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Cezanne – The Art of Bangladeshi Progressive Metal Bass

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Cezanne – The Art of Bangladeshi Progressive Metal Bass - 3

Artcell Bassist Cezanne

Progressive Metal is perhaps not a genre you immediately associate with Bangladesh, but there’s a thriving scene there. Tim Fletcher talks to Artcell bassist Cezanne about the Bangladesh metal community, the history of the band, and their upcoming album.

Opening Photo, Chowdhury Sifat

Cezanne – The Art of Bangladeshi Progressive Metal Bass
Photo, Chowdhury Sifat

One of the most pleasing things about the Bass Musician Magazine FaceBook page is the wide range of people that engage with it. Bass players from all over the world join in with the discussions, and sometimes that can lead you to places that you hadn’t expected.

A few months ago, I was interested to see a profile of Ayan Upadhaya, a bass player from Bangladesh, and he related the story of how he became a bassist in a Bangla Rock band. Having never heard about Bangla Rock, this intrigued me, and I asked Ayan to recommend some bands to listen to. He immediately suggested Artcell, a progressive metal band, and I listened to a few of their songs – I was very impressed. I soon discovered that they are a very popular band in their home country, playing regular gigs across Bangladesh, but they have also played major events in Australia (Sydney and Melbourne), India (Kolkata) and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur).

This led to searching out their bass player, Cezanne who is now resident in Sydney, Australia, and he was kind enough to agree to a long-distance interview.

Hi Cezanne – many thanks for talking to us.

My pleasure and thanks for approaching me as well. 

You’re based in Australia – have you managed to stay musically productive during the lockdown?

The lockdown hasn’t been easy. However, I guess we were very lucky as the COVID situation was very well managed here in Australia. However, it was a tricky time to adjust to the new normal of working from home. The way it works for me is, I like to take breaks from my music. It helps me keep a balance with the other things in my life, and weirdly it makes music more enjoyable for me. I know not many musicians would agree with this approach, but I didn’t really play a lot of bass during the lockdown, although I knew I could get back and play when I felt like it. 

Have you been writing new material?

As we are in the middle of recording our third album, the focus is on completing that for the time being. However, I do have a bunch of new stuff that I would love to share with the band to work on after we are done with the third album.

How do you organise collaborating with the other band members over such long distances?

Thanks to all the new technologies, it’s not difficult at all to be in touch. I speak to the band members almost every day. However, obviously we can’t jam and that definitely doesn’t help. This is not the ideal situation to work together for sure. However, we are trying to make the best out of it and the band is sharing their demos and I am providing my input online. This is how we recorded the last released track ‘Avoy’ – meaning ‘No Fear’ in English – and it came out pretty well.

Did Artcell have to cancel any concerts, and are you looking forward to being able to play more live shows once this is over?

As a band Artcell is one of the busiest in Bangladesh. So, yes, we had to cancel a lot of shows. The sooner the COVID-19 crisis is over the better, not only for us, but everyone everywhere. I can’t tell you how much I miss being back with the band and playing for a live audience, but I do realize the seriousness of the crisis and for now it is VERY important for everyone to follow the social distancing requirements.

Artcell had a major show to celebrate its 20th anniversary last year – was that an exciting milestone to reach?

This was definitely a career highlight for Artcell and a very special moment in my life. This was probably the first time a prog rock band had an open air concert in Bangladesh, which also was a full house with over 8,000 people. We were overwhelmed with the support we got not just from our fans and listeners, but also from the organizers, partners, and sponsors. It was a milestone for the Bangladesh rock music scene, as far as we are concerned.

Cezanne – The Art of Bangladeshi Progressive Metal Bass
Photo, Chowdhury Sifat

Let’s go back to the beginning – what prompted you to take up bass?

