Instep Today

In conversation with Zain Ahsan

Instep Today
By Maheen Sabeeh
Fri, 01, 19

One of music’s most talented names, Zain Ahsan talks to Instep from Lahore about new Poor Rich Boy material, circa 2019, as well as Jimmy Khan’s Tich Button and the upcoming EP from Xarb, also scheduled to release this year.

Zain Ahsan portrait,courtesy of Rearts.

If 2018 was a good year for Zain Ahsan, as a member of Lahore-based music group Poor Rich Boy, a music producer and a guitar and ukulele player, 2019 looks just as promising – if not more.

In an extensive conversation with Instep, the down-to-earth Zain Ahsan, who recently starred in the two music videos from Jimmy Khan’s folk live album Tich Button, discusses producing the record, the immediate future of the much loved Poor Rich Boy and what it’s like to produce Xarb, the runner-up band from Pepsi Battle of the Bands 3, among other things. An excerpt from the interview….

Instep: Last year, as music group Poor Rich Boy, you released a bunch of singles. Some of those will make up your upcoming third album, Almost Tuesday. How many other singles are there?

Zain Ahsan: There are five singles in total on Almost Tuesday, but it’s a tricky situation because I’m also producing for other people and I’m in the mix of all these things. Every time I get some free time from that work, I get into Poor Rich Boy. It is also tricky because these songs have been recorded for a while now and I’m just looking for filmmakers who can make music videos so that we can throw it out as a visual-audio experience.

Other than that, we are musicians and since we like to make songs, we’ve already started writing the next album (Poor Rich Boy’s fourth record). In the last two weeks, because it’s winter time and we usually use this time to create new music, we’ve started dabbling into that. I’m unsure about when I’m going to be releasing all of this. Obviously, one single from Poor Rich Boy will definitely release by the end of this month (January 2019), which I was supposed to do last month.

A still of Zain Ahsan from the music video of 'Tich Buttona Di Jori'.

Instep: What about the rest of Poor Rich Boy material?

Zain Ahsan: PRB’s Almost Tuesday has five songs. But we’re probably going to be releasing new stuff, which is going to be from a completely different album. At the end of the day, I’ve noticed that people aren’t really listening to music albums anymore. And now people respond to singles and since our sound is constantly evolving, we don’t want to keep holding back on the new stuff. It’s just about time-management and how I’m going to be juggling all of these projects together. That’s pretty much it.

Instep: You’ve also produced Jimmy Khan’s Tich Button EP, a live folk Punjabi album with two songs released and three more in the pipeline. What was it like producing Tich Button and working with him?

Zain Ahsan: Jimmy’s three songs will release this month. I’ve been working with Jimmy Khan for the last seven years now - from ‘Nadiya’ to ‘Baarish’ and other songs he released earlier. I’ve always kept in mind that as a producer I have to cater to his sound. I always felt that his sound had acoustic textures, slightly raw and had the feel of the Pakistani and Bollywood music from the sixties. That was the first thing I thought when I saw him performing at Gun Smoke. I immediately knew that I wanted to collaborate with this guy. I really like string instruments like ukulele, basically organic sounds, unplugged.

Producing Tich Button has been an interesting space for me because I like dabbling in all genres. We’ve actually been performing these songs live for the past couple of years. I also play with Jimmy during his live setup, I play ukulele for him. When Jimmy brought the Punjabi EP, Tich Button to me, he had recorded most of it at Saad Hayat’s studio in Karachi. Since I’m very particular about the kind of sound I want, I tweaked a few things. I re-did the acoustic guitars, the ukulele; I got Jimmy to sing on it again. It was a fast and fun process. It’s always fun working with Jimmy; he’s got good energy. We’re not taking ourselves too seriously. Whatever comes naturally, we sort of flow with that.

Instep: Do you think that albums might make a comeback, maybe not in the mainstream totally but in the independent/alternative scene?

Zain Ahsan: What I’ve learned from putting out two albums is that in Pakistan, where we are right now, the Internet world we live in, the attention span for a listener or a viewer is not the same as it used to be before. There is so much information out there, it’s very hard for people to digest an entire album or sit through it in one sitting. You will certainly find music lovers who will listen to Janoobi Khargosh album or Mughal-e-Funk album but mostly it’s going to be musicians themselves. With the masses, I don’t think the album has an impact anymore. I personally don’t, especially in Pakistan. Singles with music videos work. If you give people visuals, it engages them. There will be people who will listen to a full album but there are not in the majority. I’ve been sitting on this album, Almost Tuesday, because I don’t want to just release the audio, I want to release it with a music video so people remember it.

Instep: What was it like working with Xarb?

Zain Ahsan: Two songs from Xarb’s EP have to be done by the 25th of this month. The other three songs will be done by the 25th of next month (February). Xarb’s EP has five songs. They’re good kids and working with them reminded me of initial PRB days. We were (Xarb) in the jam room and just the energy of the entire band being together and chalking out songs was a great process. I was also a part of the songwriting process, in terms of composition and stuff, and we had no songs. We were sitting in a room and were like let’s start from scratch. Let’s throw out ideas on the canvas; pick and choose the ones we like, we asked everybody because everybody (in the band) is important. It was about coming to an agreement where everybody was on the same page and then taking it forward.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to produce these guys. They brought a lot of light and energy into my soul.