Unohu is a Mumbai-based Alt-Rock trio consisting of brothers Sarthak (vocals and guitar) and Shashwat Karkare (drums) with Yohann Coutinho (bass.) This young trio with Sarthak and Yohann at 19 and Shashwat at 17, are already a force to be reckoned with. Apart from living their dream musician life, they simultaneously manage their academics and various extra-curricular activities, excelling in everything they take up.
What made you go by the name of ‘Unohu’?
Shashwat: For a long time, we were trying to figure out names but we just couldn’t think of any. Then, Yohann as a joke, said we should call ourselves Unohu because then it would be really funny announcing it on stage. A couple of months after that, we couldn’t think of any other name so we just went with that.
Initially, what got you into music? Where did it all begin?
Yohann: It began with the family, so with the parents and grandparents, aunties and uncles. It’s like they gave you your first instrument and then you just picked it up. Went for guitar class. My brother and I still learn classical guitar.
Sarthak: We, the two of us, have been playing for a really long while. Again, our parents got us our instruments and we just decided to sit down and jam, see what happens, cover a few bands. Then when I went to college, I met Yohann, we combined our musical tastes and experiences… We just gelled. Clicked.
What do you prefer, the lyrics or the music? Why?
Shashwat: I, honestly, give more importance to music.
Yohann: Same here.
Sarthak: That’s because they don’t write the lyrics. They write the music. What I give more precedence to is obviously more situational. But I think it generally starts with music. I can’t just sit and write songs without a particular rhythm. Music gives it a certain vibe, like a certain feel to it. If it’s grungy… if its rally soft… It gives you a contextual element into which you get to set your lyrics. I don’t generally write lyrics per se, to fit it a particular song into it. What we do is, when we jam, we come up with some riff. I guess I’d say music is what we give greater importance to. But I tend to listen to lyrics in any other song. I do give personally more importance when I listen to other music (to lyrics.) But I think with most musicians, lyrics are contextual, they come up with a riff or something like that first which gives it a tempo into which you can construct and write lyrics.
Describe a day in your ‘musician’ life.
Shashwat: The very start of the day, you’re in the zone, you’re already thinking about what you’re going to perform.
Sarthak:I think that day you’re just really excited, nervous excited, somewhere in there you need to find a balance. But you wake up and you’re thinking about it. You’re going to plan your day. It’s not like someone is going to come and pick us up and head there. It’s very different in India. The next important thing, the other half of the day is sound check.
Shashwat: I think I really get in the zone after the sound check. Right then you know, you’re familiar with what the sound is at the venue, the gears over there, the acoustics in the place…
Sarthak: You need to settle into the fact that you have a gig today. After that, it’s just about preparing for it mentally. I am very uptight when I’m there at the venue. I just walk around. It’s a good feeling. After the gig, it’s just a huge sigh of relief that it’s done and it was a good gig. Then the food is a big plus. And the drinks. After that, it’s just exhaustion. Sleep. The next day, your neck is broken and your body hurts.
How did you reach the platform you’re present at right now?
Shashwat: I think it was just a lot of work. From recording to actually talking to organisers and mailing them, contacting them. Then practicing. We always just keep working on new songs because as much as we can, we prefer not to repeat songs so we always keeping adding new stuff to our set. So it’s always practicing and constantly working. You can’t settle at anything. You just have to keep working.
Sarthak: The first gig we ever played was a Ctrl+Alt+Del gig which was massive. What we did was, we just had four songs at the beginning so we decided to record one of those four songs and surprisingly got a good response. Now that we look back, we’re like, ‘Oh, my god. How did we make something like that?’ But we had fun doing whatever we were doing.
Shashwat: And we were really young too.
Sarthak: Yeah, he was just 14. It was awesome. We started off early and learnt a lot faster which is a big advantage because most other people tend to start late. But now, we need to figure things out, we have to keep adapting, we have to go with whatever we make so it’s quite a journey that way.
So, we recorded that song and we played a few more gigs. We kept writing to a lot of people. Most people don’t reply, which is a big let-down. It’s better if you have contacts. We didn’t have any. We just kept writing and luckily we did get noticed and people did call. We have had a wonderful time so far working with people. People have been very receptive and we’re really grateful for that because wherever we are today is because of the people we worked with, considering the fact that we don’t have a representative who can vociferously be there for us, write about us, and promote us. We had to do it ourselves and that’s only because people were willing to listen to us and pay us. Which is a big thing because you need the money if you’re going to get somewhere.
Then, we had enough to get an EP (Asunder) going. A lot of people recommended that we record an EP because we had enough tracks. So as we went along with these gigs, we kept making new material, kept growing. You can actually sense yourself growing with the music, you can sense your taste changing. After we dropped our EP, we also got contacted for quite a few videos. This guy heard our song and he decided to approach us and make a video with us which is what we did.