I just liked the bold fat sounds of the bass. I started playing bass when I was about fifteen. I played guitar for three years before that, but only so I could learn the basics so that I could pick up bass one day. So, yes, bass has always been my weapon of choice. Besides, as a kid, I didn’t want to play what everyone kid in my school was playing…. and that worked out for me pretty well!

Who were the bass players you tried to emulate when you first started playing?

The first name on the list would be Steve Harris from Iron Maiden. He’s one of the reasons I play bass. Then I was heavily influenced by Stuart Hamm, Les Claypool and Flea. I was also a huge fan of Billy Sheehan – I watched his Advance Bass Instruction video tape so many times that I remembered all the jokes Billy would pull in the interview! So, I picked up a lot my bass techniques (at least tried to) from Billy Sheehan.

What was your first bass?

I got my first bass, a used Indian ‘Givson’ Bass, not Gibson, when I was around fifteen and played the heck out of it. I got my first proper bass, a Peavey, when I was seventeen or eighteen.

How did you learn to play? Did you have lessons?

I was very lucky to have the acquaintance of Schumann Zaman (from Bangladeshi pop/rock band Paper Rhyme) as my first bass guide. He’s the one who introduced me to Billy Sheehan.

Cezanne – The Art of Bangladeshi Progressive Metal Bass
Photo, Mahmudul Hasan Rony

Were there any other local players that helped you?

Apart from Schumann Zaman, I was massively influenced by Shafin Ahmed (Miles), BassBaba Sumon (Aurthohin) and Babna Karim (Warfaze) – the great bass players of Bangla Rock music.

I understand that there was a great music shop in Dhaka that stocked metal albums that weren’t generally available in Bangladesh. Did you find lots of influential stuff there?

I think you are referring to Rainbow, at Elephant Road, Dhaka! Yes, back when I just started listening to metal (and music in general) there were only cassettes available and the Rainbow was one of the very few sources (along with Shur-Niketon, right beside the Rainbow and another music shop) where we could find the music we liked. The best part was, when anyone would give them a 60 or a 90 min cassette to record some album, if there were few minutes left after the album was transferred, they would fill that in with other good music of similar genre. And that’s how I was exposed to Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.

Were there many rock gigs to go and see in Dhaka at that time?

In normal situations, there would be underground rock gigs in Dhaka every weekend. But in the winter we have some of the biggest festivals, like the Joy Bangla Concert that’s held in March and other open air shows.

How did Artcell begin?

We started Artcell in October 1999. I am one of the four founder members of the band. Before me and Shaju (Drummer) started playing together, Lincoln (Vocals/Guitars) and Ershad (former Lead Guitars) used to play together in another band called Tantrik. After we started jamming together, we decided to start a new band. Before coming to the name Artcell, we tried few other names, such as Zapatista, and Anubis. But Ershad came up with the name Artcell and that stuck.

Would you say that Artcell were the biggest progressive metal band in Bangladesh?

I don’t know about biggest. But it surely is the most loved one by the fans for sure.

Do you think of Artcell as part of the ‘Bangla Rock’ scene, or as part of the more global progressive metal genre alongside bands like Dream Theater and Tool?

It is a matter of great pride that Artcell made it so big in Bangladesh. So, we do see this a major part of Bangladeshi music scene. But since it was a conscious decision to do our music in Bengali for the people and the culture. However, it doesn’t get enough attention in the international scene because of the language, but people who are open to the universal language of music, they certainly can relate with the band. So, Bangla Prog-Rock definitely offers world class music, unfortunately something that is not common knowledge. 

Artcell sing in Bengali – do you think that the band (and other Bangladeshi metal bands) would possibly have a bigger audience if you sang in English?

English songs would naturally attract a wider audience. However, it is also our responsibility to enrich our Bengali music culture and contribute to the rich history of Bangla Music. 

Apart from singing in Bengali, do Artcell songs have any influences from Bangladeshi music styles?

