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Syahi Interview

Interview with Syahi back in 2013.  Currently Syahi is Raj Soni’s solo project.

Chillfest is right around the corner with so many great Chicago musicians performing acoustic and “chill” tunes.  I have recently had the pleasure to chat with Raj Soni and Steve Nawrocki of Syahi, one of the bands that are going to fill our ears with and minds with precious chill tunage.

Doc:  Syahi, what does it mean and why did you choose it to be the name of your group?

Raj:  The actual word Syahi is an Indian word that is the black paste you see on the tabla drums, pretty boring when you see it that way…. but the method that is used to create that paste is very labor intensive.  Syahi itself consists of a fusion of manmade/earth-made materials, and those materials distend all the way down to the “root” of the mixture, and provides a sweet spot for the unique tone that those drums produce.  I related the name to our daily struggles…in that our music is a fusion of many different styles that distends all the way to the root of our backgrounds (Indian and Greek respectively).  We also fuse those styles with our personal musical influences – which run a wide gamut obviously.  We are currently calling the “style” of music – ElectroWorldPostDubRock – a sonic experience that defies classification.

Steve:  I had to ask the same thing when I joined the band, and also how to pronounce it… Raj pretty much nails it there. I think it’s quite fitting as the definition can be used as a very literal description of what we do and also as a metaphor for what we hope comes across with our music. We both have influences that come from extremes ends of the spectrum, and when we combine these different styles that come naturally to us with the technological side of our sound (looping, backing tracks, samples etc.) everything intertwines into something that feels so unique and fresh sounding.

Doc:  How long have you been writing?

Raj:  I have been writing music my whole life, this specific music though, has been in the works for over 15 years now. Its definitely my brain child, I have been through so many different bands and each has taught me something new about performing, writing, and playing music.  I always had my own music, but never had the ability to show it to people or share my art.  Finally the pieces have fallen into place where I have the opportunity to present my art as I best feel. and the response has been fantastic so far. the next steps are in progress and great things are on the horizon!

Steve:  The first day I picked up a guitar I wrote something! I have been playing music since the 4th grade when I started playing saxophone at school. Nirvana inspired me to pick up a guitar, Korn and Tool inspired me to start singing. I played bass in an indie rock band called Lifelike for many years, released two albums with them. I wrote lyrics and sang in a metal band called This Still Life which is where Raj and I first seriously started collaborating on music together. It was around this time that I started getting HEAVILY into post rock and instrumental-ish music like Mogwai, Sigur Ros, Pelican, Jesu, Red Sparrowes, Russian Circles, basically anything I could get my hands on. Occassionally around band practice Raj and I would jam out some music inspired by this stuff and I always wanted to pursue that further, but when the band ended we lost touch for a few years and I stopped playing music for a while. Even though I didn’t see Raj much I still tried to keep in the loop on his musical projects. What ended up becoming Syahi has been Raj’s brainchild for quite a long time, and I was always excited to hear the new music he was making. A little over a year ago we met up again and when he started telling me that he was ready to turn his long time project into an actual band and asked me to play bass, I could barely contain my excitement. These past 14 months has been the most rewarding and inspiring musical experience of my life, I have learned so much about myself as a musician, and about music in general.  Long story short, we have been collaborating and writing on this project for a little over a year.

Doc:  What can you tell me about the 2 tracks that we will be debuting on the Rock in Chicago Show, Mandala and Mantra?

Raj:  Mandala was originally a song that was coined “indian dub” when I first wrote it, and I wanted to put vocals on it, but it turned out to be such a beautiful track without vocals.  The guitar did all the singing we needed!  The word “mandala” is from the classical Indian language of Sanskrit.  Loosely translated to mean “circle,” a mandala is far more than a simple shape.  It represents wholeness, and can be seen as a model for the organizational structure of life itself–a cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds. Describing both material and non-material realities, the mandala appears in all aspects of life: the celestial circles we call earth, sun, and moon, as well as conceptual circles of friends, family, and community.

Mantra is used in meditation to help one concentrate. A sacred verbal formula repeated in prayer, meditation, or incantation, such as an invocation of a god, a magic spell, or a syllable or portion of scripture containing mystical potentialities.  The song itself is quite mystical and creates quite the “headspace”.  Part of the whole idea behind the music in the band, is to create that headspace, take you on a journey via audio, and someday soon visually.

