Coke Studio Is Like A Summer Camp With Friends: Zeeshan Parwez
People come into music field in order to fame and money. Zeeshan Parwez is one who came to rule the creative bits and pieces in all aspects. From playing instruments, to productions, to direction, to editing and what not, videos of MHK “Jhok Ranjhan” one which we mostly listen to – a unque conept introduced by Zeeshan as a director. Coke Studio member in terms of director, Uth records – those entire platforms who gave somewhat the youth perfect chance to enhance their music qualities.
He admires Sajid is co-partner and the way the youth is coming up with the creative ideas. Lets see what more he has to say to us.
PMR: How should we know Zeeshan Parwez? As the musician, director, music producer, editor, youth promoter, mentor, camera man or simply you are an all rounder? And superb in what al you do.
Zeeshan: Thank you very much for considering me superb in all the divisions mentioned above. Highly appreciated-people around me would tell you that there is probably not much sophistication in the way I work. I like to create things as much as possible even though I know I’ve become lazy since the last two years trying to learn different things and my output has been somewhat less. I’m a strict believer of learning new things not for the purpose of achieving something, but the fact that the newly acquired knowledge will remain with you for times to come when you need it. Initially I was a musician but I saw a very thin line between audio and video, and decided to jump to the side of visuals even though as a child I was into graphic s as well.
So it would be safe to say that I am a geek / nerd who likes to drink Coffee and wants to be in Peshawar forever because he wants to be with his family and friends. You will also discover that my workplace is highly unorganized. I have seen people with straight beautiful neat and clean studios where they work. Whereas in my place you’ll find wires, papers scattered everywhere and hard-disks piled up in the corner of the room.
PMR:. You have been working a lot with the youth for very long and you keep on bringing creative initiatives for the youth to get exposure and get into the mainstream industry, what is the reason behind your this much belief in the youth?
Zeeshan: I do not feel I have done so much as yet for the youth as much I could have to be honest, because of time constraints, of course. I am a firm believer of how the youth can push forward things for us because they carry great potential and they have the capacity to do great things, if they are mentally pushed. That is the reason wherever I am asked to give a lecture or so, I try to talk to the youth about how lucky they are with the kind of exposure they have nowadays thanks to social media and etc. But we should not be relaxed at all, I remember I learnt things the hard way (Thank God I had Sarmad here in Peshawar who really taught me a lot about Audio Production) and I would actu ally want that sort of struggle even from the youth of today. I believe that we Pakistanis are great storytellers and all these stories can be told to the world about a country that has been perceived totally wrong. Even if that is not the case, our youth can create unique standards in different industries that have remained stagnant for a lot of time now.
PMR: Do you enjoy working with the youth, how has been your experience with the Uth records thus far? What do you have to say about the talent on the show?
Zeeshan: Uth Records is a great working platform, having the capacity to bring about a change in many ways. It holds a special place for me because of various reasons. The purpose of the show is to invite young candidates to submit their musical pieces. We wish we could accommodate each and every one of the submissions we received in season one, but unfortunately because of budget and time constraints we choose six. It’s a good movement because you get the youth involved in something creative in a time where we need more avenues and platforms like these. It’s shows like these that make us realize how much talent there is in our country, how much anger in the young ones that can be felt in most of the lyrics of the songs you hear, how much there is a need for a change. It was really great of U-fone to believe in this sort of platform as they’re doing a good service to the youth by doing something like this.
The other thing is that was a pleasure to work with the music producers (Gumby and Omran) who have the capacity to produce great stuff. The talent that was chosen for season one was extraordinarily special. Each and every band / artist had something unique to give. So in a nutshell, it was a great experience and I hope it continues till it has to.
PMR: Apart from the youth you have worked with many well established musicians in the country through your direction, now tell me how did you come to this field of direction, and then getting to direct the likes of Ali Azmat and Mekaal Hasan Band, how was the experience?
