25 Years of CobWeb: Celebrating A Legacy
Cobweb is a band that needs no introduction for their reputation does it for them. Having a legacy that spans two generations, they have amassed themselves a devoted cult following. And to find such dedication in their followers is not surprising as they have songs that have dominated both TV, radio, and our hearts. But what’s more admirable is the fact that they have been doing this for 25 years with full momentum.
So what really keeps something like this going for a quarter of a century? What problems does one face during this time frame? And how does one see them through? We ask these questions to the members of Cobweb; Dibesh Mulmi, Nilesh Joshi, Siddhartha Dhakhwa, Srijan Bikram Gewali, and Sanjay Aryal; and the answers they gave are relevant to not only to music enthusiast, but to anyone who is looking to make it in life.
We’re sure you get asked this one a lot, but let’s just do it to warm up. So, how did Cobweb start?
We do get that question a lot and it’s probably the simplest one. We were just a group of friends who had a deep passion for music. We just loved playing it and began to love playing it together. And just like that, we went on from jamming, to gigging, to recording, all through these past 25 years.
And what about the name?
Another question with a disappointing answer. To be honest, we just thought that the word “Cobweb” was cool.
How many people ask you this?
Not a lot; but what many do is get it wrong. We’ve come across many who thought our name was Cowboy or Cow-web!
Exactly! On one of our Facebook posts, a guy commented that the whole twenty five years of his life was a lie for he thought we were called Cow-web.
Extraordinary! And since we’re talking about the number twenty five, you have been around for that many years. How does it feel?
We can’t believe it’s been that long. When you say out loud like that, it does seem like a really long time, but, as cliché as it may sound, it does feel like it was just yesterday.
When you put that number into a timeline, you do get a long one. And when one goes through such a long road, they are bound to go through some changes. Have you found that in your sound?
We would not say that we have changed it, rather we have evolved. What has happened is the change in technology that we use. Back then, our set up was really simple so we were confined to the limits of that simplicity regardless of how hard we exploited it. As the years progressed, so did our equipment, and that allowed us to do the things we wanted to. You can sense this if you compare our first album “Anjaan” and our recent “Astitva”. Our sound right now is just something what we’ve always wanted to do, something we could not do previously due to limited facilities. It has been a long process but a really fruitful one.
And how have you been able to maintain the chemistry?
Understanding is glue. We have known each other for a long time and we just know each other’s capabilities and limitations, and know how to work within it.
Sanjay and Srijan are your newest members. Is it the same with them as well?
We don’t know if you can call them new for they’ve been with us for five years now! But yes, they are our youngest members. When we were looking for new members to fill in the shoes of the previous members, we didn’t really set any criteria. All we wanted was someone who knew our sound.
Fortunately we came across Sanjay and Srijan. Both listen to us, give us feedbacks, and above all, respect the art of music. They have had experience in bands like Pariwartan, Monkey Temple, and Blackout, so they know their stuff. Srijan is a wiz with fast licks and Sanjay is a great front man. We love that about them and have used these strengths in “Astitva”.
And has there been a point where you thought that it’s not worth it to go on?
Never. Yes we’ve had some hard times, but we’ve never thought of putting a full stop on ourselves. For instance, we had to transport all of our amps and drums on a single bike. That was hard. But we did it anyways. If we had considered that as hardship and thought that it was not worth it, not only would we not be here, but would have not been able to take on life. The earthquake hit everyone, everyone slept on the streets, that was a hard time, right? But we’re here now, and we’re okay because we’ve overcome that phase. So whatever hardship life has thrown at us, we’ve taken it, digested it, learned from it, and have moved on.
Those are some words one should live by. Now, let’s talk about the old times for a bit. When was it that you realized that you’ve made it big?
Rather than when, it’s more like how. Before we came out with “Anjaan”, we were into a lot of band competitions. We had a different kind of confidence back then, full of angst fuelled with youth. And we loved being on stage. Competitions back then were very prompt with their results. The people would know who won then and there and as our name came along with it, people started to know us more. Then, after the video of “Maryo Ni Maryo” came out, we started to tread into the mainstream territory. For this, we’d really like to thank Wave Magazine and Image Channel.
Image Channel would play “Maryo Ni Maryo” at 8:30am and it’d really start the mornings.
Srijan mentioned that every time the song came on, his mother would be tying his tie for him and get him ready for school!
