The Silent State features artists from India, the USA, Singapore, and Australia! It all began a few years ago when random artists from all corners of the world gathered in Singapore to form a collective called 3how. Over time the collective evolved, becoming the Silent State, and now, after a couple of years in the making, the band’s debut release is out!
The group features Amith Narayan, formerly one half of the winners of Tomatrax album and song of 2007, the Unseen Guest. While the self titled release was mixed by the other half of the Unseen Guest, Declan Murray.
Tomatrax caught up with Amith, and the band’s vocalist Wilson Goh, to ask a few questions.
It’s been over 10 years since you were last featured in Tomatrax, what have you been up to since then?
Amith: 10 years is a long time… after the Unseen Guest, I did take a hiatus for a while. Then I was also involved in a few other projects and the most prominent of them was 3How – ‘an improvisational artist collective’ is probably the best way to describe it. We organised and encouraged artist jam sessions where musicians, poets and artists of all kinds came together and collaborated.
You were previously in the band the Unseen Guest, how does this band compare with your previous group?
Amith: I’m not sure how to answer that question!! How does your old boyfriend/girlfriend compare to your current one? I think I was 24 when I first met Declan (from the Unseen Guest) the music we created then was a terrific representation of our life and experiences between 2003 and 2007. It’s 2018! The world is different and I’m different (a heck of a lot older for one!) – comparisons in this respect are impossible.
On another note, I’m actually very thankful that Declan was involved in this project as well as he mixed the entire album and did a terrific job! I couldn’t think of anyone else I could trust more with the mixing than Declan.
How did the Silent State form?
Amith: The Silent State evolved out of 3How the artist collective I mentioned earlier. 3How was initially incorporated as a collective to bring musicians and artists of all kinds to collaborate and play together. Over the last decade, we’ve had several such collaborations and jams, all of which were unrehearsed, unstructured and improvised on the spot – a core group of us emerged over the years who really clicked and every time we played together there was that spark. We even had the audacity to book a few gigs – where this core bunch played for an hour or two without any rehearsals or set list or even songs or pieces in mind. Some of those sessions were nothing short of brilliant! We played at art gallery openings, museum showcases and even a festival or two.
A few of us from that 3How bunch – Wilson, Justin and I decided that it’s time we tried writing some songs and maybe get into a studio and record them. Since Kala Charan, our drummer lived in Chennai in India, the rest of us Wilson, Justin and I decided to go to Chennai in Sept 2015 and record songs there. That’s where all this started.
The band features members from around the world, does that make it hard for everyone to get together?
Amith: Yes – that does pose some hurdles. Wilson and I live in Singapore, Justin in Australia and KC in India. Almost everyone we collaborate as a larger collective with have some connection to Singapore and pass through here at least a few times a year. So we usually end up recording while people are in town. The core song writing usually happens between Wilson and me and then we take it to everyone else and then eventually we record when everyone passes through Singapore. So far, we’ve had a good run at it. Of course, timelines get extended and I assume every album or song takes longer to record than if we were all in one place and rehearsing every week. I don’t necessarily hold that out as an issue though – to me it’s like the saying ‘’absence makes the heart go fonder’’ the times we’re all away from each other, it gives us the time to go and live our lives and gather up several more varied experiences and influences and that comes together again in a different way the next time we all play the same song together.
Wilson: Just as Amith has pointed out, there are some obstacles but the fact that we’re situated in major cities that support high-speed internet allows a virtual relationship for the music to keep going. Admittedly, the synergy is different, and more does happen when we’re all in a room where we can spontaneously leap off each other’s creativity. Now it just takes a bit longer to factor in time zone differences, but I think we’re making it work.
Where did the name the Silent State come from?
Wilson: The period when we were working on the first album coincided with overwhleming global political drama. In Asia, we felt it in the death of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, the blatant corruption in the 1MDB case in Malaysia, the terrifying anti-drug programmes in the Philippines, the Burmese junta and the Rohingya crisis, the death of Thailand’s King, India’s horrific rapes, Indonesia’s questionable trial against Jakarta’s governor, China’s bullying tactics in the South China Sea, the arrests of booksellers and authors in Hong Kong, among so many others. On the other side of the globe we had the Syrian War, the wave of conflict between Israel and Palestine, Poland’s protests against alarming constitutional changes, the dramatic Turkish coup, the continued fallout over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Brexit became a thing, and the U.S. preseidential elections with lots of distressing rhetoric. So this was our backdrop while we were musing for a name. I remember thinking how I was bewildered by the global affairs and caught myself, more often than not, in a state of quiet contemplation, and I wondered how many people out there were having similar moments. So I threw up some names to this effect and we ended up with The Silent State, also because we enjoyed the ambiguity since ‘State’ can be so many nouns, and also a verb.