Growing up all of us had some level of exposure and experience learning and performing Bangladeshi folk songs, Rabindra Sangeet, Lalon and Nazrul Songs, which helped setting up a strong base when we picked up the western instruments. The fused influences are obvious in Artcell’s melodies and arrangements, I think.

One of your most famous songs ‘Oniket Prantor’ has had over 8 million views on YouTube. It’s a very complex piece with lots of shifts of time signatures – what was the writing process for that song?

I remember it grew from the tapping section I came up with that comes after the first couple of verses. But since it wasn’t sounding right to start the song with the tapping section, Ershad came up with the plucking and the whole thing just took off from there. The intention was never to make it such a long song [16m 21s], but we just followed what each section demanded. Although I don’t really think the views on YouTube is a proper measure of an artwork, we are nevertheless very happy with the response. 

Do you contribute to other parts of the writing process?

Playing with Artcell has always been about band effort and all of us have contribution in all the songs. I guess that’s you will see different sections and vibes in each of the songs. I specially enjoy working with the overall sound and arrangement of songs. 

How has your own playing style developed over the years?

Well, in early days, I used to practise a lot (no surprise). But as other things in life started taking over, I realized, even a small amount of time I would give to practising, it would have more impact on my playing then it used to in my earlier years. Not sure why, but I am a more confident bass player than ever, as I know it’s not how many notes you play, it’s what the song requires.

I understand that you briefly played in Warfaze (another Bangladeshi Metal Band) – how did that come about?

Growing up I was always a huge fan of Warfaze. And when they needed a bass player and the lead guitar player of the band Kalam, who is like a big brother to me asked me to join the band, it was a dream come true. But since it was at the early days of Artcell, I could manage time to play for both bands. But after a certain time, I had to prioritize.  But it was a great experience playing some of my favourite Bangla Rock songs with the band on stage.  

Did you play with any other bands?

Although Artcell was my main band, I did play as guest bassist for funk rock band Wire (to feed my appetite of Flea influences) and heavy metal band DeathRow. 

Cezanne – The Art of Bangladeshi Progressive Metal Bass
Photo, Mahmudul Hasan Rony

The more recent Artcell material has moved towards a more concise style with nods towards bands like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers – was that a deliberate move to be more mainstream, or is it just how the writing has developed?

The last two songs released were ‘Shongshoy’ (Doubt) and ‘Avoy’ which is some of our heaviest songs to date. I guess you are referring to couple other tracks that was released prior to these, which is ‘Obimrisshotta’ and ‘Sporsher Onuvuti’ which is a mixture of different sounds, I think. RHCP, although is a huge influence for me, as you would see in the bass lines for ‘Obimrisshota’, but the songs are more like new-age metal more than funk. The bass for the other track was influenced by Opeth, another one of my recent favourites. 

When is the long-awaited third Artcell album coming out?

I can’t promise a timeline, but the work is almost 80% complete. We will also need to sort out the platform and the sponsorship deals before this is released. But it will definitely be in 2021.

I understand you’ve been instrumental in developing the ‘Gaan’ music player app. Can you tell us about how that came about?

When I moved to Australia, I realized how difficult it was to listen to Bangla songs. Also, there’s a demand for a platform that the musicians and listeners can rely upon. Based on our understanding of the music scene in Bangladesh and with the support from fellow Bangladeshi IT Developers (Zayed and Saud) me and Shaju (Artcell’s drummer) decided to create Gaan, a Spotify like service, exclusively for Bangla and Bangladeshi Music. So far it’s been doing great with over 100K+ downloads and available on both iOS and Android platforms. But it still is a long way to go to solve the sustainable music platform requirement for the industry.

Do you think that the app might help to promote Bangladeshi music to a wider audience outside its home country?

Outside Bangladesh, Gaan has the second highest number of downloads in India, followed by the USA, Australia, and UK. So, yes, that’s definitely the plan to provide easy access to a huge collection and all the latest Bangla music to people around the world, specially the NRBs [Non-Resident Bangladeshis].

