the koniac net gig image
Photo | RC Photography

The Koniac Net on the instruments and inspirations that shaped their music

The six-member band deep dives into how their individual talents come together on their latest release

It might seem obvious to say that the lede is buried in the title, but for Mumbai-based alternative band The Koniac Net, that might just be the case. On They Finally Herd Us, the 11-track album which was released earlier this year, the group turned their steadfast commitment to their craft into music that connects them with a broader audience.

“Our main focus right now is to promote the album and try to get shows. We’d love to perform in the north-east, or abroad. But as a six-piece band it’s difficult,” says vocalist and guitarist David Abraham. “We want to perform Finland again or go to Australia, Japan, Europe or Canada. I grew up in the States. I’ve grown up on grunge and alternative, hip-hop and hard rock, indie and heavy metal. These are countries where a lot of amazing music that I’ve listened to comes from, and I’d love to play there as a way to give back to a community that gave so much to me.”

Formed in 2011 by Abraham as a solo act, The Koniac Net has undergone a multitude of transformations over the years. The most recent configuration of the band, which includes Mallika Barot as a keyboardist and vocalist, has been performing together since last year. Together, they’ve managed to strike an indelible balance strung together by a commonality of vision and a collection of transformative moments.

We caught up with the band, to discuss how their individual journeys have helped shape The Koniac Net’s sound.

I like really fat sounding drums, like the Foo Fighters. Beefy snares and low toms. But depending on the kind of music I’m playing, I can choose different sounds – Karun Kannampilly

Kannampilly grew up surrounded by music and when he was 8, decided that he wanted to learn to play the guitar. “They said my hands were too small. So I tried keys instead, but my teacher was really strict, and I didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t until I was in college and spent some time in Furtado’s that I tried a drum kit,” he says.

Kannampilly began to learn with friends and from YouTube, visit the well-known Mumbai music store several times a week and practice with the display kit until they had to close. “It was really easy for me to pick up. It’s instant gratification because as soon as you hit something, you get a sound.”

His first drum kit was a pink hand-me-down, to which he attributes his foundation skills. “It’s like learning to drive on a shitty car, everything after that seems easy. I rarely complain about gear now,” adds Kannampilly. He mentions that one of the perks of a drum kit is that you can configure it to suit your personality, although he’s seen musicians who can get carried away with customizations. “I like really fat sounding drums, like the Foo Fighters. Beefy snares and low toms. But depending on the kind of music I’m playing, I can choose different sounds.”

The Koniac Net drummer Karun at a gig
Photo | Aaron Steve Pereira

When asked about on-stage mishaps, he laughs and explains that the instruments are usually fine, but the audience can be unpredictable. “I was playing at Rude Lounge with (Mumbai-based alt-rock band) Modern Mafia, and a guy took off his shirt. That was fine. But he made his way to the back and was standing near me. I leaned in because I thought he was trying to tell me something, and he just licked my face.”

He also performed recently with Mumbai-based collaborative band Mukti Funk as a percussionist. “I got to experiment with a stack, a shaker. I had a lot of fun,” says Kannampilly. He observes that the best part of playing with The Koniac Net is that the band allows him to make riskier musical decisions, and gives him the freedom to add in parts which feel right for the music. Although he’s very happy with his current kit, a Gretsch Brooklyn kit is on his wish list because of the way it sounds and responds. “When something speaks to you so strongly, that’s how you know.”

I’d waited years to buy a PRS guitar, and it turned out to be the worst guitar I’ve played – David Abraham

Abraham started playing the guitar when he was 15 years old but didn’t start writing music until a few years later. He created a few albums in college as course projects, which he shared with his friends and family. It would take close to a decade before he started to look at it as something more serious.

“My dad tells this story of how he had one of those two-in-one tape decks, and he was playing it while I was born. It’s always been a huge part of my life,” he says. “It wasn’t until I got hit with typhoid and had time on my hands, that I decided to put these songs together in a constructive way. I wanted to put it out there and test the waters.”

David Abraham vocalist The Koniac Net
Photo | Wolves

His high school music teacher only taught classical music, so Abraham began with a classical guitar to initiate himself but quickly gave up due to the rigidity of the lesson plan. “Oddly enough that guitar is now is with Bradley Tellis (of Mumbai-based pop-rock band The Colour Compound). I practised with that for a bit before I shifted to an electric guitar, a Fender Strat which my dad bought me in the States,” he adds. Abraham learned with friends after that, familiarising himself with the basics of chords and arrangements. He now leans strongly toward melody-rich compositions, with arpeggios and flourishes that colour his pieces.

He’s found that the instruments you gravitate to, aren’t always the ones you’d expect. “I’d waited years to buy a PRS guitar, and it turned out to be the worst guitar I’ve played. It kept going off tune, and I coordinated with their office in New York for a month. They fixed it, sent it back with a note from Paul Reed Smith but as soon as I tried tuning it, it was terrible again,” recalls Abraham. He now performs with an Ibanez, which he believes delivers a dissonant sound that fits The Koniac Net’s style.

I had gone from someone who was just a singer, to someone who needed to learn to play all the songs that my students would sing – Mallika Barot

Six years ago, Barot took a gap year and joined the True School of Music, where she committed to learning the practicality of music. Growing up, she’d sing at small-scale events and school talent contests, but until recently she hadn’t performed outside her circle of family and friends. “The arts have been a part of my family – my dad (Ranjit Barot) is a drummer and his mom (Padma Shri awardee Sitara Devi) is a dancer. I had a lot of support because they’ve always known about my interest in music,” she says. Barot performed at The Little Door, Blue Frog and other performance venues in the city during her course.

