With the teaser release of Gehraiyaan earlier this year, the world woke up to the musical genius of Kabeer Kathpalia aka OAFF. Having made his name in the indie music scene for his eclectic atmospheric pop sound and for his ability to lend a theatrical vibe to tracks, the music producer is now tasting mainstream success and rightfully so. Having been following his journey for a while, it is almost unmissable to trace his sonic evolution, his love for music that evokes nostalgia and a need to reinvent and experiment. If there is a music producer to watch out for in this generation, it is him. In a tell-all conversation with Homegrown, OAFF lets us in on his punk rock band days from high school, his love for quantum physics, and creating music.
It is quite known that you were in a punk rock band in high school with Savera and that’s what started your musical journey. Was there ever a moment before that when you thought “Maybe I want to make music for the rest of my life?”
Was there ever a moment before the punk rock band? No, I don’t think that moment came even during the punk rock band. It was mostly to be cool in school and impress girls. It was only after that I got into learning music theory because I picked up the guitar for the band. I used to sing before and then I realised I should probably hold something so I picked up the guitar. It wasn’t until many many many years later that I thought that this could be a career option. I actually wanted to become a physicist. (Oh that’s on quite the opposite end of what you ended up doing) yeah, it worked out that way but in an alternate lifetime maybe I would have done that.
We listen to very different music growing up, what’s the kind of music you grew up listening to? What were some of your favourites?
I think I was lucky, in the sense that my family was interested in different kinds of music and I remember waking up, we had this speaker at home when I was a child and there used to be music playing. My father would put something. There was a lot of Indian classical, a lot eclectic Western classical, Philip Glass and stuff like that and then there was the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel and stuff like that. I remember now and I think now that it left a big impression on me, there used to be this record label called Wildermin records which was this small record label that started there and my father used to collect these CDs cause he liked the artwork when he was younger. He had these CDs and they were these ambient-y kind of very soothing music. And I think a lot of it, (not consciously) stayed in my music-making process. Somehow it has crept in.
In the playlist you shared in an interview, your playlist seems to be dominated by an indie folk sound one that has an atmospheric and cinematic feel to it. What’s your favourite album of all time? And do you feel like it’s impacted the way you create music?
I feel like that Bon Iver album, which was his second album ‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver’. Then there’s an album called ‘Dive’, it’s Tycho’s album. There’s an Asian ambi-electronic producer, I remember that one song, called ‘Walk in the Hills’. Even now when I listen to it, it just feels like it’s been years and years and it’s the one song I played throughout. I’ve been listening to it and I still love it. It was really interesting how he created this cinematic, atmospheric environment using a lot of sounds that are kind of going through some distortion or sounds that are going through a tape effect. So I got really fascinated by how you make things sound old also.
So, basically what you’re essentially saying is this the there’s this imperfect sound that you feel drawn to?
Yeah. I think that is it, because in both of these Bon Iver albums and with the other producer, there’s this like really human element to it. I don’t know how much of that translates to my music because I don’t know if I do that, but I love listening to that. At least I feel like then there’s honesty in the music.
You’ve coined the phrase ‘atmospheric pop’ to describe the kind of music you create. Have you felt a sort of evolution in the kind of music you’ve been making? Do you feel like you’ve come into yourself sonically?
That’s a difficult question because I don’t like to think this is who I am, but as you change your interests change and you’re like, “Oh wait, maybe that’s just who I was at that point or an aspect to me.”
But there are these other things that I haven’t explored that I want to explore. So more than trying to decide who I am and trying to discover that solely for me, it’s more fun to kind of explore things that are new and exciting for me. So whether people think that’s my sound or some different sound. For me, I think the only way to make music is if I’m excited about what I’m doing and that constantly changes with new music that I’m listening to.
What’s one genre you’re excited about experimenting with?
A bunch of stuff. Firstly it was new for me to make music in Hindi. It’s not a new genre or anything but it is a new experience for me because the first Hindi song I made was with Kayan, who is a really amazing independent artist. Then I did Gehraiyaan and that’s opened up a whole new world to me. I’m listening to so many new artists that I didn’t listen to before. Recently I’ve been listening to bedroom-produced indie pop, which has guitars in it and like badly recorded drums, but like, it’s kind of cool. I like that vibe.
