Peter Cat Recording Co. are five dudes from New Delhi who look like an indie band but, somehow, sound like Dean Martin. They are, probably, the best band you’ve never heard. After almost a decade of DIY obscurity, in which time they’ve experimented with jazz, ambient, electro – you name it – they signed to the Parisian label Panache Records, who compiled their tracks in the killer odd-n’sods album ‘Portrait of a Time: 2010 – 2016’, released this year.
The album takes its name from a song on the album. It’s a stunning piece that opens up as a bouncy jazz number with a jubilant, swooning, deeply romantic chorus (“I was someone – someone who would disagree / Now I’m here to ride this Lamborghini to you”), before it slides into a low-key electronic bridge, all crunching claps and underwater guitar – and then that chorus returns for a glorious victory lap. A comment on the song’s YouTube video (which has racked up only 11,000 views since it was uploaded in May this year) sums it up in a brilliant, if grammatically imperfect, manner: “Litterally the best unnotticed song of all time!”
Although you wouldn’t guess it from the full-bodied, big band instrumentation, the track was – like much of the group’s music until now – originally recorded in a living room. That was in 2015, but a new, remastered version appears on the compilation. Even though it barely qualifies, we had to include ‘Portrait of a Time’ in NME’s list of ‘The best songs of 2018 (so far!)’. It’s that good.
The rest of the album explores their eclectic influences, bowing out with ‘Love Demons’, a retro jazz manouche track that, somewhat bizarrely, morphs into a thumping, 21st Century dance banger. Having turned the page on their DIY chapter, Peter Cat Record Co. are now mixing a brand new album, which will be released later this year. NME called up head honcho Suryakant Sawhney, who offered the greatest Star Trek-themed musical analogy you’ll read today.
Talk to me about the song ‘Portrait of a Time’…
“We first put it out in 2015. I remixed it and the label guys remastered [for the compilation]. The old one’s more muddy, I guess. It was recorded at home, in our living. It’s only been slightly remastered, though I still like the muddy version. There’s something funny about it – for some reason Europeans really fucking like that track. Especially French people. I don’t know why the fuck. Latin people really like ‘I‘m Home’; Americans seems to like ‘Flies’ a lot [both tracks appear on ‘Portrait of a Time’]. It’s interesting to see how different parts of the world react.”
How do you fit into the music scene in New Delhi?
“Where do we fit? [Laughs] We don’t really fit. There isn’t necessarily a genre of music in New Delhi, you know. I prefer the electronic music live scene, which is a relatively dead scene – it is us, and some other bands we really like. Five or six groups, I guess. We don’t fit in, but we fit in the sense that we’re friends with some people who also don’t fit here, you know what I mean?”
Do you play a lot of live shows?
“We play whenever we can in Delhi. But those places do not necessarily play our kind of music. We go to Delhi, Mumbai, Banglore. We play on average a gig a month; there aren’t many cities, you see, that you can play. For example, if you lived on he West Coast of America, you could just fucking drive down and play like a hundred shows – literally. We can’t do that. And our current kind of music is obviously not acceptable to everyone in this country. Probably only middle-class and beyond have access to the music [due to internet access]. I’m not saying they’re the only ones who enjoy it, but people’s ability to access that music means it is restricted.”
Why is it difficult for people to accept the music?
“Well, they don’t not accept it. In fact, I think whenever we play anywhere, people end up liking it. The problem is that it’s not necessarily what people want to see if they haven’t seen it before. Think that’s the nature of the beast. A larger part in the audience – in Delhi, for example – has a preference for fucking EDM stuff. There’s a sort of standard EDM sound. They go to work, go to the office, then they wanna go party. They’re still looking for that, and are not necessarily interested on the weekend in listening to some sort of pseudo-intellectual band and trying to understand it. They just want to have a good time. The kind of venues that attract that audience, which is a larger market, obviously. They’re not necessarily open to programming something that might not work for them. The nature of the industry is still pointed toward entertainment. And entertainment simply means what pulls the largest crowd.”
When you play live, do the shows lean more towards your jazz sound?
“We don’t really do any genre at all, so the way we construct the show dependent is where we wanna go with the mood. How we wanna fuck with the emotions of our audience. So, the nature of the show is like that; it’s a rollercoaster. It’s up, down, up, more up, really down. We just figure out which song we wanna transition into and how we do it. But we just go with the mood.”
Do you want to defy expectations?
“No, I just want people to have something really important happen. I don’t really care if they enjoy it. I want them to feel all the emotions. I don’t necessarily want them to come to the show and have a great fucking time drinking. I want them to change from, like, having a great dancing to be, like, ‘Oh, wow, this song is depressing me’. Right afterwards, you know? I like that.”
Your influences seem very eclectic, to say the least…
“That crooning vocal style makes sense to me; I enjoy listening to that. I like old Indian singers, such as Mohammed Rafi, and then I crossed over and got really into Sam Cooke, who’s my favourite singer. But everybody in the band listens to a lot of different things. I also make electronic music, housey techno. One of the other guys makes experimental noise. [Drummer] Karan used to be in a metal band – then he got into our band and had to figure out how to do other stuff. So, he’s a weird alien mutant kind of drummer. I like Nirvana, electronic, ‘50s experimental, Indian classical music. I can’t point to a specific influence any more.”
I read that you played a show with the Pakistani drag performer Ali Saleem…
“Yeah, I was invited to this show in Berlin, where they also invited this drag queen TV host, who’s a very fucking awesome flamboyant dude. He does this talk show where he dresses up in drag. You know like some American show, like Conan and some shit? It’s a pretty scandalous show in Pakistan. Really interesting figure. I also make electronic music under the moniker of Lifafa, which I used to explore Hindi music. It’s electronic, but with a Hindi sensibility, so it’s completely different. So that kind of music worked for a show like that. It was a pretty fun show.”
Are you hoping that signing with a Parisian label with introduce you to a European audience?
“Yes, definitely, that’s the plan with them – they’re gonna re-release our old albums. The thing they’re gonna take on is what we suck at, which is some of marketing and promotion. Two of them are much more accessible; one of them is pretty dirty. And then there’s a fourth one, which is a project we had, where we were writing and releasing a song a week for, like, seven or eight weeks. It really fucked our lives up.”
Ha ha – how come?
“If you start on a Monday, and you’re thinking, ‘I need to release something every Sunday’, essentially you keep working ‘til Sunday night. So Sunday night ends, you can’t take a break and you’ve got to get back to work immediately. It was a good exercise. What it taught us is to know what we don’t like much faster. For me, it’s an exciting time for the band because it’s reaching its maturity, I think.”
You’re releasing a new record through Panache. What’s it sounding like?
“There’s some jazzy shit. It’s romantic. Jazzy, ambient, electro – it’s all that shit, man. We were trying to make something more futuristic. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Star Trek: Deep Space 9? There’s an episode where they have a programme that turns the spaceship into a club in Las Vegas. It’s really fun because people are living in this spacecraft, but they can walk into a random jazz bar. I really like that intersection of the world. There’s something that’s timeless about that, a completely unique way of accessing it, you know what I mean?”
Peter Cat Recording Co. perform at New Morning in Paris on October 27