Sounds from the Underground: Odyssey

Published: June 25, 2010
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Odyssey performing live at GIK Institute. PHOTO: SHEIKH FAIZAN SHARIF

Sounds from the Underground covers the Pakistani underground scene by introducing readers to underestimated and often ignored music with the help of interviews and album reviews. This week we introduce our readers to Lahore based band Odyssey, including an interview with their guitarist Hussam Raza.

Odyssey is a progressive metal band frosm Lahore that breaches the boundaries of Pakistani music with an eclectic mix of aggression, melody and memorable song writing.

Line-up

Raja Nabeel Banwa (Vocals/Keyboards), Hussam Raza (Guitars), Waqas Ahmed (Guitars), Ahmed Waqar (Bass), Omer Sohail (Drums/Percussions)

Discography/ Releases

Ghosts of Yesterday, 1st Jan 2010

Date of foundation

February 2008

Style

Progressive rock/metal

Whats it been like being a metal band playing in Pakistan?

We were pretty clear on our priorities. The reason why we made a band and why we make music is for ourselves. And if people like it that’s great. But money or fame wasn’t the motivation, because let’s face it, you’re not going to get that if you play metal in Pakistan. We do this basically for ourselves because we consider our music as an outlet for our creativity.

Where does Odyssey and you as a musician take influence from?

We have a huge variety of influences. From eastern classical to thrash metal and everything in between. Inspiration can come from hearing a good piece of music no matter what the genre is, so we’re always open to listening to different kinds of music. Our main influences though are Dream Theater, Metallica, Symphony X, Megadeth, Savatage, Liquid Tension Experiment etc.

I remember discovering Metallica when a friend of mine gave me an mp3 CD about a decade or so ago with a couple of Metallica songs on it. As soon as I heard them, they struck a chord (pun intended) with me. Then a week or so later I remember my mom giving me my first Metallica CD. Never looked back after that. My dad loved Dire Straits and my uncle is a huge fan of Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, AC/DC etc so I guess it runs the family.

Lets talk about the Odyssey sound compared to your pre-Odyssey band, Orion. Orion’s album was quite diverse, while Odyssey sounds a lot more focused and calculated.

At the time Orion ended, we felt like doing something different to what we had already done. Since Orion was more in the vein of bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Testament etc, we felt we had already done that as musicians and wanted to expand our musical horizons further. We had been wanting to make a progressive metal for some time and this was a perfect opportunity to do so. I think the keyboards added a lot to our sound and gave us an opportunity to experiment further with our sound. We also grew as songwriters and experimented a lot more with song structures and odd time signatures as compared to the music we wrote with Orion.

The live scene in Lahore seems to be much better than Karachi. What’s your take on the live scene in Lahore?

The live scene in Lahore is better than it used to be a year or so ago. We get a decent number of gigs in a year, but the problem is that they’re organised by people who have no idea about how to organise a gig. Most of the times there are 12 bands that are adjusted in to a time frame of a couple of hours. A lot of the times we’ll be told that we have to prepare 5 songs but at the gig we’ve been told that we can’t play more than two because of time shortages. That’s just bad management. Organizers need to realize that the focus should be on quality rather than quantity. Also, the sound at most of the concerts isn’t too good and that really affects the whole experience. Bad sound can make you sound bad which is sad because if the guitars vanish in the drummer’s monitor midway during a song, then it becomes difficult to manage. Luckily we haven’t had that happen to us yet and our shows have generally gone well, but I’ve seen other bands struggle with this which is sad because it’s not their fault that the sound guy feels the need to experiment with volume levels during a song.

One other thing that I have a problem with is the sick mentality and lack of professionalism of some of these ‘organisers’. We recently got a call from someone who wanted us to perform at a corporate gig in Islamabad. We were interested in doing so, but then they just recently told us that we had to bring at least a couple of girls on stage with us as part of our band. They said the girls could just pretend to hold an instrument and play it but that they had to be there on stage otherwise they weren’t interested in having our band there. So naturally we told them to take their gig and shove it. But this sort of mentality disappoints me greatly. If this is the sort of people we have who are more interested in checking out girls on stage rather than listening to a band play their music, then we have absolutely no hope left for the music ‘scene’ not just in Lahore, but anywhere in Pakistan.

Any underground bands in Pakistan you like?

We have quite a bit of talent in the underground scene. There are plenty of metal bands particularly in Rawalpindi/Islamabad that are making some good music. Lahore has a few talented bands too like Dementia and Ruin. Islamabad has a very talented band called Resurrection as well as a host of death/thrash metal bands like ISI, Revolt etc.

Is making original music just a hobby for the band?

