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A conversation with Strong Asian Mothers

Get to know Kalim Patel, Josh Stadlen and Amer Chadha-Patel

Strong Asian Mothers are a London trio consisting of Kalim Patel, Josh Stadlen and Amer Chadha-Patel and over the past year, their music has been blowing up online, thanks to a mixture of pure energy, creative madness and numerous genres influences. Of course, the HumanHuman community had a head start thanks to The Undscvrd who unearthed this alternative project two years ago following a support slot for past successful discovery Jungle.

The band recently released their debut EP, Lynx Africa, which includes singles “Out Of Love” and “The More That I”, plus newer cut “Stay Down” and “Megabucket” that was resurrected from a previous project. If you like music to move to, then you’re really going to like Strong Asian Mothers.

Would you like to introduce yourself and what you do in the band?

Kalim: I’m Kalim Patel. I sing, I play keyboards and I shake a bit of tambourine.

Josh: I’m Josh and I play drums and that’s about it really! We all produce and songwrite in equal thirds as well, so I’m also a producer and writer.

Amer: I’m Amer, I also play keys and tambourine. I also play samples on the SPD and a cymbal.

K: A single cymbal.

A: Singular! I dance and sing for parts of the songs as well when I’m not playing anything.

Let’s talk about your band name, which is rather brilliant in itself and rememberable to say the least. Tell me, what’s the origin story behind it?

A: So, Khushi [Kalim] and I grew up together and both of our mothers and a lot of our friends’ mothers were part of a group of young, gunslinging, Asian women in London, either divorced or single or slightly left-field of the norm in the 80s and 90s.

J: Independent women.

A: Independent women, yeah! We grew up in a group of wild, free-thinking children with wild, free-thinking Asian mothers. It was a solid matriarchy. When we formed the band we decided to honour that by naming it after them.

K: It was his girlfriend who came up with the name.

A: My Suki came up with it, yeah.

K: From the first moment I heard it, I was like “yep!”

It’s good that she’s finally being credited!

K: She’s been credited in every interview!

A: And they cut it out every time.

That’s about how you two met, but how about all three of you?

J: Kalim and I went to sixth form together. We used to play in a rock band, and we were doing that for about seven years before we cottoned on to the fact that it wasn’t going anywhere. We stuck with it for quite a while, but yeah, when these guys started up Strong Asian Mothers, I wanted in! When we were in our old rock band The Mercers, there was one summer where we were going to do this hip-hop project. We planned to write four or five hip-hop tunes and then - rap! It was going to be a joke, like a parody, but then…

K: That’s how some of the best things begin, as a parody.

A: That’s how this band began, as a parody, we’re not a real band!

J: So then I did a remix of “Fat Bottomed Girls” by Queen, played it to Kush and Amer and they were like, let’s play this in Strong Asian Mothers. Then they asked me to play for them, and that was that!

I can imagine working as a trio involves plenty of compromise, but have there ever been any clashes over what you wanted the band to sound like?

A: [Laughs] every day!

K: That’s part of what makes us who we are, it’s the collaboration.

Yeah, and you said that you each take a third of everything.

J: Well, not always. We don’t always try to make sure that everyone has an equal third in every single song. We all write equally and for any song that is mainly from one of us, there will be another that is mainly from someone else. It all evens out. Yeah, there are clashes, but it’s healthy clashes.

A: I think we made a commitment to be part of a project where everyone is equally represented, so whether someone is a songwriter or someone is a frontman, it’s all irrelevant because every single thing that comes out of this project represents all three of us. It becomes a question of signing everything off as a trio, so even if Kushi writes a whole song, whether we’ve had any influence, we then decide if it’s something that actually represents us in a way that we want it to. I think that makes it better, because we only bring stuff to the table that we feel is appropriate. That comes from knowing these people for like fifteen years and more!

I think we made a commitment to be part of a project where everyone is equally represented, so whether someone is a songwriter or someone is a frontman, it’s all irrelevant because every single thing that comes out of this project represents all three of us.
Amer from Strong Asian Mothers

I guess that collaboration is why people might struggle to pin down a genre, because there’s so many different influences.

A: Yeah, definitely! But we love that.

K: Definitely, definitely.

J: All three of us have our own passions, especially music that we’ve grown up with and love. Amer in particular has the most ridiculously vast taste, like metal, which Khush and I don’t really like, but Amer loves it! Whereas I grew up listening to jazz, so I have this perverse jazz side of me that occasionally rears its head. Khush likes Top 40 pop music.