Zeeshan: It all started with our first three Sajid and Zeeshan videos and On the Fringe that Mekaal Hasan contacted me to hear some of his new stuff out. This was 2005. Ultimately, I said I want to make “Jhok Ranjhan” into a performance video with very random edits and inside his studio, with his mates having a jam. He instantly liked the idea and we shot it. That hit a lot of eyes including Ali Azmat who then contacted me to do something from Social Circus. I chose “Teri Perchaian” because of a dream I had (which I believe I’ve discussed somewhere in an interview someplace, but if you want me to bore you with that; let me know (smile on face). And yes, I told him he’s not going to be in the video. He was more than happy with that. So with “Teri Perchaian” getting two awards, one thing lead to another and I got to make more videos for MHB and Ali Azmat, the artists whose work I highly respect.
Working with both of them has been fantastic because they were confident that we had been able to draft out something good and they’d let me do my job without any interferences. Not only were they chilled out, they took a lot of interest in the production bit. Mekaal came down to Peshawar and we edited Andholan according to the beat structure of the song. Ali took deep interest in “Gallan” and had me modify the edits of the end which in turn, made the video even more powerful. So I guess for me the most important thing is that the artist him/herself who gives critical feedback that works for the video, instead of pointing out silly suggestions, works for me.
PMR: Through your direction you got into the setup of Coke Studio, now how did they approach you, because with Coke Studio you are now considered as the finest directors in the country, do share your experience and a few words about Coke studio.
Zeeshan: After the first season of Coke Studio (in which I was one of the house band members behind camera and CDJ decks), Rohail talked to me about the possibility of having me supervise video for the second season and I’ll be honest, before he could formally tell me about this I had shown mutual interest as well. He and the people from Coke had seen my work before hand. Things got serious when he asked if I’d be able to handle it. I was confident enough to say “yes”, even though I was a bit reluctant because this job would keep me away from home for 5-6 months. But thanks to Rohail he made the whole thing very accommodating for me and I achieved the whole thing in half time. Thus, I became the video producer for CS. Before the shoots, I went to Karachi for a few preliminary meetings. In those meetings, Rohail and I designed a solid technical system that would become the foundation of Coke Studio shoots and still remains to this day even though this year, we have gone HD. So we were pretty sure the plan will work.
Long story short, this plan was how we were going to shoot it, what would be required and what we will do if any one thing fell apart. Then I met Adnan who was asked to come in taking care of BTS and also help me as an associate producer, and great help since Season 2. We would draft a lot of creative decisions in terms of feel, music and aesthetics. We trained our cameramen together. After Coke Studio 2 was shot, I handled the entire season’s edits myself because I was very picky about my work back then and I wanted to get a lot of things right and so I introduced a very fast paced edit for some of the songs. My signature edits can be seen in different sections of “Aaj Latha Naeoo”, “Saari Raat”, “Kidhar” and etc. So when Coke Stud io 2 came out, there was a big jump in terms of video and audio quality from the last season, and thus, mission accomplished. MashAllah, in the next two seasons, the video team became bigger as we had progressed and an international standard had been set.
Coke Studio is like a summer camp with friends. You go inside, see all the familiar faces, have a great time with them and at the same time, do great amount of work. So it is tiring but it’s a lot of fun as well. Rohail and Umber have tried their level best to keep the whole thing together as a family and you rarely see that in any of the productions happening in this country.
PMR: Amongst the work you are doing in the direction field, which do you find the most intriguing, making music videos with well established stars, documentaries or movies for educational institutions or a simple tv programme? And why?
Zeeshan: Nothing comes close to making music. Despite I give same amount of dedication towards video. At times ot does get over-shadowed to achieve a certain standard or quality. But music is something else. It’s the kind of the thing which gave birth to a lot of other things. I learnt to press keys before I started drawing and the power of music gets to me like nothing else. Music is personal.
PMR: Your MBA in marketing must have really helped you in making you choose the direction field as then you would know how to get the people attracted towards your work and get to see your work and what are their certain demands, requirements while watching the TV?
Zeeshan: My Bachelors helped more than my Masters to be honest. My BBA degree helped me with understanding of how advertising works globally and how to better understand your clients, should you deal with the corporate sector of any kind. So modules like Business Communication, Advertising, Ethics in Marketing and etc. really help your confidence while building up your case. My MBA degree covered large portions of Marketing with respect to Industries, Consumer Sales and etc that never really came in hand.
