Imaad Shah and Saba Azad’s bookshelf and music collection tell of their creative sensibilities. At their house in Yari Road, Andheri West, Chet Baker’s jazz albums sit beside rock band Phish while an entire shelf is dedicated to Murakamis, among other international and Indian authors. On the table, Nietzsche peeps from beneath a pile of papers. The duo’s tastes are evidently left of centre.
Their music too has a certain ‘cool’ factor about it. Their act Madboy/ Mink released their debut EP All Ball last weekend. The music has influences of swing, disco, and big band layered with electronic beats. The genre is rarely ever played in the country even by DJs, and for a live act, their sound is novel. “The songs on the EP are from different genres, but in each of them you can hear us behind the sound,” says Azad, who is the vocalist, while Shah plays the guitar and handles the machines.
The band’s sound is part of a revival of old ballroom dance music with an electronic music twist. From Alley Cats, which sounds like a straight up swing track until the dirty bass line kicks in to Taste Your Kiss, which has a cabaret feel to the music with a bunch of electro swing elements. The band wants to keep their act as live as possible, with dancers and supporting musicians, in the future.
The budding actors, Shah and Azad, had met at film auditions, but it was at a house party that she really caught his attention. “It was a crowded party. But above the din, I could hear this amazing voice,” says Shah, who is part of the funk band, Pulp Society. “I had such a bad throat, I don’t know what he liked about my voice,” says Azad. A few conversations later they decided to collaborate on a track. “I was supposed to be a featuring vocalist on one track, then two, then three. At the end of it we just decided to work together,” says Azad, who has guested with other bands like Blackstratblues in the past.
It helped that both of them have been listening to similar music through the years, from Dylan to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. When they talk about their influences, they say they have matured on the same music. “We’re fairly open as listeners. So if Imaad comes to me with new music, I will listen to it,” says Azad, a theatre director and producer. At their EP launch gig in Bangalore last week — because of technical snags — they could not play the set they had planned. “We ended up playing an acoustic set, performing old jazz standards. We can be quite flexible with our sets,” says Azad. Now that they’ve performed in Mumbai and Delhi, they plan to take their launch gig to Pune and Chennai as well.
This comfort level is apparent in their music and during the interview. They complete each other’s sentences, give each other enough space to put their thoughts forward, and the chemistry is fantastic. You can see this when they play live too, but production is a different ball game. “We are literally at war. I keep telling him to change things around,” says Azad. “It’s nice to have a perspective though,” says Shah.
The duo has been prolific with their writing. Pimp the disco and Lemonade were ready tracks even before they decided to release an EP. They have about 20 tracks ready, but they want to pace out their releases over the next year. “We are going to release a swing EP for the rains. Five tracks that go perfectly with the rain, and then our first full album in November,” says Azad.