K: Yeah, I like the Now That’s What I Call music hits. Number 24, 97… you know all the legends like Britney, Christina Aguilera, Boyzone.

A: [Constant laughing] yeah, yeah, we’ve all got pretty eclectic tastes.

J: Amer definitely has the most eclectic.

A: It’s not a skill, it’s a flaw. This is not a competition!

What do you guys think about the music industry’s need to label and categorise everything?

K: It’s think it’s sick, man! I love that shit. Actually we did get a good genre description the other day.

A: From The Most Radicalist.

K: Hip-hop alt-pop. It rhymes as well! I think that’s the only genre I’ve ever heard that I’ve been satisfied with.

A: Yeah, we’ve been described before as alternative pop or chill electro...

I think it’s quite far from chill!

A: It’s very far from chill electro! On that subject, I think it’s kind of sad that everything has to be pigeon-holed, but everyone sees that for what it is.

J: I think it’s fine, because ultimately people are listening to the music and the genre that you’re labelled with becomes immediately irrelevant.

A: We usually just make up a new genre for every song.

K: We once told a group of people we met that we played “armchair stack”, which was just a phrase that we had invented. They were like, “we love armchair stack!”

A: Why did we invent that...? Oh yeah, we had loads of amps on an armchair once, so we made up armchair stack.

K: From that day on we lost faith in human nature.

A: What would you call us if you had to describe it?

If I had to… alternative dance-pop. Maybe!

A: Alternative dance-pop, add it to the list guys!

I find it really interesting, because so many bands seem to hate genre labels these days, but it’s good to see that you’re just embracing it and saying “give us whatever you’ve got!”

A: Yeah, we’ve only had one that has summed us up, and the other attempts haven’t quite. I think that’s because we know our sound is kind of all over the place, but in a good way, so nothing can really hurt us. It’s like if someone was like, “they’re goth clash!”, we would just be like, “Er, okay.”

J: I just don’t think it matters! If you feel that strongly about it, then maybe that’s because you have some kind of insecurity about your music being generic.

K: Burned up!

A: Woah, Josh is bringing the fire to the fans!

K: No, no, it’s exactly the thought that went through my mind as well.

J: For example, if we were making music that was quite derivative of Mumford and Sons and people were saying it sounds just like that, then I would be pissed, because I’d be like “oh it’s true, dammit!”

K: Yeah, or if you’re making indie-rock and everyone was only saying indie-rock, then we wouldn’t want to be that. I always find it quite interesting, just any attempts to put any genres on us. It doesn’t really bother me.

J: Also, most importantly, I don’t think it ever affects us and the way that we look at our music.

A: I was going to say, and it’s kind of a cliche, that we literally write most of this stuff for ourselves. That’s literally how it started. At no point we were like, “this is going to be a hit, so we’ve got to go in this direction with it.” It’s hard enough for us three to say it’s done, so by that point, it is whatever it is. There’s loads of tracks that clash with each other, but it works.

At no point we were like, ‘this is going to be a hit, so we’ve got to go in this direction with it.’
Amer from Strong Asian Mothers

You’re writing this project for yourselves, but have you been involved in other things before?

K: Oh yeah, well I’ve got a solo project, called Khushi Music.

A: Khushi’s coming back in a big way by the way. I’ve heard the new material, it’s utterly inappropriate for our band, but it’s great for him.

K: And Josh produces...

J: Yeah, I do a little bit of production for other people. I have a solo production project in an embryonic state, that will probably never be played to any other human ears. Other than that, there was The Mercers, that indie-rock band we used to be in. I also used to do session work as a drummer for other artists.

A: I’ve mostly been in wedding bands. I’ve played in like three wedding bands in my life, and they’ve all been amazing! I’m actually a filmmaker, that’s my job. I’ve been doing that forever, that was my career path, but music was always my passion. I’m also an actor, I’ve been in a lot of things, like small bit parts and commercials. Basically, fingers in pies.

K: He’s also a phenomenal DJ! AKA Chocolate Susan.

I haven’t noticed these little nicknames!

K: Yeah, so I’m K9, Khaotic, Kali-P, K-Twizzle.

A: They’re all variations of hip-hop names. Our wannabe hip-hop alter-egos! [Towards Josh] here we have Rogan Josh, Josh Posh Beats, J-Dillaworth.

J: That’s because my middle name is Dillworth.

A: I’m Chocolate Susan, Amer-change-your-life, Amer-millionaire.

K: Do we have to go on with those?

I think I’ve got enough! Strong Asian Mothers has been going for longer than your online presence would suggest, as two years ago, you played with Jungle. How did that come about?

K: I think that was just through our booking agent.

