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The electronic wizard takes charge
Multi-talented man from up north, Zeeshan Parwez spills the beans on Coke Studio, working with giants like Ali Zafar, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Ali Azmat and Rohail Hyatt, the video he has up his sleeve and a lot more…
By Savaiz Bokhari

Instep: Tell us about the Coke Studio experience.
Zeeshan Parwez: Coke Studio was a mind blowing experience. For me it was like performing with Sajid throughout the way, only with free Coke this time. I loved Coke Studio because Rohail Hyatt went out of his way to make us all feel at home, like we were part of something grand. He gave us enough space to try out anything we wanted to do.

Ali Azmat was great to work with because he would make you bring out energy on stage. As for Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, I can still hear his auto tuned shrieks in my ears, what a voice! Ali Zafar was fun and the whole set went amazing; in fact, his set was my favourite one. We didn't play with Strings because we felt their original setup had more energy than what we could provide on their songs. But more than working with prominent artists, my good times were with my band mates. All my band mates were excellent people, one after the other. Gumby has always been a dear friend and I would laugh every-time he would say "I'm not going to be a drummer in the next life." Omran and I shared moments while watching clips of 'Tenacious D and the pick of Destiny'. The studio was equipped with

a pool table that was always occupied by me, Mannu, Shezi and Babar. Excellent guys. And how could I forget Saba and Selina... two wonderful girls who kept everyone happy with their jokes and conversations. They blended in perfectly well. So this is what you call the perfect mix.
But it was also one of THE most tiring experiences as well. I was in Karachi for a month. Since I was working closely with Rohail on programming elements for songs, my timings would be something like 1:30 pm till 4:00 am in the morning.

But Coke Studio has been one of the best things I've ever done. I sometimes get sad knowing that it's over.

Instep: Tell us about your new video for Ali Azmat. Rumour has it that you've chosen Claymation (Clay Model-Motion) medium for the video. When will it be finished?

ZP: Well, it's not exactly all claymation-based. 'Gallan' was made using different methods to create different feels in every portion of the song. 40 per cent of it is motion using scanned printouts of Ali and the characters, 30 per cent of it is real footage and the remaining 30 per cent is a mixture of organic clay plus aluminum foil animation. Except for three shots, all the backgrounds in the video were self constructed through miniature sets.

As for the medium, I was chatting with Roha
il Hyatt one evening at his studio and he was just sharing an idea about paper being integrated as images on video. That hit me. When Coke Studio finished I went back home, twisted the idea a bit, experimented over it and it worked. I drafted the concept for one of the songs from Ali's album and introduced a couple of new things in it as well. I explained the whole process to Ali. He was like "eh?" in the beginning, but when got the grasp of it, he was interested in it more than I was. So hence, the idea for a raw, dirt treated video where an ant and a praying mantis battle in the end was born. It was one damn hard video to make, as equal as MHB's 'Waris Shah' which took five months to produce. This video took three months and it's ready.

Instep: How has the recent situation been with militancy in Peshawar and the effect it has had on music there?

ZP: Life in general has been greatly affected, let alone the music scene, if there is any left anymore. I think there are many things that have caused unrest here; poverty, major load shedding, unaffordable expenses for the common man, the law and order situation and to top this all, militancy is at Peshawar's doorsteps. Never have I seen a time like this in my limited life where people have been so insecure and so depressed. It's as if people are wondering nowadays what our fate is going to be after a year. These feelings helped me make 'Waris Shah' video for the Mekaal Hasan Band. I hope to God everything better and Peshawar remains the same place I grew up in.
Instep: Ever since you've entered the music direction scene, you have attempted to promote bands 'with lesser means than most'. Bands like Visaal, Irtaash and Saturn for instance. Do you make a conscious effort to promote young artists or is it coincidental?

ZP: I wish I could do more to help all the people I've worked and will work with Inshallah because I strictly believe that first of all, there should be no such thing as the director/client relationship when it comes to music videos. If there is, throw it out. It should be more like a mutual thing just as it would be between two good friends. But the artist has to leave everything to the director blindly and at that point, trust him totally with the vision he is presenting for them.

