Archive for the 'DonkeyBox' Category

20 Years of Playing (my one) Electric Guitar

Atul you’ve got a big box in the post today, it is by the phone waiting for you.

My flatmate of 1997 informed me on a cold November evening somewhere in Hammersmith, London. I had spent £340 on this big box, which in those days for a 3rd year undergraduate was a lot of money. The delivery was for my first ever, and the only electric guitar I have owned, an Epiphone Les Paul (licence by Gibson, yeah that Gibson reference is important!).

Atul Rana Les Paul Guitar

Cleaning up my guitar headstock. Sometime in 1999 before a party.

1990s Indie rock ‘n roll kid..sort of

Ah 1997, the height of Indie rock music in the UK; The Verve, Oasis, Ocean Colour Scene, Kula Shaker et all were where rock music was at. Yeah sure Barbie Girl by Aqua and Britney Spears were the new sensation but I was all about geeeeetaaaar and rock! But Indie rock is not what inspired me to buy my electric guitar. I was more wowed by the guitar sounds of Aerosmith, Guns ‘N Roses, Def Leppard, U2 etc.

It took me a very long time to decide on what guitar I was going to buy and consulted quite a few friends at the time who also played electric guitar. I had already been playing acoustic guitar for a year and I managed to fight with it enough to play a few riffs. When I say fight it, that’s because acoustic guitars are hard to play for a beginner and I had overcome a big hurdle by playing a bunch of chords and riffs on it. I had also just spent the Summer of 1997 in Newcastle where I met my long term friend Zaff. Zaff was an incredible guitarist and musician and in him I met a true friend and musical mentor. He taught me quite a few things about music in those early days. And I had got to play his electric guitars a lot during the summer of 1997 in Newcastle.

Dilemma : U2 sound or GnR?

My big dilemma for a guitar look and sound boiled down to basically two opposing soundscapes.

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Gold top

The Edge sound (U2) vs Slash (Guns ‘N Roses). Those bands are well and truly epic and the guitar sounds could not be more different. Edge with a rythmic, delay soaked chime and Slash with his blazing thick riffs and long melodic solos. I wanted both but alas could only buy one guitar. I went for the Slash option in the end, and quite literally bought the Gold top colour guitar that is part of his signature look. I figured that The Edge did ocassionally use Les Pauls and you could get a good enough U2 sound from a Les Paul. But you can’t get a Stratocaster to sound like Slash. So that was it, I ordered my first electric guitar on the internet by a phone call made on a landline. And as for that guitar not sounding like an Edge type, well I got pretty close to it in this cover I did, shown in this glorious video recording.

At the time I wasn’t sure if I was going to be a guitarist or a singer and being in a band was still very much a dream. My guitar playing progressed very slowly from 1997 to 1999. Between 1999 and 2000 I lived in Aldershot with some art students. Somehow they really appreciated my guitar playing and I first started performing in public then at campfires then later at house parties and jam sessions. In early 2000 my friend Zaff was in a band in Newcastle, I went to see him perform and for the first time ever I got to learn how things work in a band from him first hand. I was impressed and decided I wanted to be in a band too!

2000 : I join my first band

As soon as I started my PhD at Imperial College I auditioned to join a band, and I had decided it was going to be as a singer who played guitar rather than the other way round.

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The Guns t-shirt and guitar 🙂

I joined my first band Melodion and my guitar playing progressed fast, my singing progressed even faster. The discipline of band practice, being forced to learn entire songs from start to finish, keep in time with the drummer and band *and* to deliver great vocals and a performance was frankly a lot to take on. I rose to the challenge and thankfully Frank the lead guitarist of Melodion (my first band) really encouraged me. My identity of a singer who also played guitar was being reconsidered as I was far better at singing at that point than guitar. In fact with covers like Creeping Death by Metallica I couldn’t play and sing at the same time, and with Under the Bridge by Chili Peppers only one guitar was needed. However other covers like Cats in the Cradle and Britney Spears’s Hit Me were truly enhanced by two guitar parts. I refused to let go of my guitar and continued to play and sing.

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DonkeyBox featuring me and lead guitarist Matt Jones in 2002, both with Les Paul guitars at the time, rock!

It took a good 6 months before I hit the stage with a full blown gig with Melodion. We had started going on stage as a band for jam nights. When I wore my electric guitar on stage live I became larger than life, I became an extension of who I am and I could break out of the shackles of the shy and quiet guy. Sometimes I felt out of place playing guitar and singing live, yet I also felt like it helped me release an inner intensity and energy in a way I never was able to before. With the years I got more used to being on stage and my identity as a live rock and punk guy.

