Jasmine Phull chats to multi-insrumentalist and Elephant Stone frontman Rishi Dhir about playing sitar for Black Angels and Brian Jonestown Massacre, and how his 60s psychadelic sound came to be.
Date published: 26th Oct 2011
Whether it was his Indian heritage, his mother's Filmi renditions or his brother’s love for the Beatles, multi-instrumentalist Rishi Dhir learnt young.
As one of the most highly sought out sitar players in the psychedelic music scene, you can bet it’s Dhir behind the plucked stringed instrument, in more than half a dozen bands including the Black Angels and the Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Describing it as a ‘hollowed our pumpkin’, it was a trip to his homeland back in 1997, that sparked his love affair with the tool that would soon become synonymous with both his name and musical status. Upon their return from Iceland frontman Rishi Dhir talks to Jasmine Phull about the Canadian 60s psyche collective dubbed Elephant Stone.
I guess there are a few reasons: first being that it’s really hard to amplify a sitar in a rock setting. I’ve been trying to get it right for about 12 years now, and I’ve only recently got to the point where it can sit nicely with two guitars, bass, keys and drums. Secondly, it takes a while to tune and master. Lastly, it’s really, really delicate. I mean, a hollowed out pumpkin… really?
It started back in 1997 when I went to go visit relatives in India. I’ve been exposed to sitar most of my life via Bollywood tunes and the Beatles. However, it was still a very exotic instrument to me. I figured I’d buy it and try to incorporate into the music I was making at the time. With what little knowledge I had of classical Indian music, I was able to copy some melodies from Ravi Shankar. However, after a year of teaching myself I decided it was time to find a proper teacher. I’ve been learning from the same teacher for 12 years and still have much to learn.
I simply put it out myself because I did not want to wait for someone to come along. The advantages are that you decide when you want to release/record. The disadvantage is that it all comes from your pocket.
I pretty much grew up on Bollywood music and The Beatles/The Who. My Mom is a fantastic singer and would sing old Filmi tunes around the house. My brother turned me onto The Beatles when I was eight years and I haven’t looked back since.
Well, the Seven Seas resulted from me leaving my old band and a subsequent trip to India. Making changes in your life makes you see things in a whole new light. After leaving the band I did a lot of soul searching.
Definitely. I’ve met so many amazing musicians/wonderful people throughout my travels and am always inspired by them.
I would say that the competitiveness is based more on trying to always up yourself rather then trying to be more successful than your friend’s bands. I’m a fan of all my friends bands (Black angels, Besnard Lakes, BJM, The Earlies, Suuns, Young Galaxy... the list goes on).
Emotions definitely drive the music I make. I’ve been able to tap in the fragile moments in my life to help create music. It usually means I’m kind of bummed out for a day or two, but then I’m able to channel the emotions in our art.
I guess my family and my Indian upbringing had the most influence on me. Although I grew up in Canada, my family made sure I had a connection to my Punjabi roots.
Live in the moment and always be honest to yourself.
After the tour we’ll try to finish our next record.
'Dead Mantra' by the Dead Skeletons.
Lionel Richie - Dancing on the Ceiling
Interview by: Jasmine Phull
Catch Elephant Stone at Stereo in York on Thursday 27th October. Tickets are available below.
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