Do you think it’s an exciting time to be in the music industry? Especially with people moving away from the perception of needing a studio space to create music to artists creating music from with their laptops in the four walls of their homes.
So the interesting thing is that all the music of Gehraiyaan was made on this laptop that I’m having this Zoom call on. It was literally on this one laptop that the songs— ‘Doobey’ and ‘Gehraiyaan’, the main title track were made and then later in the studio we finished them. But a lot of it happened at home like a bedroom producer. So I really don’t believe this thing about people needing super fancy studios and equipment to make music. I do feel like it’s always fun to have a new instrument because that’s inspiring. That’s a different thing, but you’re not limited because your laptop has enough to make whatever you want if you can figure it out. So I feel like a lot of these artists are coming up that are doing this. I feel like the next generation is going to be even far more removed and just be recording via their phones, but they’ll be connected to those sounds in a different way.
From an indie music space to seeing commercial success in Gehraiyaan, what’s that journey been like? Has it in any way changed the way you create music? What was the creative process for Gehraiyaan like?
I mean, first of all, I wish I knew what that process is. It can be anything at any point in time and you don’t really know it. You think that you have a structure, but usually, the good things happen somewhere else. It’s not really in that formula or it’s not in that design that you had. So, the process pretty much stays the same, except that now a few more people are involved in the process. I feel like I’m just learning more and more about music and what makes good music good. So that’s, what’s changed. I don’t think the process itself has changed.
What do you think has been your personal favorite project till date?
Personally, I feel ‘Gehraiyaan’. I can’t say anything except that at this point because it has changed so much for me in terms of not just music, but life, like things change after that. After having a movie like that and having songs that people like so much, every song is special, but Gehraiyaan made a big difference in my life for sure.
How did Gehraiyaan happen to you in that sense?
Shakun Batra, the director reached out to me on Instagram saying he likes my music and if we could meet. We met and he was interested. He had heard some of my independent music and wanted my sound to be the sound of the background score. Then they offered us a song asking “Do you guys wanna give it a shot?” So we gave it a shot, then there was a long waiting period but finally, that song got approved. Then we were offered one more song, then that got approved and then they were like, “Just do the whole album.”
That’s very interesting. You started from one song and ended up doing the entire thing.
We weren’t even supposed to do the song. We were supposed to do the score. And we were like “Wow! We’re getting to do a score where he wants us to do what we do anyway” and then it became like full-fledged songs.
What’s been the most joyous part of creating music for you?
The joyous part is always that moment when you’re creating something –– that initial first time you’re sitting on the computer or whatever instrument and you come up with something new and that excites you. That’s amazing. Like that’s the feeling that everybody chases.
Who is Kabeer as a person, when removed from the artist?
I don’t think I’m too different from what I put up on. Like what people see of me, I’m pretty similar to that because I think it’ll be harder to be someone else and to have this artist persona and then go back to living your normal life. I find that has more effort involved than just being whoever you are. But one thing that people might not know is that I’m a bit of an obsessive person. I’m a nerd, a geek where if there’s something that interests me, physics, for example, then I want to really know everything about it and I’m consumed by it. So I feel like that happens to me every once in a while about some new topic. And then I need to know everything about it.
What’s the latest obsession at the moment then?
Quantum physics. I started that in college and I started physics in college in my bachelor’s and then I didn’t study physics because I got into music. So I always had this fascination of understanding how the universe works. What is it all about? What are we made of? What is happening? What is the nature of reality? So, I’m getting back to studying those things again a little more seriously.
What defines OAFF as an artist?
I think it’s a constant process of experimentation trying new things and a sense of wonder for me as an artist. That is the feeling that I’m always gravitating towards, this sort of bittersweet feeling, which is happy but when it’s over you feel sad about it. It’s almost like nostalgia. I think that’s what I really gravitate towards. I think it’s such a beautiful feeling. Even TV shows or books or songs, the ones which are kind of sad, but really beautiful. I think that’s what I love a lot. I think it’s got to do with trying to remember your childhood or remembering an old memory. There’s something about that is very beautiful to me.
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