Steve:  The moment I heard Mandala was the moment I realized that absolutely anything would be possible in this band.  My notion coming into this band that it was going to be a reggae/world music project, which I was excited about because it was something completely new to me as far as playing that style…. but the second I heard Mandala and realized that whatever that certain “feel” was that made me fall in love with all the post rock stuff back in the day was present in this song, albeit in an entirely different style.  I knew that this was going to grow into something that would be a crazy unique sound.  Mantra was an extension of that feeling.  Mantra was the first new song that was written after I joined the band, and delves even further into the “headspace” that Raj mentioned we strive for.  To me, Mantra was the beginning of us as a duo testing the waters of what could be possible with our music.  Now we are just out at sea, enjoying where the current takes us.

Doc:  What’s your opinion on Chillfest?  Where will you be playing?

Raj:  Chillfest is going to be a blast. We are extremely excited to be a part of it. Even though its an “acoustic only” event, we embody the concept of “chill” with our music. Schedule is as follows, we just added a second performance that day.

Saturday Nov 16 

2:00pm – Prasino (1846 W Division)

4:30pm – Silver Room (1442 N Milwaukee)

FREE FREE FREE!!! oh did I mention it was FREE?!

Steve:  It’s great for the city and for the scene.  I am incredibly looking forward to seeing such a wide range of artists, and also grateful to have this amazing opportunity to play in front of so many new people, and also to meet so many people from all facets of the Chicago music scene will be beyond beneficial on so many levels.  Both as a musician and as a music fan, this is going to be an awesome experience.

Doc:  What’s Syahi’s future looking like?  Recording plans, live shows etc.

Raj:   The future beholds so much for us. But in the short term – we are going to be releasing an EP that perhaps might turn into an album the way things are going anyway!  A seamless, audio fueled mindtrip, concept based of course. Upcoming shows are as follows:

Sat Nov 9 – Luckys Lounge – 8pm – free

Sat Nov 16 – Chillfest

Sat Nov 23 – Reggies Rock Club (the big room!) – opening for Wookiefoot (national touring psychedelic reggae jam band) – 7pm – $15-$20 

(this is our biggest show yet!, contact us for tickets!!!!)

Steve:  The month of November is going to be our busiest yet which is exciting. I am beyond stoked to be opening up the Wookiefoot show at Reggie’s, this will be the biggest show that I have personally played so far, so it’s going to be something that I will never forget, as well as getting the chance to play on the same stage where I have seen a few of my absolute favorite bands play, like Misery Signals, Converge and the Dillinger Escape Plan. I’m a total nerd for things like that… After this month I am just chomping at the bit to get some writing and recording done, the new songs that Raj and I have been working on the past few months really take our sound to a whole new level. These songs are without a doubt my favorite pieces of music I have ever worked on and I cannot wait for people to hear them. 

Doc:  If you could be any animal, what would you be?  (Totally serious question by the way.)

Raj:  If I could be any animal, I would probably be a monkey (if mythical creatures count then a flying monkey)…. I kinda already look like one anyway haha.  The ones in India are great, they hang out in the trees by the nice restaurants, and steal the patrons drinks and basically party all day! Sounds like a pretty good life to me!  Or a Eurasian Lynx!  There are so badass, 20ft in one leap! That’s power!  Plus the name has an “x” in it haha!  Another mythical creature that is sweet is a dragon.

Steve:  Easy answer would be a cat. I have an affinity for the felines, we share the same goals of being lazy bums that relax all day, and to receive attention and affection based on the aura we exude without having to beg or demand it.  Except when you’re typing on a keyboard, then I will come sit on you. I’ve also always been kind of fascinated with owls, when I went on a trip to Greece years ago there were representations of owls everywhere, I left with a small owl statue as a souvenir.  They just seem very wise and all knowing, like they know what’s going on behind the curtain.  And this is a more oddball one, but somehow recently, I don’t remember how or why, I discovered that my spirit animal may be a zebra… Like I said, I don’t know why, just a gut feeling I guess… So I have been sort of fascinated with them lately too.

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