2002 onwards – DonkeyBox days

The most I have used my electric guitar is with my band DonkeyBox. From 2002 to now in 2018 it is the only electric guitar I have used. In 2000 the lead guitarist of Melodion Frank realised that both our guitars were sounding ‘bad’ at higher volumes. We didn’t know much about tone but we did know to get the same quality at higher volumes we needed new guitar pickups. Frank was doing a PhD in Electrical Engineering so I trusted him on this. He went to New York on holiday and got me some brand new guitar pickups. Two DiMarzio’s – Super Distortion for the bridge pickup and Norton Air for the neck pick-up. Apparently the guitar dude in the shop recommended these in the NY shop for a heavy rock sound.

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Wearing that guitar on stage makes me come alive as the gods of rock power me up.

And boy were these pickups spot on. They utterly transformed the sound of my guitar. The guitar sounded fresh, large, lively and clear both in clean and distored settings. Over the years I have got my distortion out of the Metal Zone MT 2 pedal. My tone tends to be a little more abrasive with a AC DC feel to it. The lead guitar tone in the band is a bit softer as that tone can cut through guitar solos. We found the perfect tones between the two guitars in DonkeyBox.

Open Mic Nights : The Rise and Fall of Les Paul

Can there be too much of a good thing? I started playing open mic nights and started performing solo in 2010. It was terrifying at first, even more terrifying going on stage with a band for the first time. I had nothing to back me up and my voice and guitar tone would be standing out completely on their own. I performed open mic night after night, more on stage in them than with my band in total.

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I loved playing open mic nights.

In 2014 I had to retire my Les Paul from open mic nights and got a brand new electro acoustic. The electric guitar wasn’t great for solo accompaniment for the type of songs I was playing. The guitar was mostly plugged through venue PA systems and sounded horrific through them. I got a joyo pedal to simulate the sound of an amp but still it never really cut through. The set up with an electric guitar and solo vocals was simply out of place. So as much as I had to detach from my identity and look with my trusty gold top Les Paul, I did so in 2014. The Les Paul is saved for what it does best…rock ‘n roll in a band or studio setting.

Should I get more guitars?

I’ve had a remarkably monogamous relationship with my electric guitar. Once I had my guitar and had the new pickups installed, it really worked like a dream for me. I had developed my own tone and playing style on it. Both the clean and dirty sounds work brilliantly for me and I have never felt the need to buy another electric guitar.

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At open mic nights, giving it all even with very few people in the audience.

However as I get older and listen to more subtle tones in guitar I am tempted to finally get ‘The Edge’ guitar aka a Stratocaster too. But then there is also the Telecaster option, and a PRS and why not Ibanez (by my fav guitarist Joe Satriani). I can see why many of my lead guitarist friends now have more than 5 guitars! The electric guitar is a beautiful and iconic instrument, the wood ages and the tones improves. So I look forward to the next 20 years of service from my trusty old Les Paul.

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Becoming More Like Music

A few weeks ago I head this quote floating around the men’s self development and dating community..

BE MUSIC

The music doesn’t care if anyone is listening to it,
it’s just gonna keep pumping,
it’s just gonna keep putting itself out there even if there’s nobody on the dance floor.

Later, when the dance floor is filled with people and everyone is moving, the music still doesen’t care.

It’s just doing what it has always been doing, and loving every moment of it.
The music affects the dancers but the dancers aren’t affecting the music.

I found this quote really inspirational and it is becoming the way I want to perform music myself..for me this quote can now mean.

MY MUSIC

My music doesn’t care if anyone is listening to it,
I’m just going to keep singing,
I’ll keep singing if there is no one listening, I’ll sing at small places, big places, empty rooms, full rooms, I’ll sing in my room, I’ll sing if I can’t find other musicians  to play besides me.

I’ll keep putting my music out there.

Later, when the place is filled with people and everyone is moving, my music still doesen’t care, I will do what I’ve always done, and play the music.

And I will love every minute of it.

The First Song I Ever Wrote – 10 Years Ago

I sat in the piano room with my acoustic guitar and tape recorder trying to come up with a vocal melody and idea for a song. I was really, really determined to write and launch the first song my band DonkeyBox was going to perform. We weren’t sure how the song was going to go down and were cautious in our enthusiasm for it. It was after all far easier to play songs by other bands that got great reception. We had done this for over a year, and it really was time for me to step up to the plate and deliver something new and original.

On 6 June 2003, on a hot and dark Imperial College Union venue, which was practically empty, I finally performed an original piece of music that me and the band wrote. To finally perform an original creation was a phenomenal feeling!

