Ibrahim Sheikh is an emerging independent musician who has played with multiple bands such as Takatak, Keeray Makoray, and Janoobi Khargosh. For the last three years, he has been creating music under the moniker Gentle Robot. Originally from Multan, the 30-year-old now calls Lahore his hometown. Gentle Robot is a collection of emotions, musical explorations and experiments defining the soundscape of a younger generation of musicians. His ability to weave handcrafted music notes and visuals and deliver a new wave of music production to Pakistani audiences, won him critical acclaim at the Lahore Music Meet The News on Sunday then had an in-depth conversation with the artist, to better understand his creative process.
Ibrahim Sheikh is an emerging independent musician who has played with multiple bands such as Takatak, Keeray Makoray, and Janoobi Khargosh. For the last three years, he has been creating music under the moniker Gentle Robot. Originally from Multan, the 30-year-old now calls Lahore his hometown. Gentle Robot is a collection of emotions, musical explorations and experiments defining the soundscape of a younger generation of musicians. His ability to weave handcrafted music notes and visuals and deliver a new wave of music production to Pakistani audiences, won him critical acclaim at the Lahore Music Meet The News on Sunday then had an in-depth conversation with the artist, to better understand his creative process.The News on Sunday:
How has your relationship with making music, evolved over the years?
Gentle Robot: Growing up, I was inspired by movie scores. I would makeup my own scores, with an entire orchestra and play it all in my head. I thought it would get super-easy as I became older. An acoustic guitar was the first instrument I picked – it helped me realise that I had a knack for playing it. I kept improving my skill and familiarising myself with the instrument, until I was able to render the music playing in my head through the guitar.
Then under the mentorship of Jamal Rahman, I joined True Brew Records. He taught me everything I know about music production, and I began working on projects like Sarmad Khoosat’s Manto. Learning how to compose music; it’s one thing to compose a piece in your head you see, an entirely different matter to figure out instruments and notes, lay them down in softwares and make it sound good.
You could write the best song in the world, but if it isn't produced well, no one will listen to it. At the same time, you could write a very simple, generic song, but if it is produced well, everyone will like it. That is the way it is with 90 percent of pop music. It is a strange relationship. One needs to master both in order to make good music and be successful in this industry.
TNS: The story behind the name Gentle Robot? Is there one? Did you give yourself this name?
GR: Gentle Robot is what I would call my past-self. I was emotionally evasive and acted as if nothing affected me. My mom would tell me to emulate the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him). With a “What would Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) do” attitude, I knew he was kind and gentle towards people, even his enemies. I’d try being nice to everyone, while not acknowledging my own needs or emotions.
TNS: Do you record your music yourself, where is your studio?
GR: For the first EP, Feel, I did everything myself. I wanted it to be a passion project where I did everything from the ground up. Build it all from scratch with my own two hands. I invested all my earnings into creating a bedroom studio where I created the song Windowsills.
The guitar has been and is still the instrument I am most comfortable and familiar with. If I had a new song idea in my head regardless of the instrument, I’d figure notes out with a guitar. I also wanted to experiment with different sounds. For the first album, I used the mic to record random stuff like a tuning fork or a small toy saaz that my mom got for me as a souvenir from Turkey or some nice sounding sticks — basically, anything that could make a sound, I wanted to use it for its uniqueness and texture captured by a mic. Experimenting with things in your room is unlike anything you can hope to achieve from instruments, which provide a very limited set of notes and sounds for you to choose from.
TNS: Could you talk about the process of creating a melody? Does songwriting come first or the melody?
GR: This mostly happens when I am driving, in the shower or engaged in an activity in which my body enters autopilot and my mind can wander. Songs come like pieces of a puzzle; sometimes, I get the chorus or a verse first, and other times it is a mood to an intro, but every time it's a fully fleshed-out piece of music. All the instruments are playing together, just like they would when I was a kid thinking up orchestral movie scores.
TNS: Is the visual storytelling happening in your music videos a collaborative effort, how did they happen?
GR: For Maladaptive, I asked my good friends Syed Misbah Uddin, Altamash Sever, and Mariam Elahi to make a music video for me. They were practising visual artists who went beyond my request. They added Shehryar Beg to the team and got a bunch of other friends involved and made an entire claymation animation video. They worked hard on a daily basis for two and a half months to finish it. I am extremely grateful for such an amazing and unique music video. I haven’t seen anything like that made in Pakistan. I gave them complete creative freedom and had zero input in the storyboarding. It was all them.
For Mind Control, I wanted a music video to accompany the song. The song is about social anxiety and about a person I knew who had bipolar disorder. But for the video, I recorded all my favourite things, people, video games, anime and musicians. It served its purpose, which was to have a music video.
Slow is about my paranoid mind convincing me that things are bad even when they are great. The video is about that. I really wanted to make an animated music video, and I had zero experience in it, with very little experience in drawing or illustrating, so it was a lot of hard work. The last section was made by Zainab Zulfiqar.
For Breathe, I asked Hadi Rehman to make a video for me and gave him full creative freedom over it. He worked on it as a university project with Hira Yousafzai as the cinematographer.
TNS: The heartfelt collaborations, a coming together of the Indie music community, has played a role in your musical journey. You recently played at LMM 2020, can you share your performance experience, tell us about the musicians you performed with?
GR: The indie music scene is very close-knit and wholesome. So when you have festivals like LMM, you get to meet a lot of the musicians from the local scene for the first time. I met Adeel Tahir at LMM 2015 I think, and if it weren’t for that he wouldn’t have been collaborating with me on this album.
The lineup I finalised for LMM 2020 consisted of Syed Misbah Uddin and Luke Azariah from Keeray Makoray and Takatak respectively, Mustafa Tauseef from Wisdom Salad and Roots, Adeel Tahir from Eridu Studios, and of course, for drums, only the best, Yusuf and Daud Ramay, who play with Takatak, Keeray Makoray, Janoobi Khargosh, Poor Rich Boy, Sikandar ka Mandar, Ali Noor, Umair Jaswal, Ali Sohail and Saakin to only name a few. All extremely talented people, all multi-instrumentalists. Daud even played the glockenspiel on Maladaptive when Yusuf was on drums. All the people I am proud to call good friends, and I wanted the stage to be full of friendly faces and comfortable energy.
The crowd was extremely kind, wonderful and patient and I am extremely grateful for that. Couldn’t have asked for a better audience for my first ever show. Also extremely grateful to Natasha and Zahra for giving me the opportunity to perform on their stage alongside such amazing acts.
TNS: What do you think it is about your songs that resonate with your fan following?
GR: I try to be as honest and open with my music as I can. I feel that art is unhinged, and so in a sense connects the most with the listeners. I don’t try to hide anything or shy away from fully expressing myself. The nakedness and vulnerability of the music really shine through and I feel that is how all art should be. I can only hope that my listeners have an actual emotional response to my music and it touches them in a way that they can connect deeper with their own inner self.
TNS: Could you say what we can expect from Gentle Robot in the coming year?
GR: You can expect the second EP, titled Breathe, to be finished this year, an animated music video, the start of a third album, and maybe some 3D animations.
For a deeper dive into Gentle Robot’s music:
Gentle Robot - Maladaptive ft. Natasha Noorani - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdKo-Bj6tYk
Gentle Robot - Slow - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gzju5sDV62g
Gentle Robot - Windowsills - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcL5Ht_ZdT0
Gentle Robot - Mind Control ft. Varqa Faraid - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agpd9WYFZq8