words by sammy maine
Nischay Parekh has just returned from his first ever “proper” tour. As one half of dream-pop duo Parekh & Singh, he explains that touring in India is somewhat different to that of England’s motorways and weekday shows. “That’s not really how it happens here because there isn’t really an infrastructure,” he explains over the phone from his home in Kolkata. “You can’t really play more than six or seven cities in India and the gigs are never back-to-back or during the week. We would normally just fly to Bombay or Bangalore but traveling all over the English countryside was really beautiful. It was definitely a lot of new experiences, so it was really a lot of fun.”
Parekh, along with drummer Jivraj Singh, were in the UK to promote their debut album Ocean. Released back in October, it’s a wholesome, exploratory journey of sweet significance that evokes the classic songwriting of yesteryear. There’s an experimental edge though – thanks in part to Singh’s ever-impressive percussive repertoire – that allows the band to avoid any token predictability, instead offering up a record of elegant distinctivity. These classic undertones in the band’s songwriting stem from Parekh’s mother’s collection of pop cassettes, which Parekh would hear trickling through his home as a child.
“I don’t think you can really reject or resist anything that happens to you when you’re a kid; all of those experiences are part of you whether you like it or not. In my case, luckily, my mum listened to a lot of really classic and really popular music – there was Stevie Wonder and The Beatles and Elvis and all sorts of stuff so I was lucky there was good music at home,” he explains. In terms of early-experimentation with his own music, Parekh reveals that from day one, his mum was his biggest fan.
“My mum has always been super supportive. I think because she’s a music fan more than anything else. Even today she listens to more music than I do – she puts on her favourite music and even new stuff that she discovers on YouTube; she gets obsessed with music very naturally,” he says, clearly beaming with pride. “So when I played some of my earlier songs to her when I was like 11 or whatever, obviously they were songs that were definitely written by a kid but she was always very encouraging. If I played her a song, she would always play me a song from her collection and offer advice or things like that so there’s always conversations with my mum going on.” He goes on to explain that he still lives with his mum and that when he writes a song late at night, she’s often the first person to hear it. “The exchange has always been very nourishing,” he says.
Eventually, Parekh began showing his songs to people other than his mother. Playing a few shows in the “very tiny scene” in Kolkata – he describes his hometown as “the city that only sleeps” – he ended up meeting Singh through some mutual friends. “I was fifteen or sixteen and he’s six years older than I am and he was already an established drummer in the city. Both his parents are musicians – he was the youth icon for musicians in the city – and I was just this kid who had written a couple of songs who was making a little bit of noise in the local community of songwriters and musicians and so you know, word got to him and he met me.”
The pair began playing music, together with a keyboard player, in 2008, while Parekh was still in high school. However, it wasn’t really going down the route that Parekh had envisioned – “we were sort of directionless, we didn’t know who we wanted to be yet” – which led to the band going on a hiatus. While Singh stayed in Kolkata and continued to play music, Parekh hopped on a plane to study music in Boston at the Berklee College of Music. While he continued to write music, it wasn’t until he came back that he suddenly felt the direction his output should be headed.
“I felt like I had more things to talk about – I felt I had something to say. I didn’t really have that when I was a teenager,” he says of his return. “I reconnected with Jivraj and said to do it only as a duo and to do it with some intention. We played our first gig as a duo at a festival and it was really great – we instantly felt like we had some sort of dialogue. The music was almost conversational.”
The opening of this conversation came with Ocean lead single “I Love You Baby, I Love You Doll” – a thoughtful, honeyed indie-pop jam – and with it, a music video that could seamlessly slot into Wes Anderson’s back catalogue. “For some reason it always felt like an obvious choice,” Parekh says of the choice to release it as the first teaser of the album. “The melody and the sentiment of the song might be an easy connection for people to latch onto and secondly, it felt like a good appetizer for the album because it’s very lean. It’s only acoustic with a little percussion – it doesn’t really reveal the whole world of sounds on the rest of the album. So we wanted it to be a little amuse bouche for the record. I think the element of surprise or the juvenile sense of almost tricking people is always fun,” he says.
And fun is perhaps the perfect word to sum up the single’s visuals. With close to 700,000 views on YouTube and approval from Anderson himself, it’s a video that celebrates the joy in the little things. “We didn’t want to refer to a particular time or place, we didn’t want it to be contrived, we didn’t want anyone to be able to place it geographically – aesthetically, we wanted it to be vague almost but still pretty and neat. The concept was simply me and Jivraj were to be in the same space but doing different things and having different purposes, which is exactly what we’re like in real life,” he explains. “Both of us have very different motivations in real life and we’re both always on our own tangents and somehow they meet and we’re able to make art that pleases us both. So that was the concept – of being in the same house for different things but coming together at the end and celebrating music pretty much.”
The film inspirations don’t stop at the videos either, with album track “Hill” featuring a sample from 1977’s Annie Hall. “I’m a huge film fan. I think that’s one of my greatest obsessions in life, I’ll just watch everything,” Parekh says. “I watch everything that is on TV, any movie that’s at the theatre, I try and watch it. I’m very democratic – I can love a film made by Groucho Marx as much as I love the new Wonder Woman. My friends have stopped asking me if I like movies but I always like every single movie. I just love films and I love cinema – I think it’s such a magical experience to be in a movie theater and to transported like that. Films have been a huge influence on my songwriting and just the idea of visuals; whenever I write a song, I try and think which film it might slot into.”
This idea of visuals filters right through from their brightly-coloured suits to the album artwork itself (the suit colours are actually inspired by the artwork). The album cover, adorned with four symmetrical birds, harks back to the record’s reference to animals throughout its nine tracks. “[The references] don’t come from a literal place, it’s more of this idea of mysticism and the brand of mysticism from William Blake mainly. I was interested in his work and how he used animals in very human situations and using them as metaphor,” he continues. “It flows through so much great literature that we like, like The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I was always really taken with the idea of an animal having human feelings and human emotions and being able to communicate them, somehow.
“It just felt very magical to me and always added this sense of mystery and that’s sort of where the idea of animals for the cover stemmed from. She has a painting for each song and everything is very layered and looped because even the music on the album, the way we recorded a lot of parts, it’s all very symmetrical and it repeats many times. It’s small bits that repeat so that’s how we wanted the art to come across.”
In terms of how he’d like the album to come across to new listeners, Parekh says he’d like to offer a sense of adventure. “It’s an adventure for people, maybe who might be introverted because I, personally, am not a very extroverted person. I feel like some of the music and the lyrics on the album are about the inside world and it’s basically an album about the adventure that can be had by yourself, on the inside.”
Ocean is out now on Peacefrog Records
Order it here