Love Songs for Depressives: in conversation with Shorbanoor
Shehzad Noor: Yeah because this isn’t indie, this is death pop.
Me: What does that mean, death pop?
SN: It means really depressing stuff.
Jamal Rahman: Love songs for depressives.
Love songs for depressives is a pretty accurate summary of Shorbanoor, the solo outfit of Shehzad Noor, previously a member of the band ‘Poor Rich Boy’. And while there certainly is an element of melancholy and malaise in Shorbanoor’s discography, there’s also a playfulness and an, albeit dark, sense of humour. There are more than a few bouts of laughter from the crowd when the band, made up of Shehzad Noor, Jamal Rahman, Sameer Ahmed and Fahad Khan, play at Lahore’s True Brew Records.
Songs about suburban middle class ennui isn’t something particularly new. The National have long been the flag-bearers for uncertain and depressed college kids (me inc), and Father John Misty, too, has been more postmodern cynical urbanite. But if there’s something refreshing about Shorbanoor, it’s Noor’s willingness not only to be earnest, but to not clearly signpost when he’s being earnest.
There’s a brief moment of awkwardness when I point out to him that his music can move easily between the sweet sincerity of ‘In You Go, Indigo’ – ‘I wrote that for my wife’, Noor says – and the darkly comic repetition of ‘Can you hear the amputee? I’m living with an amputee’ in ‘Eyes Azure’. ‘I was being serious with that actually’, says Noor, totally deadpan. I move over to the next question swiftly, but really that’s what’s interesting about Shorbanoor as a lyrical project. Sometimes, the postmodern signposting of ‘I AM BEING CYNICAL NOW’, which then transfers to ‘I AM BEING BRIEFLY HEARTFELT’ can become exhausting and cliche. When he adopts a thick desi accent in ‘Very Sexy’, there’s the danger of it being mocking and unnecessary, but I think there’s genuine love there that makes it endearing.
In the middle of the set, Shorbanoor play ‘NSFW’, an expletive-filled little tune with a simple melody. ‘And I fucking quit’, he sings, to laughter and applause with every added ‘fuck’. It’s determinedly and refreshingly uncommercial. But when asked about the ‘indie scene’ in Pakistan, about music being made outside of the mainstream avenues of corporate-branded content, the band seems cagier, a little wary.
Me: With regards to the indie scene in Lahore, if there is much of one…
Jamal Rahman: Please don’t call it an indie scene.
JR: It’s too much of a blanket term. It’s become too much of a blanket term the way underground used to be in the 90’s, and it’s just not fair to people who are operating outside of the mainstream to be called indie, it’s not appropriate.
Me: You think it’s just a corrupted term.
JR: Yeah, I think it’s too vague.
Me: Don’t you think that’s a good thing, because you can branch everything under a single movement.
JR: No! That’s what I’m contending!
Me: But you’re just against the mainstream.
Fahad Khan: I mean, I would love it if this was mainstream. We’re not against the mainstream, if it could be that would be great.
ShehzadNoor: If it was mainstream we could get more shows, and I could actually pay these guys.
JR: After every show Shehzi is like ‘thank you guys!’
Regardless of the status of indie, alternative or mainstream music in Pakistan, there certainly is an audience for Shehzad Noor’s mind spilling out. And even though Shorbanoor is a more personal project, the sound keeps getting bigger. At one point in the show, the band trigger one of those big, totally self-indulgent psychedelic breakdowns, complete with synth wobbles, amp feedback, pitch shifts, the lot. It’s wonderful. It’s special to see Noor switch from being a bedroom singer-songwriter to this bigger sound, embracing the different interpretations of each band member on his music.
It’s special to see Noor switch from being a bedroom singer-songwriter to this bigger sound, embracing the different interpretations of each band member, open to evolution.
SN: I wrote these songs by myself and I came here and showed it to these guys and they arranged them and added their parts and it was very much a collective process.. would you agree with that?
ALL: Yeah, to some extent.
JR: Musically I would say.
FK: Yeah definitely, I felt like they were my songs now.
SN: That’s cool that was what I was aiming for.
FK: Composition wise we all put stuff into it.
ME: So it’s quite collaborative.
JR: That’s why it sounds like a band. Everybody wrote their own parts.
SN: That’s one of the differences, that’s what I felt, and felt good about that. Came over here, threw it in and everyone made it their own.
But as big as the sound gets, as much as the band composes organically, the seed of Shorbanoor will always centre around Noor’s lyrical phrases and unique melodies. He mentions that he’s inspired by Nick Cave and Tom Waits, and Ezra Pound and the Imagist movement get referenced too. It’s this amalgam of references, together with his oddball sense of humour, that sets Noor apart. They might love songs for depressives, but there’s a lot of fun here too.