An Introduction To: Nicholson

26 June 2014

Not many people recognised the charming yet dishevelled face of Sohrab Nicholson when he made his debut last month. He performed at the NCPA Experimental Theatre in Mumbai alongside Sandunes, at his first gig under his new moniker. The self described ‘electro organic’ outfit was simply called ‘Nicholson’ and apart from Sohrab, the live band comprised of three more members: Rohan Ramanna, J.J. and Stuart D’Costa from the Dirty Jays.

Even before his debut, Nicholson had started to receive notable media attention. That only shot up after the NCPA gig with positive reviews pouring in for his impeccably executed live performance, whimsical compositions and mesmerising voice. He rapidly piqued the interest of the music community and has since dropped his debut EP ‘For What’ as a free download on Bandcamp.

Sohrab’s impressive talent isn’t all that surprising when you take a look at his background - the (now) Mumbai based singer-songwriter grew up playing the piano in Pune, perfecting his talent at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada where he studied jazz piano for four years.

The down to earth musician shared with Wild City his experience and transition to Nicholson over the last, frantic month...

I point out that Nicholson, for many, came out of nowhere – from being relatively unknown to performing at some of the best venues in the country. “Haha! Yeah it did come out of nowhere I guess from the outside in.” He’s quick to indicate though, that he’s been working on it quietly for some time. “As far as people’s expectations are concerned, I think that if there’s a sincere attempt to make music that’s interesting and different, people respond positively.”

Being in the right place at the right time had a lot to do with his signing to KRUNK – an Indian based artist booking agency that represents producers and acts that include BASSFoundation, Sandunes and Madboy/Mink. “I played the EP for my good friend and now manager Sohail Arora from KRUNK, with no intention of him signing me because as far as I understood, KRUNK signed mostly dance/electronic musicians. It so happened that he had been working on launching a series of monthly sit down concerts at the NCPA. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to launch the EP, given the kind of music it is.”

Sohrab has had a lot of firsts following his signing with KRUNK - he released his first EP, performed as Nicholson for the first time and collaborated with Sandunes for her new album ‘Slybounce’, lending his voice to the title track. It’s hard to imagine anyone do so much in just a month, but Sohrab seems to soak it all in and enjoy it – “It’s been a lot of fun playing live. I can’t complain. People have been receptive and kind. Playing live with other musicians is a thrill. We’ve only done a few shows so far, so I’m sure it’ll get more and more comfortable as we keep playing.”

Sohrab’s organic sounds are difficult to label and stand apart from his contemporaries on the scene. Although his roots are firmly cemented in jazz, Nicholson is far from being a jazz band itself, despite incorporating many elements of the genre. “Nicholson isn’t a jazz music outfit at all. But that being said, harmonically, all the music that I write stems from some kind of jazz sensibility if that makes sense. I think it’s a great foundation, because all pop music as we know it today is rooted in the blues or jazz in some shape or form.”

Mumbai Boss compared him to Joni Mitchell and James Blake while Elle India referenced Crosby, Stills and Nash; all weighty (and slightly ludicrous) comparisons – “Those were all very kind and humbling. They are all people I listen to and admire a lot and I’m sure I’ve been influenced by them in some way, but I don’t think I sound like any of them.”

Sohrab’s drawling, languished voice is tailor made to accompany his lyrical style of writing and is the undeniable focal point of Nicholson. I asked where he draws that emotive, fable like quality and how he writes –“Quite sporadically actually; songs usually start as iPhone voice memos and then over time morph into more concrete ideas. For this EP I approached the writing with a storytelling approach. The idea behind this was to write material that allowed people to follow a tale. ‘Cold Water’ for example is a story about two people who tried to make it work but didn’t succeed.”

For that matter, all 4 tacks cover similar theme of want, love and realisation. ‘Bad Man’, begins with the stark notes of Nicholson’s voice as he tinkers on the piano, gradually building a crescendo of intense beat and vocal driven sounds and tells the tale of a woman who fell in love with a man who was destined to harm her. ‘Rise and Fall’ - one his more contemplative tracks, plays with bends in harmony and uses minimalism well to emphasise Sohrabs wistful, forlorn lyrics.

There had to be stories behind those introspective lyrics, but the musician doesn’t budge when it comes to giving context – for him, the real magic lies in the interpretations we give: “I find that giving a backstory to a song completely defeats the purpose of writing. Instead of telling them my backstory, I’d much rather know what my listeners think my songs are about.”

Nicholson is still in the midst of touring - “just happy to be gigging” where they can and trying to draw in audiences little by little. Sohrab and his team will be performing in July at blueFROG, Mumbai - you can expect to hear some new material and we’ve even heard that there are more collaborations and a music video in the pipeline.

‘For What’ can be streamed in its entirety below and you can be rest assured that this isn’t the last we’ll be hearing from Nicholson.

Words: Diya Gupta
Image Credits: Neville Sukhia

Check Nicholson's facebook page for updates


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