No strings attached
In an exclusive heart-to-heart with Images, the Strings duo, Faisal Kapadia and Bilal Maqsood talk about their much anticipated, seventh studio album to date, Koi Aanay Wala Hai, launched this weekend.
Other than Vital Signs and Junoon from the pre-media boom era, Strings is the only other band from Pakistan that has managed to create a prominent mark in the global music industry. In fact, you could even say that the boom in both conventional and new media worldwide has given it an added advantage: The band has made it even bigger than their contemporaries.
Strings is currently composed of the clichéd boys-next-door, Faisal Kapadia and Bilal Maqsood. Despite their resounding success in the global music industry, they still embody that homely charm. Upon meeting Faisal and Bilal, it’s quite evident that success and fame has
only served to make them more humble.
Launching the much-anticipated seventh Strings album this weekend, Koi Aanay Wala Hai, after a hiatus of roughly around four years, Images gets together with the duo to talk about the band, the album, global fame and endorsements, their numerous trips to India and what not.
The interview was conducted at the 18% grey studio where the band just got done being shot by Amean J. Nofil, their manager and the man behind their wardrobe, menswear designer Ismail Farid, were also present.
You’re releasing your album after a break of four years. Why take so long to put it out?
Faisal: Making an album is a process. In between tours, Bilal has his guitar and he makes new melodies. For example, we’re touring somewhere and Bilal calls me to his room and says ‘ao ek buhat achi cheez sunni hai’. I go to his room and Koi Aanay Wala Hai, the title song wahan pe suna.
Secondly, we believe in making more and more videos — we ended up making eight videos last time and it takes up a lot of our time.
Bilal: The first song that we made is not there in the album. We made 40 songs and out of them we included 12 in the album.
What about the music videos you have been shooting?
Faisal: The first video is Koi Aanay Wala Hai. It has nothing to do with any film. The director is Ravi Udyava and it features John Abraham.
Is it a performance-based video?
Bilal: Our part is performance-based, in which John plays an angel. He flies down to rescue a girl, falls in love with her, they kiss and the angel loses his wings.
Are you sending the message that women are evil, fall in love with them and you will lose your wings?
Bilal: (Laughs) No. At the end he’s standing on top of the building with the wings after he’s finally made the girl happy. But we’ve left the ending open to intepretation.
Faisal: The second video, Jago, is a fun song and we’ve shot it in Karachi with Jami. It’s still being edited. The third video we shot with Jami in Moscow.
Do the songs in the album embody a certain theme?
Bilal: I think normally our songs are love songs. But this is the first time we’ve ventured into something different. There are two or three songs which I would say are motivational/inspirational numbers targeting the younger lot.
But that’s a standard line a lot of musicians use nowadays…that one song out of the entire album is a motivational song?
Bilal: It’s not like that. There is a song called Ek Do Teen. It’s about a guy who’s going through a bad phase in life, wishes for something and is granted three wishes. He wishes for money, a building and a car. Eventually, he realises that he’s got everything but nothing, and does something about it. Those are the kind of songs that we’re talking about. Not the standard patriotic number.
Faisal: We’ve enjoyed working with Anwar (Maqsood) uncle but this time it was something very magical.
There is a song called Jago and also Soney Do on the album in which there is a story…
Bilal: In Soney Do a man comes back from his office and being tired, goes to sleep. Within his dream he’s saying ‘soney do…don’t wake me up because this is the best time of my life right now.’
Is that how you feel after every tour?
Bilal: The kind of lifestyle we lead, every man comes home in the evening and goes to sleep. There is a lot of imagery in the song, surrealistic imagery.
You once mentioned that Anwar Maqsood writes lyrics in a very visual manner. Has he written all of the lyrics in this album, too? Do you plan to work with anyone else?
Bilal: He is a very important part of Strings. We can’t think of writing a song without him being there. Our music without his lyrics is like 50 per cent of what Strings is.
Faisal: Each and every experience we’ve had with him has been the best. You can’t imagine anything better than that. We’re very fortunate to have his lyrics in our songs.
The last one month has been the busiest for us. We have been abroad the whole time. We come here for a day, go back, then come back for a day again. We’re really excited about Koi Aanay Wala Hai. We’re sure everyone will be consumed by it.