Our current lead guitarist Matt had sent a demo to the band which was purely instrumental. This had to be converted into a full song. I liked the guitar riff Matt had and thought hard on what this could mean as a song but nothing came to me. And one evening while trying to go to sleep late at night in my student flat, I heard some chatter from the kitchen. The chatter made me angry and bought feelings of frustration forward. The next morning I was able to write lyrics to the dark, somewhat twisted and angst filled song The Score. I had used a Guns ‘N Roses song for inspiration of course 🙂

As a band I have now performed that song for 10 years, and it remains our most powerful song, which comes right at the end of our set as grand finale, there’s no other place for it really. At the time I wrote and performed it, I could not have dreamt it would last this long and that people would connect to it in the way that they have done.

In 2005 we modified the song and we compressed it in length and sharpened its structure (video link above), but at the heart of it, the score remains The Score.

How Do I Find My Drive As a Singer?

I found this amazing quote that has been floating around the musician community for the last week or so on Facebook, and it struck a chord with me. I also played a gig last weekend and I am in a nice buzz so this is perfect time to write about this.

Singers and Musicians are some of the most driven, courageous people on the face of the earth. They deal with more day-to-day rejection in one year than most people do in a lifetime. Every day, they face the financial challenge of living a freelance lifestyle, the disrespect of people who think they should get real jobs, and their own fear that they’ll never work again. Every day, they have to ignore the possibility that the vision they have dedicated their lives to is a pipe dream. With every note, they stretch themselves, emotionally and physically, risking criticism and judgment. With every passing year, many of them watch as the other people their age achieve the predictable milestones of normal life – the car, the family, the house, the nest egg. Why? Because musicians and singers are willing to give their entire lives to a moment – to that melody, that lyric, that chord, or that interpretation that will stir the audience’s soul. Singers and Musicians are beings who have tasted life’s nectar in that crystal moment when they poured out their creative spirit and touched another’s heart. In that instant, they were as close to magic, God, and perfection as anyone could ever be. And in their own hearts, they know that to dedicate oneself to that moment is worth a thousand lifetimes.

– David Ackert, LA Times

Although not all musicians are motivated by these things, and believe me I have met a lot of musicians and each has their own reason for being a musician, ranging from “I got a guitar once” hobby to others who’ve left their jobs and tour round the world in run down vans with barely any petrol and food money.

As a singer a lot of these things in that quote really struck out to me, perhaps most so was the fact that you put your most vulnerable self out there. There is a lot of rejection as well during the process and so much uncertainty and a sense of being in an unreal world.

However, what makes it truly worth it is self expression and giving a glimpse of that magic moment to others, I believe it is this magic moment of pure emotion that connects people to songs, and I for one am really glad I found singing and expressing myself via music.

How I Started My Band DonkeyBox 10 years ago

I had finally done it. It was October 2000 and I fulfilled the dream of my life by being in a band. The band was called Melodion and I was singer and rhythm guitarist. In March 2001 I played my first gig on stage. I was a nervous wreck for most of it, but I loved every moment of finally being able to play and sing on stage.

Atul playing guitar in 2000

Me playing guitar in 2000. Well before I’d been in any bands.

By early 2002 however, the band I was recruited to had now split up as the drummer had moved out of the country and the manager/lead guitarist was moving to Ireland soon. These sort of scenarios were to play out several times again, little did I know at the time.

So me and the bassist of the time seeked out a lead guitarist and a drummer. We got a reply from a duo who seemed to fit in exactly what we wanted musically and personnel wise. We weren’t dissapointed. We met up at the Imperial College rehearsal room on 9 March 2002.

Boom! DonkeyBox was formed.

After joining the band it turned out that I was actually running the band too. And that involved a whole myriad of things, which is an experience in itself to write about for another bunch of blog posts.

Running and being in DonkeyBox has been such an incredible experience, it has been one of the biggest constants in my life and one of the major driving and motivating forces to me. I have had some tough times and it has been there to rescue me from dark moments. And I’ve had some awesome times from it, in fact I love every gig as I blogged earlier.

So here’s to the next 10 years.

Entering the T-shirt Business

I had no idea how difficult it was going to set myself up as a t-shirt salesman, it turned out to be quite a project. So much so it is worthy of it’s own blog post under the “DonkeyBox” category 🙂

I have been asked for DonkeyBox t-shirts a lot! And in 2009 I found a designer who was designing flyers for us. She designed us a cool new logo, which gave us a newer edgy identity, which I think was necessary as Crap Day and DonkeyBox were giving us too much of a goofy, jokey identity. Without changing the name she made something edgier and more in sync with our music.

