Pak­istan's The Smiths?

The National - News - The Review - - Front Page - Zahra Salahud­din Zahra Salahud­din is a free­lance jour­nal­ist for­merly based in Pak­istan.

“So we fi­nally played a show after nearly two years,” said La­hore-based indie-rock band Poor Rich Boy on their Face­book page in March. The gig was at the La­hore Mu­sic Meet where mu­si­cians and fans come to­gether from what is left of the Pak­istani mu­sic scene. Poor Rich Boy have been around for about a decade. Most of their time is cur­rently spent in the stu­dio work­ing on their new al­bum. But like most indie mu­si­cians, the need for money to fund record­ings has risen and so the band de­cided to play a show to fi­nance the al­bum.

Their story be­gan 10 years ago when Zain Ahsan, lead gui­tarist, met vo­cal­ist She­hzad Noor (Shezzy). They wrote songs to­gether and trav­elled around La­hore play­ing in book­shops and ice-cream par­lours.

“Along the way, we met mu­si­cians we ad­mired and formed a group,” says Ahsan. “Even­tu­ally, we hit the record­ing stu­dio and have been there since.”

They went on to rep­re­sent Pak­istan at the SXSW fes­ti­val in Austin, Texas in 2015.

The band went through nu­mer­ous changes after Shezzy left. Now com­pris­ing of Umer Khan (vo­cal­ist, who is also known as Duck), Sameer Ahmed (bassist), Ibrahim Akram (drums) and Ahsan – they are gear­ing up to re­lease their third al­bum, Al­most Tues­day. Two sin­gles have been re­leased so far – Preacher and Ce­real Killer.

“Duck wanted to go all so­cially-rel­e­vant this time around,” says Ahsan. “If I’m not com­pletely mis­taken, [Preacher] is about the men­tal gym­nas­tics of a per­son who sees in­sti­tu­tional and in­sti­tu­tion­alised vi­o­lence in his or her so­ci­ety but does not wish to take any steps to rem­edy the sit­u­a­tion or even help out in any mean­ing­ful way.”

Ce­real Killer, on the other hand, is an old song that Duck put out on his own but that the band wanted to record with him. A video for the sin­gle was made with the help of two young fans.

“My song­writ­ing abil­ity isn’t quite where my ideas are. So a lot gets com­pletely lost in the trans­la­tion,” says Duck. Poor Rich Boy have been com­pared to The Smiths. But the band has cre­ated their own sound un­like any­thing else in Pak­istan. Mu­si­cally, both songs have a dis­tinct, clean, indie-rock sound but with darker lyrics and a greater multi-lay­ered pro­duc­tion. It seems the band has ma­tured in its lyri­cal style, for ex­am­ple from “Don’t be­lieve a thing that they say / it’s beau­ti­ful in the month of May” on their first al­bum, to “If I told you there is rea­son; in the ser­vice of a lie: some­thing in­signif­i­cant, a teacher, must die.”

For now, the band are re­leas­ing one song from the self-re­leased al­bum at a time; the two sin­gles are avail­able to stream for free on web­sites such as Patari and Spo­tify. They still don’t have a plan for the price point for the al­bum. In Pak­istan, most bands don’t re­lease phys­i­cal al­bums any­more and go with the stream­ing model. “We’ll prob­a­bly end up mak­ing a few hun­dred CDs to give out to our friends but mostly it’ll be re­leased on elec­tronic me­dia: Spo­tify, iTunes and Patari,” says Ahsan. He doubts the band will earn much from the re­lease but says, “but some­times the work is its own re­ward”. More live shows are now planned. In Pak­istan, the sense of ca­ma­raderie be­tween mu­si­cians is strong but those ex­pect­ing mone­tary re­turns could be dis­ap­pointed, ac­cord­ing to Zain. Be­ing an in­de­pen­dent band in Pak­istan is not easy and is­sues such as funding still hold back artists, who rely on live shows to grow.

“Un­for­tu­nately, there aren’t many op­por­tu­ni­ties for paid shows for indie mu­si­cians in Pak­istan,” says Ahsan.

“Hence, some artists re­sort to ses­sion-play­ing for es­tab­lished lo­cal pop stars, who need real mu­si­cians when they tour. Oth­ers try to find mean­ing in re­li­gion. It isn’t easy, but noth­ing in life ever is.”

Cour­tesy Ali Chaudhry

Umer Khan (Duck), Poor Rich Boy’s vo­cal­ist.

Al­most Tues­day Poor Rich Boy

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