There is something subtly fascinating about NORTH – an alternative group from New Delhi. Not only are they different in their approach to alternative music, but also how they view life and everything in between. NORTH is a group that dares to be different, and that you will notice three seconds after you hear their songs, which are fresh and show the listener a different side of alternative music in India. We also adore the fact that the outfit is a ‘global khichdi’ – with a healthy mix of people from the West and the East. We catch up with band mates Jordan Johnson (lead vocalist/guitars), Akshay Deokuliar (drums), Shobith John (guitars), Zoe Tuckey (vocals) and Sean Tuckey (bass) and chat about their debut album (Pieces of Mind), their recent three-city-tour, making music together and much more.
Let’s begin from the beginning. How did you guys (Jordan Johnson and Zoe Ray) end up in India and how was North– this cultural and musical melting pot – formed?
Zoe and Jordan, who are siblings, had the privilege of being raised in India, so it wasn’t so much ‘ending up’ as it was ‘starting out’. Jordan entered into India through his mother’s womb, no immigration forms needed to be filled in, which was the easiest way he’s come into this country. North was born out of family and friendship – Sean and Zoe are married, Akshay and Shobith are flatmates, our manager, Yohan, is Shobith’s brother, our photographer, Nicole, is Jordan’s fiancée. We’re family, but it all came down to us being predestined to make music.
In this day and age, cultural melting pots are becoming more of a norm than a rarity, which is great. Diverse cultural backgrounds within a band definitely give music a certain richness. With that said, it doesn’t really feel like we’re a cultural and musical melting pot, maybe we should find a Slavic saxophonist and a North African Pygmy on the Djembe to really spice things up, don’t you think?
You recently did a three-city tour with Emerge, covering places like Mumbai, Pune, and New Delhi. What was the tour like? What are some good things that you remember about the tour?
The tour was incredible. They were our first shows with this album and it’s always interesting and nerve-wracking to see how your music is received. The crowds were amazing, especially our home crowd in New Delhi – they sang the house down. We are really aware that it was a privileged entry for NORTH into the music scene, we were treated so wonderfully by the Emerge team, and we are really grateful for this experience. Honestly, above the music and performances were the amazing people we met and were able to work with along the way. People who came out to listen to us were more supportive than we could have ever asked for. Our two cab drivers were hilarious people, even though they didn’t like each other and tried to cut each other off! Our sound engineers were top notch at what they did and fantastic people in general. As much as music is a big part of our world, we’d like to keep relationships at the center of it all.
You also released your debut album Pieces of Mind. When you think back on it now, how was it working on the album?
We wouldn’t have been able to do our album and music video without the trust and support of the people who were kind enough to invest in our dream. We are truly grateful. Pieces of Mind was fueled by chai… We drank a lot of chai during tracking sessions. We recorded the band parts locally in New Delhi, and Jordan recorded his vocal tracks and guitar pieces in the UK; that was an interesting dynamic when we were working on the album. It was challenging, but on the whole, we had a damn good time. The creative process was a little turned around, but working through it solidified our relationships and taught us more about each other than we thought it would. Julian Wiggins, our producer in the UK, was the spine of the project and made us strive to get better and better musically throughout the recording process.
Could you tell us a little about your songwriting style? What are the three things you keep in mind while writing material?
Jordan is the lyrical master of the band; he pens the lyrics and comes to the band with melodies. We then get together and start jamming, constructing and arranging each song as a group. We’ve found that everything in writing songs is about finding a balance. It’s about an intricate relationship between lyrics, melody, rhythm and soundscape. It’s about finding out where we all fit into that relationship. Most of our jobs as musicians is to find ways to support what we think the purpose and vibe of each song is by keeping it honest, having fun and experimenting, exchanging ideas, and learning as much as we can from each other while we jam.
It’s no secret when we say that artists in India are underpaid, concert promoters are a pain, and fans don’t buy music. What are your views on this statement? Are things changing? How do you cope with issues like these?
The music industry worldwide is a tough business. Like any other industry, there are always challenges, but we’re doing what we love, and that’s saying a lot. Things are definitely changing, because artists are getting more self-worth by seeing the scene develop (pretty rapidly) over the last four years or so and are working hard to achieve the goals they have set for themselves. At the end of the day, music is about the people playing and the people listening, so that’s what we care about and focus on.