What is the next thing on the horizon for Artcell?

Now the entire focus is to complete the third album and then do a few concerts both in Bangladesh and around the world to promote the album. After that we already have enough materials to start working on the fourth.

Thanks for taking the time to speak to us  – it’s been great!

The pleasure was all mine. Thank you so much for your interest in Artcell and our music.

Follow Cezanne on Facebook here

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Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Dallas, Texas and lived in the Dallas area most of my life with the exception of 1 year in Colorado. I moved to the Austin area at age 18. 

What makes the bass so special to you particularly, and how did you gravitate to it?

I honestly started playing bass because we needed a bass player and I was the one with access to a bass amp and bass. I played rhythm guitar and sang up until I met Ronnie, who I would later start “Audic Empire” with. He also played rhythm guitar and sang and we didn’t know any bass players, so we had to figure something out. I still write most of my songs on guitar, but I’ve grown to love playing the bass. 

How did you learn to play, James?

I took guitar lessons growing up and spent a lot of time just learning tabs or playing by ear and kicked around as a frontman in a handful of bands playing at the local coffee shops or rec centers. Once I transitioned to bass, I really just tried to apply what I knew about guitar and stumbled through it till it sounded right. I’m still learning every time I pick it up, honestly. 

You are also a songwriter, recording engineer, and a fantastic singer, did you get formal training for this? 

Thank you, that means a lot!  I had a couple of voice lessons when I was in my early teens, but didn’t really like the instructor. I did however take a few lessons recently through ACC that I enjoyed and think really helped my technique (Shout out to Adam Roberts!) I was not a naturally gifted singer, which is a nice way of saying I was pretty awful, but I just kept at it. 

As far as recording and producing, I just watched a lot of YouTube videos and asked people who know more than me when I had a question. Whenever I feel like I’m not progressing, I just pull up tracks from a couple of years ago, cringe, and feel better about where I’m at but I’ve got a long way to go. Fortunately, we’ve got some amazing producers I can pass everything over to once I get the songs as close to finalized as I can. 

Describe your playing style(s), tone, strengths and/or areas that can be improved on the bass.

I honestly don’t know what my style would be considered. We’ve got so many styles that we play and fuse together that I just try to do what works song by song.  I don’t have too many tricks in the bag and just keep it simple and focus on what’s going to sound good in the overall mix. I think my strength lies in thinking about the song as a whole and what each instrument is doing, so I can compliment everything else that’s going on. What could be improved is absolutely everything, but that’s the great thing about music (and kind of anything really). 

Who were your influencers in terms of other musicians earlier on or now that have made a difference and inspired you?

My dad exposed me to a lot of music early. I was playing a toy guitar while watching a VHS of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble live at SXSW on repeat at 4 years old saying I wanted to “do that” when I grew up. I was the only kid in daycare that had his own CDs that weren’t kid’s songs. I was listening to Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, and The Doors when I could barely talk. I would make up songs and sing them into my Panasonic slimline tape recorder and take it to my preschool to show my friends. As I got older went through a bunch of music phases. Metal, grunge, rock, punk, hip hop, reggae, ska, etc. Whatever I heard that I connected to I’d dive in and learn as much as I could about it. I was always in bands and I think I kept picking up different styles along the way and kept combining my different elements and I think that’s evident in Audic’s diverse sound. 

Tell me about Audic Empire and your new release Take Over! Can you share some of the highlights you and the band are most proud of?

Takeover was an interesting one. I basically built that song on keyboard and drum loops and wrote and tracked all my vocals in one long session in my bedroom studio kind of in a stream-of-consciousness type of approach. I kind of thought nothing would come of it and I’d toss it out, but we slowly went back and tracked over everything with instruments and made it our own sound. I got it as far as I could with production and handed it off to Chad Wrong to work his magic and really bring it to life. Once I got Snow Owl Media involved and we started brainstorming about a music video, it quickly turned into a considerably larger production than anything we’ve done before and it was such a cool experience. I’m really excited about the final product, especially considering I initially thought it was a throwaway track.

