Musician Donn Bhat uses his music to tell stories – the next one is about a toxic love affair with a phone. Go figure
It was 1 am when musician Donn Bhat and his band, Passenger Revelator, took the stage as the last act of the night at the Glastonbury music festival this July. “Despite the late hour, the crowd waited and listened. They really listened. After we got off, several of them told us to come back next year. It was great,” he says.
Musician Donn Bhat almost gave up music because he didn’t want it to be a ‘job’ where others told him what to do with something he loved. Pic/Tushar Satam
It’s a rare feat for an Indian act to have made it to the iconic British music festival, and Bhat, 33, with his electro-pop sound is a pioneer in many ways. His music can be described as a mix of electronica, pop and rock with haunting melodies. It’s experimental but accessible, dreamy yet grounded.
The Delhi resident started out the way most musicians do — he played in a school band, and then in college. “After school, I played covers at a café, six days a week for a month.” He never wanted to take up music as a profession. “I loved it too much to want to do that,” he laughs. But isn’t loving your work a good thing? He smiles, “Let me explain.
I loved it too much to have someone tell me what to do with it, and how to play something. So, instead, I decided to join a production house.” It was after that stint working for an MTV show, thrusting a camera in the faces of innocent passersby, that Bhat realised he may have made the wrong decision. And it was back to the music.
“Then I joined Friday the 13th, and our pinnacle was winning the Great Indian Rock festival. Once that happened, we didn’t know what else we could do, so we broke up,” says Bhat, who has English professors for parents. Luckily, the band, Orange Street, then embarking on a tour of Europe, asked him to join, and he was officially a musician. “It was then that I discovered that you could make music on a computer. It blew my mind. The fact that I didn’t need to rely on people, and I could carve out a song all by myself. I was hooked. Since I had no money, I stole a mic from a gig in Estonia, and used that to record my first album, One Way Circle, from home. I had no clue about making music at that time, but I had something to say, make social commentary, talk about Delhi society, about people with money. I said it all.” That also could have been the impact that authors he was reading at the time had on him — Friedrich Nietzsche and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He was listening to Pink Floyd and Leonard Cohen back then.
Bhat comes across as a dreamer, the one to spend hours analysing a situation or feeling. “But that’s the way writers work. Sometimes, it doesn’t lead anywhere. But 15 minutes of that is better than an hour of not feeling it.” The practical side to him, visible in flashes, is possibly the result of college education. “I could have studied Literature in college, but did Commerce. I was afraid I wouldn’t get a job, and I did eventually want to make money.”
After the album released (which was received well by the industry, with tracks being used on a series on MTV) though, Bhat wanted to move out of his comfort zone, and shift to Mumbai. He stayed at the YMCA and continued to write. “Everyone I went to said, ‘great, let’s do this’. But when we discussed money, I’d hit a road block. So I decided to do it all by myself.”
The second album, Passenger Revelator, released last year, and although Bhat isn’t working on any shows right now, work on the next EP is on. This one is once again about him voicing his opinion on the things that “disturb him”. “One of the songs is about being in love with your phone. I was waking up every morning, and automatically reaching for my phone. It was maddening. May be it’s time to disconnect.”
Hopefully not before he gives us the music.