Popeye is a Bangladeshi music project that has been active for a decade. They do not perform in concerts, nor appear on television, and cannot be heard on the radio. Yet they have quietly garnered a cult following among rock-fusion lovers in Bangladesh over the last few years. In an exclusive interview with Dhaka Tribune Showtime's Faruque Ratul, the members of the project reveal details of their journey and the obstacles they have had to overcome
What is the story behind the name of the band?
Talat: It was not something we thought about too hard. "Popeye" has been Raffan’s nickname since childhood. When the time came to name the band, we did not want to follow the trend of having the band named after just one of its members, unlike Bon Jovi, Dave Mathews Band, and many others we see in the international arena. The idea was to come across as a single entity, yet have the sound and aesthetics of a conventional band.
Tell us how you met each other and how your songs are composed?
Raffan: We met through a mutual friend. Talat and I were part of separate bands but back in 2010, I wanted to start a new project with rock and fusion. We sat down, talking for hours after hours about music and which direction we wanted to go. Slowly—sluggishly at the beginning—we started to pick up pace and develop a synergy, eventually finding our musical identity as we matured as musicians. We started, and still are, growing philosophically and musically. We always just try to do the best we can do.
We do not really have a formulated approach. We just come up with something out of the blue and if it sounds good to us, we work on it, trying to refine all aspects of it. Also, we would like to take the opportunity to thank all our fans for being with us and showing their support. Without them we most certainly would not have come this far and we owe you guys everything. You guys really make it all worth it!
Why did you describe it as a project? Why not form a full band?
Raffan: We actually do not have a fixed line-up of four to five dedicated members like a traditional band. The only regular members have been Talat and me. We have been incredibly blessed to have such massively talented friends and peers, who contribute on a track by track basis from time to time, and that we have had the opportunity to work with so many incredible individuals, such as Afzalur Rahman, Fahd Kabir, Farman Mehdi, Saami Ahmed and Grigory Khyml, to name a few. They are all a part of this big musical family and we love each and every one of them! But in the end it has always been a project that was started by Talat and me, and still continues to be so while the rest chip in as contributing artists.
Which artists inspire your lyrics and music?
Raffan: Lyrically, we are inspired by artists such as Jim Morrison, Pink Floyd, Police, Arnob, Artcell, and many others who tend to express a song's message through use of poetry, extensive metaphors, and articulated expressions in almost every line.
We always try to be as organic or acoustic as possible while still flirting and experimenting with what works in contemporary music. There are so many artists and bands that inspire us, from early hard rock to downright heavy metal bands, to more acoustic and "live" sounding bands (like Dave Matthews), to even electronic and techno music.
Also, we love almost every grunge rock band from the 80’s and the 90’s.
What are some of the challenges you have faced?
Raffan: One of the biggest challenges we faced, when starting out as a new comer, was that no labels were willing to sign us up or get us any sponsorships. Things were very different back then, digital music and streaming was not nearly as big and CDs were still the primary way to distribute music. We remember going to many different distribution labels, like Ektaar, Ganchill Music, Laser, G-series, and it was always either we did not sound "Pop" enough or the other way around - that we sounded too "pop" and not "experimental" enough. There was always a restriction, where you needed to sound the way the label wanted, or be really famous from doing concerts in the underground scene. Even though things seemed bleak, the Almighty gave us salvation when Tahsan bhai (Tahsan Rahman Khan) listened to one of our tracks and insisted Khaled bhai, who is the owner of the label Agniveena, reconsider us and release our album. He personally set up a meeting between me and Khaled bhai and made sure we got the contract. We really are forever grateful to him for believing in us and helping us cross a crucial hurdle, and without his support maybe we would not be here today.
Talat: Things were not as successful when it came to radio and TV though. For radio and TV, unless you had a personal connection or knew somebody, they would definitely not promote you no matter how good your skills were. So we never really got any support or exposure from any TV and radio channels. Since 2010, the year we released our first album, it has always just been us doing our own promotion, using things like Facebook, YouTube, and SoundCloud,. We never really had or asked any group or individual in media to promote us. It really has been mostly word of mouth and we are so very grateful to have such loving fans, who like our work enough to recommend it to others.
What has been the most significant milestones for the band?
Raffan: We have been mostly studio based, apart from a few shows at some small venues, and we have not really performed in any significant gigs since forming. But when it comes to notable dates, February 2010 was when we first entered the studio to record our debut album titled "Amar Shorgo." Later that year, we signed our first album contract with G-series and eventually released it in September.
In September 2013, we released our second full length album "Ja icche Ta."
Do you get offers to do live shows? Can we see you in Bangladesh any time soon?
Talat: We have been getting a lot of offers, but we have unfortunately been unable to perform as not all our members are living in the country. If heaven wills it, we do wish to perform a solo gig for our fans and we sincerely hope that day will come sooner rather than later.
Will you make more music videos for your songs?
Raffan: Although you should never say never, most likely not. Unless we come across a really interesting concept, we do not really feel the urge to make music videos and a lot of our songs are usually difficult to translate visually. Since the lyrics are a crucial element of our songs, we are happy with just lyric videos going forward. Also, a music video that is not made well only interferes and disrupts the listener’s imagination, and you do not want that.