PMR: How did you find the studying of music production and synthesis, as then you were going deep down in the music production field and then you produced for many underground bands and for your own debut album with Sajid Ghafoor, namely One Light Year At Snail Speed which was a success too, so tell me the reason behind the success of music production, do you follow a certain pattern or just have your own core values while producing the music?
Zeeshan: I learnt music synthesis completely on my own through internet tutorials, used magazines, pirated software etc. These were the tools of the trade back then. I learnt production with a lot of help from Sarmad (Sajid’s brother and a great friend of mine) who was there to guide me wherever I went wrong and that was a blessing for me really, to have someone like him in Peshawar. I cannot think of anyone in Peshawar at that point who was as good as him at that time. As he was associated with a lot of progressive rock music, I went over to the electronic side and it would fascinate him as well. Back then all we used to do was talk about how someone could achieve something like what we had heard in an XYZ album.
As years passed by, what I learnt about music production is that a song is like a painting. You put different layers of sounds and balance them in a way that whatever you hear moves you to some extent. There is no limit to how much of layers you can put in a song but for that you have to use your aesthetics to decide whether it sounds right or not. There can be just one layer of sound and it’ll be perfect. So just consider it as a painting on a canvas. My approach is that I’m not as critical as people are on the mix. Of course it is very important but for me, I do not believe a perfect “mix” exists. It will sound very good but it will never be perfect. So I stress on going deeper in my tracks and try to create transitional elements and material that will have the listener occupied. The end of it all is to believe in what you’ve created from a critical view. It may sell, may not sell, who cares? I do not think too much of that when creating music.
PMR: Now, One Light year at snail speed’s success goes to both of you, Sajid and Zeeshan, but tell me how the genre, the language, the themes of the songs were selected because each and every song has its own feel and taste while both of you have fused electronic music and elements of acoustica/alternative guitar to come up with a spanking new sound.
Zeeshan: The first challenge was to create a sound that worked for both Sajid and I. It was not easy at first, striking a balance between alternative and electronic genres. And still to this day, we have to balance ourselves in the center; the center being a place where both our sounds can easily merge and remain musical. If it were entirely up to me, all these songs would go through massive electronic glitch treatments. If it were up to Sajid, you’d get something to hear something like the Counting Crows (on of his greatest influences) but that’s what we had to change in order to recognize a new sound. Genre wise, you can fit our music in pretty much every mainstream pop/rock oriented sections. The music is pretty straight forward even then; the lyrics come from someone who is heavily influenced by life and its surroundings. I make up themes keeping nostalgic elements in my mind, relying on beautiful memories of different things and also of factors around me. The feel comes from how Sajid plays the guitar and I build up everything around that, even though at times when we start a song with the guitar, in the end the guitar will be the last thing you had gets to hear.
PMR: Now you and Sajid have received many awards both locally and internationally, which one was the most special to you and why?
Zeeshan: All the awards, every one of them have a different feeling I guess so I can not say one to be exact (smile on face).
PMR: You people have sung Pushto songs as well and those too were a hit, do you plan to sing more of these? What was the idea to sing a Pushtoo as you know they are not much heard by large audiences in our country unfortunately?
Zeeshan: We made “Lambay” back while we were recording our first album and we decided we had release it as a B Side and also in the form of a video. Sajid had two different ideas for Pushto songs which I told him to merge together since they were in the same key and thus the song was formed. Pushto was something that Sajid was comfortable with; to him, it comes next to English perhaps and back then there was no one as such doing anything for Pushto so we just gave it a go and I made a simple to the point video for it. There is a huge audience for Pushto music but that was not our aim to please them or at least enter into that. Or objective was to do something different. I could not imagine Drum and Bass/ Jungle break-beats being ins erted for a Pushto song, the idea were worth millions of bucks for me. Unfortunately, the video didn’t get airplay from most channels because of the things we showed in the video. I used to think it was because of the Charas (Hash) that was shown to be smoked up by teenagers, but I later found out through some insiders in various channels that the video didn’t get airplay because of the political imagery in the end shown as distortions.
PMR: What were the real issues with the distribution of your first album?
Zeeshan: For our first album, we were signed up with EMI. The folks at EMI helped us a lot in their capacity but their efforts fizzled out very quickly because EMI came back into business with us after being out of operations with mainstream albums for about 12 years. We were sort of like an experimentation to find out whether their business model would work or not. I don’t blame them for being a bit careful because no matter how you look at it, our stuff is in English; a language that caters to about 5% of the population. I hope it’s not smaller than that. The album was distributed in less number and a little too late; as when the time was right, unfortunately advantage was not taken.
