Joining the ranks of leading musicians of Pakistan of late has been the Poor Rich Boy. Their song Fair Weather Friend was ranked second among the best songs of 2011, outshining popular legends such as Strings and Sajid and Zeeshan. Independently, the poor-rich-boys have been playing in the underground music circuit for several years, and some of their songs are said to be older than the band itself. Yet it was with the release of their first single Alice on Sunday on September 25, 2011, that they made their mark in the country.
With songs produced by band member Zain Ahsan- and they say there is no stopping him- and the adaptation of do-it-yourself approach, music for the Poor Rich Boy is not a means to an end. The band is found performing live for audiences in Lahore these days.
The collective consciousness of the Poor Rich Boy agreed to speak to us recently.
Who are the faces behind Poor Rich Boy?
Poor Rich Boy has a fairly flexible line-up of musicians but at the moment we’ve got Shehzad Noor on vocals, rhythm guitar, the ukulele and whatever else he feels like playing or doing. Zain Ahsan, who is also the producer for the band, plays lead guitar, the ukulele, the banjo, and football, but he too can sing when the fancy takes him. Danish Khawaja plays pretty much everything under the sun, from Aeolian Harps to the xylophone. Zain Maulvi and his magnificent beard are on bass and play with our feelings. Ravail Sattar plays drums/percussion and is congenitally impossible to communicate with. Umer Khan sings and sometimes plays an upside down guitar, or just sits in a corner wondering what he’s gotten himself into.
How did you all meet?
Nobody can say anything with certainty but legend has it that after Shehzad and Zain had been kicked out of their respective underground bands they were introduced to each other by Danish, who after having done so, immediately fled the country in shame, muttering “What have I done! Oh God, what have I done!” over and over to himself. The product of their union was Poor Rich Boy. Soon thereafter, Shehzad saw Maulvi playing bass for some band and fell in love with his superbly traditional beard; he was immediately asked to join. Ravail, on the other hand, was sent as an attachment with a spam email that somebody forwarded at the band’s email address. And finally, Umer Khan simply appeared one day. We found him eating breakfast in the kitchen. Nobody knew who he was, where he’d come from or what he wanted. He had probably wandered in by mistake and still hasn’t realised that this isn’t his house.
What are your main influences?
We were influenced by beautiful women when we were younger and Abdul Sattar Edhi when we grew older. Now, in our dotage, we’ve come back to beautiful women.
Why is it that all of your songs are in English?
While a lot of people wonder why we don’t sing in Urdu, since it’s the national language, we wonder why the national anthem is in Persian and not in Urdu. But anyhow, if you walk around anywhere in Lahore or Islamabad – which is where the band members are from – you’ll find that all the road signs, billboards, advertisements, shop signs and public messages are written in Urdu as well as English. And it’s the same for every major city. Some people read these signs in Urdu, some in English, and some in both. If art is thus an abstract manifestation of culture and culture that of society then we’re the English instructions on a road sign that has instructions written on it in both English and Urdu.
You’ve been tipped for using heavy vocabulary in your songs. Does it bother you that some people struggle with your songs?
No, it doesn’t bother us at all. When we were in school and had to read Iqbal and Faiz and Rashid, we couldn’t often understand the difficult words they used in their poetry. I’m sure neither Iqbal, nor Faiz, nor Rashid were bothered by our shortcomings either. But then we discovered the wonders of the Dictionary. And all was well.
Your song Zardarazir is quite enchanting. What is it really about?
Ancient Greek tragedies used to feature mythological Kings and Queens and Heroes and Gods and Goddesses because everybody at the time knew them already and so the playwright could conveniently spin yarns around recognisable, stock characters. Modernity’s answer to a shared mythology is politicians and celebrities. This song was written as a fictitious, modern tragedy. The song exploits the ambiguity of the circumstances surrounding Benazir’s death and Zardari’s subsequent rise to power. The point was not to vilify Zardari or glorify Benazir but to construct a likely story based on popular opinion.
How do you feel about being called the best emerging indie music group in Pakistan?
What is said about the band is based mostly on the first three singles from the album. These songs, and probably even this entire album, are not really enough grounds for arriving at such a conclusion. So it’s probably not true, although it is nice to be told such things, but even if it were true, it means nothing because in the end what is important for us is not how popular we are ‘right now’ but the body of work we leave behind.
What do you think about the current Pakistani music scene?
There are a lot of musicians, there are a lot of songs, there’s a lot going on.