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Life Is Full Of Possibilities: Dissonance & Castles In The Sky

The first time I heard Castles in the Sky, I was... disoriented. I shook the headphone cable and hit refresh on the Soundcloud page over and again. Every time, something kept happening to the track halfway through. I asked myself, “Is it just me?”

The track in question is Covert, the closer to Castles in the Sky’s debut EP Fugu Fish. It starts alright — an eerie, minimal beat that grows or sheds an element every four bars. Eventually, a melody surfaces by way of shrill stabs of something I can’t quite place. A little more than two minutes into the song, the stabs begin crowding uncomfortably close, then almost piling atop each other. The resulting drill-like effect evokes the feeling that something is not quite right. Angad Bharaj, one half of Castles in the Sky, tells me there’s a story to it. He says, “Covert is about what would go on in a covert operative’s head when he’s on a mission. So it’s a soundtrack to his thoughts; how the song goes is what the operative is going through. About two minutes in, he gets detected. An alarm goes off.”

Castles in the Sky formed when Angad Bharaj and Shubham Mehra met at MIT School of Design. Angad is from Bangalore and Shubham, from Mumbai. Both of them were once, still are, guitarists; Angad played in what he describes as a ‘post-hardcore-ish’ band and Shubham would jam with his friends, one of whom was, still is, ‘Teji’ (Hartej Sawhney) of Spud in the Box. Early on, Angad and Shubham chose not to make a guitar the focal point of their aesthetic. Angad says, “at least for the guitar parts, we’re not looking for something that stands out. We want something that complements everything else. We like them to be somewhere in there.”

Angad confirms that the guitars we hear on Fugu Fish are real, but the rest of their equipment is all DIY. Their setup: Macbooks, Ableton Live, a mic. Their listening gear: cheap speakers, one of whom, Shubham will later clarify, doesn’t work, and standard bus-listening earphones. “We’re a low budget band.” says Angad, “In the beginning, we approached a few professionals to master our tracks, but we couldn’t really afford them. So we were like: We have the tools, let’s try it. Let’s try it and see if it works or not.”

“It was a process of trial and error,” says Shubham.

Angad says, “We were always trying our sounds on different types of listening devices. We used iPod earphones — we didn’t have fancy monitors and shit — we used Skullcandy headphones, we used his speakers. You’ve seen his speakers, right?”

“One of them is broken,” says Shubham.

“When we went home, we tried mastering the tunes according to how they would sound on a Bose speaker. Maybe it worked, maybe not. We’ve been told by some people that we need a little work on mastering, but now, I think we both have more experience with the software, so coming songs will be much better,” says Angad.

I ask Angad and Shubham if working this way can get frustrating.

Angad says, “We’re not thinking of it as something that can frustrate us. We’re having fun with it. It’s something we want to do because we want to do it. So... I don’t know how to say this... It is frustrating at times because sometimes it’s just: Fuck, this doesn’t sound good. How do I make it sound better? This is too shrill. Oh, and if you’ve heard Covert, the last song from the EP, we’ve purposely made it sound a bit shrill and eerie and irritating because there’s a story to it. Covert is about what would go on in a covert operative’s head when...”

You can hear Covert in full below. The entire debut EP is also up for free download via the Bandcamp link below that.

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Words: Ritwik Deshpande
Image Credit: Maanas Singh Photography

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15 May 2013

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