Yes we’re very passionate about playing and making music. It’s a great release from the everyday stress of life.

You have a corporate day job, what’s it like balancing duties at work and with the band?

It can get pretty tough! I remember during the last 6 months of making our album Ghosts Of Yesterday, I was at work from 9am – 6pm, and then from 6pm – 11pm I would be working on recording the album with the rest of the band. It was extremely tiring, but also a very fulfilling experience. It was very satisfying to hold the finished product in our hand though. It made all the hard work worthwhile.

The media in Pakistan seems to shy away from metal in general, do you guys face any resistance considering you have a strong following in Lahore?

So far the media’s been supportive and encouraging. We’ve had a few interviews and some exposure on radio shows like Black Sunday on FM89. We understand and realize that our brand of music is not for everyone, which is why we haven’t really gone to the mainstream media as yet. There are plans though to make a video soon because it’s one thing we haven’t done and something that everyone who likes our music keeps telling us to do!

Odyssey released an album in January, how has the response been so far?

The response has been pretty awesome so far! The first pressing was completely sold out (mostly through word of mouth) in January. We had to have a second pressing made. We’re looking to have the album placed in some CD stores in major cities now as well.
‘Ghosts of Yesterday’ was a home recorded album. Lahore has a couple of good studios, why didn’t the band opt for one of those?

It was quite tough for us, but a good choice I think because we could work at our own pace, and plus we didn’t have to pay for studio time. Recording an album in a studio would have dented us quite a bit financially. Therefore we decided to do it ourselves, and I’m very very pleased with the result.

Are you guys planning on building up on the success? Another album or video perhaps?

We’re continuing to work on material for our second album. We also might be releasing a couple of Urdu songs for the sake of experimentation. A video is something everyone is asking us to make, so yes that is definetely on the cards as well.

You guys covered a very popular Urdu song from the 80s, what was the reaction to that?

We covered Hawa Hawa (originally by Hassan Jehangir) It was a huge hit back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. We basically did our own rendition of it for fun but apparently people really liked it and they always want us to play it at our concerts so we mostly do include it in our live set for the sake of variety. Plus it’s nice to play a simple song for a change on stage instead of playing a flurry of notes in odd time signatures all the time! We might do a couple of other renditions of famous Pakistani songs as well in the coming months.

There was news of your bassist leaving for Berklee college of music, how does the band plan on coping with that?

Yes, Ahmed will be leaving for Berklee at the end of this year and we’ll miss his presence. However, we’ll still definetely continue with another bass player who we’ll select when the time comes.

Thank you for taking some time out for the interview. Any advice you’d like to give to upcoming bands?

If you’re a musician and you have a dream, never let anyone discourage you from it. Practice hard, and set a high benchmark for yourself. Don’t do just cover songs, always try and make original music as well. And never play live unless you and your band are well rehearsed.

About Odyssey:

The band was formed in February 2008 by Hussam Raza and Waqas Ahmed  after the vocalist and drummer from their previous band Orion left for Canada for their academics. After independently releasing a very diverse metal album by the name of Angel Of Dust as Orion, both Hussam and Waqas were intent on forming another band with the aim of making progressive music in the vein of bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X. Both of them along with Omar Sohail (drums/percussions) had a common interest in making progressive music. The name ‘Odyssey’ was chosen because it signified a long musical journey that the band felt like it was embarking on. Odyssey is also the name of a very famous poem based on Greek mythology, which are elements that can be found in Odyssey’s original music as well.

After trying out a couple of vocalists, the band was introduced to Raja Nabeel Banwa who was a big fan of progressive music as well. As it turns out, he could play keyboards too, so after meeting up with him, the band chose him as their vocalist and keyboard player. The band also recruited Fawad Nadir for playing bass for them at live gigs initially. Because of Fawad’s academic commitments, the band then eventually got Ahmed Waqar as a permanent bass player for the band.

Odyssey started working on their album and released two rough demos for the public as well as a heavy metal version of a famous Pakistani pop song called ‘Hawa Hawa‘ (originally by Hassan Jehangir)

Since then the band has played at numerous concerts in their home town of Lahore, an explosive performance at GIK and various interviews for radio channels like FM89 and FM100.

From intricate, progressive riffs and screaming solos to soaring melodies and atmospheric keyboards, the band spent most of 2009 focused on creating and recording a progressive metal masterpiece.

The end result is the band’s debut album called ‘Ghosts of Yesterday’ which features 10 original songs with a total running time of over 70 minutes.

Shaheryar Popalzai

Shaheryar Popalzai

A sub-editor on the web desk of The Express Tribune.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.