What does NORTH mean? What's the significance?
NORTH, the name, came as an epiphany; it reflects a few things about the band, from where we live, to an approach to life. It’s the direct opposite of going south, which is a euphemism for giving in, so North is about looking up, looking forward and finding meaning.
Yohan (your manager) told me in a conversation: “Funnily enough, they’ve been in India born and raised. So they often get those ‘Expat-ish’ questions and then the interviewer realises they’re as Indian as it gets. Your comment on the statement?
We laughed because the most expat question you can ask anyone is to prove that they’re Indian.
Your band profile states that “NORTH is comprised of a bunch of eclectic creatives; photographers, writers, an actor and a producer.” Can you please clarify on who does what (or your other avatars)? Does having eclectic careers help in the creatives of the group? How?
Akshay is a born actor and aspiring filmmaker; he trains in the mountains from time to time. He also wouldn’t like to admit it, but he’s a damn good writer and one day we think he’ll write a bestseller. Sean probably has had the most jobs out of any of the NORTH members. He is always coming out with another thing that he’s done “Oh yeah, I was a golf caddy once” – His last job was being a Senior Microbiologist in a Lab. Jordan studied production and is in the midst of getting underway with some cool production ideas he’s got up his sleeve, and he’s also a prolific songwriter. Zoe is a qualified Doula (look it up) and has been writing poetry, prose and songs for many years. We can’t wait for her novel. Oh and she’s also our stylist. Shob is quite the passionate social media marketing guru – please don’t get him started – but we still think, who needs anything else in life when you can pull faces like that on stage?
What are you influenced by, other than music?
We are influenced by the things that influence most people; challenges, successes, failures, relationships, family backgrounds, faith, literature and cinema.
What are some things that the indie scene in India has and things it lacks?
The Indie scene in India has a lot going for it. There are some really great bands working hard to be heard. It’s not easy being independent; you’re your own label, promoter and marketer. It’s tough to do all of that without support. If people want to have a thriving industry, they must support it. We’ve been incredibly lucky so far, we’ve got a really loyal group of followers, and we look at them as our label.
A group that you would kill to tour with (Indian or from overseas)?
Any opportunity to tour with fellow musicians is a welcome one, but Half Moon Run, Gangs of Ballet, Civil Twilight, Mumford & Sons, Chet Faker, John Mayer, and Josh Garrels would be our first picks.
Do you feel marketing is important in shaping a band, or do you think good music is all it takes to break the wall?
There are so many bands, all competing for the same listeners, and a lot of those bands have great music. If you’ve worked hard on an album, and it’s something you’re proud of, it deserves to be heard. That’s where marketing comes in. It’s just simply getting your music in front of as many people as possible, and that’s the wall. Breaking the wall means having something good enough that a lot of people want to listen to, and getting it in front of enough people.
Your definition of the perfect band – if there is one.
Perfection depends on your definition of success, so any band that’s done what they think is success very well might be close to perfection. If a band truly believes in what their music is, and isn’t in it for warped motives, that’s something pretty rare, but pretty perfect. Honesty, love and fun, again.
Do you think India has a vibrant art culture?
Definitely. It’s especially visible from Sean’s perspective who has lived in India for the shortest amount of time. He says he’s never been exposed to so much creativity in any other country.
Would jamming be considered work? While some of us are at home reading a book or watching a movie, others are out socialising. Actually, most of us are the brooding, creative types, mulling over one idea or another at home, scrawling things on pieces of paper, battling insanity. Sean takes his camera for walks, chasing yet another idea, and often ends up in a darkroom developing film. In all seriousness, we spend the majority of our time finding something to laugh at.
What plans for the future?
More music, more shows, we’ve got big plans. Most of those start with doing a lot of shows. We’ve got some secret plans regarding our next few shows. It’s too soon to talk about the next album, but it’s lingering in the back of all of our minds.
Avinash is a dreamer, a music connoisseur and is constantly seeking new things that catch his fancy. Enjoys the silence of his one-bedroom-apartment and loves cooking alone. He prefers genres like rock and blues, and is obsessed with what an instrument can do if it's in the right hands. His all time favourite jams are Comfortably Numb and... Read more