Electronic Pop Band Talk About Their Latest Album ‘Upgrade’
Electronic pop band Swami have had an incredible journey trail-blazing the music scene with their one-of-a-kind sound. Taking inspiration from both the East and the West, their music is an ingenious blend of electronic dance and UK Bhangra making for a truly universal experience. Members DJ Swami, Sur, Liana and S-Endz have worked tirelessly for the past four years on their latest album Upgrade featuring the incredible new single Do it Again. The band sat down with The Asian Today to talk about their musical style, identity and what makes Upgrade the album to buy.
Tell us about the background of ‘Do it Again’ what inspired the track?
DJ Swami: We have actually been working on the new album for about four years now, because the last album we worked on called ‘53431’ had a track called ‘Sugarless’, which kind of started a new era for Swami with the combination of vocals between Sur, Liana and S-Endz. We found our sound and thought we should put this into a new album. So we started the album and Do it Again was one of the first tracks we started working on, then a new challenge struck us where we thought why don’t we start putting not just Punjabi and English in but Hindi as well. But that was much easier said than done! So after several trips to India and several versions later suddenly Do it Again became a big favourite track of ours, so we thought we should put this song out as our first single. It has the right kind of sentiment about us wanting to relive all the good times about music and the things that we like, a correlation with relationships that went wrong that you maybe want to repair. It was just a song that we thought represents Swami in 2014.
What about other songs on the album, will you be releasing those soon?
S-Endz: At the moment our loose plan is that we will do the second single in early 2015 and shoot the video for that. We have a song in mind, I’m not going to say which one it is because it might change! Obviously with the industry being a singles market you have to play things by ear a little bit ans see how well the song you have out does before you put the next one out, that’s just how we do it!
This album has been four years in the making, why has it taken so long? What has the journey been like during those four years?
Sur: It has taken so long because rather than throw out a few singles which we could easily do, that’s not the aim that we have in mind. If we were told we need an album for next year any great producer could go in the studio and do that. We are trying to create music that will really stand out from our peers, we are trying to create something new as well in terms of a genre. So it wasn’t just a case of let’s just throw some Hindi on this new sound that we found, we wanted to make sure the songs were carefully crafted, made sense and were honest. If at any point we felt that we were faking something then we may as well not do it and let someone else do it. We didn’t anticipate a four year journey for this album and at the end of every year we found ourselves apologising to our fans saying, ‘Ok we promise, in a couple of months time you are going to hear something!’ But then as DJ Swami said we’d go over to India and be influenced by something else and think, actually you have got to be humble when you think you’ve got it, but think actually this is missing. You have to be prepared to go back and make a few changes and once the product and the song are exactly as we want it, only then are we happy to share it with other people.
Liana: It doesn’t help everyone being perfectionists! Just tweaking it here and there and somebody else will come in and say how about that? We think it’s better but then there’s something else.
DJ Swami: Also we don’t really have any role models that we really model our sounds on, we do have role models for different influences for Swami but there’s no other artist that makes the kind of music that we make so we feel we learn from our own mistakes. We improve our own sound and that’s part of our commitment to being original and having the quality that people expect from us.
You say you want to revolutionise electronic pop music with ‘Upgrade’, how do you feel you have you done that with this album?
DJ Swami: With revolution, the word that comes to mind is ‘risk’, somebody has to stand out and be prepared to take a risk. That’s us! Nobody has heard electronic pop with English, Punjabi and Hindi done properly and authentically by blending our East and West background. It’s not an easy challenge and it’s a very brave thing to stand forward and be prepared to be successful at it or not successful at it. What we don’t ever want to be is mediocre.
Sur: The main thing to remember as well is that it’s not a formula that we follow where we must have an Indian vocal there or an English beat here. Because then that’s not revolutionary, then we are trying to follow something that has already been done. By being revolutionary what we are trying to do is to set standards whereby other artists, songwriters and producers will say, ‘well they did it that way and that sounded really natural and people are humming their tunes’. People don’t even realise the intricacies of the music, but that’s a sign of the success that we are doing something that people haven’t done before but may influence what they do in the future.
Liana: When I first met Diamond and we sat down together he explained the idea, he had nothing to play but I joined the group because of this idea of where he wanted to go with the music. It was a natural progression of us coming together because no one was trying to be anything, everyone’s vocals sat together nicely and then the formula just evolved into what we are doing now.
S-Endz: I can’t think of any English bands who can mean as much to their core audience in England and to little kids in India and vice versa. We are trying to bridge that gap where we can have fans in England that love us and fans in India that love us. It actually means something to people no matter where they grow up.
