Spotlight: Musician Asfandyar Khan

Interviewed by Verda Adil

Asfandyar Khan is a young Pakistani musician whose first EP ‘Snow Makes Things Perfect’ debuted last year.

TMS rep Verda Adil, and Mr. Khan met at a local hangout—Hotspot—in Islamabad, beneath the cool shade of a banyan tree. Khan spoke about the current musical scene and where he, and his music, fit in.

First things first: how long have you been playing/making music?

I’ve been playing the guitar for the past 6 years or so. I think I wrote my first song almost four years ago, but it was pretty horrible and put me off for a while.

What was your upbringing like before music? Did it start off as a hobby and snowball into following a specific musical direction?

Well, musically speaking my father was a substantial influence. He started me off on classical music – Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. I ended being a big fan of the folk-rock band America. Then I sort of ignored music for a few years until I turned 13 and fell in love with Metallica. The idea of making music started to foster in my head then, and my parents eventually bought me a guitar. Though the idea of being in a band is always enticing for any teenager, I think only over the past three years or so did I realize I badly needed and wanted to make music. As for the musical direction, I think regardless of whether I’m in a dozen bands or so, the need to make ambient music will probably always stay with me.

Tell us about your album, ‘Snow Makes Things Perfect’. Is there a story behind the title?

Not anything special, I’m not particularly good with titles. I was going through something I’d written a while ago and came across the phrase. I ended up using it because I’m a big fan of Pakistani winters and it seemed to encapsulate most of the imagery I had in my head when I was writing the album.

Do you see your music as the outcome of varying emotions and experiences or is it more process-oriented?

I think it’s a case of six of one, half a dozen of the other. Some of the material on SMTP, such as ‘Hello, Morocco’, was the outcome of a process-oriented approach, whereas ‘Tarentum’ tapped into this particular trip I had to Karachi.

Islamabad’s notorious, amongst other things, for being as slow-paced as it is pretty. Does its environment affect or influence the way you write music?

I think subconsciously it does. The laconic pace perhaps not so much, but definitely the city’s beauty (thanks in no small part of course to the Margallas). I’m not entirely certain how different my music would be if I were in Peshawar or Lahore, for example, but I do think Islamabad’s atmosphere helps enable the sort of music I end up writing.

Some of your music can at times be straightforward and dependent on repetition. You list some minimalist musicians such as Philip Glass as being one of your influences, so I’m guessing it’s a conscious decision to some extent. Can you talk us through that?

I’ve always been a fan of music that uses repetition as an emotional tool. I think it helps hammer the point home, though of course constant, consistent repetition can and will get tiresome. Philip Glass is a definite influence on the way I approach music aesthetically and intellectually, in that the drive for evoking an emotional response from the listener rather than an intellectual one takes precedence.

What aspect of making music excites or discourages you the most?

Recording can be quite discouraging because of the intricacies and annoying nuances present in that process. It can be very nitpicky. On the other hand, that moment when a few parts of music come together in unison and everything seems to fall into place is in itself worth the price of all those hours spent trying to come up with pertinent fragments of music.

There are quite a few up and coming indie bands, such as //orangenoise and Karachi instrumentalists 6LA8. Do you feel part of this ‘scene’?

I don’t, at least with //orangenoise, the music is fairly different. I do feel 6LA8 are far closer to what I do, but I think as a whole, in terms of making music that’s separate from mainstream pop/rock fare or metal, I guess you could chuck me alongside that of //orangenoise and 6LA8.

Are there any plans on your part to play live? And is your music going to be different live?

I do want to play live, but whether or not that transpires is dependent on gear issues. My music will invariably be different live unless I use a laptop to run lots of samples on, and that’s something I’m not sure about because it’s sort of disingenuous. If I do that it’ll effectively be a laptop performance, and I might as well not show up. So in my attempt to make things more organic I think the pieces will sound fairly different to how they are on the album, but I hope they aren’t significantly different.

Is there anyone you’d like to write a song with, or collaborate with? Locally?

I’m hoping to work with Talha Asim Wynne from //orangenoise soon, but time and work can be an uninvited constraint.

Finally, what should the unaware listener expect from your music?

Soothing, guitar driven pieces of instrumental music. Music to sleep to; wake up to; drink hot chocolate to; listen to on a rainy autumn afternoon.