PMR: Now we all know what an interesting character Fasi Zaka is, share your views about directing him on the show “On the Fringe”.
Zeeshan: Fasi is incredible in engaging conversations and with every person we had interview, he had be successful in bringing out about the true and natural side of an artist, journalist, radio RJ, VJ or anyone related to Pakistani media. With so many people we had interviewed in 2-3 years, only 2-3 interviews were disregarded and that was because of different issues, not related to us. The reason for the success for that show was that both of us believed that social interactions with anyone, be it unknown bands from Islamabad would spark ideas and conversations of another level, at least for television. The thing about On the Fringe was that it was never ever scripted. Most of the ideas would come from Fasi talking about different things (both political and social) and I’d end up using most of that stuff practically. Plus there was also the deadpan humor that I would look forward to the most. We would come up with different segments to decorate the show i.e. back in those days, we used to see a lot of time checks on television sponsored by different brands. We would have time checks of our own where the narrator would throw in a fit and say “I am quitting my job, I have had it with time checks.” Fasi was great in introducing a lot of segments like the 15 seconds intellectual film of the week or Free Artist Advertisement (where we advertise an album of an artist whether he wants it or not) or one of my favorites, a segment called Guitar Fight. The thing about Fasi was that he made me realize how easily connections can be made with different things when you are trying to prove a point. The idea of having visual sparks would go a long way. For instance, there were many segments that were not broadcasted -like Mekaal Hasan saying something about how he got in trouble with the media when he said something about Ali Zafar being successful because he is good looking and he said it in a very polite manner. But then came the visual spark, and Fasi and I would instantly hit on an idea and we would come up with something like- a picture of Ali Zafar on the bedside table of Mekaal and a narrator mimicking Mekaal,”Ali Zafar, I Hate you Man.”
PMR: Amongst the wide array of arts you deal with, which one is the most challenging for you and which is the one you enjoy doing the most?
PMR: You are quite different from the other Pakistani singers, your music is quite different, you have a somewhat unique fan following than the other artists because of this. Now the question is that what is the real message, the real concept of Sajid & Zeeshan’s music, what is your target market?? Is there any?
Zeeshan: I do not think we have a target market really, at least we don’t think of anyone or anything when we make music and it is certainly not made with the intention of making it commercially viable. We have a niche of a niche market and a small but very dedicated fan-base and we are proud of that. The reason why it is not big enough is probably the fact that we are an English act. If we would have chosen to sing in Urdu, things would have been different. The kind of music that we make is still very much safe if you ask me, but it could’ve been way much more indie, shoe gaze or for that matter glitch. But the reasons why we sometimes touch these points make us closer to a group of people who listen to diverse music. We probably wi ll not be appreciated by people who like pop hits, so we’d probably be in tune with people who listen to a lot of sub genres of the stuff we listen to and get our inspirations from. And I wouldn’t ever want to deviate from this path ever. The real concept of Sajid and Zeeshan is to make music and try to present it in a presentable form for people who appreciate us for who we are.
PMR: Now your second album’s first track is on air now, what are your expectations from the track and the whole album itself?
Zeeshan: “Walk on Air” the first track from the second album has been perceived well and I guess people have been hanging out for the second album for quite sometime now. It is definitely my fault for keeping them waiting for so long (to those who’ve been waiting, I sincerely apologize; time was not on my side). For the second album, I was dead sure that I would want a very heavy treatment of electronic in everything, but I found out it was not working at all the way I wanted to. So major changes needed to be done, all the experimentation done got wasted and that’s one of the reasons for the delay of the album. So I modified it further to a point where I could say yes, this works for us. I think the second album has a unique SnZ sou nd which I can classify as feel good music. The idea was to string different emotions into arrangements and let basic instrumentation do the job. Production wise, I can safely say it’s more mature than our last attempt.
Once released, I would urge everyone to give it a critical listen. The production and compositions are very close to us and they mean a lot to us.
PMR: Who motivates you to work as hard as you do, who inspires you to work? Are there any ideals in your life that you like to replicate?