See, Wave and Image had been supporting us and getting our name out there from the very beginning, that’s how we got to do more shows. And the more gigs we did, the more gigs came our way. In this manner, from doing more and more live performances, we made a name for ourselves.
And you’ve been to venues like San Francisco, Dubai, and Melbourne. That’s amazing in itself, but among all of your shows, which was the most memorable to you?
Now that’s a tricky question! We have had great experiences in all shows. But if we were to put down a name, it’d have to be the SAARC Band Festival in Delhi back in 2009. It was a big deal as we were among other huge names like Bishal Shekhar, and Parikrama. We were in a way dwarfed among them and people were indifferent to us. But after we went on stage and gave our all, we received a ton of applause and compliments that just gave us a boost. We were representing our country there and having received such appreciation, we were really proud of ourselves and the whole show.
In addition to that, the festival was put together by the Indian Government themselves so everything was managed really well. We felt like actual rock stars. A separate room for each band, full length mirrors, polite staff, no stone was unturned in the hospitality part.
We had a similar experience in Dallas too this year. That show was well managed too and would come in second to Delhi.
To be able to get gigs like that, people need to accept you first. Was it hard for you to get the people to accept your music?
We actually have had no such issues with people liking our music. The scene was picking up at the time and ours was the sound of that generation. People took us in easily. We played hard rock but the spectrum then went up to heavy metal. The underground scene too was blooming with various metal acts, so we fit right in.
And what about yourselves?
That’s where we have had some issues. And the trouble here was so unnecessary for it’s something so trivial. People, mostly the police, seem to have a problem with the way we dress and how we like to keep our hair. Without knowing who we are and how we live our lives, people have a pre-planned label on us. It’s a fashion now, but back then, if you wore distressed jeans and kept long hair, you’d be automatically tagged to terms like thug and junkie. The cops would just stuff us into the van and shave our heads. They even got Nilesh once.
And didn’t you tell them that you’re in a band and this is just how you look?
We did. But who’s there to listen? We don’t have a card saying that we’re artists. So how are we supposed to define ourselves to them? Show them our YouTube videos? Even now they think of us as hooligans and can lock us up any time. Our only defence is our fans and the press who may prove our innocence; but that’s about it. We don’t have an identity that will justify us and our art form in front of the others.
Maybe the government can provide that?
Have you heard of a governmental body that advocates for the rights of musicians?
Exactly! But the sad fact is that there exists such a body. They just aren’t active enough to support us. They exist just for the name of existence. One of the reasons for that could be that our industry itself is a small one. Another factor could be that genres like rock and pop are quite centralized to Kathmandu. For instance, if you take bands like Underside to the terai region, they will not be well received. People over there, much like rest of the districts in Nepal, prefer Lok Dohori. And for Dohori, the industry is fertile. And since people prefer that over rock, we can’t really do anything other than to stay mum about it and remain within our small share of that industry.
True. Now, regardless of how small that portion is, what do you think is important to sustain oneself in the industry: going with commercial stuff or innovative works?
We don’t think it’s fair to pick sides here for both of these are important. If we don’t go commercial, people won’t listen to us, nor will they hire us for shows. And if we don’t go for innovation, we won’t be able to grow as a band and everything will be done as if it were a chore.
Now let’s get to a hard question; is there something about Cobweb that no one knows?
Dibesh is still not married!
They say marriage changes a man. And being in a band too is like being married to each other. Has that changed you?
Certainly. Up to the point that we think we would not have been the same people had it not been for the band. For instance, Nilesh aspired to be a pilot and he probably would have been one if he wasn’t in the band. But after being in the band, we just left everything. If there was a gig tomorrow but had a wedding of a close relative today, we’d say our apologies and go practice.
We heard Siddharth actually left his Overseer’s exam for a gig.
He did, despite of us discouraging us to do so. Perhaps that was one of those moments that contributed to Cobweb being a legendary name.
Perhaps so. But the thing is that we have always prioritized the band first. Siddhart for instance, is an engineer now and is involved in various construction projects. However, even if he’s in a meeting or engaged in something important, he runs out whenever the band calls him. Our music is our first priority, other jobs are secondary.
So would you say that to sustain oneself in Nepal’s music industry, one needs a side hustle?
The thing is, music will put dal bhat on your plate. Perhaps it will earn you so much of it that you’ll have a surplus of dal bhat. But, can you survive on dal bhat alone? You would like some meat to go along with it, wouldn’t you? So yes, music will allow you to sustain a life. But when the question is about the quality of that life, you need a side hustle to be able to acquire the luxuries you want.