Describe the music style of Audic Empire for us. 

It’s all over the place… we advertise it as “blues, rock, reggae.” Blues because of our lead guitarist, Travis Brown’s playing style, rock because I think at the heart we’re a rock band, and reggae because we flavor everything with a little (or a lot) of reggae or ska. 

How did you find Bergantino Audio Systems?

Well, my Ampeg SVT7 caught fire at a show… We were playing Stubbs in Austin and everyone kept saying they smelled something burning, and I looked back in time to see my head, perched on top of its 8×10 cab, begin billowing smoke. We had a tour coming up, so I started researching and pricing everything to try and find a new amp. I was also fronting a metal band at the time, and my bass player’s dad was a big-time country bass player and said he had this really high-end bass amp just sitting in a closet he’d sell me. I was apprehensive since I really didn’t know much about it and “just a little 4×10” probably wasn’t going to cut it compared to my previous setup. He said I could come over and give it a test drive, but he said he knew I was going to buy it. He was right. I immediately fell in love. I couldn’t believe the power it put out compared to this heavy head and cumbersome cab I had been breaking my back hauling all over the country and up countless staircases.  

Tell us about your experience with the forte D amp and the AE 410 Speaker cabinet. 

It’s been a game-changer in every sense. It’s lightweight and compact. Amazing tone. And LOUD. It’s just a fantastic amp. Not to mention the customer service being top-notch! You’ll be hard-pressed to find another product that, if you have an issue, you can get in touch with the owner, himself. How cool is that? 

Tell us about some of your favorite basses.

I was always broke and usually working part-time delivering pizzas, so I just played what I could get my hands on. I went through a few pawn shop basses, swapped in new pickups, and fought with the action on them constantly. I played them through an Ampeg be115 combo amp. All the electronics in it had fried at some point, so I gutted it out and turned it into a cab that I powered with a rusted-up little head I bought off someone for a hundred bucks. My gear was often DIY’d and held together by electrical tape and usually had a few coats of spray paint to attempt to hide the wear and tear. I never really fell in love with any piece of gear I had till I had a supporter of our band give me an Ibanez Premium Series SDGR. I absolutely love that bass and still travel with it. I’ve since gotten another Ibanez Premium Series, but went with the 5-string BTB.  It’s a fantastic-sounding bass, my only complaint is it’s pretty heavy. 

Love your new video Take Over! Let us know what you’re currently working on (studio, tour, side projects, etc.)

Thank you!! We’ve got a LOT of stuff we’re working on right now actually. Having 2 writers in the band means we never have a shortage of material. It’s more about getting everything tracked and ready for release and all that goes into that. We just got through filming videos for 2 new unreleased tracks with Snow Owl Media, who did the videos for both Love Hate and Pain and Takeover. Both of these songs have surprise features which I’m really excited about since these will be the first singles since our last album we have other artists on. We’ve also got a lot of shows coming up and I’ve also just launched my solo project as well. The debut single, “Raisin’ Hell” is available now everywhere. You can go here to find all the links distrokid.com/hyperfollow/jamestobias/raisin-hell

What else do you do besides music?

For work, I own a handyman service here in Austin doing a lot of drywall, painting, etc. I have a lot of hobbies and side hustles as well. I make custom guitar straps and other leather work. I do a lot of artwork and have done most of our merch designs and a lot of our cover art. I’m really into (and borderline obsessed) with health, fitness, and sober living.  I have a hard time sitting still, but fortunately, there’s always a lot to do when you’re self-employed and running a band!

Follow James Tobias:

jamestobiasmusic.com
Facebook.com/james.tobias1
Instagram.com/ru4badfish2
TikTok.com/@jamestobiasmusic
audicempire.com 

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