KALIKA: Transformative and Unifying Music


Multi-national experimental rock quartet based out of Maastricht in the Netherlands, Kalika are to return later this Spring with the release of their sophomore EP titled ‘Data Religion.’ The new releases comes a year after they launched a six-track debut ‘Enter Kalki,’ and about it and other subjects we talked with singer and guitarist Prannay Sastry.

Define the mission of Kalika. 

Kalika is currently comprised of 4 members – Luciano Monsegue (guitar), Rushang Pujara (bass guitar), Jonathan Raths (drums) and myself, Prannay Sastry (guitars, vocals, soundscaping).

Our band is named after Kali, the terrifyingly powerful Hindu goddess, who wears a necklace of severed heads around her neck. She’s known for being a killer of the ego, and she kills the foolish, small identities we give ourselves. We felt like that was a very appropriate name, because when you’re really enjoying music, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you identify with. You’re free to detach from the system for a while and be a part of something bigger. As musicians, we really respect the chance to be a part of something so immense, and we always strive to push the boundaries for ourselves.

Tell me about the creative process that informed your upcoming EP Data Religion and the themes it captures.

The ideas for Data Religion were born during a busy and challenging time in the lives of all of the members of Kalika. We were facing the upheavals of being in our 20s – hunting for jobs, etc. Despite our tight schedules, we were dedicated, and would meet at Jonny’s place, several times a week, to jam to new ideas. In moving our rehearsals/jams to Jonny’s place, we created a whole new set up that was nearly entirely electronic. This was the turning point for us, that led to the conception of the EP. We were now using the electronic drum kit, electric guitars, headphone splitters, a midi keyboard and bongos among other things. This heavily affected the way we were writing music – for one thing there were fewer acoustic guitars, and also we were playing at much lower volumes, so we were shaping our sounds with a lot more care. We were also open to using more electronic sounds than on the first EP, and this was giving our songs some added depth.

Soon after one of the jams, we were having an interesting philosophical discussion. Jonny was talking about how some tech/social media companies have more money than some countries, and thus a lot of power to manipulate people through the capitalistic framework. This led to us discussing about the personal data these companies owned of ours, and the way they could use this to manipulate us. It was these discussions that gave rise to the lyrical theme of the EP. 

What is the message you are trying to give with Data Religion? 

Every song on Data Religion has something to do with the inescapable role technology is playing in our lives. Technology is an indispensable tool, but we’re too reliant on it and can’t do without it. It’s kind of Stockholm Syndrome-y. More importantly, technology has been used to manipulate and control people – pretty effectively. Today, personal data is freely available to the big data hoarders and is regularly misused. The EP examines a world in which things have gone wrong and there is a divide between the haves and have-nots of all this data. This divide is one of ownership – the data horders own the have-nots, leaving them powerless.

The ‘message’ of this EP is that we should take back ownership over our lives. We need to recognise that we are, in fact, owned and that the people who own us (and all our data) can manipulate us easily.

How did you document the music while it was being formulated?

We usually take audio recordings of our jams on our phones. I usually remember what I write, but I usually take voice notes just in case. Luciano tabs some of the parts. He uses guitar pro and he has several song ideas he programmed there since he was a guitar-crazy teen. Jonny uses his electronic kit  and records his bits into reaper. And Rush just has a good memory.

Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected?

This EP is certainly a dynamic piece of music. There are a variety of emotions, energies and vibes on the EP. There are some very dark moments, some melancholic ones, but also some moments that are relaxed, lighthearted, and happy. While much of this journey was carefully planned and premeditated, a good amount of it was reacting and improvising in real time to what we had written – as is usually the case with music. At the end of the process, each song evolved into something bigger than what we had intended or even expected. So we had to figure out how to contextualise these changed pieces in the EP – for instance where it should go on the track listing, what it’s lyrical theme should be etc.

We wanted to subvert the narrative arc that a lot of albums have by starting with the darker songs and ending on a lighter note. We carefully curated the order and the flow of the tracks so that the listener can go on their unique journey.

Describe the approach to recording the EP.

