“I killed him in a bar fight and claimed his skin” – A fish eyed poet speaks his mind

MTV Desi, May 27, 2011

Not long ago we featured the music of Adam & the Fish Eyed Poets, the one-man project of Chennai rock wunderkind Kishore Krishna, whose angsty sensibility and sharp songwriting are as much post-punk as deep blues. We caught up with Krishna to find out where he got his mojo… and what keeps him up at night.

As a bonus, we learn what a fish-eyed poet is… and whose love child Krishna killed in a bar fight in his dreams in order to take on the persona of Adam. Read on.

So how does a kid from Chennai get into the likes of Nick Cave, Patti Smith or Sonic Youth? That’s a contrast with the standard Led Zeppelin/Rolling Stones/Pink Floyd diet that many young Indians inhale…

I guess its a consequence of good parenting and the Internet. But I feel it’s an important prerequisite for an artist to understand the evolution of his tradition before he can find his place and start, erm, mining. As for the “many young Indians,” cut them some slack, man. There’s enough pressure on them already.

Another lurking influence in your music is classic R&B and the blues. There’s a lot of blues in not just your music but your themes…

My mum got me into classic R&B and Motown when I was very young. The blues I discovered when I got a little older… and as I continued to explore the pop music tapestry, I found that everything was somehow rooted in blues. So it’s something you just can’t shake. I figure it evolved and served as a platform for the genuinely downtrodden to express their overwhelming grief and yank at that that empathy nerve that sits  dead between your belly and your balls, right?

That deep, deep blue sort of melancholy somehow whetted by the white hot sexual energy in the rhythm – thud thud thud – duende I think it’s called… I don’t understand it fully yet, that whole intense penetrating sex and spirituality duality in the blues. But I know it’s something that has been around from way before recorded civilization. It’s something I try to find and channel every time I write a song.

You’ve had two projects – No Safe Word and Adam & the Fish Eyed Poets. One’s a full band and the other’s a one-man project; but they’re both pretty twisted or tormented in their own way. What neuroses and agitations are you channeling in each one?

I started No Safe Word after watching the Black Lips play Chennai. I went home that night all inspired and wrote a bunch of songs in the vein of the Cramps, the Gun Club and the Stooges. We tried playing around the circuit for a while but the lack of regular gigs and the constant compromising left me feeling more than a little disgusted. So I had to wrap it up. No one really got it anyway.

But in hindsight I think it was more of a stylistic experiment… I guess part of me just wanted to see how your average Indian metalhead would react to a little psychobilly or even a bit of hardcore punk that influenced most of the bands they’re into. And I guess another part of me just wanted to be Lux Interior.

The Fish Eyed Poets on the other hand is more of a consistently evolving vehicle that’s a lot easier to maintain because I’m not dependent on anyone or anything. As far as torment and neuroses are concerned, I just write it like I see it. With No Safe Word I was working with this stylized sex and violence thread… this Tarantino/B-grade horror comedy sort of soup inspired by the Cramps and Nick Cave’s murder ballads.

With the Fish Eyed Poets I try to find strong and often true stories with interestingly placed characters that I can really soak in… like some warped method acting (method singing?) exercise. I guess here I draw from the Smiths, Elvis Costello, the Pogues,  Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits or even Bruce Springsteen.

So what’s a Fish Eyed Poet, anyway? And who the hell is Adam?

A Fish Eyed Poet is someone who can’t see straight lines… Just floating about, following the patterns, collecting insight, and trying desperately to communicate and be functional. Adam is the theoretical love child of Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood. I killed him in a bar fight and claimed his skin.

You’ve mentioned being “stuck in India” and you’re in Chennai which has its own culture and scene and probably limitations as well. To quote the title of one of your songs, is Chennai a “purgatory town?” Do you think you’re going to need to move elsewhere for your music to grow?

Ha! That song isn’t really about Chennai. But Chennai is a depressing place to be young and/or creative. The attitude towards art here is traditionally preservative rather than being open to synthesis and that makes for a bleak and sterile landscape. But art is the least of its problem. This is the belly of the third world after all.

It’s hard to sustain any artistic pretensions when you’re faced with the kind of poverty, squalor, violence and exploitation that you witness here everyday. It leaves you unsure whether to feel guilty or grateful, disconcerted or desensitized. But it also makes it a wonderfully unique setting filled with incredible characters and stories that you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.

I’d definitely have to leave this place if I’m ever going make some money out of this because there aren’t any real prospects in India. Though I’m aware that it has made me a rather unique and peculiarly shaped artist.

Independent rock is starting to flourish in India thanks to digital media and the ability to bypass labels and industry obstacles… is it growing fast enough for you? Is there a niche appearing where music like yours, which is not trying to please anyone commercially, can get a foothold?

Photo Courtesy of Kishore Krishna

Yeah, there has been some progress but I really don’t know if you can support yourself by selling records or playing live shows yet. I think the essential problem lies in the lack of a unified sort of youth culture in this country, and that’s because of the huge unassailable differences in language and culture between regions. The English-speaking (English-thinking?) population is still a scattered and unorganized minority that hasn’t really tried to assert itself yet.

But there’s something brewing for sure. I can sense it. The kids are getting a little sick of the kind of insipid fluff they’re being force fed. It’s hard for anyone to swallow the fact that Kareena Kaif gets paid some 20 crores for flashing her hairless armpits and shaking her feather stuffed ass to some toxically banal dribble about how she wants you to touch her inappropriately—all for the supposed benefit and amusement of the millions of overworked (and undersexed) engineers that are farmed and laid off mercilessly and the firemen that are getting paid 100 rupees for putting their lives on the line. Something’s gotta give, man.

In the meantime what kind of crowd do you hang with in Chennai? Do your friends (and your family) “get” your music? Do you care if they do?

I’m pretty much a loner that spends most of his time reading, dissecting albums and movies or when I’m in a good mood, listening to strangers whine about their problems at the tea shop. But when I do socialize it’s mostly with the people I grew up with who are now the disillusioned quasi-suicidal engineers, doctors and white-collar scum in my songs. Or girls who know that they’re just gonna be married off to some confused zombie who hates his job only a little more than he hates his more intelligent and better-qualified stay-at-home wife.

My family has been extremely supportive so far and for that I’m one of the luckiest bastards around these parts. But I doubt most of the people I know or grew up with understand what I’m doing. I’m still developing my craft though, so maybe as I evolve I might be able to find a way to make it all more accessible.

Finally, if we came to visit you in Chennai, where would you take us and what would we do?

Ha! We’d go to the tea shop… where I’d give you directions to the Bangalore highway.