What made you first want to combine electro pop with Bhangra and Asian music? Where you ever worried about the response you would get considering most British Asian artists delve into genres of hip-hop or rap?
DJ Swami: There wasn’t really a struggle, the reason why we make music is because we have a certain amount of insecurity about how we see ourselves as people and our identity. Are we Indian or are we British? Where do we fit in? We were just trying to create music that helps us figure out who we are and the things that we like, whether it’s Indian or English. Of course we have been through the rap, rock and reggae thing, we have been influenced by those things also, but we felt the biggest challenge for us was just to be pop. To make credible, popular music seemed like the greatest and also the most exciting challenge, having good songs that people identify with and memorable lyrics. We are not trying to create a persona where there’s a mystique about us, we just want people to think, ‘Oh, they make the kind of songs that they really believe in and represents them as people.’ If we do that we are doing the right thing as Swami.
S-Endz: I think with the mix of music we make there is a real authenticity to the British-Asian experience. A lot of people don’t get that balance right and that’s been the most difficult thing for us, trying to find that correct balance. Because if you are a traditional, English Bhangra singer and pretend you’re from a Pind in Punjab, they know that you are not. If you are from here and you rap, you cannot pretend you are from Harlem, they know that you are not! So trying to find that balance is very, very difficult and that had taken time but I think we have it.
Do you feel you have encouraged audiences to embrace their multi-cultural identities and music outside of their culture?
Sur: Definitely, growing up in this country as a British born Indian you have identity struggles in trying to figure out who you are and where you are from. There was always a clear memory I had where its all, if you are Indian then you are Indian, you hang out with Indian or non white kids. And the white kids in school often felt the same and I don’t think that was the mentality of the area, it was just those years, that’s just the way it was. But the older we have gotten the more open minded we have become and the more connected the whole planet is with each other. You come to realise that we are not that different, we can all enjoy each other’s cultures. We were talking about this when we were shooting the video that the sound we had touched upon, we would never have been able to create that if we were all just from India or we were all just from England. This sound has only been possible through the fact that we all have influences from India but we fully appreciate, acknowledge and accept the upbringing that we’ve had in this country. Were it not for the UK we would not have this sound, so if that coming together of different cultures and influences can create something as beautiful as a new sound of music, think about what else we could do if people came together like this.
Liana: It’s nice because you eliminate the racism boundaries as well because music at the end of the day is about feeling something whether it’s the lyrics, melody or beat, you should be able to relate to any kind of music without it being a race thing. There are so many different styles out there so it’s very ignorant to say ‘I’m just going to listen to this type of music’, it’s close minded.
DJ Swami: For us it’s a natural thing and that’s the message we are giving out. There is a deeper meaning to what we do because we all want people to respect each other and accept that their identity may be more complicated than just being from one place. That’s what we try to promote.
You all come from different backgrounds, how did you all meet and form Swami?
DJ Swami: I started the project of Swami in the studio originally, experimenting with the sounds of British electronic and pop music with Indian sounds. We took it out of the studio and formed a band in around 2004-2005, then we did Desi Rock and it became a huge hit for us all over the world because we were fusing a bit of rock music, electronic and Bhangra in a new way. So the band went from strength to strength out of the studio and then we thought, where can we take this now? When Liana joined the group in 2007 we suddenly had a whole new pop, female dynamic in the band which was exciting for us. The last thing we wanted to be was a band of guys for guys, we wanted to be for everybody! Since 2007 we have been nurturing this sound as Swami such as when we did the album ‘Equalize’ and did Electro Jugni, Hey Hey and to 2009 when we did Sugarless. We have been learning all the way along and if you have noticed with our music, we have never repeated what we have done previously. What we have done in the past has evolved into something else and like I said before, we are prepared to take risks with our music.
Can you tell us about any concerts or gigs you have at the moment?
S-Endz: We have a launch party coming up in Birmingham next month on Saturday 13th December at the Electric club, this is a night called ‘Edit’. We are launching that as the single launch party with a performance and will be playing the video. From there we are going to be having tours next year being co-ordinated right now by our agents so if people go to our website or Facebook page, ‘Swami music’, That is where events and tours will be announced.
Rapid Fire questions!
Bollywood or Hollywood?
Dj Swami: Bollywood
Liana: Bit of both?
Sur: I would have to say both because like I said everything is coming together!
Healthy food or junk food?
S-Endz: Healthy, Im vegan!
Dj Swami: Healthy, vegetarian.
Liana: Healthy, fitness.
Sur: I was once junk but my new fitness gurus (points to band members) have turned me towards the light.
One Direction or the Beatles?
All together: Beatles!
Sur: Unless one of their managers is listening to this then One Direction all the way!