J: That’s decent knowledge by the way!

A: Yeah, on HumanHuman the first post is like two years ago talking about the Jungle gig and they’ve been tracking us since then.

So, what was it like to play with Jungle?

A: Well, we actually played after them.

J: Yeah, they were supporting us, technically.

A: They were amazing and we loved it, but then we had to go on after them which was terrible because they took all their lights away, so we had to go on a really empty stage and play not as famous music. It was really fun though.

Well more recently, we’ve been hearing “The More That I” and “Out Of Love”, but do you have a favourite track from the new EP?

J: “Stay Down” for me, personally.

K: There’s a video for “Stay Down” with a fifty-piece choir in it which we’re really happy with. There’s also a song on the EP called “Megabucket”. [To Josh] so, “Stay Down” is your favourite?

J: I think so, although “Megabucket” has a special place in my heart because it was originally a song that was played in a different band a lifetime ago. I used to play in a jazz hip-hop fusion band.

Did it have a name?

J: Erm, yeah… it had a name. We were called the J H Collective and we had a rapper and horns and it was jazzy.

K: Josh is a recovering jazz addict.

A: Can you say which famous people were in your band?

J: Yeah, we had Michael Kiwanuka playing guitar for us, Mark Crown who now plays trumpet for Rudimental, and rapping we had Jack Hughes and Street Journalist, who is now an actor in the Lion King on the West End. But yeah, “Megabucket” was one of that band’s favourites and it became something much better. It has found it’s home and it’s a beautiful thing to see that track released into the world finally.

A: You were so happy with that. It’s like nine years old that song. I think “Megabucket” is my favourite too.

I would say that my favourite is “The More That I”.

K: Mine too.

Yeah! Well for me it comes down to how the words add to the overall rhythm of the song, they’re snappy. I was wondering, does one of you take the lead with lyrics, or is that a collaborative process?

J: At the moment, most of the vocal content is from Kalim, although we’re all branching into writing vocals and lyrics, but Kalim has the most experience as a singer. [To Kalim] sorry, I’m speaking on your behalf!

K: It’s fine. On that point, it’s a funny thing for us because having being influenced by so much hip-hop, but feeling it might be awkward for us to rap… In “The More That I”, there’s an influence in terms of the importance placed on rhythm in the melody.

A: In “Out Of Love” too. It’s basically secret rapping.

“Out Of Love” is a song that seems to be about a break-up and all the feelings surrounding that. Why do you think that music so often comes back to this idea of falling in love, falling out of it and everything in between?

K: Because in our sheltered Western lives, it’s the most intense thing we will go through.

Woah, that is one quote right there!

A: That’s it, cut it there!

J: Anything you add to that is going to be an anti-climax.

K: True, true. It’s really easy to put down the feelings of love, but it is an intense thing that we all go through as human beings.

A: It’s also a really easy thing to feel comfortable to write about, because you know that people will understand. It’s a human feeling, and that transcends all creed, race, religion. You’re not putting too much on the line by singing about a subject that everyone can experience.

K: I guess it’s also different from a classic break-up song, which are like “oh fuck, my heart’s broken, I miss you.” I guess this is celebrating the other side of break-ups, which can be quite liberating and energizing. It can be a new chapter and a new lease of life if you’ve left a relationship that you felt was no longer right for you. There’s that side of break-ups too, which isn’t that commonly talked about.

To move on to something a little less intense, how on earth did you convince your mums to do the Mothers Interview?

A: Our mums, and this is something we learnt from the interview, they represent us quite easily, a little too well, and that was an embarrassing revelation for me! My mum couldn’t fucking wait. Straight on there, she was like “oh yeah, I’ll do that!”

J: I was absolutely convinced as soon as the idea came up that there was no way I was going to get my mum to do it. Since I’ve known her… [laughs] which is most of my life! She’s always hated having her photograph taken, but as soon as I mentioned it she was really up for it and she ended up being a star! She was amazing.

K: She’s an undercover comic genius!

J: What was the amazing quote? I think it was when the video came out and we shared it on Facebook and my mum saw it, she showed my dad because he doesn’t have Facebook.

A: Then she sent me a private message!

J: Yeah, she sent it to Amer, she didn’t even tell me! She sent Amer a private message saying… [starts laughing] my dad’s called Godfrey by the way, as a prerequisite to this story.

A: Josh’s mum messaged me saying, “Love the video. Thank you so much! Godfrey is tickled pink. You’re brilliant. Shout out to Amer Chadha-Patel and his tight swags.” [all three burst out laughing]

I also really, really loved the debate over plug-ins!