So in 2009 I had promised a t-shirt was coming to fans and now I couldn’t find anyone to print them at a good price. Time went on and by 2010 I tried an online t-shirt company that could print and deliver one off t-shirts. Bingo! this surely had to be the solution right? Not quite, with the logo and just one graphic the t-shirt came out to be £17 including delivery. This was way too much already and I really couldn’t sell t-shirts even at this price (where I would make 0 profit) to fans. The company didn’t do bulk orders either.

Donkey Box t-shirt

The most expensive t-shirt I ever bought 🙂

I was now stuck and the t-shirt idea was dead and buried, just way too expensive. Luckily on the way to the gym where I live there is a t-shirt printer and I walked in and start chatting to the guy. As the band’s first gig in 2011 (after a 9 month hiatus) was coming there really was no better time to get these t-shirts to print.

But there was another hitch, although the unit price to print each t-shirt was easily sub £10 there was a set up cost that added to the total cost. I was skint by this stage as it was September and I hadn’t tutored for 2 months, I really was on a big low in terms of money. With no guarantee of return I wasn’t going to find any investors so I took some money out of my savings account and went for the advance order!

I told the t-shirt printer guy that I simply couldn’t afford a print run of 20 t-shirts. He kindly reduced the print cost per t-shirt but couldn’t reduce the set-up fee. At this point I hit another hitch. The t-shirt had been designed about 2 years ago but our designer was now totally awol, she had dissapeared off the earth man! And I needed a vectorised form of the design. I certainly hadn’t got a clue how to do this on my own. So I scrambled an appeal on Facebook and Twitter and one of my friends found a friend who is a professional graphic designer. However, this vectorisation cost me money that I didn’t plan for 😦

But I went ahead anyway! I paid everyone out of my savings and got some t-shirts printed eventually just in time for the gig. I just about managed to keep the costs low enough to make a tiny bit of profit from selling the t-shirts. What was important to me that the t-shirts don’t cost more than £10 to fans.

I am glad to say I have sold some t-shirts already, and even sent one to Japan. So there you go, whoever thought it would be so difficult to get a bunch of band t-shirts printed at good value? And now that the print has been made there will never be a set up or vectorisation cost again. The t-shirt printer can use the print mould he made earlier and each repeat order is cheaper as now there is no set up cost and I don’t have to pay a designer!

Despite the many setbacks, I knew t-shirts is something loads of our fans would enjoy and I am proud to be now a t-shirt salesman as well. While I could’ve given free CDs to friends all over the world (at a personal loss of £1 per CD plus whatever postage and packaging I paid extra) I’ve had to be very disciplined by not giving away t-shirts free (despite the temptation). Being skint taught me a valuable lesson in cutting costs, sticking to your guns, haggling with suppliers and going for it solo when it comes to band investments like this.

Snippets – April 2011

Record Tutoring Away from London

Gosh it has been a crazy busy April this year. I have been away from home for most of the month travelling up and down the country. I have been busier this Easter tutoring than any other before, ever. And mostly away from London tutoring at different families. When I went up on my travels North I packed up clothing for 3 weeks and for all seasons as you really don’t know what you are going to get! Luckily I never needed my jumpers as the weather has been phenomenal.

And some of my tutoring views have been utterly specatacular, from the beach house in Soctland to the Dales in North Yorkshire and the country house in Leicestershire, I have seen some great places in great weather. Check out the beach house videoblog.

This much tutoring has taken it’s toll though and being away for so long has been quite tiring, so I will be cutting back on residential work for next year and focusing more on London again.

Royal Wedding and DonkeyBox

There’s such a great air of excitement in London today, which is of course the big Royal Wedding between William and Catherine Middleton. It is a national holiday in a run up to a long bank holiday. It is good to see a happy spirit and a sense of patriotism in the country as a whole. It is rare to have national holidays and patriotic celebrations here. There should be more of these really. Well, me and the family joined in by heading to Buckingham Palace! In all the other countries I lived at there are more regular national celebrations every year, and it definitely makes quite a difference to the overall mood of the country. We are a bit more solemn here for some reason.

With Family on Royal Wedding Day

One of the things being away from London for so long has been the toll it has taken on DonkeyBox. We were on such a great roll when I left towards the end of March and that roll has been broken. It’s not what I wanted and I am slightly disappointed but my commitment to my students is something I value so the band has taken a slight hit for a little while. We still haven’t recruited a bass player and haven’t gigged live since December 2010. I miss performing with the band and I miss the stage as well. I will do my best to get us back as soon as possible now that I am in London again.


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