Name: Mocaine aka Amrit Mohan
Occupation: Composer, songwriter, vocalist, guitarist
Current release: Mocaine's The Birth of Billy Munro, a twin release of album and novella to be followed by a related film, is out via the Mocaine bandcamp store.
Recommendations: Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro, and Elfriede Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher.
If you enjoyed this interview with Mocaine and would like to find out more, visit the project on Facebook, Instagram, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing songs at the age of fourteen or fifteen – which gave me a chance to get the first hundred shitty songs out of my system before the good ones came.
Two of my earliest influences were Nirvana and Damien Rice. They helped me develop an appreciation for the loud and aggressive, and the soft and acoustic approaches simultaneously.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
No, I barely had any formal musical training, which led me always to be reluctant to learn the songs I loved. As a result, I learned very few covers over the years. This in itself did help develop a unique playing style that wasn’t as influenced by others as the writing may inevitably have been otherwise.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
The latest Mocaine album has a song called "Narcissus". I think that fact answers the question perfectly.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
As a kid, I used to think that I wouldn’t be able to play really well until I had really good gear. Thirteen years and two albums later, I’m still playing the same guitar, and I’d like to think I’ve gotten a lot better since then. So that belief has changed to the opposite.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
My journey has been the complete opposite of what usually happens: instead of wanting new equipment/more tools, the more I grow as a musician, the more I grow comfortable with a basic stripped-down rig, which is what I currently have.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I have collaborated with some great people over the last four years. And these collaborations are made all the more fruitful owing to the back-and-forth manner in which Mocaine compositions evolve: I write basic parts for all instruments, which communicates the essential vibe for a song to the musicians playing on it, followed by them taking the lead and adding their ideas and expertise to get it where it needs to be.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My day starts at 5 am, because my dog must have a two-hour run every morning. So I usually have a pleasant window of a few hours before my workday starts.
I keep my day job separate from my art, for the two don’t have much in common, and are best kept apart.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Mocaine went live at the beginning of 2018, and one of the first things we did, like all indie bands starting out in India, was to participate in a college competition. We were the first runners-up in the first one we ever participated in, and there was a lot that happened that night that made it incredibly memorable.
A one-in-a-million manufacturing defect in a brand new string set I had put on my guitar the night before meant that strings 2 and 4 specifically on my guitar just wouldn’t produce a sound. At the absolute last minute, after our 10 minutes of soundcheck (preceding the 20 minutes of performance) had already begun, I had to borrow a beat-up old Les Paul from the music society of the college, get used to how much bulkier it was than my Washburn, and tune it down from standard E to E flat.
We still ended up as first runners-up. And that massive college stage also gave me a small taste for what it’s like to move around and really put on a show.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
For me, it is always unplanned. Inspiration just strikes - and either I am in a position to run with it, or it passes by untapped.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
It can mean a million things to a million people. Sonic Youth were therapeutic for me as a teenager, but I only realized that in retrospect, and I doubt anybody in Sonic Youth was looking to put out a means of therapy. So the only truly important value to uphold is honesty in expression.
Of course, having something worthwhile to say helps. But what is and isn’t can be a very blurred line, if there is one at all.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I haven’t felt the need for it, so I have not paid a lot of thought to copying, or its limits. Context always helps understand any piece of art better, and most of the great art that I have come across always shares an intimate relationship with the culture/society/gender it is born out of.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
In my experience, there are certain songs that I discovered at very specific moments in my life – most of them during the age of 15-20. If I hear them now, I am instantly transported back to that frame of mind; it’s almost as intense as scents from one’s early childhood.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I am a storyteller. And I want to tell great stories. They may involve social or political themes. They may not. But I wouldn’t make those themes a part of my story just for the sake of engagement.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
The intensity of it. In the calmer and the more furious moments, both.