Hire a Future Pilot: Interview with Future Pilot AKA's Sushil K. Dade
by anna battista
Somewhere in India - The temple is packed with devotees gathered here to fast, pray and sing the glory of the Unconquerable and the Unmeasurable, the Supreme God and the Lord of the People, Shiva and this is the vigil of the Maha Shivratri, a celebration in His honour. Devotees are pouring water, milk or honey over the Shiva Lingam, symbol of Lord Shiva, the All Perfect and All Bliss, and will keep on doing so every three hours throughout the night. Chants of the Panchakshyara mantra "Om Namah Shivaya" fill the temple: by repeating the syllables of the Mantra, the devotees will be purified. The words that form the Mantra contain five elements, indicating the earth, the liquidity of water, the fierceness of fire, the air we inhale and that nourishes us and the dimensionality within which all can take place. The five elements mirror the five acts of Shiva, to create, to maintain, to destroy, to conceal, to gracefully reveal, and the five faces of the deity, Na, the Eastern face, Ma, the Southern face, Shi, the Western face, Va, the Northern face and Ya, the upward face. The chant continues, filled with holy meanings and hopes of reaching Shiva the All Pure, creator and destroyer, source of fertility in all living beings. A few people stand outside the temple. Greetings of "Namaste" can be heard every now and then.
Somewhere in the North of Glasgow, Scotland - A Charles Mingus record is playing softly in the background, steam rises from two cups of Jasmine tea set on the table at the centre of the room, next to a book on the role of music in the Bible. In a corner a frozen computer screen blankly stares at the empty space. "My driving was getting careless, so I decided to take more driving classes. I did, but then I realised that I had taken enough to become a driving instructor and that's what I became," Sushil K. Dade, the man behind one of the most incredible bands around, Future Pilot AKA, shrugs and smiles. Sushil's car is parked right in front of his house, where we're now sitting. Our very special pilot has been a driving instructor for five years and had the honour to teach driving to random members of local bands, of whom he readily makes a long list. Tonight, though, we've not been invited to his house to talk about driving, but to talk about his new album, the follow-up to Tiny Waves, Mighty Sea (Geographic, 2001). "I went down to Abbey Road two weeks ago to get the masters," Sushil announces, "I still haven't finished the mastering, but the LP is completely finished an compiled, in fact I'm going to hold the album in my hand to prove it…" He smiles, goes to the computer, takes a CD from a neatly stacked pile and proudly shows it to me, then he comes back to sit around the table and continues, "It will be out on Geographic in September or October. My wife Vinita also wrote a big part of the record and sings on it, she's got a lovely voice. I still have to do the artwork for the sleeve. I usually do it myself using my own photos as I like to take control of the artwork which is one of my favourite parts of the process of making a record. I don't do typography, but I do the images using photography, photocopies and cut and paste techniques. This time to do the artwork I may be collaborating with another guy who's quite good at digital manipulation and with Katrina from the Pastels, who's going to help with the layout since she's good at Photoshop."
Future Pilot's new album was going to be called In A Military Style, but Sushil decided to change its title, "The album will be called 'Salute…'" Sushil salutes, "'…Your…'" he indicates me "'…Soul'," he beats his chest and continues, "I decided to give this title to the album for a few reasons. First of all, it's a reference to the Indian greeting 'namaste' that basically means 'I salute your soul', though its full meaning is 'I salute the divine within you'. In this way I gave the album a spiritual feeling. Then, the complete title of the album will be 'Future Pilot AKA Salute Your Soul', so it's as if the band salutes people's souls. The word 'salute' fulfils the military aspect of what's happening in the universe and the word 'soul' it's also a reference to the fact that this is one of my most soulful records yet. It sounds quite gospelly at times, there is a lot of brass, a few gospel singers and quite a church feeling sometimes."