Are any of the songs on the album being used as soundtracks?
Faisal: The album has Zinda and Akhiri Alvida, which were not released earlier.
Bilal: Nobody has heard these songs (in the album).
Faisal: We don’t want to deviate from the album point-of-view. If we had to give a song from the album, then perhaps we would not have kept it in the album. But if someone wants to use a song after the release of the album, like the last time it happened with Najaney Kyon, then why not?
Bilal: Even with Zinda and the Lokhandwala song, we were debating whether to include them in the album or not. It was a last minute decision to do so.
How is this album different from previous ones?
Bilal: Technically, it will take Pakistani music scene to a totally new level.
But you did that with Spider-Man.
Bilal: Creatively, I would say it’s a huge leap for us in terms of song structure, verses and choruses. We’ve heard the album around 2,500 times and every time we listen to it, we enjoy it even more.
Obviously, one learns from experiences. In concerts we’ve noticed that people react more to ‘hook’ lines. So we made sure we made really strong hook lines in this album, which carry the song forward. People will wait for that part and I think that is what makes this album really strong.
People accuse both of you of spending more time in India than in Pakistan. Have you been worried that you would lose that connection you have with your fans?
Bilal: When we go to India, we go there because there is nothing happening in Pakistan. Why sit here and waste our time? If something happens here then we’ll stay here for it. We plan concerts which keep getting postponed, there is so much of uncertainty in Pakistan that you can’t plan anything over here. For any professional musician whose bread and butter is music, he cannot survive without India.
Faisal: India is definitely a bigger market. If you compare the size of the country, there are 14 metropolitan cities there. If you look here in Pakistan, there is Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Of course, we’re here most of the time. But when it comes to work, we go to India, perform, and come back. And that happens quite frequently.
I think the good thing now is that we’re all getting exposed to different markets. So every time we come back we have something to share. It’s good that we have that exposure now so that we can try and apply it here.
The music industry in Pakistan is really doing great, if you look at the last five years, the quality of concert lighting and sound has also increased by a notch. However, as strong as our music industry might be, we’re not that sound when it comes to equipment and/or technical expertise. With time, I’m sure we’ll get there but it’s very important that our sound engineers get the exposure to work with foreign artistes, like when the first time Bryan Adams came to Pakistan. We need things like that, we need exposure.
Amean: I’m just going to add that I think they’re fantastic ambassadors to go from Pakistan. I think that’s what we need.
What would you suggest to local bands who want to make it big in India?
Faisal: Globally, the music industry and record labels are really suffering right now. Physical piracy has now been replaced by digital piracy. It’s very difficult for record labels now to make money and invest in an artiste. Earlier, it was a totally different ball game where you picked an artiste whom you felt was talented and then invested in him. Now, they can only do that with people who are already established. With anybody who’s new, I don’t see them getting great deals because record label companies are really suffering right now.
What response are you expecting for Koi Aanay Wala Hai?
Bilal: When we listen to our songs we listen to them as Strings’ fans, not as Bilal and Faisal.
Has fame and success sunk in yet?
Faisal: After Gibson, Spider-man and Unicef….yes.
With the sponsorships you’ve had, are you interested in doing free concerts?
Faisal: We’ve always wanted to. In fact, that’s what we did with Hamara Karachi in the past. We’ve been wanting to do something like that for the longest time. Bilal is very much like that: He’ll call me up one day and say that we should do something. He thought we should start a campaign to send our children to school in rickshaws and we’ll ask everyone we know to do the same.
Bilal: On our way back from our last trip to India, I said we needed to do something for the rickshaws in Karachi. We even created a whole media/marketing plan. We think they’re pretty cool, it’s a culture that has been there for the longest time. And while we’re at it, let’s call it chooha (mouse); Karachi ka chooha.
You’ve been known to endorse almost everything.
Faisal: The media has grown so much, there are so many channels through which to reach your audience that you don’t know how to target them. In that case you need someone who believes in your music and tells you that they’re going to back you up.
Bilal: but Gibson is a fun deal.
Because you get the guitars!
Bilal: At every video, every concert there is a new Gibson guitar. You just have to go to the website and select the guitar that you want. I got a Firebird 7, then the Les Paul Robot guitar, Les Paul Goddess series… it’s never-ending, really.