Two years of remaining all but invisible in our still-nascent independent music scene usually means one of two things for a band. Either all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put their instruments together again, or every single member of said band was deeply invested in giving life to their latest artistic surge. Luckily for anyone who still rolls the name ‘Spud In The Box’ off their tongues fondly, the six-piece alt-rock band is back from their seeming hiatus with a concept album unlike anything we’ve ever experienced on home turf before. Post navigating their visually adventurous album release firsthand last week in Mumbai, the only thing left to do was seat as many of them as we could in a small room and try to map out exactly what went on over the past two years that culminated in such a unique piece of work. Think of this as a repository of the disjointed conversation.
“Duality’s been rooted in us and our music ever since we started playing. It’s just seeped into a lot of things - the songs also started becoming about it, ” says Ankit Dayal, vocalist, jumping straight into the album’s most obvious theme. With a name like Lead Feet Paper Shoes, the idea of opposites being partners-in-crime as such, really sings through even before you hit play. Rohan Rajadhyaksha, keyboardist/ vocalist, agrees that the concept first came through quite subconsciously.. It’s clear that this narrative then extended itself into the way the entire launch was structured, resulting in one of the most thematically unified musical works we’ve experienced in a long time. It’s imperative to at least attempt to paint a picture of what they created live before you delve deeper though.
Across from the band, at the other end of the venue, was a screen - unassuming at first. The lights would dim down on the band, and you could feel the audience turned in the other direction, and you couldn’t help but look. Playing with the light and sound, a shadow would emerge from behind the screen. It didn’t matter who it was or what binary labels might define it. What gender this person was, felt irrelevant for example. All we (kind of) knew was that it was a shadow and it was reacting. At first, the movements were small and repetitive. It was looking around - up, to the left, down. Repeat. These restricted, wary movements almost made one feel as though this shadow was a foetus exploring the confines within which it lay.
Parizad, the photographer and visual director behind this production says, “We were worried people wouldn’t realise that there was a screen at the other end. We didn’t want to spoonfeed anyone, but they had to be made aware. So the way we planned the set, the lights, the songs that were playing was all meant to guide the viewer in the experience of the set.” And guide, it did. Throughout the performance, the character was evolving. Different props with repetitive movements aided with the evolution - instruments, typewriters, metal claws for hands. There was a restlessness building from within - it was sweating, but it was still. The calm before the storm, one would say. If not at the shadow, heads were turned towards the source of uncomplicated, textured melodies and the striking visuals running its course behind the band.
Of course, all this might have seemed almost too abstract had the band not begun to pique audience’s interest much before the live show with a truly striking photo narrative--as mysterious as it was alluring. More importantly, it built interest in this ‘character’. “We had a lot of conversations to conceptualise the cover. The more we talked about it, the more we felt that one picture just isn’t enough. I couldn’t think of a single image that was representative of the album, or the brand - and so we came up with the idea of a photo story, with a picture for each song. This photo story was released prior to the launch of the album, sighting everyone’s curiosity. There was a whole narrative journey weaved through these images that struck a chord, despite not making complete sense at the time. Things soon snowballed, and we went from wanting visuals for each song to recreating an entire visual universe,” says Parizad. “Which comes back to this one character,” says Ankit, filling in the blanks. “Even though the songs go all over the place, we still wanted this one element that makes sense of everything - the music, the visuals, all of it. And that element was the character.”
A lot of the character’s narrative can be deciphered through the photostory found below. “While we want the viewers to have their own opinion, the basis is this character. He is eccentric, lives in his own world, lives in a space where things make and don’t make sense and there is a sense of constant change. What we did for the images was to create a story within each photo. And each photo is a chapter in the life of the character,” Parizad explains. Lending more context as to how the music connects back to it all, Rohan tells us “Bullet Points is the song that gives you an overview of the story, and the character.” He reminisces of album art of vinyls from a time gone by, and this photostory is a digitized version of the same concept - bringing it back in a new avatar.
It seems strange almost to write of a band, but read what comes across as a review of an interactive theatre performance. But therein lies the beauty of this collaboration - the art, the music, the performance is an amalgamation of something so much larger - the ‘complete visual universe’ that they keep speaking of. “The whole concept was based on the maximalism of listening to something and experiencing it with your senses. It had to be everywhere around you, behind the band, just everywhere. And all of these visuals had been shot last year in a 2 day shoot,” Ankit explains, validating the feeling of sensory overdrive we experienced.
II. It wasn’t long before the ‘element of surprise’ was a dot in the distance, and the performance’s cohesive nature became more apparent though. No sooner had I blinked my eyes than the shadow emerged from behind the screen, and a striking man in a mask of eyes brushed past me. With the sound of the fourth wall shattering in front of us, He stood up, draped a jacket onto himself and started scrambling through a pile of papers with notes scribbled on them, as though he was looking for something. Overcome with a sudden hunger, he started to crumple these papers and eat them. There was manic chaos in that beauty, a burst from all that was building up. He was staring right at us (or was it through us?) with these eyes that weren’t his. Taking it all in. And in a flash like movement, he was gone. Back into womb from which he came.
I was curious as to how this part of the production realised itself, and Parizad was quick with an explanation. “The eating of the paper, the typewriter, the flowers - it was to recreate the setup of the photo story for the audience to experience. To make it more tangible. The photo story was released before, so it was to recreate the screen viewing in real life. A lot was broken down and planned, but a lot was spontaneous - because, Himanshu…he just did what we wanted to, and it worked.” This sort of collaborative expression is what characterizes this unique album launch in that it goes so far beyond just the band, requiring each person’s vision and intuition to complete this picture and bring it to life.
What added to the performance were the props and the decor. “A huge theme is visual perception,” says Hartej Sawhney, one of the lead guitarists. “And that’s where the eyes come in - what you see yourself as, what people see you as, what you actually are. It also questions the elements of performance - who is performing? Are we all performing? Do we perform every time we step out? And the fact that someone is always watching.” It was these questions, above any that resonated louder than anything else that night. It’s not often that you leave a gig asking yourself more questions than you have answers for. The eating of the paper - a metaphor for the way we consume the internet? Information enough to drown in, information we consume as though we don’t have a choice, until it starts to eat us from the inside. Most often you’re just left with a feeling of cotton mouth, unable to swallow anymore at the end of it all. The retreat back to behind the screen also gives the album the feel of a complete cycle. As Ankit says, “The album leads you in one direction, circles around and comes back to a point where you restart the story. You could listen to the whole album again in a completely different light.” This “music per square inch” concept makes sense with such a high density of action all around. The idea is to compress as much as possible in a single square inch of music - so much so that when you listen to the album 20 years from now there will still be something new, something you may not have heard before.
Even after collecting all the crumbs, it’s easy to feel like there are still a thousand remarkable references we might have missed. All the unanswered questions and comfortable abstractions do point to one undeniable certainty though. Lead Feet Paper Shoes is the conceptual work of a band that has truly grown into themselves. They took their time in a world that thrives on instant artistry, and in doing so, they coaxed a rare emotional reaction out of viewers. Even if they make us wait another two years for their next album, it’s likely to be well worth our time.
[Scroll on to see a selection of images from the band’s striking photo narrative]
Words: Tansha Vohra