studio and start making the
next record. Hopefully we have a new single on the radio by the middle
of January. I’m going to make the record in the Midwest. I’m
just going to rent a house in the Midwest and I will essentially be in
a cave and that’s going to be the goal. I think people are going
to be very, very pleased with the next record. I think people inherently
want to hear us be heavy because I think the way I sing, because I don’t
sing in an aggressive way, the heavier I can make the music, the cooler
it sounds. So the next record, like I said, is almost going to be like
a Peter Gabriel record with a metal background. That’s the goal.