Coming of Age: Awkward Bong

It takes a certain amount of courage to call yourself awkward not just as a person, but as a songwriter and a musician. But what once started out as an honest attempt to portray his personality, Mumbai-based singer and multi-instrumentalist Ronit Sarkar has taken his project Awkward Bong to a new level. However, Sarkar does admit even after several live gigs as a solo artist and as MC for hip hop group Subsystem, he’s still living up to his moniker. Sarkar says, “I’m probably still as awkward as ever, though I get unusually chatty after a couple of beers. And yes, I get plenty of people thinking it’s a stoner reference [Sarkar is also Bengali]. To me, it just makes the name that much cooler.”

Sarkar, who released his first Awkward Bong EP in early 2014, went on to win IndiEarth’s DIY Musician Campaign in July. The win led to the release of one of his tracks, ‘Home Alone’, worldwide. The singer recalls winning at the campaign saying, “I honestly still can’t believe I won the DIY Musician Campaign last year, considering the kind of indie talent this country has right now, so I really don’t know what helped me win. Having that track put out worldwide was a massive confidence boost, though; for me, it was real proof that my music had managed to reach beyond the Bombay indie circle (it was the reason I finally got around to making my artist page on Facebook).”

Now, Awkward Bong is reaching out even further, with the release of a debut full-length album, In the Brightest Corners last month, including two music videos for the songs Golden and You Don’t Have to Hide. Sarkar says he started writing material for the album as soon as the EP was released in January last year. “I think I wrote two songs in two nights. The rest of the writing happened over time, till about August. This was also around the time Subsystem came into being. There was a fair amount of writing happening over that summer-monsoon period,” says Sarkar. In the Brightest Corners came together in the studio of Mumbai producer and alternative punk rock band BLEK’s frontman Rishi Bradoo, with what Sarkar calls his ‘dream team’. With BLEK drummer Linford D’Souza, bassist-guitarist brother duo Yohann and Daniel Coutinho (from Unohu), the band began jamming and fleshing out each acoustic demo that Sarkar had written. Sarkar adds, “Bradoo and I decided on an organic band sound in the first two weeks of lyrics meetings. Since the songs were all written on an acoustic guitar, we felt that the end product should also be something completely organic.”

Photo: Parizad D

On the same page now, the band spent time constructing Awkward Bong’s completely organic pop sound, which is equal parts reminiscent of indie rock like Death Cab for Cutie as it is straight up, no frills pop at its simplest. Working on the album, Sarkar says it wasn’t risky at all to work with a new producer. “Bradoo and I’ve known each other since college (we did our Bachelor’s in Mass Media together), so the process was pretty informal, and brutally honest, right from the start.”

Of course, being in the bustling metropolis on Mumbai, they had to time their recording sessions. Says Sarkar, “Everything had to be recorded post 11 PM so as to prevent traffic noise all over the recordings. We’d do full-on DIY scenes, like set up carpets and bedsheets on mic stands all around the drumkit, record electric guitars using only dynamic mics on the amp, and set up the vocal mic between a clip-on reflection filter and a bookshelf.”

With the album and two music videos out already, there’s no time for Sarkar to rest, not that it’s been a slow and easy build up to the release of In the Brightest Corners. He’d been working on the solo EP in December 2013, and in the summer next year, he’d been writing Subsystem’s EP, while also working on the Awkward Bong album. Says Sarkar, “Yeah, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind in slow motion. Aside from all this, I was also doing a fair amount of advertising work (namely, jingles; that’s where the money for this came from) over the last year, and once the album went into the mix stage, I started work on the music videos.” At the start of what is surely something big for Sarkar, he says he didn’t consider himself a full-time musician until now. Sarkar says, “You could say I’ve been doing music full-time for a minute now.”

Anurag Tagat

Anurag Tagat is a journalist/critic based in Bangalore, writing for Rolling Stone India. He has previously written for The Hindu, Rediff and Bangalore Mirror and TechRadar about everything from current affairs to art and culture to technology.

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