Did this reality ever bother you?
After we released our first album, labels came to us offering handsome amounts for our second album regardless of us having no material for it. It was a hit even before we had begun recording. And likewise, concerts too started coming our way so we didn’t have time to even think about an extra means of winning bread. We were already working right after our SLC so we had money coming in from both sides. Plus, things weren’t as expensive then as they are now. We had little to worry about in that department. People knew who we were after “Maryo Ni Maryo”, so as long as we had gigs, we were set.
And “Maryo Ni Maryo” was really a generation defying song for most of us. It was played everywhere from school programs to band competitions. It was almost like a cult. Specially the video and the talk box.
We’d have to credit that to being extra. For the time, the talk box and all were unheard of. It’s wasn’t something that was new because bands like Led Zeppelin had already made stuff like that and videos like that during the 70’s; we just didn’t know about it in Nepal. And Dibesh too needs to be credited for that as he’s the one who came up with it.
Incorporating that into the song does seem to have given you an edge over your contemporaries.
It did. But sometimes Dibesh gets a bit carried away with all this. He claims that he’s “making it better” but he’s curiosity gets the better of him at times. For instance, back then when we were just starting out, we didn’t have instruments of our own. We would hire and borrow drums and guitars. Eventually, we got one guitar from India, and when we got together to practice with it, neither the guitar nor Dibesh were to be found.
When we looked for them, we found him in his house actually cutting up the guitar! It was brand new and the only guitar we had! He was trying to get the Explorer shape, and he even added some agrath wood to make it sturdy, but he couldn’t even lift it!
Do you still have it?
Yes, in some corner.
And did you have any prior experience to use these gadgets?
Not at all. See, that’s one of the problems in Nepal. We don’t have a place to learn these things. Guitar classes will teach you the seven chords and you’re pretty much on your own after that. You have to teach yourself how to play more advance patterns and figure out how to use the pedals. Self-learning has its own pros like establishing that independence, but in reality, we’re spending too much time on just figuring it out. Perhaps we would have gone to a further and a better place if we had institutions and infrastructures to learn.
Let’s talk about songs for a bit. What’s your writing process?
To be honest, we’re just musicians. Dibesh did the vocals because we forced him to. Else, we just know how to play. In our initial years, Urdip Joshi would write for us. He had a certain method for it however. He’d follow around girls and flirt with them to get into the mood of writing. Then he’d come to us and we would write about it in the evening. And now, we’re sort of fed up with the whole theme of young love. Also, we don’t feel that we have the right situation to talk about love because these days everyone is pissed off about something.
When we got to the “Swing” album, we did tried to write about things that go about in the society, but we couldn’t come up with anything lyrically significant. We have tried to do a better job at it this time, but we just are really done with singing about love, so much that we just have one love song in “Astitva”.
But that does not mean that we have left our style. Yes we have gone to a heavier side, but we have not departed from our melodic roots. We’re a rock band, we’re going to stay as a rock band. Besides, if we were to be something else, we’d have to learn new stuff again, and that is not a very good way to spend time.
And do you have a song that you love to play live?
It’s really hard for us to pick favourites. Sometimes we love playing some song in one gig, and we loathe playing the same in the other. Most of the time, it depends on the audience as well. Then again, we tend to prefer playing songs from the new album. It’s like we’ve been playing “Mercedes Benz” for over two decades and it’s getting old. No, it’s not getting boring. It’s just that we have a new line up now and our current sound is perfectly synchronized with the new stuff. We have a lot of fun playing them and want the people to favour it over our older songs as well. If we don’t do “Maryo Ni Maryo”, the crowd will go on a riot. So we have to work to find the balance between the two.
What about covers songs?
Covers are just fun to play and are crowd pleasers. It keeps us well-oiled and maintains our energy levels.
And finally, where is Cobweb going to from here?
We’re at a point in our careers where we can say that we’re going to drop it all here and now. But that would not sit right with us. t. So we have more shows to do and more songs to make. This anniversary concert is big for us, no doubt, but we intend to do even bigger shows. A lot to be busy with, and in other words: back to normal.
WORDS : NIRVEEK PPJ SHAH | PHOTOS: SHASHANK PRADHAN | CONCEPT & EDIT : TNM TEAM