Zeeshan: I get motivated by a lot of things plus there is constant support from the family that keeps me going.
My wife, for instance, supports and believes in what I do and that is a very positive thing for an artist. I have a lot of people that I follow, the list keeps on changing of course from time to time, but I have been inspired by lots of people. The list is endless. Brian Trousseau, Abdul Sattar Edhi, Brian Eno, Faraz Anwar, DJ Shadow etc.
There are many like Abdul Sattar Edhi Sahib, not musicians, in their respective fields that continue to contribute to the world in their own ways.
PMR: What next for Zeeshan Parwez?? Are there any more hidden talents to be discovered?? And what is next for Sajid & Zeeshan??
Zeeshan: There are many things piled up and I would like to share some of them with you. I have a lot of plans to do things that I should have done a lot of years back. For a lot of years I’ve been making music, drawing on note pads, writing things that I always kept personal to myself. I can not call them art pieces because most of them are things I used to think about and visually note them down in various notebooks. I would at some point like to share some of those pieces with the world and also all the forgotten music in the form of an album. So one of the things I want to do is release my Solo work as an album on the net. There are musical pieces that I have been developing for sometime now and it is pretty much nothing like th e Sajid and Zeeshan Project. I have been very secretive about this whole thing for sometime now because I was not sure whether it would have any value in the eyes of others. But as time passed by, I released that I have been blessed with people who have said good things about what I do and what I represent. So I decided I will up on Al-Mighy`s Will do something about it.
On the other hand, the Sajid and Zeeshan project is as important as anything else I do, maybe more, so the idea is to produce a lot of videos for this album. I have a lot of ideas that I’d want to execute that’ll showcase our music. We’ve put a lot of energy into this album, and a big one I must say, 16 tracks all in all. But it doesn’t stop here, we plan to record a third album this year, not wasting anymore time. Sajid is always game for more music and I’m confident I can develop something good.
PMR: Tell us about your mate, your partner, your band member Sajid Ghafoor, how’s your chemistry with him when both of you work together?? What is the one thing which binds both of you together??
Zeeshan: Sajid is no less than a true genius when it comes to music. An amazing songwriter and composer, he is someone who understands music on a level that I can also connect with and that’s one of the main reasons why it is so much fun for me to make music with a guy like him. I have seen him write songs in front of me and I can tell you that it is a trip watching him right words and then within minutes create a tune for it. I do not know many people who can do it that quickly. I sometimes kid around telling him that if he were in the commercial business of making jingles for sweets and biscuits, he had made a lot of money. So we never rush to make music, we will do it when we feel like it and when something comes to us. One thing I used to feel when we started off together was that he had never comment positively on any sort of draft I had present him with. He would start off with the negative points and after he is done making you feel like a suicidal ostrich, he then ends up saying “Other than it, it sounds kick ass.” But that is him, he is a critical listener; somewhere between old-school and ultra new. He puts out the bad points first and I had been surprised all of those points would be dead on valid. So that’s the best of both worlds. I remember why I started to do something with Sajid; the fact that he was emotionally connected to his guitar. Most of the songs that you will hear on Al-Mighy`s Will on “The Harvest” were the ones he wrote some 10-15 years back. That is why I collaborated with him and that is the reason this album is important to me; it is like a visit back to memory lane.
To put music on the side, he’s an old friend and I highly value our friendship. He’s been great support at times when I wanted help. I’ve been blessed to actually work with someone like him because besides being a kick ass musician, he’s a great guy as well.
Cigarettes would bind us together but I have stopped smoking now, so it is music and worthless jokes.
Q. Your views and thoughts about PMR – any advices for us in order to improve upon?
A: Since your inception, you have without any sort of doubt, created awareness amongst thousands of young minds about achievements of what we have done both musically and visually. You do not realize this but the most important thing that PMR has done, and continues to do so, is to give hope to unsigned artists / bands whenever you highlight their creations on your website for everyone to see. Most of these artists would not have websites to promote themselves and yet you would do that for them. Music in this country is being discussed, thanks to dedicated sites like yours who make a difference everyday. Never lower your standards for anyone. Thanks.
Interview by: Adil Ahmed Taj
Final Edit by: Tayyaba Khushi