There are bands who claim their songs contain particular messages; very humbly, Sushil states that he's got his own to spread around. "Since I was younger I was exposed to music that had some kind of political thread through it," he remembers, "For example, the first record I bought was a 12" album by The Specials and, although their music was fun and not as intense as Billy Bragg's, it had an underlying message. Different issues such as racism or equality always influenced my life and obviously the way I approached to my music. Besides, more recent events like these crazy wars and 9/11 influenced my way of making music. There have been wars throughout the times anywhere in the world, from Ireland to Palestine and even in India and in many more countries and wars are always crazy things. I would say that this record is probably my most political statement, I've never really done that before. The message in the album is still a very positive one, as usual. I don't want to sound escapist with my music, but I want to acknowledge the current state of mind or world living or even politics with a small 'p'."
In Tiny Waves, Mighty Sea, Sushil presented thirteen tracks, each one in a different style: the album included the most disparate sounds from prayer-like songs sang by Vinita in her heavenly voice to pop anthems. On the previous record, the double CD Future Pilot AKA Vs A Galaxy of Sound, Sushil did more or less the same, including twenty songs, ranging from dancey rhythms to pure jazz symphonies. "My very first LP contained manipulated cut-and-paste loops," Sushil remembers, "At the time, I didn't have any sampler, so to create these loops, I had to use my old fashioned reel to reel, just like the BBC. I had to cut the piece of tape on which there was something I wanted to use and sellotape it to another part of tape. I worked like a scientist, but I would say that my personal approach to music is almost childlike. I don't use too many chords, I just like simplistic music that maybe can sound quite exotic and quite complex, because I want to be open to children and to adults, to all sorts of people. I'm not making music just for the cool, trendy market. There are people like Brian Wilson who can make very complicate pieces of music that sound to the listener very simplistic. I'm not comparing myself to that level of writing, but that's what I aspire to. I'm a big fan of cyclic music and I like multi-tracking, so I like having three chords and then some other sounds wrapped around them, like a tapestry, that's how I make my music. I don't like recording in big studios, I don't think I've ever done an album in a proper studio. Tiny Waves was done in Teenage Fanclub's rehearsal space. The one before, Future Pilot AKA Vs A Galaxy of Sound, was done in my bedroom and for it I collaborated with other artists such as Cornershop, Andrew Weatherall, Kim Fowley and so on. They would send me things, I would send them back by post and they would send them back again, I didn't even have to meet them. That was the project at the core of the first album, collaborating with other artists living somewhere else. With Tiny WavesI wanted to discover my Indian heritage using Scottish instrumentation or rock'n'roll instrumentation."
Disliking proper recording studios, it was natural for Sushil to dislocate the recording of the new album in a very original environment. "I've chosen to record 'Salute Your Soul' in someone's house," he reveals, "The whole album was recorded in a flat, a tenement house and that was very unusual. We were cooking and almost sleeping in the flat, it was a very chilled out environment. Most of the musicians who played in the new album where from another band, The Tea Rooms. I deliberately look for people I have never really worked with before because I like to work with musicians I have never heard playing, for me that's a bit of a risk and the risk is what makes things exciting. Most of the album was done in Glasgow, but then, once it was finished, I realised three tracks were calling out to be completed. So I decided to collaborate with musicians from the rest of the universe to give the final touch to these songs. Philip Glass appears in one track since I'm a big fan of his music. When he came to Glasgow to do a concert, I asked him if he would have been interested in knowing about my project for Indian musician Ravi Shankar. At that time I had this song which was my personal tribute for Shankar, one of my favourite musicians of all times. Actually, one of my favourite Ravi Shankar's record is his collaboration with Philip Glass, Passages. I spoke to Glass and he agreed to talk about meeting Shankar in the '60s and working with him. I interviewed Philip Glass for half an hour, he was very playful and quite fun and you wouldn't imagine such a famous musician to be like that. I first met Philip Glass in Genoa, during a festival, so it was quite funny to meet him again in this circumstance. I got the contracts through the other day and they have agreed to use his voice."
