For Bengaluru’s progressive rock band Rainburn, the concept always comes first and the music follows. Being traditionalist in the age of single releases to boost streaming numbers, the band’s new album Vignettes is out now in full via Bandcamp and hit streaming platforms on December 1.
Founder Vats Iyengar, who also plays the guitar and bass as well as sang, composed and wrote the songs, says Rainburn albums always start with the theme first and then is broken down into different chapters. Vignettes, like its name suggests, became more a sonic equivalent of a collection of short stories rather than a novel.
“The writing always comes from an autobiographical point of view in some sense, so it’s whichever topics resonate strongest with me or seem sufficiently rich to mine as a songwriter,” Iyengar says.
The album journeys through a day in the life of anyone living in an urban Indian city. “Big cities all around the world seem to be one big, faceless blob,” Iyengar adds. Considering the band is based here, it is no surprise to hear Rainburn confirm that all the songs draw from a Bangalorean experience. He clarifies, “While this album is largely derived from life in Bengaluru, it’s got a universal slant.”
The prog rock stories on Vignettes range from internet culture-related issues, such as ‘Outrage-Seeking Generation Z Brain’ and ‘Love Probably’, to the corporate rat race (‘Listen Through the Noise’), male gender stereotyping (‘Identity’), sexual assault (‘Party People’) and police corruption (‘Bad Cop/Bad Cop’). By the titles alone, one can guess that Rainburn, comprising Iyengar, drummer Neilroy Miranda and guitarist-composer Saakallya Biswas, keep their sense of irony sharp and dig into everyday issues without hesitation.
Where their previous album, Insignify from 2018 was more personal and inward looking, thus making it an intense experience to write for Iyengar, Vignettes was more outward looking. The vocalist-guitarist admits, however, ‘Party People’ was particularly difficult to write in terms of lyrics.
“Having never experienced sexual assault myself, it seemed a bit exploitative to pretend to be the victim in the story, so my main dilemma was who the narrator should be, an outraged observer, the assaulter or someone else. In the end I chose a cross between a sympathetic listener and a skeptic (of the “Why didn’t she raise a hue and cry right away?” persuasion), which is how I think a lot of third parties tend to be in this situation.” Iyengar adds, “I’m not proud to admit I’ve been that person myself.”
So far, the band also released a music video for ‘Outrage-Seeking Generation Z Brain’, one that features the trio in all kinds of costumes as they poke fun at internet virality and social justice, among other issues. “I’ve always liked music videos that aren’t too on-the-nose with the song’s subject. Having made the song title as explicit as possible, there was an extra obligation to find a different dimension with the visual. I think we largely succeeded in conveying that,” Iyengar says with a laugh.
From The Joker to basketball players and wizards, it is a downright bizarre but eye-catching look for Rainburn in the video, which features the band’s fans figuratively getting glued to their phone screens. Iyengar points out that guitarist Biswas had it the easiest sourcing costumes, while drummer Miranda was set to look like a member of rock legends Kiss until he found out he needed to shave his beard to look the part, so he decided instead to become a black metal musician.
The frontman adds, “I was supposed to be Spiderman but we couldn’t find a costume my size, so I had to be Superman. I only realized later that it meant a lot to some people because two of my characters (The Joker and Superman) are from DC Comics, so I’ve been asked more than once already if I’m more into DC than Marvel. The truth is, I’m not heavily into either.”
The addition of these two members is new for Iyengar, who had a wholly different lineup for their previous releases. He likens their 2018 album Insignify to be “almost like a solo album” while acknowledging the “excellent musicians” who were part of the record.
“Vignettes is far more collaborative and I can’t describe how much easier it was to make this record because I didn’t have to do all the heavy lifting myself. This time I left a lot of stuff empty and incomplete (no drums whatsoever, for example, or a missing bridge), and could rely on Neil and Riju to help finish the song.”
With the album out now and another lyric video coming up for ‘Party People’, Rainburn want to turn their focus overseas to find an audience for Vignettes. “I’d really like for us to tour UK and Europe in 2024. It’s long overdue!”
Hear/buy Vignettes on rainburn.bandcamp.com