Amith: I also remember writing a song called the Silent State a few years ago, never recorded it or did anything with it. But the title of the song stuck in my head.
You were previously known as 3how, what inspired the name change?
Amith: 3How wasn’t really a band – more of an artist collaborative project based on a strict code of improvisation. I remember even creating a 3How manifesto after a long session with Stephen Black an old friend and co-conspirator. I think we adhered to one of the principles of 3How quite strictly and that was to NOT ever re-play or repeat any of the improvised pieces ever.
While we all were part of that project at different times over the last decade, the Silent State came together as we wanted to take those improvised jams sessions and try and weave the structure of a song to the pieces.
You’ve just released your first release, what’s it like to have it out?
Amith: an amazing sigh of relief and accomplishment. I think it’s general feeling when you have an art project incubating for a long time – in this case 2 years or more and you finally have it out for the world to see.
Wilson: it never feels finished, to be honest. Everytime I hear it, I want to make changes or additions. I suppose having it pressed and released, for me, is like a gesture to remind me to let it go, perhaps?
Was it hard to pick what songs made it on the album?
Amith: I think we probably had a very different process as compared to some other bands. I think I particularly like to live without the accepted rules!! Ha ha! We were recording a whole bunch of songs and I think it was me who decided that 7 of the most ‘’close to complete’’ songs will be on this 1st album. We never really stopped recording even while this album was getting done, so we already have another 4-5 songs in various stages of completion and I suppose you’ll hear another release from us in another year or so.
What made you decide to make it self titled?
Amith: we had a few album names thrown around – one of them was ‘’Boondoggle’’ and I think Wilson didn’t really see the humour in that and objected to it! In the end, somehow calling it the Silent State fit the length and breadth of songs the most.
Wilson: yeah, I’m classy like that.
You use a large range of instruments and musical styles, is it hard to get the various elements to work together?
Amith: I suppose it can be, if that’s what you set out to do – blend various musical styles and instruments and make it fit. This wasn’t the case for us at all, we are ALL from very diverse backgrounds – musically and otherwise. Kala Charan, our drummer is quite a well known South Indian music composer for films and TV – none of the rest of us are familiar with his work there. Wilson is a classical singer and choir conductor – I have not ever even attended a single classical gig of his. I think the essence of what I’m saying is that, we ALL play what we play and bring what we have into the music we create – we are not trying to write a song in a particular style, it’s just what and how the song ends up being. So… the process is somehow quite seamless!
But I hear you, sometimes when we’ve had some crazy ideas – like let’s try a ‘’Erhu’’ (a Chinese fretless 2 stringed folk violin) on a song – we called a friend of a friend of a friend and the guy lands up (Darrel Xin) and he starts jamming along to the song the first time he’s listening to it!! I’m like – he’s our guy!!! The song was ‘Hang it up’ and that was already super experimental to begin with – Rav Vast tongue drum and piano and all…
I suppose we’ve had our share of misses as well, but I think it says a lot about a group of wonderful musicians we collaborate here.
There is also a lot of improvisation in making your music, do you have any ideas on what you want to achieve before you begin?
Amith: Usually not… it sorta gets there somehow. I think over the years we’ve probably recorded over 30 song ideas….It usually starts by one of us playing something and the rest of us joining in.
I think a lot of those ideas are probably worthy of our full attention and should be crafted into a song and put on a release. We try to go back to old ideas, but almost invariably we come together and end up writing another new one…. So it’s luck of the draw or something.
Wilson: Having worked with various other musicians, I think the reason it seems to always work with the four of us is probably not so much a matter of luck but quite possibly because of some individual experiences that were uncannily similar or shared musical quirks we’ve never noticed, or perhaps greater overlaps of musical vocabulary. The supposed spontaneity when we create a new piece might very well just be us being able to quickly figure out what musical idea each one is offfering at that moment and then finding something interesting to add to it, so it only feels like there are no premeditated ideas when we start.
Now that the release is out what do you plan on doing next?
Amith: All our schedules aligning, get the show on the road! Would love to play in Australia, Europe and everywhere… and of course more songs are also on the way – I think we’ll keep releasing more music every year.
Check out the Silent State’s website to find out more!