Chemistry Between Elephants:
An Interview With Rishi Dihr Of Elephant Stone
The last time we caught up with Rishi Dhir of Elephant Stone, he was on tour with The Black Angels, supporting his band’s first, full-length, self-titled album. Since then, the band has completed two European tours and three North American tours. They contributed a track to a Doors tribute record, and wrote and recorded a brand new album, The Three Poisons. Without a doubt, this is a band who doesn’t know how to sit still, and we are much better for it.
Dhir’s first record was more of a solo project. He left his old band The High Dials and started writing some songs for himself. The momentum wasn’t there and it took a long time for the first album to take life. “Those songs were in my head my whole life, and finally they were out”, Dhir explained. The second record was different. He knew where he wanted to go musically and so he gave himself two weeks to write all the material. Once that was finished, the band went into the studio and recorded all the songs live.
He explains that for The Three Poisons, the process was different. “We were touring so much, and playing the same songs was getting very stale for us. I decided that after the last North American tour, I was going to take some time and write some new songs. I demoed about twenty-five songs over a span of three weeks, and I sent the demos to the band. We discussed it and narrowed it down to some ten or eleven we really liked”. He added that the band didn’t really have a chance to rehearse the songs in the proper sense. “We were trying to figure out what those songs were. We went into the studio and had the luxury of recording at our own label’s record studio. We did not have to pay for the studio time, just our great engineer Peter Edward.”
The band spent nearly two months in the studio. Part of the reason for the delay was that everyone in the band has full-time day jobs. They worked on the album at night and on weekends. “It was very relaxing in many ways”, Dhir noted. The band worked on a song-by-song basis. At first they would record bass, then drums, and would redo anything that was needed at a later time. “We really took our time with this record. It is a complete studio album.”
The process was completely opposite of their previous effort. “We used as much studio trickery as we could,” Dhir joked. “We played Austin Psych Fest and our publicist thought it was a great idea to play the whole record live. We only had a week to learn the record. I don’t know how well the show went off (laughs). We were pretty stressed, but I think people appreciated the fact that it was pretty different.”
A Poisoned Theme
Thematically the record is the deepest endeavour Elephant Stone has undertaken. Lyrically, Dhir seems to be writing from the same place, but the album title is an indication of his deep respect for Buddhism and their philosophy. “I was dabbling in theTibetan Book of the Dead and came upon the idea of the three poisons, represented by a snake, a bird, and a pig. It is the Buddhist cycle of life. The bird represents attachment. The snake represents anger, and the pig represents ignorance.” Dhir saw a connection between what he was writing and what the three poisons represented. “My lyrics are very personal. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I am never hiding anything. Music has always (been) about the listener, and how they interpret it and how it becomes something else. This is simply my view of the world. I have always done this and will continue to do so. . . I don’t really understand the world I live in. My songs are a way to try to figure out what is happening without really being able to tell what is happening”.
The World at War
We continued talking about the world and what a beautiful and hateful place it can be. Dhir shared that he was hit really hard by the conflict going on in Syria. “I read about all the children that were being displaced and that really affected me. Its funny; it comes in waves. It can hit me really hard and I get to a breaking point becoming numb again. Then I start feeling again. There is so much wrong with the world and I don’t really understand why we do the things that we do. I sometimes get caught up in my own life and I tune the world out. There is always something though. We now have ISIS. It is all overwhelming. If you look closely at our record, these are indeed the three poisons that bind us to this violent human existence.”
Musicians will always be in a deep relationship with their fans and Elephant Stone has a small but a loyal and steadily-growing fan base that spans many continents. It seems that music lovers are music lovers, but is there a difference between fans in North America, and those in other parts of the world? “The biggest difference is that Europe treats music and art as a real profession. They really respect it. When we tour North America I get the sense that people just look at us as another band. Maybe that is the same case with the fans, but I have a sense that maybe there is something more going on with our fans in Europe. I don’t know. There is no evidence, it is just a sense I have. I really don’t want to make a generalization like that but. . . people are different wherever you go and people are the same wherever you go. I am interpreting it through my own experience and that makes it cloudy.”
I was also curious to know if Dhir had much of a chance to interact with his fans.
He remembers growing up and being a big music fan himself. He recalls vivid memories of going to shows and trying to meet the bands. He was conscious of the often-true adage that you should never meet your idols because they might leave you devastated. There are exceptions to every rule. “I remember when I met The Afghan Wigs. I was sixteen years old and it was the most wonderful experience. They didn’t speak down to me because I was young, but spoke to me at their level. I know that when I meet people who appreciate our music, I am very grateful, because it means that I am connecting with them.”