The recording process in one word: improvisation. Once everyone was on the same page about the music and the structure, we began recording individual parts. It was as low budget as you could imagine (we’re broke af): one computer with Nuendo 4 (yes, you heard that right) and a bunch of stock/free plugins (for the nerds, we also had Superior Drummer 2, the FabFilter EQ and Amplitube 3), a Line 6 Helix, an electronic drum kit and a microphone. Mixing and mastering the songs was labour intensive. We were using such outdated tools that I had to do a lot of ‘jugaad’ (a hindi word meaning an innovative hack with limited resources) – we were hanging microphones from the lights, for example.

Most of the recording, the mixing and mastering happened at my studio apartment in Maastricht. Jonny tracked the drums partly in Maastricht and partly in Geneva (stay tuned for a video where he breaks down his process). Finally, Kaushik, my friend of 16 years who’s an audio engineer and producer in Washington DC, mixed two songs on the EP and consistently gave me invaluable feedback and support on every song I mixed/mastered.

On the artistic side of things – during the recording stage, we tried to make each take as long and natural as possible (as opposed to the modern way of taking hunderds of little takes and piecing them together). We wanted  our music to sound like a real human endeavour, and not a computer generated piece of music.

Kalika - Data Religion

How long Data Religion was in the making?

While the recording/mixing/mastering process took about 3 months, some of the ideas, for example the first guitar bit on the song ‘AUG’, was conceived of nearly a year ago.

Which bands or artists influenced your work on the release?

Luciano is really into the modern instrumental progressive music like CHON and Animals as Leaders. He’s trying to learn to play this song called ‘Rock is too Heavy’ by Owane and we’re all into the song ‘Love Juice’, by them. Luc definitely brought some of that smooth guitar work to our music on the EP. Jonny is a fan of Steve Judd (drummer of Karnivool), and we were both fanboy-ing hard to the end of the song ‘Caudal Lure’ (5:26 to be precise). He’s also taking a leaf out of Gavin Harrison’s (ex-Porcupine Tree, Pineapple Thief) book, maybe you can hear that on the song ‘Rajas’. Rush is really into the more old school stuff luke Judas Priest and RHCP and he brings that groove to our sound. I’ve drawn influence for my guitar playing from non-traditional players like Ali Farka Toure and Baiju Dharmajan, mostly because I learned to play the instrument myself. I really like it when people bring their own style of playing to the instrument. I’m inspired by vocalists who have a good control of their voice and can express themselves using different registers of their voice, like Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth and Daniel Tompkins of Tesseract and Shankar Mahadevan.

What is your view on technology in music?

Our views on technology are clearly expressed through the music we make. I could have easily decided to be a DJ or a pop musician. I just don’t like technology telling me what to do – only my mom is allowed to do that.

Seriously though, the modern technology in music is great. Without it, we wouldn’t have been able to make this EP. Having these tools at our disposal really made a huge difference to us, and for that we’ll be eternally grateful. On the flip side, we were hamstrung without access to the latest technology and we had to concede our reliance on it. It’s that Stockholm Syndrome type relationship again.

From the artistic point of view, we never want to rely too heavily on technology for our creative process. We’re musicians first and foremost: we love taking our instruments out to the park for a little acoustic jam session when the weather is good. We like using technology to add depth to our music, rather than it being the main source of our ideas and sounds.

Do you see your music as serving a purpose beyond music?

It’s always about more than just the music. Music is transformative and unifying. What we’re doing is manipulating the laws of physics, to become part of something bigger. We’re detaching from the system that we’re all feeding for a brief moment of liberation. What could be better than people shedding their identities and joining us on that journey?

What are your plans for the future?

Our plans are to play some shows in Europe and India. We’ll announce our plans soon, so keep an eye on our social media! We’re rehearsing our new material for the upcoming shows. On a different note, Jonny just moved in with Luciano  – so their place has turned into a band house of sorts. Lots of new material is in the works as well (we can’t really stop that from happening, now) and we’re expecting to have enough material for a full-length album.

Stay tuned for more from Kalika by following them on Facebook and Instagram, and visit their website here.

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