"The second collaborator is Mikey Dread: one of my favourite 10" records by The Clash is 'Bankrobber' produced by Dread. With Mikey I collaborated in my old way, so I didn't actually meet him, but we worked through the computer and the Internet. I find this method quite exciting actually, because we're living in the modern ages. Obviously, I like meeting people, but this is a good way to collaborate with the rest of the world. Years ago I would have used the post which was one of my favourite ways to collaborate with people because I love getting letters. The third collaborator is Vic Godard from the Subway Sect. The guitar player on the new album is Douglas MacIntyre, who put out my first single on Creeping Bent. He knows Vic very well and put me in touch with him. The song featuring Vic is entitled 'Love of the Land' and it's a quite playful though political pop song. Norman Blake and Gerry Love from Teenage Fanclub and ex-Orange Juice's James Kirk, who's one of my good friends and lives down the road, also feature in the same song. Glass, Dread and Godard are three of my really big influences. I've got a pioneer of minimalism, a pioneer of dub and a pioneer of punk in my new album, it's perfect and I'm very happy about it. I like to think my music is very international and, although the new album is recorded specifically in Glasgow in someone's house, the post-production is going out to New York where Philip Glass lives, Miami with Mikey Dread and London with Vic Godard. It makes me feel part of a big community of musicians."
Sushil's last few months have been filled by recording sessions for the new album but also by a pleasant surprise, giving a hand to David Byrne who was in Glasgow to record the score for David Mackenzie's film Young Adam. "That's a funny, long story," Sushil starts, "Gill Mills, a DJ, was co-ordinating the musicians for David Byrne's backing band because she runs this organisation called Hoover Dam which tries to get American people working with Scottish musicians. Mills gave David Byrne lots of Scottish records such as Mogwai's and lots of Geographic stuff. Byrne had interviews with people here, but I didn't actually go to the interview. He really liked musicians from my record Tiny Waves and for the soundtrack he chose two of my musicians, Una McGlone, who plays double bass, and Raymond MacDonald, who plays saxophone. Byrne started working on the soundtrack and on the first morning they were recording, Gill phoned me and saying 'David Byrne wants to meet you' and I'm like 'ME?' Well, David wanted to know what kind of instruments I had. So I just filled my car with my stuff and went along to the studio. I had met Byrne maybe twelve years before in Los Angeles during a festival, but I didn't expect him to remember it as it had been a very short encounter, but he did. While I was there I played a little bit the harp and then left with him some Indian instruments such as tabla. I don't know which ones they really used, but I know that David used my harmonium. I went to the recording studio also the next day and hung around for half an hour. It was quite unusual to see him playing and it was nice just to meet him again. I felt quite privileged because I was able to stay in the studio watching scenes of the movie and listening to them playing. I was also excited for my musicians. Una was one of my driving people and I really got along well with her. At the time I didn't know she played double bass, but I invited her to the session for Tiny Waves and she ended up in playing on almost every song on my album. Now Byrne has picked her, so I'm really happy about it."
Una and Raymond aren't the only musicians who played with the Pilot on Tiny Waves, Mighty Sea: the album deserves being remembered because it featured quite a few members of Scottish bands, such as Teenage Fanclub, The Pastels, Belle & Sebastian, The Delgados, Eugenius, BMX Bandits and Superstar, all playing different instruments they wouldn't normally play. "Scottish bands often collaborate with each other, this tradition goes back to even before Postcard Records when The Go-Betweens used the Orange Juice drummer, and was transmitted to BMX Bandits, Teenage Fanclub, The Vaselines, Mogwai and so on," Sushil explains, "For Tiny Waves, I deliberately wanted people to come and play instruments they didn't normally play. For example, Norman from Teenage Fanclub was playing drums, The Delgados' Alum was playing bass, Emma was playing guitar, Stewart did bass and Paul did tabla. One of the rules was 'I play guitar I'm going to play bass'. So that was a very therapeutic record. We had the space booked for two or three days and I called all these different musicians and warned them before telling them that they weren't going to play their normal instruments. Some were shocked and said 'I have got my guitar to play' but I said 'no, no, no, you go and play the drumksticks'. Everybody accepted in the end. Things like this are fun, because people relax and discover new things. Doing such an experiment gives you a fresh perspective on music and it's almost like starting from scratch. I did the same on my first record when I collaborated with two filmmakers who had never been in a studio, Digital Cow and On U Sound. Once again there was another 'perversity': I was asking people who I knew had never been in the studio to come and join me. There are people studying how to use an instruments for years in courses, but Future Pilot AKA just pick up an instrument and play. This sort of things are fun for me and for whoever joins me. What's the point for me if I can play bass to get a bass player? Tiny Waves was a good opportunity for me and for the other musicians and it was a way to continue Future Pilot's quest of discovery."
