Look, this may or may not come as a surprise, but I really like Roots. No, I’m not talking about the kind that grow under the earth and are connected to trees. Those are roots. I’m talking about Roots, with a capital R. The electropop/progressive/synth band that made its way to the Top 3 in Pepsi’s Battle of the Bands?
Remember these guys?
Roots isn’t your average Pakistani band.
They’re probably not even your average non-Pakistani band, I guess. Though I wasn’t immediately won over by their sound, when they covered Hadiqa Kiyani and put a very modern and almost happy spin on an otherwise dark, hauntingly ’emo’ song – it was enough to immediately win me over. They then went on to put out song after song that overflowed with brilliance and really highlighted their seriousness and depth as musicians.
Here I talk to them about their journey till Pepsi, and what made Roots, Roots.
What are you guys doing these days? Are you studying somewhere?
Daud: I’m studying Film at BNU.
Mustafa: I’m doing medicine, and I have an exam tomorrow.
Rutaba: I’m basically a full-time musician.
Shamsher: I’m studying at NUST, in NBS.
How actively were you guys involved in music back in school?
Mustafa: Yaar, medicine itna depressing hota hai, aap roz college jatay ho. You need something to keep you sane. So music is definitely very important.
Daud: When I was in Aitchison, O Levels onwards, I got very involved in music. Hum school ki taraf se inter-school competitions pe jaatay thay. So I did that throughout my O and A Levels. So yeah, I was pretty actively involved musically throughout school.
Mustafa: Jab ye judge ban raha hota tha uss waqt mein shuru kar raha tha competitions mein perform karna.
Made some great friends backstage. We are definitely rooting for Kashmir – The Band to win this battle. Good luck you guys! ☺
How difficult does managing medicine and music at the same time get?
Mustafa: Well this year especially it was very difficult, cause we had LMM and then Pepsi Battle of the Bands. So much shit happened. My studies did suffer. They’re still suffering. But I’m trying to compensate. Hopefully, the year ends on a good note.
Do you guys think that to succeed in music, it’s very important to have been involved in music from an early age?
Daud: Anyone can start whenever they want. Like Mustafa, he tells me that he only started playing guitar a few years ago-
Mustafa: Oye! [laughs]
Daud: But he makes such crazy stuff now. It’s amazing.
Did you guys know from the beginning that you wanted to become musicians, or was this something you realized at a later point in life?
Mustafa: The thing is, it was different for all of us. Like Shamsher, uss ke andar nazar aata hai. He’s had this drive since, pata nahi, he’s been playing for so long. I think Shamsher, Daud aur Rutaba ka sab se ziada tha. For me, it was a passive thing, that became an active thing when I met these guys.
Shamsher: For me personally, my whole family plays instruments and sings, and I was exposed to Eastern Classical music from the start. So I got into music through that, and it kept getting enforced actively, cause being a musician I had to practice, and I think that’s what seasons you. So through that, I knew that this is what I have to do. It was an inborn thing. I can’t really explain that.
Once you guys realized that this is something you wanted to do full-time, what were your first steps towards making it a career?
Rutaba: Yes, well it was Roots, but then Roots became a band, so now it’s just Rutaba Yaqub.
Daud: You’re not Roots anymore.
Rutaba: I’m not Roots anymore. Yaar, mera ye scene tha, I’m not a musician. I used to live in Saudi Arabia and I never thought I would do music there. When I came to Pakistan, that’s when I first started doing this; my first big break was Nescafe Basement, and from there, things just started happening and here we are today. As for the sound, the stuff I make is mostly Indie, it’s not commercial at all. But most of my songs are Indie, they’ve been produced by Indie producers, and are all in English.
And the rest of you were part of another band, called Wisdom Salad, yes? How close was that sound to the sound of Roots?
Daud: Well I’m part of a lot of other bands. Takatak, Janoobi Khargosh, Wisdom Salad and Roots. It’s fun writing songs for and making different kinds of music for each band.
Shamsher: I wouldn’t say Wisdom Salad’s sound is similar to that of Roots. Because when Wisdom Salad started, it was just me and Mustafa listening to a lot of technical guitar playing and we’d get together and make stuff that didn’t make sense at all musically. But then people started liking it and we were like fit scene hai and then Daud came on board and we were like aur ziada fit scene hai. But with Roots, I felt like we had to pull back a lot, and really commercialize it, but at the same time, we wanted to show parts of Wisdom Salad too. So we ended up putting in a lot of unnecessary shit.
Rutaba: But like its crazy that Shamsher made the Wisdom Salad sound work with the commercial thing. Like the guitars and the synth-y pop parts.
Mustafa: Shamsher really loves Electronic music, and he got a chance to combine those two worlds.
You’re all from different cities. How did you all come together and form a band?
Mustafa: Mein Shamsher ko LUMS ke khokhay pe mila tha. Kharra hua tha juice pi raha tha. I was like ‘ao yaar prog kartay hain’.
Shamsher: Yeah and I was like who is this intimidating Ranbir Kapoor lookalike. Nah, I was like I’ll probably forget him in an hour, but then I kept getting messages from him asking to jam sometime, so I was like yeah okay why not. And then, when I started writing with him, I had left the guitar for like four years. But after writing with him I was like bohat zaroori hai to get back into it. After writing around 20 songs, we showed them to Daud, who was like ‘mein triplets bohat achi bajata hu’ and we were like sahi hai.
Mustafa: We made 40 songs, and we only play 3.
Okay, so that’s how Wisdom Salad was formed, but how did Rutaba come on board and form Roots?