There were days when academics were a huge hindrance, a massive speed bump. This one time we had a gig in Ahmedabad atop the Red Bull Tour Bus which is an insane experience but we had our exams on that time. I remember Yohann and I wrote a paper and we flew out to Mica to a college campus for a gig. We reached there in the afternoon after our exam, we played the gig at night and then we were up the whole night. Yohann had an exam the next day.
Shashwat: He was studying under a street light and basically wherever he found light. They felt bad for him so they opened the library and he sat there. He also slept a little.
Sarthak: Lovely campus, great food, really amazing people, lots of Red Bull but what makes it memorable is that we pulled that off during our exams. We came back, we dropped him off at the station the next day and then he went to college and wrote a paper in which he excelled.
This one time we also did a Skype jam because we couldn’t meet, we were all so busy and we had stuff that we had to share with each other, not like chit-chat stuff (chuckles) but music-wise.
We’ve come a long way and we have a long way to go as well but in retrospect, it looks like it’s been quite a while. Luckily for us, we’ve managed to work with wonderful people, so we put in a lot in those three years.
Shashwat: I think what really amazed most of the people was actually our age because once they heard how old we were, it’d just amaze them even more because then it wasn’t just the music but also the fact, not meaning to sound cocky here, that we’re really good for our age.
What would the last line of your autobiography be?
Yohann: Now Unohu.
Which one of someone else’s work has influenced you and how?
Sarthak: I have this one song of mine which I cannot do without and that’s Trains by Porcupine Tree. It’s a very versatile band but that song itself is something that I can always listen to. It’s an evergreen song and it’s got everything I want to hear in any band, in any song. It’s got just the perfect elements. It’s really, really well done. It’s my favourite song.
Shashwat: I think for me the most inspiring band has been Mutemath because I love their sound and I love how enthusiastic they are about performing, their entire stage presence. They just go about doing whatever they do.
Yohann: I think mine is going to be Dead Man by Karnivool because it’s beautifully written. It’s a really well-written, well-structured, thought-out song. It’s intense.
Sarthak: We’re planning on releasing another EP which is untitled as of now. We’re going to get things in order soon and we do have a lot of new material which we have got an amazing response for, so far, wherever we’ve played that. We’ve been playing it over and over again as part of our live sets so that we tighten up and make it as good as possible so that when we actually get down to writing an EP, it’ll show that we’ve worked hard enough. At the same time, we’re also working on a lot of new songs so that we can re-do our entire set list. Like Shashwat said, we just don’t like playing the same songs over and over again. This summer should be productive from a live set view.
What according to you, is more important, the idea or its execution?
Sarthak: Execution, any day.
Shashwat: One can always have good ideas and one can always portray them well but finally how you execute that idea makes the biggest difference because just keeping an idea in your head doesn’t really affect any body.
Sarthak: With execution, you have to get real. Ideas are too abstract. When you get down to putting it together, considering it’s your own idea and to pitch it to somebody else… I mean, if Yohann has an idea, he has to try to pitch it to us, experiment, get it together with two other people… if you have more people in the band, it can get that much tougher or easier depending on whether the people you’re working with are rigid or flexible in their thinking. But finally, it’s all about executing it because you have to get real as I said, get down to making that song and putting in so many elements, so many hours of work and restructuring it. There have been times when we’ve had great ideas but we’ve also disliked them after we’ve played them. So when you get down to executing it, you realise its pros and cons. As an idea, everything just looks really good because it’s your own idea, you take pride in the fact that you have thought of it. By just telling someone the idea is not going to help them understand it better and neither will you understand it better.
Shashwat: You also get a very wholesome view of the idea as well because when you’re thinking of an idea, you start from a specific thought but once you finally execute it, you get the entire picture.
Sarthak: More importantly, you also get a response and criticism which again is really important in any field, especially a creative one.
What does it take as a person to do this and what are the circumstances involved?
Sarthak: Like I said, academics are the biggest hurdle that we have to cross every now and then but I think the most important thing is that a lot of people tend to give up other commitments just to pursue whatever they want to do but as much as academics bothered us, when it comes down to making music and practicing, we realise it’s a commitment. We’ve committed to the fact that we’re in college and we have to write tests and study, and attend more importantly. So I think the biggest and most important thing is to balance it and to realise that you have to balance it. You can’t just say that I will jettison college work just so that I can pursue my dream of making music. What academic work really gives you is a plan B.
Yohann: I am also of course juggling a lot of other extra-curricular activities such as playing football for a club, and hockey. It’s tiring but it is great fun.
Had you not chosen to pursue this, what would you be doing?
Sarthak: At this point, there’s nothing else that I would be doing. However, alternatively, I would probably be writing poetry, probably film-making, creative writing I guess.