One of the singles taken from Tiny Waves was "Beat of a Drum", sung by Eugene Kelly, "I wanted Eugene and Francis from The Vaselines to sing that together," Sushil says, "I thought that would have been a good opportunity to bring both of them back together. Eugene was very keen, but Francis was very busy at the time. There was also a version sung by Stevie Jackson from Belle and Sebastian. It was downloadable for free on the Domino Records website. Eugene has got a classic pop voice and, to be honest, that track almost didn't go on the album because it's the one that sticks out being very jolly. But I think it works because it brought a splash of colour to 'Tiny Waves'. It was good fun working with Eugene and around that time when we were doing gigs, Eugene would join us and sing live. Eugene has just released a new record, the Older Faster EP, that sounds really good. He's back on form and has found a new inspiration."
In a message that accompanies the sleevenotes of Future Pilot's first album, Sushil presented the record and wrote at the end of his short note "Om Namah Shivaya". Two years after, in 2001, those three words had become a track sung by Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch included in Tiny Waves. "That's a very old spiritual tune," Sushil explains, "it basically means 'I bow to Shiva', it's like a devotional song dedicated to the deity. I like the simplistic three words. That's the song we played when our son Anurudh was being born so it's a very special one for our family."
There are songs that will stay with you forever, tracks that will assume a particular meaning for one reason or another and for somebody there are musicians who become proper idols or inspirations throughout their lives, Sushil could spend days listing his fave artists or tracks. "I like lots of different artists such as Brian Eno, Lee Scratch Perry, Laurie Anderson or Morricone, who's also got a big follow up in Glasgow," Sushil starts, "I've also got a big collection of Indian music and I like different generations of Indian artists. I like Ravi Shankar because he's the one I've heard for the longest since my dad played him when I was a child, but I also like Shiv Kumar Sharma, a santoor player, Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Talvin Singh." There are also other Indian artists the Pilot admires. Well, actually they aren't proper artists, but they're singers all the same, that's the Ranjit Nagar All Stars: a group of children who lived on the Ranjit Nagar road in New Delhi and who were sampled by Sushil while they sang "We Shall Overcome", a single that came out on Creeping Bent a few years ago. "I think sampling is great!" Sushil exclaims, "Sampling is nothing more than documenting what's available to the public, it's like collage art, think of Peter Blake or even of pop artist Andy Warhol: you could argue that, although theirs was a visual media, they were pioneers of sampling. If somebody sampled me I would consider it as a great compliment. Having said that, I think it's always reasonable to acknowledge the sample where possible. What I used in the Philip Glass track wasn't a 'sample', it was a proper interview I did with him, and yet I 'sampled' him all the same, so I gave him 50% of the song. I don't really do sampling now, I have done it in the past but it was usually pretty minimal, I like to make my own samples, but I think that sampling is healthy and if it's done with respect and with good intentions and with some acknowledgement, well, you can't beat it."
Sushil creates his own samples and his original music with his instruments that form a very personal collection. "We're doing some works in the garage, so my instruments are all packed away," he explains why we can't see them, "I've got lots of nice stuff, such as an Organon and a Theremin. I love the Theremin, it's a beautiful instrument and at first it was used by classical musicians just like a voice, a very ghostly voice. I sometimes played it with Mount Vernon Arts Lab's Drew Mulholland, with whom I recorded nearly all my early records in my house. You can treat the Theremin like a toy or like a harp. I would say anyway that my fave piece of equipment is my bass guitar, my Hagstrom Futurama Swedish, late '60s/early '70s. I love it. That's my favourite guitar, it's really light, dead thin with a wooden bridge and sounds like Paul McCartney, it has got a very warm sound."