On the other hand, it's the right of the director to hear the band out if they wants to convey something, anything it all. There should be no stiffness. I stress more on underground bands because they need the projection and help in anyway possible. So it's not just me helping them out in getting their videos to different channels. I figure its more important to just take some time out, do a meeting or do and be a part of an integral force that decides what should be done alongside the video, how do we push it forward and etc. So I find it best that I make them feel responsible in the whole scenario as well. It has to be a double sided effort, otherwise it doesn't work at all. I thank God that till now I haven't come across a single person (who has worked with me) who wasn't cooperative.

Instep: You're one of the first people who introduced animated music video to the music scene. Tell us something about that.

ZP: Well, it was more like a solid decision that I took after I tried experimentations with how I would be able to rotoscope pre-shot images and treat them as layers of art. I had no knowledge whatsoever about photoshop nor any animation programme at that time, so you can pretty much figure out that most of the artwork done on the video is quite raw, pixilated at times and unpolished. This kept bugging me for sometime, because I wanted to do better but I couldn't. It was taking a lot of my time. Imagine a 9 to 5 job, music production responsibilities on the side, throw in some family time there too and then this. I was a wreck, I had a kidney problem by the time I was over with this. But then I said to myself, that maybe my satisfaction lies inside the fact that I stop being a perfectionist and leave it the way it is. If there are flaws, let them be. That, for me, became a thing of beauty, to let go of things sometimes and just constructing whatever came to you, even though you were limited in terms of execution at that point.

Instep: Is it easier to direct performance videos than ones with a storyboard?

ZP: Performance based videos are sometimes really hard to execute and post-producion is difficult as well. First of all, a lot of hard work is put in from the director's side to make sure that all the necessary dynamics of musicians are captured and understood properly. Then, you make sure that you avoid repetition as much as possible while designing takes and in the editing process. You give what is needed necessary to add a bit of punch to the final product. By nature, performance based videos are usually suitable for songs that contain either a lot of energy or they're unusually slow. As an example, MHB's 'Jhok Ranjhan' had more than three dozen full length takes of all the band members and about 15 minor takes. In that small recording room, all things (lights, reflectors, tracks, dolly grips) would be changing positions after each take was done. And the edit alone was done, in about 40 days.

Instep: How has your experience been of working with Sajid Ghafoor?

ZP: Sajid is the first ever person I collaborated with. In a word, it is phenomenal. I can give you loads of reasons why I love working with the guy. Sajid is a whiz at structure and song writing, he gives me the kind of space I want in designing tracks for both of us, he makes the best tea (even in the Teabag category), I love his corny jokes and the most important of all, we understand each other completely, they way we want to work, the way we should deal with things and etc.

Instep: How did your music evolve into the electronic style that we hear today?

ZP: The sound of synthesizers, drum machines and sequencers always fascinated me. My parents saw my fascination for keyboards. My family got me different keyboards on an occasion. My elder brother Salman was very much into music in those days, so watching him work at nights was amazing. I wanted to have that sort of dedication as well. I was about to embark on a journey of synthesis but got held up because of my father's death in the middle. So for quite a few years I gave up on music and sketching. That was a dark period, till a moment came that I realized that it's high time I get back. There was a lot of time wasted. You see, with electronica, you have to be tuned with the latest technology, the gear and also, I must confess what other people are doing, so you get inspired and proceed on in your own direction. So I started learning production work, the internet was introduced at that time, it opened up a lot of doors for me. Slowly and gradually, I started setting up a small studio for myself. Now I'm grateful to God I have a setup that lets me experiment and produce sounds the way I would want in a track.

Instep: On a final note, what is cooking in your studio these days?

ZP: Well, nowadays what's keeping me busy is our (mine and Sajid's) sophomore album, we're just a couple of tracks away and I'm excited about it even more than before. On the videos, I've wrapped Ali Azmat's 'Gallan' and Mekaal Hasan Band's 'Warish Shah'. There's one for Mauj that I'm supposed to be working one and our Sajid and Zeeshan videos from the new album.