“Mongolian Train Heist” is the debut project of Atúl, an Indian artist residing in Norway. The song features a well-known Mongolian musician, Bukhu Ganburged who has lent his surreal Khuumi singing and the traditional Mongolian instrument, a horse-fiddle called Morin Khuur to the song. Core sound consists of bass, drums, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and voice. Check out the song and the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how it all got started?
ATÚL: I’m from India and I live in Norway for many years now. I guess it all started with a natural affinity for music, sound, and musical ambiences from a very young age. I developed keen ears and heart for any music that was around me on radio and television. I have always been writing thoughts and words that could work with melodies and in some way narrate stories. I have written more songs than I have recorded or released. I released an EP in my native language Hindi in 2013 and focused more live gigs. Then some life happened and now I’m back with a debut track of this new project.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
ATÚL: I would say all self-taught but perhaps an even better description would be that of an observational listener-learner. I have been singing from childhood without any formal training and sang the songs that were around me. As far as guitar is concerned, I developed my own sound or style purely by listening and watching other guitarists play. I was always sort of hungry to make my guitar sound good when I was trying to make sense of it back in my teen.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘ATÚL’?
ATÚL: My first and strongest influences that sparked my own musical creativity were probably some indie singer-songwriters, bands, and film composers back home in India. But then I also got introduced to music from iconic English and American bands like Pink Floyd, The Doors, Eagles etc. I loved the lush sounds to the storytelling or visuals in their music that made a lasting impression on me.
I was always in this sort of rather strange yet nice ambivalence about Indian and western (rock n’ roll, blues) musical expressions. Perhaps that’s why I like fusion or world sound so much.
Atúl is my first name and when I created this project, I was alone in it, so it was natural for me to call it the Atúl project. In a way it reflects a ‘constant’ or a ‘continuity’ of a musical idea or sound that has evolved around me and traveled with me.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
ATÚL: Well, it’s a bit hard for me to quantify such elements in my music that resonate with the listeners, but I do know that storytelling and the ambient element of my music resonate well with the listeners in live gigs. And to a great extent, subliminally encourage them to weave a story for themselves.
To me, Atúl’s sound involves elements of atmospheric music, progressive or post-rock. We as a band do have a sound of jam or art rock in ‘Mongolian Train Heist (Chapter 1)’ but we also have upcoming studio recordings that include a more robust experimental-ambient sound featuring field recordings of the places and things of band’s creative interest.
5. Do you think is it important for fans of your music to understand the real story and message driving each of your songs, or do you think everyone should be free to interpret your songs in their own personal way?
Not at all. The whole objective of my music is to successfully immerse people in their own imaginative worlds, to draw their own meanings and interact with them. As opposed to pushing mine or my band’s explanations in songs.
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative, and entertainment?
I don’t think I have a personal need, desire, or circumstances to say something that should serve as any sort of ideology, movement of any nature. For me it’s all about creating songs like layers of sonic symmetries and washes that move people in some way. I guess some songwriters need to write songs with enough spaces in them for listeners and I consider myself to be one of those folks, that’s all!
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfillment as the amount of work you are putting into it or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
I believe so. I guess there’s a strange fulfillment that original music creates when you realize that a piece of music only existed in your head and heart at one point and now it’s fleshed out for other people to listen to or take part in. I’m just grateful to be able to make some music but yes, I would like to connect with more listeners in future.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
Normally I start on my own and try to develop the idea as far as I can and then invite others to it. Honestly, the ideas can come from anything, anywhere – a lost chord on the guitar, a hum coming from the ventilator, a word that I would end up staring at, a time of the day, an essence, an interesting phrase and so on. Anything that can spark a unique emotion or a story-like imagination. I would sometimes wake up from sleep and sing a short melody into the phone recorder and try to play guitar over it the next morning!
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
ATÚL: I guess one of the most recent difficulties was to fully immigrate to another country. It’s a long and arduous process and can take a lot of time away from your creativity. The challenge was to keep the music kindled and not lose its bigger picture while dealing with paperwork, making new connections, looking for jobs, learning a new language and so on.
10. Creative work in a studio or home environment, or interaction with a live audience? Which of these two options excites you most, and why?
ATÚL: To me there’s a grand importance and beauty in both because while the studio allows you to be alone with your art, live performances serve as a gallery for your audience.
Practically, studio time is for ideating and reflecting while recording demos. It’s a place to have all the rounds of coffee to endure all the trials and errors for a worthwhile songwriting session. That solitary time is fundamental to my songwriting process.
However, the value of eventually presenting those hard-earned songs to people in person is priceless. You can only truly meet your audience with your music in a live performance because it involves a remarkable human dialogue. Nothing can match that exchange of energies.
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