Social Media is an important part of being in a band. The days of propaganda machines and big record companies have grinded to a halt. Dhir has a mixed reaction to Twitter and Facebook. “Music is so disposable these days. There are so many bands (out there), and people now want to feel like they can connect with the artists they love. I remember when I started doing Twitter and Facebook it didn’t feel natural to me. You are kind of exposing yourself, but as life goes on, your perspective changes. I don’t have many free hours in my life, but I do handle all the social media duties personally. When people write me, I reply. I certainly make the effort. I know that when someone writes something about us, it means that they are supporting us. There is a lot of value in that. They are going out of their way to tell their friends. I don’t treat people as a business, but instead I see it as part of my life.”
Work and Family
Elephant Stone is a hard-working band, yet they continue to hold down nine-to-five desk jobs. Dhiri is a technical writer. Guitarist and vocalist Gab Lambert works at a bike shop. Miles Dupire is a phenomenal drummer and fields a lot of requests as a session musician. “Miles is going to school as well, but he is taking his sweet time finishing up”, Dhir noted with a laugh.
Work is a necessity. Music is a passion. Family, however, is the number one priority for Dhir. He started dating his now-wife when they were nineteen, and have been together now for seventeen. “She has been with me throughout everything, and she is always extremely supportive. As much as I can, I try to involve my family in everything that I do. On the first two records, my wife sang, and when I am working on music, my daughter (who is unbelievably musical), often interrupts. When I am working on a song, and signing a melody, she comes in unannounced. She doesn’t sing along, but begins to compete with me by singing a different melody, but it sounds unbelievable. She even forces me to record her songs. I try not to separate anything when it comes to work and family, which may or many not be bad, but it is certainly a balancing act.” Dhir works his day job, and when he comes home he plays with his kids and goes through the bedtime routine. Instead of unwinding, he heads to a rehearsal or to a recording session. “I don’t get to see my family when I am touring, and touring is certainly not a holiday. It makes everything hard. I am in a great band, but I am also working on the road to pay bills. My whole life has always been like this. I must be a great multitasker.”
Musicality and Chemistry
Listening to the new record or taking a glance at the self-titled album reveals a tremendous bond and chemistry between Dhir and Lambert. Dhir explained it has been a long road to find this intangible harmony. He started the band in 2007 and Lambert joined the evolving lineup in 2010. Iit wasn’t until he (Lambert) came into the band did things begin to gel. He is completely unpretentious. He is probably the best guitar player I have ever met, and that is a great gift. I was in many bands before where there is an ego that always seems to get in the way. With Elephant Stone, I have made a conscious effort that when the ego comes out, I get rid of it before it can affect the band,” Dhir recalled.
Creating music with other talented individuals no longer felt like a solo project. All members of Elephant Stone are huge music fans. “At a certain point in your life, you have a sense that there is no more new music to discover. I thought I left that all behind in my twenties. I didn’t think that in my mid thirties I would be growing and developing musically like this and really have a partner who I can create with. Gab and I are on the same level. I trust him and I trust his intuition and ideas. There is something special here. On a side note, let me say that since Miles (Dupire, drums and backing vocals) joined our band in 2012, it happened again with him. The three of us have this unspoken musical understanding. It is very refreshing.”
I have always been fascinated with the relationships musicians forge with the musical industry and what they think of those relationships. When Dhir started Elephant Stone, no label was interested, so out of necessity he started his own label and used it for all the early releases, and things have naturally grown and evolved. Dhir met Mike Renaud of Pony Records through a mutual friend, and was impressed that he had some great bands on his label. “I sent Mike one of our demos. I think it was Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin, and he loved it. Truth be known, I am very focused and determined. Even when we had nothing I was sending the band to Iceland and we did several European tours, even though we had no backing of any kind. When Mike came to me with Pony, he came on as a manager and a label. He brought his whole team with him and helped to get my musical house in order. It feels so good to have someone who is championing the band. I can focus so much more on the art instead of the business. To be honest though, I do enjoy the business side. Our deal with Pony Records is a long-term agreement. It is an independent label. Mike still has to work another job and he runs the label because he believes in it and loves it. That is exactly what you want. You don’t want some guy who sits on top of a huge high-rise, making decisions (about us). That never favours the artist.”
Elephant Stone is currently on a European tour and working hard on another Mid-West-Canada tour. This should keep them busy for a while. I strongly encourage you to go out and listen to The Three Poisons because the band is already planning and working on recording in the new year. In the meantime they are coming to Toronto on Nov. 21 to the Silver Dollar Room. Please make an effort and support them. Come see the chemistry between Dhir and Lambert and experience the psychedelicrock they have to offer.
– Greg Kieszkowski (Twitter @GregK72)