We sat down with our Technical Writer Rishi Dhir, Montreal multi-instrumentalist, bandleader (of noble psych-pop act Elephant Stone) and newly minted acid-house DJ/sitarist who's also the brains behind his latest project, MIEN.
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What is MIEN?
It’s a project that I’ve been working on that kind of started 14 years ago I met all the members of the band. There’s me Rishi Dhir from Elephant Stone’s, The Black Angels’ Alex Maas, The Horrors’ Tom Furse, and The Earlies’ John-Mark Lapham. I met Alex in 2004 at SXSW and we hit it off. He started Black Angels soon after. Fast forward to 2012, I was touring with Black Angels and The Horrors and started collaborating for a few years with them. At one point, John-Mark and I had this great song and we asked Alex to sing on it, and then asked Tom to play keyboards, and that was the first song off MIEN called "Black Habit". We got really excited and said: "Well, let’s see what else happens." And that was it. From 2013 to 2017 was when we fully worked on MIEN. It took 4 years to make this album.
Why the shift from Elephant Stone to MIEN?
I’m actually working on my next Elephant Stone album. MIEN was just something I was doing on my off time – I liked it because we’re all contributing parts and I’m more of a sideman than a frontman. I just liked being a piece of the puzzle rather than being the whole puzzle.
What have you learned from that experience as opposed to being the frontman?
The music was very organic. What’s interesting to me is that now with the next Elephant Stone album, I want it to be different from MIEN. I’m trying to make it more guitar-based whereas MIEN is more synths, sitar, and drums. That was interesting for all of us cause none of us are guitar players.
What’s your favorite track off the record?
"Hocus Pocus". It’s the mid-section of the album. It’s the darkest and slowest track. It sounds more evil.
Tell us more about more about your instruments. Do you have any preferences?
Not for this project (laughs). This project was more about whatever worked. It was all recorded individually. We never recorded together. Alex and John-Mark are in Texas, Tom is in London, and I’m in Montreal. We recorded at home. It was very DIY. It’s a bedroom record.
Did you like the process?
Yeah, it was great. Usually, for Elephant Stone, I go to the studio and record. But this time around, I’d send a bass track and then to two months later, John-Mark would chop it up and add it to the track and send it back to me. It was very slow going. It was no stress, no expectations, it was like "oh we’ve got some cool songs".
Music is obviously a big part of your life. How do you balance it all?
I’ve been doing music for 20+ years and it’s always worked out. I’ve always been able to tour. I was at Oracle for ten years and it always worked out that I was able to tour. And at Stingray, I thought it fit more with my music and I just felt like a better fit to my lifestyle than working at Oracle.
If music paid the bills full time…?
I guess. I don’t know. I’ve been doing this for so long that it’s never been an option. Especially where the music industry is now, it’s extremely difficult. Especially with my full-time musician friends, they’re struggling. It's a constant hustle. And that applies to any art project or field, you know.
Elaborate more on your music making process? How do you compartmentalize with work?
I think about music all day long. Every morning before work, I try to write a song, and as the day goes on, I think about it some more. I’ve never had a situation when I’m at work and think "Oh I have to record this idea." I’ve been doing this for so long it’s like my brain is constantly processing the ideas that I have. I’m just used to it.
Your all-time favorite bands?
The music that really sticks with you is the music you listened to as a teenager. I grew up on the Beatles, the Who, Blur, I was into a lot of soul music, mo-town, new-wave punk, and there’s always the Beatles. They’re part of my DNA.
Is there any particular song or musical passage that never fails to move you emotionally?
"Alcoholiday" by Teenage Fanclub and "Thirteen" by Big Star
How do you feel about today’s mainstream music?
I just heard "Despacito" for the first time a few months ago (laughs). I mean, I understand why it's so popular, but it doesn’t touch me at all. The last album that really touched me was Blond by Frank Ocean. There's so much great music now and with streaming, I’m discovering music every day. Playlists are great ways to discover new songs.
What is the characteristic of great music? What is groundbreaking music?
It’s sincere and moves you, you know? Something that can have a lasting impression. That’s the thing with MIEN, we're not fabricating music. It’s very organic: no one sat down and wrote a song. It was putting pieces of the puzzle together. That comes down to John-Mark who was like the de facto producer who took all the pieces and put them together.
What is your musical identity?
It's like a vast umbrella of pop rock, shoegazy, poppy, drone-ish, it can be funky as well. It can be all these things, but it’s always something that gives you something unexpected, something that's "wow that's not top 40", and not written by the same person with the same formula with the bass drop (laughs), and that doesn’t have Arcade Fire yelps.
Are there any moments in your life that have helped you identify musical identity? What were some of the moments in your life that helped you find your identity?
My wife. The fact that we’ve been together for 22 years. She’s supported me through everything. She’s like my executive producer. She’ll see the things I don’t see sometimes, and she’ll tell me when I need to make changes, etc. She’s played the biggest role in my life.
What do you value more: creativity or perfect execution?
Creativity 100%. If I’m feeling it, I know it’s good. I’ll fine tune it, but I know a lot of musician friends that’ll get to the point that it’s like beating a dead horse. What I value most is content. I try always to create.
How did you guys assemble everything together?
I was working with all the members individually, and I noticed this common thread of hypnotic, dark, and droney. It all felt similar to me.
What would you tell your younger self?
There’s no such thing as overnight success.
How many bands have you been in total?
I started in 1995, and I've been in bands that evolved into other bands, so a total of five.
What are you most proud of?
I took a lot of chances and wasn’t afraid to start over. And people know what to expect from my music, and obviously, there’s the sitar I’m happy to have my musical identity and to know who I am, and I don’t genre-hop.
P.S. To all Stingray employees, make sure to give Rishi a seriously heartfelt high-five for this gem of an album. We’ve got a true rock star.