When creating a solo project, most musicians either make it an extension of their bands, or a project so far out of left field that it may as well be by a completely different person. For Mumbai-based musician Deepak Raghu, The Earth Below (TEB) is definitely the latter.
Deepak is best known as the drummer behind such rock and metal bands as Shepherd, Bevar Sea and Mad Orange Fireworks. In 2017 however, he quickly gathered rave reactions from the music community for ‘Window Lights for Wanderers’ – the 2nd release in The Earth Below project since 2010’s ‘Aleph’, and one that seemingly came out of nowhere with its chilling semi-acoustic sound.
Now, TEB is all set to follow it up with ‘Dreams of a Thousand Stillness’ this March, after releasing two of its singles to positive reception. So we had a chat with Deepak himself about the new album’s sound, how TEB came about, his approach to the music, and more!
Hi, Deepak! Thanks for talking to us at The Backbeat. How’re you doing?
I’m doing very well. It’s the night of the super blue blood moon as I write this. I’ve been having some issues with my computer – it’s either old as fuck and it’s dying on me or it’s something to do with the fucking moon. I do have a backup of my work, thankfully. Thanks for having me on The Backbeat!
First off, anyone familiar with your work knows that you’re a journeyman between so many bands. Tell us what motivated you to finally start your own project.
I’ve been playing in bands since 2005 or so. I’ve been fortunate to be able to create music with a lot of very talented people over the years. 2010 was when I started TEB. I really just wanted to write pop songs that I liked listening to. I got pretty busy with a lot of other projects after that, so I shelved it for a bit. Now I have a lot more time to dedicate to it, and it has become this vehicle for me to expand on my creativity further.
What inspired the name ‘The Earth Below’? And why didn’t you go with your own name even though this is a solo effort?
I took the name from a Robin Trower album called ‘For Earth Below’. I get very attached to music that moves me, so for me the name brings back the feeling I first got when I heard some of his music. It represents a deep sense of indescribable melancholy for me. My name doesn’t mean anything to me, but the name ‘The Earth Below’ conjures up a whole world of possibilities in my mind.
The music I’ve heard so far from TEB feels like this melancholic wall of acoustics, soundscapes, and surreal lyrics. What influenced this sound?
I’m just a music fan, man. I really wish I could pinpoint the source of it all, but the truth is, I listen to a lot of different kinds of music. I go through phases of obsessing over certain bands or artists. I don’t really think about it consciously. For example, I’ve only been listening to death metal for like two months now, but that’s not going to affect what the next TEB album is going to sound like; at least not in any way that you’d be able to make that connection.
But if someone said this sounds like Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen or something, I have to acknowledge that as well. I’m a fan of those guys too. But I’m not interested in sounding like anything or anyone. My focus is on turning whatever ideas I have into songs that make sense to me, and make sense to other people like me.
Did you deliberately set out to make this project different from the rock/metal/punk stuff you usually ply your craft in? Or did the music just flow out organically?
Totally organic. Non-GMO. Zero pesticides. I generally start with the guitar, and once I have something concrete to work with, I’ll start to write words around it and then build it up from there. It takes anywhere from a couple of days to couple of months for me to come to a point where I’m confident about whether the idea is worth pursuing on not. I don’t think about where the music would fit as far as genres and things go – that’s for someone else to decide. I’m just riding on these ideas till they come to some kind of a conclusion. But I enjoy all of it: the whole process from start to finish.
I’ve really got to commend you on your vocals here as well. I think this is the first time we’ve heard that deeper, huskier voice we hear on a lot of the previous tracks!
Thank you bro, appreciate it! For me, the song really dictates the kind of vocal approach I take. I really just think of it as another instrument to serve the song. I have no aspirations to be a singer or anything like that. I’m just trying to make something out of what is available and accessible to me. And I hope whatever product comes out at the end is greater than the sum of its parts.
Now for the next upcoming TEB release ‘Dreams of a Thousand Stillness’ – how would you describe it in comparison to last year’s release ‘Window Lights for Wanderers’?
To me, ‘Dreams of a Thousand Stillness’ is a more complex album, and a little bit grander in scope and sound. I’ve tried to pay more attention to detail and be more concise with my writing. But at the core of it, it still deals with similar ideas about love, isolation and exile.
Musically, there’s a bit more of a folk and country touch to some of the songs. I was listening to an unhealthy amount of CSNY and Judy Collins for some time during the whole writing and recording process. But then there are songs like “Ice Hotel”, “Love in the Temple of Greed” and “Patient Man” which don’t really sit in that folk and country space.
For all the gear nerds in the audience, give us an idea of the setup you used for this album, and the instruments we’ve heard in the music so far.
I don’t want to give too much away, because if someone knew I used a computer chair for percussion, everyone will start doing it. The secret sauce must remain a secret. But I’ve also had some very cool guest musicians offer their talents to a couple of the songs, such as Leslie Charles (Thermal and a Quarter) on “Indestructible”, and Nihal Anand (Fireghost/Deadstar) and Ruhail Qaiser (Sister) on “Patient Man”.
A lot of the TEB art directly connects your image to the music (Eg.: your recent promotional photos, the “Indestructible” cover art, the videos being shot from your own house). So, what aspects of you as an artist and person do you think TEB reflects?
I’d say, everything I write about comes from a perspective of some kind of life experience. I probably have a tendency to focus more on the negative side of things, but we all do that to a certain extent. I think it’s important to wallow in it and indulge yourself from time to time. Because sometimes, you come out the other side with a new understanding of yourself and your relationship with the world.
Will we ever see a live performance of The Earth Below? And if so, do you have any concerns about your music translating well in concert?
I don’t have any plans as of now. I’m not really sure there’s an audience for this kind of thing. Also is it really worth all the effort when the best-case scenario is playing to 20 people at NH7 Weekender at 2 in the afternoon? I don’t know, man.
What can we expect the release of ‘Dreams of a Thousand Stillness’?
It’ll be out in March. I’m just waiting on the final cover art so I can upload it to iTunes, Spotify etc. Simon Fowler is working on the album cover artwork, which I’m very excited about. He’s also doing a special booklet with more of his art, lyrics, etc., which will be available through Bandcamp with the purchase of the EP.
Thank you so much for talking to The Backbeat, Deepak! We wish you the best of luck with the new TEB release!