While her upbringing has blessed her with a good sense of rhythm, it wasn’t until she needed accompaniment for vocals that she began learning the keys. “After I finished my vocals course, I began teaching a beginner’s course at TSM, and it was important to have something to refer to. There are curriculum and technicalities, and you need a keyboard to get things across clearly. I had gone from someone who was just a singer, to someone who needed to learn to play all the songs that my students would sing. It helps train your ear,” says Barot.

the koniac net mallika barot

Although she was already a backing vocalist for the band, it wasn’t until they were experimenting with Abraham’s Korg keyboard that she began to add her own elements. Together with the other members, she helps decide to accentuate tones and synths that fill up the songs. “During any gig, most of the audience is looking at the singer, and they really dictate how entertained everyone is. Some people love that connection with the audience. But for me, that is something I have to work to embrace.”

She’s working on improving her fluency on the keyboard and is training her vocals with Vasundhara Vee.

The problem with learning on your own is that you don’t know if you’re getting better or not, you plateau – Adil Kurwa

Kurwa was 15 years old and playing the guitar for defunct Mumbai rock band The SOS (Social Suicide) when circumstances pushed him to pick up the bass. “Our bassist was leaving, and we didn’t need two guitarists. So I switched to bass and it was an instrument that worked for me,” he says. After spending some time researching online, he asked a relative who was flying back from Dubai to buy him a Squier P Bass. He chose it because he believes it sounds good irrespective of the genre, and versatility was a major consideration. “It was really hard in the beginning and my fingers bled for days because I wasn’t accustomed to it. Bass is hard, but I gradually taught myself to play.”

the koniac net adil kurwa
Photo | Aaron Steve Pereira

In the time since then, Kurwa has performed with several Mumbai outfits such as alt-rock band Last Remaining Light, pop-rock band The Colour Compound and singer-songwriter Tejas. When asked about how he juggles work with different artists, he says, “I don’t always try to sound like me when I’m playing, I try to sound like the band I’m playing with. It’s about the collective goals of each particular group. It’s one of the things that’s helped me make a career out of being a musician.”

Six years ago he began formal training at the True School of Music, where he eventually began teaching. “The problem with learning on your own is that you don’t know if you’re getting better or not, you plateau. But now I know how to address that, and I’ve learned how to help other people play as well,” he says, stressing that teaching is something he will continue to do.

He currently performs with a Sire Marcus Miller V7 bass guitar. “The tones are very bright, and it’s the kind of thing you’d hear with Blink 182. It’s gritty, punky and that’s what I use on the new album,” says Kurwa. His most recent purchase, a Supro Huntington Bass, has a more experimental sound and he’s looking forward to seeing how it will reflect the evolution of the band’s music.

I like playing around with pedals and reverb so that if I’m playing one note, it can sound really big and otherworldly – Aaron D’mello

D’mello’s first guitar was the result of a wager with his parents. “I didn’t know if I would have enough to buy one on my own, and my 10th board exams were coming up. My parents agreed, but once my last paper was done they did a 180 and said no. So I took whatever savings I had, went to the store, and bought this red Hobner guitar,” he says.

D’mello spent the next few weeks in his bedroom, watching YouTube videos and figuring out the instrument. “When you’re getting your fingers used to the strings, you start to form calluses. I was listening to a lot of rock then, bands like Audioslave, and I wanted to learn how to play like Tom Morello. His technique and approach didn’t have a lot of shredding or licks; it was a lot more melodic. It’s less is more.”

the koniac net aaron d'mello
Photo | RC Photography

He has been performing with The Koniac Net for four years, and he points out that with three guitarists, it’s vital that each musician respects the others space. “No one is trying to outshine the other or play their part louder. There’s a balance, and I work based off what’s needed for the music,” adds D’mello.

The musician has most recently been performing with a Gibson SG Special, apart from his Fender Telecaster. “I like playing around with pedals and reverb so that if I’m playing one note, it can sound really big and otherworldly.” He’s looking to experiment more with a theremin on future tracks for the band, to push those effects even further.

When you’re recording in a studio, you have the luxury of flipping between guitars, to find one that sounds best for different songs. But when you’re on stage, you have to choose one that has all of that together – Jason D’Souza

D’Souza’s interest in music was encouraged early on, by his mother who is a music teacher. He received his first guitar in the fourth grade, a Höfner. “The majority of my friends in school played instruments, so we put together a band in seventh grade and it went on from there,” says the guitarist.

In the years that followed, he would participate in band competitions and other musical endeavours that lived within the world of academia. “By the time I was in college, I was playing more than I was going to class.”

the koniac net band memeber
Photo | Aaron Steve Pereira

The musician also went for piano lessons for two years, before giving up entirely. “I hated it. I was young, and my teacher was really strict. I was so young that if she yelled at me, I would cry,” he says. It was easy then, for him to lean into the guitar until it became his primary instrument. “Interestingly, while I was in college, a few buddies called me and said they needed a drummer. So I started playing the drums,” says D’Souza. He played the drums for over a year until he left for Singapore to learn Audio Engineering.

During that time, the musician bought two guitars, made one and was gifted one. “Different guitars give you a different type of sound – the pickup, the strings. They all feel different. When you’re recording in a studio, you have the luxury of flipping between guitars, to find one that sounds best for different songs. But when you’re on stage, you have to choose one that has all of that together, it has to have everything.” says D’souza.

He currently favours the Fender American Standard Telecaster and has a preference for lighter guitars that are easy to move around.

 

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