Mustafa: There was a rapper, Moe Nawaz, (barra fit banda hai.) He brought Rutaba with him and he was like I need a hook, and I was like yeah sure. So after that Rutaba was like ‘You’re from Wisdom Salad, right?’ and I was like yeah. And she just went like ‘wanna try for Pepsi?’ so I called Shamsher up and told him, and he was like no. But then we were like yeah why not.
Rutaba: So basically I came to Mustafa’s place and told him that there’s an audition for Pepsi Battle of the Bands, and are you interested? And he was like yeah, fit hai. Initially, my plan was just to have Mustafa in the band but then he went up and called three other guys, two of whom [Shamsher and Nasir] I had no idea about.
Shamsher: Thanks, Rutaba.
Rutaba: And then I get a message from Mustafa saying ‘not to sound pretentious, but we’ve got the best fucking band in the world.’
Mustafa: It sounded way more charming in context.
Shamsher: Then we jammed, the night before the audition was our first jam as a band.
What have your major influences been?
Daud: I think it was the classic rock bands like Pink Floyd. I used to really like Iron Maiden, and I actually started drumming because of them.
It’s amazing how you’re quickly becoming one of the most celebrated drummers in Pakistan.
Daud: Yeah, let’s see what happens next. Abhi, I just played for Shahi Hassan. That was a pleasant surprise and a pretty big shock, coming back home and then getting a call from Shahi saying ‘Hey can you come back, I need you to play for me’. It was pretty cool.
All of you have been termed serious and professional musicians by people. Is it because of your meticulous attention to detail?
Mustafa: We appeared serious because we were sick and sleep deprived.
Shamsher: Yeah, when Atif passed that comment, I swear to God, fifteen minutes ago I was asleep in a chair. I was just like ‘kyaaa?’. So we aren’t all that serious.
You guys received a lot of backlash from people. People weren’t really fond of your sound. Did that in any way deter you?
Rutaba: The best comment was ‘Overrated piece of tatti‘ and then right after that ‘Still tatti‘. [laughs]
Mustafa: Pehla hate comment mera tha.
Shamsher: Haan, as soon as the first episode was out, Mustafa went and started posting negative comments.
Mustafa: I was just getting the ball rolling; we were bound to get hate.
Rutaba: In addition to the hate, we had so many comments from people who understood what we were trying to do, and there were loads of hardcore fans.
Daud: Yeah I think we were all aware that our sound was still very foreign, and not very commercially viable. We all knew that. But we were just optimistic that there would be a few people at least who appreciated our sound.
More than a few actually. And you guys made it to the Top 3 with such a unique sound. That’s insane!
Rutaba: Yeah, that’s crazy. Kudos to Pepsi for that, because to think that a brand, jiska main purpose at the end of the day, is to sell Pepsi, let a band like us, which they know isn’t very commercially viable, come into the Top 3, That’s amazing. I don’t think any other brand would have done that.
Do you think there are still unexplored paths for musicians, or do you have to be a unicorn for that?
Mustafa: I think there’s always a risk.
Shamsher: Nahi, I wouldn’t call it a risk, I’d say it’s about how you play your cards as a band. Basically, if you don’t have one sound, and you don’t restrict yourself to a genre, then your odds of success go up.
Rutaba: It’s not like you find a lot of international bands with sounds similar to Roots, with tons of fans and stuff, so it’s not like people won’t ever like this kind of music in Pakistan. It’s gonna take some time for people to accept this kind of music, and we’re just playing our part in exposing them to it.
Shamsher: I also think it’s when rave culture dies down because rock music and guitar music has been pushed back by electronic music. Once that rave culture dies down, I think that’s when more electronic bands will come into play and people will begin to appreciate them more.
What was your favorite song to play?
Mustafa: Peera ho [laughs] (It’s a joke, since they messed up that song.)
Daud: I think ‘Mera Dil Nahi Available’ was probably everyone’s favorite song to perform.
Was it hard to maintain a balance between commercialism and staying true to your own sound?
Mustafa: Yeah, I’d say so.
Daud: Surprisingly, I feel like ‘Mera Dil Nahi Available’ was a song in which we went really prog, and it turned out to be our most popular song. Maybe cause it was a Vital Signs song?
Mustafa: No and it was a very tastefully done song. Like the parts we made, were very tastefully made. The transitions and all were great.
Shamsher: I think the reason why it was so great was because it was the one song we all wrote together. Like we all contributed to the parts, and it was a proper jam type cheez.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to students aspiring to be musicians?
Daud: The most important thing is to keep on practicing. Practice constantly. There shouldn’t be any excuse.
Mustafa: Keep up with the technology.
Shamsher: Yeah I was just about to say that too. We’re in a very weird age of music right now where guitar music is pretty much gone, and relevance in the next few years depends on what you’re listening to and what your tastes are.
Mustafa: It’s all been done to death. You need to spice things up. This I learned from Shamsher. Thanks to him I listen to Madeon eevery day Oh, Madeon, Porter Robinson and Animals as Leaders, ye sab bohat zaruri hain, major influences.
What can we expect from Roots in the coming future?
Mustafa: [holds up Pathology book and laughs.]
Rutaba: We’re working on an album of new songs, which we hope to release around December.
Daud: The goal is to put out an album. So hopefully that.
We’re super grateful to Roots for taking out time to talk to us. You all can listen to their songs on Patari. What do you guys think of Roots after this interview? Let us know in the comments.
Cover image: Roots Official Band/Facebook