Shashwat: I don’t see any plan B right now. It’s too important now to think of anything else.
Yohann: Music is very important but I could be pursuing football, sports. I’m a very active guy.
Sarthak: You can’t eliminate music from Yohann’s life. In my free time, I read and all but for him, that’s still music. Or we’d probably be managing girlfriends, that’s a full-time work.
How do you balance your professional life with your personal life?
Sarthak: By being with the right people. That’s as simple as that. If you have the right people, like your parents and your friends, or if you have a girlfriend like all of us do, if you’re with the people who are willing to understand the fact that you love doing what you do, you never have to compromise. It just adjusts. People need to work around it, you work around it.
Shashwat: Having said that, you know sometimes it’s not just we have to make a compromise or whatever with people but it works the other way around as well. If you know something is really important and you have to do it, we might even have to compromise on music at that time. You have to know what’s more important. Once you know what’s important to you, you adjust.
Sarthak: We’ve just had really supportive backing like parents and friends. Shashwat’s college of course is really supportive. Mine and Yohann’s isn’t so supportive. We’ve never had to compromise on our personal life. This is what we want to do, this is as personal as it gets.
If you were a box of cereal, what would you be and why?
Shashwat: Fruity loops.
Sarthak: Really, that’s a recording software.
What would your top three sentences in a game of “Two truths and a lie” be?
Sarthak: i. I love making music. ii. I love reading and iii. Shashwat is the coolest brother ever.
Shashwat: i. I love music. ii. I’m funny and iii. I’m very muscular.
Yohann: i. I love music. ii. I love food and iii. I’m always on time for jam.
What’s your least favourite thing about each other?
Shashwat: Yohann, he’s late for jam and Sarthak takes damn long to tune. I’ll start practicing and sorting my stuff out and he’ll just be, ‘Shashwat just shut up, I’m trying to tune here.’
Sarthak: Shashwat is too tall and Yohann makes a lot of noise while tuning.
Yohann: Sarthak takes forever to write lyrics and Shashwat always speeds up.
Are you involved in something other than music?
Yohann: Football and hockey.
Shashwat: I don’t really know, actually. Just, college and watching football. I have good fun doing that.
Sarthak: I’m involved in a lot of academic work which is supremely time consuming. Yohann and I are always writing tests, call us at any time of the year apart from vacations and we’ll be involved with that.
With regard to what you’re pursuing, do you have a story for your grandchildren?
Shashwat: I’ll tell them the Ahmedabad story. That was really cool.
Sarthak: Exactly what I’ve narrated to you about our band, our journey is what I’ll tell them. There’s no other story.
Shashwat: Oh yeah where we ate so much at Hard Rock Café, Bangalore that we almost threw up before the show.
Sarthak: I’ll tell my children and grandchildren about our experience at this desert festival called Ragasthan which was absolutely wonderful. It was picturesque, it was very scenic. It was a desert festival so we were basically camping and it was absolutely beautiful. Quite a journey to get there. It took us 22 hours because it’s closer to the Pakistan border in Rajasthan than it is to any Indian city. The closest city was 6 hours away so we were out in the middle of nowhere and we had to trek across dunes to get to different stages. It was absolutely wonderful. That’ll be my story, it was something like an escapist living the dream kind of a thing.
What has been your most amusing fan experience?
Sarthak: I won’t say most amusing, but the most profitable, as in not monetary profits, has been High Spirits, Pune. I think that was the best response we got. It wasn’t really amusing but it was something really memorable. It was probably the best gig we ever played.
Shashwat: I think my coolest fan experience was when this one guy from High Spirits bought this T-shirt of ours and then he wore it for the Switchfoot gig in Bombay. He met the drummer of the band and he was talking about our band.
Do you believe in the butterfly effect?
Shashwat: Do I believe in it? Of course, I believe in it. There’s so many examples.
Sarthak: Yes, we believe in the butterfly effect in the sense that if we were to produce or play at a really small gig and some insignificant song but that one person at that gig just happens to like that song, he approaches us later and things can just sort of snowball into something a lot bigger from there. Like, this particular guy really liked us when he saw us at High Spirits and now he’s planning a tour for us. I don’t know if that will actually materialise but he liked us so much that he came up to us and said that, ‘I would like to take your music down south in the country (juvenile laughter) down south India.’ Literally South India, not figuratively. He said that this was something people deserved to hear and it was a huge compliment coming from him because this guy has actually worked with quite a few good bands and designed a lot of their merch (sic,) album cover art and stuff like that. And a lot of other people genuinely did like us there. Lot of festivals also have a lot of scouts that they send where they pick up bands that they hear about, they approach them, the put them on a bigger stage. These things definitely do happen and more so with Indian bands and so, yes we do believe in the butterfly effect.
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