In mid-August KEXP Morning Show host John Richards received an email from a band in India that read as follows: "Hello John, we are a shoegaze/psychrock/dreampop trio from India..." and, well, since one rarely gets shoegaze emails from India, we were more than intrigued. The note came from a new band called Lo! Peninsula.
Named after a business card they found in a guitar amplifier, they've just self-released an EP called AKA Lo! Peninsula. It's a document crammed full of catchy melodies, swirling guitars, bluesy bass runs, and driving drum beats. It was recorded by an aspiring engineer and producer in Northeast India, a region forgotten by a government whose antiquated laws have given free reign to a powerful military empowered to stamp out insurgencies.
The band spoke with KEXP Morning Show producer Owen Murphy last week via Skype from their home in Manipur and we started the conversation off by discussing why singer/guitarist Nitin Shamurailatpam left the city as a young man, and what life is like now that he's returned.
Nitin Shamurailatpam: (It) is a common practice here to (leave home) because the education system (is not strong) ... and also because it's a conflict zone (and there) is there are a lot of social turmoil, every now and then, do to which are so many schools and offices and markets. Basic life is hampered a lot...so my parents say they wanted, like many other parents around Manipur they would send their kids to other cities and towns for education and also for job(s). I was in Bombay, working there for about three and a half years with an ad agency and I wasn't making much money there, so I felt it would be wise to just come back here and look for a job. And I worked for nearly two years here in one of the government offices and I hated it. And my parents were really mad at me... because there's an acute shortage of employment here. There's (a lot of) educated unemployed youth in the state and me having had the chance to get a job and then quitting it came as a major blow to my parents.
KEXP: So, you don't work at all?
I freelance now. I work as a freelancer. Yeah.
You're concentrating on making music right?
You described where you live as a conflict zone and said life is hampered. I don't know what you mean by conflict zone.
So, umm, Manipur (has been) declared as a disturbed state because of the insurgency. You know there are so many insurgent outfits in the state, but the degree of an insurgency has dramatically dropped in the last 10 to 15 years or so. Now the major problems are just too many. It's difficult to ... narrow down on why it's still considered to be disturbed zone. The social issues are plenty. One of which I could bring up is the "Armed Forces Special Powers Act." It's a dated act as per the Indian Constitution. It's a draconian law which has been imposed in the state and it empowers any of the armed forces in operating in the state to arrest...arrest somebody without a warrant. It is not based on just mere suspicion... It has not been repealed yet. There are many organizations, civic bodies, NGO's protesting it. The reason why the act was imposed in the state is to fight the insurgency. Now the paramilitary forces are the armed forces in the garb of this act have been exploiting it a lot. There have been murders, rape cases so many, so many, that haven't gone on record. So that is just one of the many, many things that has been disturbing the normal life in Manipur.
What is daily life like for you? Is it safe to walk down the streets? Is it dangerous because of the military?
It's absolutely safe (now), but the declaration of the state as a disturbed area [pauses]... even in the U.S. or anywhere in the country, any act of crime is bound to happen. It's a matter of how rampant it is (or) how such acts are affecting normal life. But everybody is going about their daily business, everybody is going to their job. If the situation had been really really so necessary for the Indian government to enforce such law, um, you know, the death toll, or the crime rate should actually show, which is not the case now.
And also, we feel alienated from the Indian government, probably because culturally we are not, um, there's a there's a cultural alienation also maybe because we look different...the mainland Indians. Our culture is so different from the mainland India. Even though we are politically part of the Indian Territory, we have our own history of civilization which is over 200 years old which, you know, the Indian government or the rest of India are not even aware (of), or not open to accepting it. So maybe because of that, um, the infrastructure (in Manipur) compared to the other places, the other big cities, it's still is so underdeveloped and so poor. We are deprived of the basic amenities, and we haven't seen any responsible government coming in to help us, or bring us up to the level of the other big cities.
You describe alienation from you, from the government, or from society in general in India. Has that become part of the music or is there like a song here. I'm looking at six songs right now. Are any of these songs about that?
When we started writing these songs, honestly it didn't cross our minds to target, to work along those lines. It was just (about) pleasure of making music. We did not even have a specific direction as to how we should define our genre. When we really started pursuing shoegaze, um, it was only after we released our debut single "Chasing Tidal Waves." Even though we were aware of the genre, we did not (know a lot about) shoegaze or dream pop. We figured, (this music) is interesting. Then we discovered that (the) single could be classified as dream pop or maybe shoegaze. Then we started delving deeper and listening to more shoegaze bands and artists.
Tell me about the inspiration behind "Another Divine Joke."
It's a happy accident. It's (about the idea that) there's no escape from fate, destiny. That's the basic idea. When we started slowly developing it, I wasn't sure whether we should be adding any lyrics to it. Gallery came about only after the oil, you know to track and because basically it was done. Yes, it's the idea that there's no escape from Destiny.
You know it's a great song. And with that said, it's hard for me to pick a favorite from the E.P. end but I think I like "Final Roar" the most. What does that phrase mean to you?
My lyrics (are) not clever. I mean I still struggle a lot as to what is it that I'm trying to convey.
Sometimes music helps us say things that we can't convey with words.
True true. Very true [laughs].
That's good. It's what makes music so great.
We struggle a lot. You know, I read a lot of interviews more than listening to music or books just to get an idea like how established musicians. How did it work? How did they come up with this song right from scratch to the end? What is the procedure that they follow? The three, (when we) practice, the moment we walk in and, I just play my guitar something, without any direction, without knowing nothing about (where we are going musically), most of the time thankfully none of us had to make many changes to whatever we do. One of the constant complaints from Avinash [Thokchom, bassist] or Jyotin [Elangbam, drummer] is that I don't I don't write lyrics you know, until much, much later after all the tracks (are) laid down. So, I mean, my response has been that you know, (we should) just forget about the traditional ideas of a song that should have a verse, chorus or a lyric. Let's just deviate from that and see what works [all laugh]. If along the way the song demands...to have lyrics then probably we would work it out (but) let's not set any rules.
Thank you. Thank you.
Tell me about the recording process. It was difficult, right?
It's a DIY attempt and we self-produced it. So basically we have a friend whose name is Sudip Kongbrailatpam (who) helped us through and through from the day we got in touch with him for to help us out with the recording of our debut single. He is not a sound engineer or record as by profession. He has only (just) finished his studies. He did his engineering and but he absolutely loves electronics. He built his own microphones and, yeah, it wasn't recorded in a soundproof room. It was just an ordinary room. It was a lot of fun for us to even watch him go about recording every track, you know, because for the fact that we haven't even (ever been) in a recording studio and so obviously we have no idea how things work in the studio. But watching him like immaculately measuring... the distance from the snare to know where he would be placing the mic, finding the sweet spot on the amp how to mic it. So we owe him a lot. Like I don't I don't think it would be possible for us to have our album or our E.P. come to life had it not been (for) his support help.
He sounds amazing. Well shoot, it's really great to meet you guys. You've made great art.
Thank you so much.
AKA Lo Peninsula is out now via their Bandcamp page. Listen here.
Seagaze Festival returns this weekend starting Thursday, April 26th through Sunday, April 29th. KEXP chats with founder Jeff McCollough.
Only in its second year, the 2017 Seagaze Festival continues to lift their heads to spotlight some of the Northwest's finest shoegaze, post punk, and psychrock bands this Thursday, April 20th through Sunday, April 23rd at the LoFi Performance Gallery.