Within 48 hours of Peter Cat Recording Company’s January announcement of their first American Spring ’23 tour, 50 per cent of the tickets were picked up across venues, including three in New York and four in Los Angeles that were sold out in a matter of minutes. The rush prompted the band, one of the most exciting bunch of musical romantics to come out of contemporary India, to add more dates and change-over to larger capacity auditoriums. Now, PCRC is looking at 29 concerts, set to begin later this month, in 25 cities spanning the length and breadth of North America.
This is clearly a big deal for any artiste or group. For India’s independent music scene, it’s huge. Even more for PCRC, an eclectic band that came into being about a decade ago to play their own all-encompassing and genre-defying music, inviting kinship and curiosity because of its Delhi roots and a name that ties it to a famous Calcutta eating house with history. The Clown on the 22nd Dance Floor, Love Demons, Portrait of A Time are only some of their early songs that get the feet tapping and the soul on fire. In a nice way. With shades of gypsy jazz, ballroom swagger to rock, disco and sampled chic, their hits keep compounding on streaming services. With their US debut, PCRC will cement themselves as one of South Asia’s biggest underground bands to challenge convention and break geographical boundaries.
“This is extremely exciting. But I am a bit anxious personally as I’ve never had to sing for 30 days in a row. Call it ‘performance anxiety’,” laughs Suryakant ‘Sinatra’ Sawhney, PCRC’s founder and principal songwriter/composer who manages to win over listeners at hello. Yeah, quite like the original Frank.
“As far as how people receive us, I don’t have any fears about that. It’s more that I just want to ensure it’s the best of what we are,” he says, adding an after-thought. “Once you play in Delhi you can play in any place on the planet. Kiya hone wala hai (what more can happen)?” he ends up being rhetorical.
Rohit Gupta, who plays keys and trumpet in the band, and bassist Dhruv Bhola, who also dabbles in electronics and sampling, are equally energised about the tour. They agree though that the number of back-to-back gigs and the constant travelling between cities is cause for some stress. But Kartik Sundareshan, who plays guitar, trumpet and a host of other instruments, is chilled out. “I don’t think that far ahead. After the tour, I am going to be thinking about the tour,” he deadpans with the detachment of a monk. And contrary to what the others may think, Kartik feels a lot less pressured now that most tickets are sold. Karan Singh, their drummer, is currently recovering from a stomach bug. But he’ll be back on his feet soon, the band assures us.
A rundown of the PCRC itinerary starts like this: Montreal, Toronto, Brooklyn, New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Nashville, Dallas... and lots more (see chart). They will be performing for about 70 minutes at each of the 29 venues of varied sizes. The smallest is one that can accommodate 275 people while the largest can hold 1,200. Some of the shows (25 sold out at the time of writing) will be preceded by opening acts. At the BottleRock Festival in Napa Valley, they will be playing alongside the famed Smashing Pumpkins and Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
Apart from the five musicians and Dhruv Singh of Pagal Haina, which manages them, PCRC will be accompanied by their sound and lighting engineers. Another sound man will join them in the US along with a tour manager who will be driving them from the east to the west coast in a van. “There will be no names or branding on the van,” clarifies Singh in true PCRC ‘don’t give a shit’ spirit. “We want to attract as little attention as possible,” he adds, and explains that he has only been alternating between good anxiety and bad anxiety ever since planning started.
PCRC’s journey so far is characterised by chutzpah that marks such underground, independent artistic endeavours. They learnt to record their own music at the start and never signed on to any major record label, deciding very early on not to go by the etched-in-stone demands of the industry and czars who run it. Their popularity is purely organic. Regular gigs throughout India ensured they built a loyal following. Word of mouth added more fans. The streaming universe was lit up, and within years PCRC realised that a bulk of their streaming revenue come from the US of A.
“We didn’t do anything special. Bismillah is just an incredible album,” Pagal Haina’s Singh puts it bluntly while describing PCRC’s 2019 album that has now notched over 50 million streams on Spotify. “And it’s been four years since its launch. It just took its time.” In any case PCRC was never in a hurry. Their music has simply caught on, more so in the two years of the pandemic when listeners seemed to have found the time to discover new music.
“We haven’t spent a single marketing dollar in the US. Even for this tour we haven’t spent one dollar on ads to promote the tour. All ticket sales have been based on whatever we posted on social media and our mailing lists,” reveals Singh
Against Portrait of a Time, PCRC’s immensely popular compilation of songs the band had done up until 2018, Bismillah is more cohesive as an album, feels Dhruv Bhola. “The album has its own universe, and then every song has its own universe,” he says, thereby letting on why they’ve decided to essentially play songs from that album for the America tour.
Suryakant describes their setlist as a planned piece of art. “They (the songs) are all completely different from the album versions. And I don’t mean different like different chords. They are just performed with a different kind of energy. They answer to the stage. We changed every song to sort of fit that.”
Those who have watched the band live know what he’s talking about. The songs, the way these are performed with unique embellishments that accentuate the overriding emotion of each is an experience to cherish. Musically, they are well-knit. Sophisticated. The albums vouch for that. Live, they only get better.
Till now PCRC’s US fans have had to make do with YouTube uploads of concerts in India. Now, they’ll hear the real deal. It is their “likes” that have primarily propelled Peter Cat’s meow to a roar overseas. “America is the home of the music industry of the world. And there is a certain sense that if something works in America it spreads to the world,” reasons Suryakant. He believes that PCRC has been embraced in the US just by the sheer range of the diversity of people, styles of music, acts and art which happen in America. “And obviously, a lot of the music we make has been inspired by the American language for music. It’s like we are going there and presenting a new idea, new translation of all these things. In a funny way it just makes sense. They just have a lot more understanding…
“A band of boys who are quite authentic, going and performing is a rarer thing now than you think. And that’s ultimately what we are. Since we never joined a major label, we never had this breakout major-level success. And we are on our own route. I think people in America are attracted to that,” he feels. Suryakant agrees that in India though there’s still a sense of confusion about what PCRC is doing. “Even our parents aren’t always exactly sure of what we are doing. I think in America they really respect people who take a chance and do something strange and meaningful,” he concludes.
Time to close your eyes. Listen to the trumpets languorously unspool time in Floated By. The guitarist chimes in, the drummer rides the cymbals gently while folks are chatting at a wedding. Suryakant rises, as though from the far side on to centre-stage, singing about something good: Time just floated by. Where I wanna know. Right between these eyes is how I wanna go. Oh something changed. I’ll deal with it. Maybe I was always there. All I wanna be… is something so good. Something so good.
PCRC has been curating their setlist over the years to be like a play or a theatrical event with songs marking a clear beginning and an end. Hence, the concept of planned art. “It’s a film,” says Suryakant. “You watch it. There are stages to it. It starts and it ends. And we want people to basically come there, experience that film and have the after-print of the show.”
America, say hello to the Peter Cat Recording Company.
TTOnline’s interaction with Peter Cat Recording Co. Clockwise from top: Rohit (keys, trumpet); Pagal Haina’s Dhruv Singh who heads the band’s management team, holding up a picture of Karan (drums) on his phone since he couldn’t be there; Kartik (guitar, trumpet); Dhruv Bhola (bass, samples); and Suryakant (guitar, vocals)