Shruti Sunderraman, talks to Arjun Iyer and discovers that his no-nonsense approach to life spills into his moniker, Barty’s Path’s, highly experimental album, Where Is Everybody? and EP, Pascal ka Daava
At some point, we’ve all being flummoxed trying to answer the blanket question “What kinda music do you listen to?”. If the idea of trying to fit good music into genre-specific brackets for common benefit has always troubled you, the album Where Is Everybody? by Barty’s Path A.K.A Arjun Iyer, should occupy a special position in your playlist. To squeeze this musical experience into a genre or two is an uphill task. The most one could do is call Where Is Everybody? an experimental alternative/world musical album with cinematic, sonic narratives throughout its 11 songs. But what the album essentially is, is a literal journey; each song telling a different story from Barty’s travels. The landscape travels from Hungary to Iraq, to Russia to Greenland, while the soundscape travels from temple music to mellow ambient to gypsy jazz. The song Valor/Squalor from the album was ranked number 6 on OKListen’s Best Seller list.
Balancing his work with space rock band, Gumbal and his other solo project, EatShootLeave, Mumbai-based Iyer has his hands full. He worked on Where Is Everybody? for over 2 years, finally showing it the light of day in October last year. Not one to repeat history, Barty’s Path has come back with the latest EP Pascal ka Daava.
You released a booklet with your album that describes all the stories behind your songs. Did you feel your songs wouldn’t communicate what you intended to without extra descriptions?
All my songs are a bunch of stories that made sense to me and I wanted to put it out. Now, I can’t control how it makes other people feel but I can nudge them in a particular direction, which is why I wrote the stories (with lyrics) and released them in a booklet with the album.
While your album’s pretty baller, I feel it’s too intense for everyday listening. Was that your intention all along?
Yes, the ideal market would be people who do listen to music more seriously and less casually.
Where Is Everybody? is highly experimental in nature. What pushed you towards this sound, when it’s far from what you do with Gumbal and EatShootLeave?
I got bored of playing my own guitar music. So I decided to try something new. It’s mostly for my own personal development. It’s what Tom Waits did with his album Swordfishtrombones. He had been playing too many ballads, so he picked up instruments that he didn’t know how to play. When he made that album, he changed the way he sang and composed. Similarly, I picked up the keyboard and tried to programme sounds differently. Since I’ve never trained with the keyboard, there were a lot of failed experiments but I kept at it. Eventually, I used keyboard patches throughout the album. Which is why Valor/Squalor is the only song where you’ll listen to some guitar bits. It was challenging because I do get easily bored with things. Which is why I was trying this whole world music thing.
But world music is a very vague term.
Yeah. Well, world music takes musical elements from different parts of the world and then electronically blends them into a sonic structure. I don’t know what else to call it because it is Barty’s literal journey across the world. This guy goes across the world in search of himself.
Throughout the album it’s almost like you’re viewing things from a distance. There’s a strong observational sense. Barty IS you, but is there a line of objectivity that you draw?
Broadly, it is a personal philosophical theme. But if you notice, right at the end I dedicated this album to Roshan, who was one of my best friends. I lost him a couple of years ago. In a way, the album is addressed to him.
Isolation is a recurring theme that comes back throughout. In We Found Tyche, a clan has been isolated from the rest of the communists and in Everybody Has Moved, Barty comes home to see that he’s been isolated. Isolation throughout the stories is a personal element I identified with but the stories themselves are just… stories. For example, even though in Wolf Who Cried Boy, the lyrics say be a wolf and eat meat, I would never personally say that. (Iyer is a staunch vegan.)
What were some of your struggles while making this album?
Some songs were pure musical challenges. With Morning Prayer, there was just one monotone because that’s how prayers are, right? And What Was Once A Part Of Me is literally the opposite of it. The song is one monotonous beat but the vocals are going all over the place and they travel through different chords. Those two are polar experiments that I consciously tried to do.
Why have you used a lot of everyday sounds like doorbells, marching footsteps and ringing phones, in the album?
One of the major reasons there are these everyday sounds is to reinforce that these aren’t just songs but stories that make up the journey. If you see most music videos, they will have a story but if you listen to its song as a studio album, there’s none of the narrative. Because the visuals add a story to the music. But in this album’s case, they weren’t meant to be typical songs but stories in themselves. I wanted to created visual images in the listener’s head. Take Everybody Has Moved. Everyday sounds are very important in it because it helps put the story together.
The entire album has a continual flow of social commentary and sounds like it has stories behind stories. Tell me more about one of them?
This isn’t in the booklet but Born Into Cutlery started out when I imagined how crisis would affect privileged kids. Hungary has always been fraught with civil strikes throughout history. One of the first things that’s affected when you go into hiding is food supply. I figured that food shortage would be the first thing affecting children. I imagined that hunger would be an alien feeling to privileged children.
Pardon the cliché, but talk to us about your relationship with music.
I have a very functional relationship with music. I have no particular love for music as such. I don’t actively listen to songs and I just create stuff because I’m fairly good at it. If I feel like listening to something, I just create it.
When I was 14, I knew I wanted to contribute to cinema. Orchestral, cinematic sounds always fascinated me. Because I loved movies so much, I attached storytelling tendencies to the way I approached sound. I’ve always wanted to maintain a balance between cinema and music, this happened. There’s no particular reason. It’s just the natural movement of things.
I could never use art to directly express thoughts. Instead, I just come up with stories and whatever the stories are, I create music around it. With Gumbal, EatShootLeave, all the songs have stories, that just makes it easier because I don’t really explicitly express personal emotions.
You know about the Leonard Cohen approach to writing? He believes you can’t keep waiting for inspiration to strike you to create something; that you have to discipline yourself with practice. Considering you get bored easily, do you think such an approach would do you some good?
No, I can’t do that. I’m ridiculously tough to work with. I’m terribly slow with my process and only work when I’m absolutely motivated to.
If I feel something in my head, I play it. I am working on the second film right now. And I feel getting complaints about how slow I work.
For a person who claims he’s real slow, you released an EP real fast, not that you’ll hear me complaining. What’s Pascal Ka Daava about and what’s the story behind this one?
It’s based on a theory proposed by the philosopher Blaise Pascal. I was able to work on this quickly because this EP also acts as a soundtrack to a film I’ve made about faith and choices. So while thinking of how to score the film, I realised the soundtrack would be a perfect first album palate cleanser and composed it as such, with this one’s minimalism wiping out the previous one’s excesses, so I can work on my next one on a clean slate.
Whom do you currently like among your peers in the indie music community?
Skrat is fun to watch. I love what Kishore Krishna, the man behind Adam & The Fish Eyed Poets, he has been doing some amazing stuff for the past 2 years. I quite like Maati Baani too. Otherwise, most people right now are just doing what people abroad did years ago. Not that I think my own music is on any pedestal.