Future Pilot AKA played at the end of April at Glasgow's Tron Theatre, during a special night that also included The Pastels, Barbara Morgenstern, Mapstation and many more. For the time being there aren't any plans for any gigs. "I don't really want to do shows unless Vinita is there," Sushil announces, "She was at the Tron and she was great. We enjoyed that. I really enjoyed Buck 65, Barbara Morgerstern, The Pastels and lots of others, it was like a mini festival. Some of the musicians that played with Future Pilot AKA at the Tron were new ones: the saxophone player lives across the road, if you look out of my window you can see him playing saxophone, that's how I chose him, actually! I was looking out of my window one day and I thought 'Hmmm, I'm gonna call him to play with me…' We rehearsed in the garage of our house and the Tron gig was his first time on stage. At the Tron there were two musicians from the Tea Rooms, Matt and James, the latter playing bass and keyboards rather than drums as usual since I like to change things to make them more exciting, and Douglas MacIntyre on guitar."
For those who can't have enough of Future Pilot AKA's music, there are quite a few surprises. The first one is a remix of Nectarine No.9's "Pong Fat". "The Nectarine No.9's remix has just come out, that was done on the computer for fun. I didn't get in touch with The Nectarine No.9 to do it, but I know they liked the remix. Davy Henderson came to see us playing in Edinburgh. He really likes Future Pilot and says we remind him of Sun Ra. That's a real compliment! I love Sun Ra!" The second surprise from Future Pilot will probably arrive early next year when an EP of remixes of "Maid of the Loch" the opening track on Tiny Waves, will be released. The title of the track is the name of a paddlesteamer anchored in Loch Lomond, not far from Glasgow. "I go there three or four times a year, I love Loch Lomond!" Sushil exclaims, "There are quite a few versions of 'Maid of The Loch', five actually. There's a remix by Robert Foster from The Go-Betweens, who sings on it and wrote some lyrics; another version was done by Colditz, a local band, one by Twisted Nerve's Pedro, one by Angel Corpus Christi, from San Francisco and a rough version was done by Mikey Dread. Yo La Tengo were going to do one, but they were too busy, they really liked the song, that would have been perfect."
Sushil stands up and goes to the computer. He inserts his album in and lets me listen to a few songs. There's some pop, some Indian mantras, some soul things, then experimental and playful melodies and Vinita's voice blasting here and there, eerie, ethereal and enthralling. And just while I'm listening to her voice on one of the album tracks, Vinita arrives and we talk about the Tron gig. After a while, Sushil urges me to put the headphones on again and listen to more tracks, which I do, cradling the CD box in my hands, reading the draft of the song titles on its cover. When I finish I turn to Sushil and ask where did the Future Pilot AKA name come from. "Well, that's quite a long story, actually two stories as usual. Surprise-surprise," he goes, smiling, "When I was a child, there used to be these stickers given to children who were travelling with British Airways. The campaign said 'Hire a future pilot'. I never got a sticker, but I saw a child wearing one and I liked it so much. Besides, one of my favourite band from the '60s was The Red Crayola, quite an experimental band and they had a song called 'Future Pilots'. I like projecting myself in the future, when you're sitting at the sound controls in the studio you feel like a pilot. Besides, music can take you places, so with such a name we acknowledge the journey in sound. I know, it sounds like a cliché, but that's true."
Sun Ra came from Saturn, Future Pilot AKA perhaps come from an equally distant planet, a place with no proper language, only a mixture of music, a place where guitars, bass, drums, pianos, organs, tambourines, tablas and harps play without any interruption, any time of the day, any time of the night, a place where anything can become an instrument and anybody can be a musicians. Namaste, Future Pilot. We Salute Your Soul.