Wild Awake | Interview

Unlike many other genres and music communities, indie/alt culture appreciates rising artists that create diversity and new insights. We constantly feature notable independent artists on the verge of success. Meet this week’s artist: Brijesh Pandya’s solo project Wild Awake.

Wild Awake is the indie-rock brainchild of Los Angeles-based musician Brijesh Pandya. Breaking from his day gig as a freelance drummer (primarily with acclaimed indie soul group Air Life), Pandya takes up lead vocal, songwriting, and rhythm guitar duties for his new project. A revolving cast of Pandya’s friends from the LA music scene fills out the rest of the band’s lineup, including members from LA groups yOya and SonArk. Wild Awake began in September 2013, with its debut self-titled EP released in June of the same year.

We recently had the chance to talk with Brijesh about the origins of Wild Awake, his background in music, and all things alternative culture. Read on to find out all about your next favorite artist.

What are your top 3 favorite albums that inspired you to get into music?

Man, there are so many! I add to the list every day, but the 3 records that come to mind are The Beatles’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” Radiohead’s “Kid A” and “Smile” from the Beach Boys. I used to listen to those albums multiple times a day.

What are your fondest musical memories?

I’d say my fondest memory with Wild Awake so far was our EP release show. A combination of relief that the record was finally done, and getting to play for so many of our friends made for a really memorable night! As a listener….I can’t pick out a specific moment right now, but I can say that listening to Stevie Wonder always makes me happy.

Lately what musical periods or styles do you find yourself most drawn to as a listener

I’m all over the place! My roommates and I have been stoked on the new D’Angelo record, as well as free jazz from the 60s, guys like the saxophonists Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler. Super raw and intense stuff! Also, I’ve really been digging the Talking Heads album “Remain in Light,” Bjork’s album “Vespertine,” and David Bowie’s “Hunky Dory.”

What is your creative process like? How do you approach the writing process?

It usually starts with me messing around on my guitar until I find a melodic idea that I like. Then I just play that over and over until I can work out a form, like a verse, chorus, and chords. These days I’ve been making demos on GarageBand on my iPhone, so I can work out the drums, bass, etc. I’ll add lyrics last because I’m a terrible lyricist! Then I’ll just rehearse it with the band and start playing it live! A song can develop in a matter of minutes, months, or even years!

As an indie artist in the digital age, social media and streaming are essential tools for marketing and promotion. What do you think about online music sharing, both as a music fan and as a musician? How do you think social media/music streaming services impacts the rising musician?

Music sharing is a blessing and a curse. It’s awesome for a listener because it allows us to discover so much new music all the time. For artists, it allows us to share our music with a wider audience than ever before…like, worldwide. Now, anybody anywhere has the potential to be heard…maybe even “hit it big.” The downside is that all of that free access to music is killing the value of art in our society. Why pay for an album when you can just stream it for free on Spotify or Pandora? And those services pay such little royalties to the musicians. We have to find other sources of support, like corporate sponsorships. That used to be seen as “selling out,” but now it’s a huge factor in an artist’s sustainability. Another result is that the scene out there is extremely competitive, which is good because it pushes artists to be more innovative with their brand, and to make the best art that they possibly can.

You talk about the importance of branding and the artistic vision. How would describe your brand as an artist and musical aesthetic? In other words, how did the name and project Wild Awake come about?

I started Wild Awake because I was spending a lot of time as a jazz drummer, playing a lot of complicated and technically demanding music, which I still love and appreciate deeply. However, I’d always wanted to get in touch with the side of me that loves indie rock, so I finally decided to get off my ass and start this project. As with most band names, the explanation is kind of anti-climactic…I woke up one morning, and the first thought in my head was those two words, “Wild Awake.” As for the vision, I’m admittedly still figuring that out as I go…hopefully I can develop an aesthetic over time. I’m starting to realize that maybe I should be honest with who I am, and project that. I don’t have a “rock star” persona. I don’t wear crazy clothes on stage or have weird hair. I’m just a dude who makes music. I’m even considering dropping the band name and just having the project under my own name. I don’t know how well that’ll sell these days, but who knows? Maybe we’ll be the next Dave Matthews Band.

A lot of innovative and interesting sounds come out of the freelance/touring musician segment of the LA music scene, because of their involvement in a variety of different groups. There’s many examples such as yourself, Taylor Dexter of AirLife, Body Parts, and Hunter Hunted (which is also composed of a lot of these types of artists) and your bandmates from yOya and SonArk. What do you think of this scene? Do you think the collaboration aspect helps to create a versatility in projects? Do you think this is where indie music is headed, different groups composed of similar members in order to create more diverse music?

Although more acts are becoming one or two-person projects, with a few freelancers thrown in, I think that there’s a lot to be said for having a consistent “band.” More people are invested in the project, and you can hone your sound better with consistent members. Having a more flexible lineup definitely helps to be versatile, though. If a bass player can’t make a Wild Awake show, I can easily call a sub. And it’s always interesting to hear a new person’s perspective on my music. I’m lucky to know enough talented musicians to allow this luxury. More importantly, playing in each other’s bands makes the scene feel even closer as a community. I’ve become friends with a lot of bands and artists on the scene that I look up to.

I’ve read that you have studied jazz at Cal State Northridge. Do you think your classical training adds to your creative process? How do you think that has influenced your sound?

Studying jazz definitely broadened my technical vocabulary on the drums, which helps me to be more creative in other genres. Beyond that, one of the biggest things I took away from music school is the importance of knowing the history of whatever you do. All great jazz musicians are masters of the tradition-they know the roots of the music. The same goes for any great painter, architect, poet, etc….all art evolves, but you have to know where it came from before you can move forward. You have to do your homework. Even indie music, or pop music, has a tradition, whether it’s coming from the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Motown, classical music, early blues artists, Public Enemy, Kraftwerk…the most innovative artists, regardless of genre, are well-versed in their tradition, whether you can hear the influence or not. Everyone else is just ripping off Radiohead.

What is your dream collaboration and why?

Right now, it would be crazy to work with Flying Lotus! His music is so different from ours, but I’ve always thought that it would be interesting to combine that insane brainfeeder hip hop sound with an indie rock vibe. FlyLo worked with a live band on his latest record, and the sounds and the concepts on that album are unreal. But first we’d have to get on his level as musicians!

What are you currently working on? Any new projects?

We just tracked a new single, and now we’re just trying to get the mix right. Hope to release that one soon! Also, I’m planning out a live video or two, maybe a cover. Not sure yet!

Finally, which songs are you currently obsessed with? What new acts do you recommend to our listeners? What bands do you believe are your best kept secret in the indie community?

Just yesterday, I was literally moved to tears by Erykah Badu’s live performance of “Otherside of the Game,” on VH1’s Soul Stage. Her band, the arrangement, her soul…I’ve watched that video millions of times, and that last time really got me. I highly recommend that you go on Youtube and check that shit out. Also, if you want music to scare you in a beautiful way, listen to Flying Lotus’s “Coronus, the Terminator.” I’ve never heard music like that before. As for other bands, we’re playing a show with a dope band called The Unending Thread. They have prog hardcore influences, but they can also be really melodic with a lighter feel. It’s really well done. I’m also a huge fan of Scott Bartenhagen. He’s an immensely talented songwriter, guitarist, singer…seriously, check this guy out. I don’t know why he’s not huge yet.