A: That was a last minute thing, so the way we did that is that we interviewed ourselves, transcribed the answers and gave it to our mums to just be us. We only gave them couple of things to talk about, but they ended up getting into an argument anyway!

It was pretty convincing! On that point, how do you think things like plug-ins and digital audio workstations are affecting the sound of current music?

K: In many ways it democratizing it, because otherwise it means you have to wait until you have loads of money behind you to get into a studio.

J: It levels the playing field, doesn’t it? Everyone is now releasing music in the same way.

K: As long as you can afford a laptop, because that’s not everyone, but it’s definitely more than can afford a studio. It also gives people more time to experiment and play around with sounds, because in a studio you have this fixed time where you have to write music mainly in the rehearsal room or on the run. Whereas now, you can construct it bit by bit and experiment. I think it’s an exciting new chapter.

A: It’s also teaching me to respect simple songwriting, because there’s so much on offer that I can kind of freak out with all the plug-ins and we have so many samples. You just have to remember that as long as the chord progression is good, and the lyrics and melody works, then everything else is just filler. You have to start with something good. I was listening to Q-Tip the other day, who I really love, and thinking this is so simple and really good. Or I’ll get in the car and I’ll be listening to J-Dilla with an amazing drum production and a really simple guitar line, and the only thing on top of that is vocals. In comparison to our music, it’s so simple! That is totally achievable with what we have, without any need to go as far as do. Learning to reign it in a bit has been the most valuable lesson for me. I can go fucking mental! And I have done, there’s so much stuff on my computer that’s just not for anybody. It’s basically the ramblings of a madman who likes metal and hip-hop.

J: As a production-based trio, it can be overwhelming and you can become obsessed with becoming a really technically accomplished producer and learning all the ins and outs of your DAW. You can get really hung up on that and it can become really problematic, because you stop focussing on what’s really important and start trying to sound like Flume and produce like Hudson Mohawke. I was recently reminded by a friend that the most important thing is to have really strong core content. The source material that you’re working from, whether that’s a really strong sample or chord progression or melody or vocal idea, that’s the most important thing and everything after that is filler.

A: On the flipside, and as the least technically adept musician in this band, I have an instinct for music and I really like it and I can write chords, but I’m not the best musician, but I’ve been able to get very, very far with DAWs. I’ve been able to achieve stuff with my computer that is remarkable for someone who can’t actually play music very well.

K: That’s a good point, because it’s also enabled me to do things I couldn’t have, because I’m not a technically advanced musician either. There’s a long-running condition in popular music of not technically advanced musicians just doing their thing, but it gives them their own style.

A: Like Michael Jackson.

K: Well, not really, he was a very technically advanced singer.

A: But he couldn’t really play any instruments, but he would write whole songs in his head. Imagine what he would have done if he had Logic!

I think it was really interesting that you’ve all said you have to find a balance between technicalities and sticking to your original goal. Referring back to the Mothers’ Interview, Amer’s mum outlines your aim as “to form a band where you could play at a party with relative ease and people would dance regardless of knowing it”.

A: You’re quoting my mum!

K: That’s the genre label we want, dance regardless.

Has that goal been achieved?

K: We’re on the way to achieving it.

A: No, I think we achieved it. I think we achieved it very early on, and we’re on changing our tune a bit. This band started with a few hip-hop beats Khush had written and a few instrumentals from me that we thought would be good to put on a backing track and then we could just take some top-line melodies and a couple of keyboards to play live. At that point, the sole aim was to make music for parties. We had no idea what we were, we would just dance along! That was the essence of dance regardless. Since then we’ve grown exponentially as actual songwriters.

J: I don’t think that’s our sole ambition anymore, to turn up at a venue and make people dance.

So, you’ve gone past the initial goal now?

J: Well, I think we’ve just adjusted what we want. That’s still definitely an important angle, we don’t want to turn up to gigs and play music that doesn’t move people in a physical way. I don’t think we’ll ever write any kind of music that doesn’t achieve that, but our aim includes other things now too.

A: That will always be an element of our songwriting, for the foreseeable future. We’re not likely to go in and write an acoustic song. Well, we might do at some point, but we’ll know if it’s right or wrong for the project, because we might not be defined by the idea behind the band which is to play boisterous party music.

For my last question, where can people go dance along to your music next?

A: We’re doing Secret Garden Party on the 22nd of July. Also Bestival, Cirque Du Soul, El Dorado Festival.

K: Anyone who lives in Beirut, we might be playing there too.

This article is written by Hannah Thacker and was published 8 months ago.

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