Music is his sanctuary: transforming memories into uplifting psychedelic pop with Dameer.
Born in a city with more stories per square kilometre than anywhere else in the world, Dameer learned to respect the simple things in life from an early age growing up in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Constantly surrounded by music, his father is an established drummer and singer in Bangladesh and his uncle frontman of one of the oldest rock bands to ever emerge from the country. It’s no surprise then that Dameer feels so at ease with his musical creations. We caught up with him on the eve of his single release for the track “Sun” taken from his upcoming EP to learn more about his musical journey so far.
Can you tell us about your background, how did you get started?
The first instrument I ever picked up was this small travel guitar whilst I was visiting my aunt in England. I saw it in a charity shop and on a whim my dad bought it for me. Before that, I'd seen my dad playing all the time, but that was the first time I ever picked up an instrument for myself. When I got home I started classes and that was really cool because it was super informal. We just picked up songs by ear, and eventually I started to get really into it. Then I picked up a keyboard from my uncle and taught myself watching YouTube tutorials. When my dad eventually opened a music school for himself I could take drum classes there too and jam.
So it was connected to your Dad and what was going on with his own music?
In a way yes, but influences came from all over. When I was leaving Bangladesh my friends gave me a few Bangladeshi souvenirs and one of them was this flute – a traditional Bangladeshi instrument – so I learned that too. That's basically how I became more of a multi-instrumentalist, just by chance. I remember when I started with the piano it was just like learning a new language, you're transposing the skills you have in your own language onto the next. Those basic guitar skills I had I could apply to the rest. It was a lot of fun for me sonically.
What kind of stuff were you playing back then? Did you see Western influences already creeping in or was your sound more Bangladesh-orientated at that time?
Weirdly enough all of my Bangladeshi and Indian influences only started to come into my music in the last year or two. I grew up like full Western music influenced. Of course when I was young, I was into nu-metal, some dubstep, I was the biggest Skrillex fan for a while [laughs] but that's just what we used to listen to. It was a lot of EDM, hard rock, metal. I had this neighbour who I used to play cricket with and his older brother was super into music and became that first big brother figure in my life, you know? He was the one who said to me, you've been listening to this crap all your life – let me show you something. So he was the one who got me into Eric Clapton or Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath all that kind of stuff, then my taste shifted towards classic rock and metal, Iron Maiden etc. Basically I had been listening to anything some suburban kid in America in 1997 was listening to, but in 2012.
How did you get from classic rock and dubstep to the kind of sound you're making now? It's very contemporary indie. It's got some Ariel Pink in there, some Mac DeMarco. How did you make it to this point?
I would say it's super recent because after the hard rock stuff, that's when I got into electronic music and that is really thanks to Majestic Casual [winks]. I got super into all these music curation channels and all my friends did too. It was the whole culture of, "Oh, did you hear that latest majestic upload? Or did you hear the new Suicide Sheep upload?" And that was the Golden Age of music curation on YouTube, we were so into that. Suddenly, before I knew it, I was into KAYTRANADA and Tom Misch in a big way and started bringing that into my sound.
So let’s talk a bit about the upcoming EP. How do your Bangladeshi influences feature on there? Did you find yourself bringing more of that into it whilst recording?
Definitely. When I was in the Red Bull Studios to record and started showing the first recordings to the majestic team, I was like, now this feels tangible. I felt Bangladeshi in that moment, and honestly I'm the last person to be patriotic. I'm the last person to be nationalistic. I just felt like it was so cool to come from such a particular part of history and I can't wait till it comes out, because it's gonna put a smile on lots of people's faces. I mean, just for the 'Easier' release, the amount of buzz it created in Dhaka was crazy, man. Just, the feeling you feel when you're being represented is the greatest thing. The fact that I'm not part of the audience now but I'm actually one of the creators that's representing this huge population of people. There are millions of people who listen to majestic and you guys have a huge fan base in Bangladesh. But if they wake up in the morning and they see Bangla on one of the majestic thumbnails – that’s something else, man.
Obviously not on this forth-coming EP but would you ever consider a whole record that doesn't have that much of your Western influence in there?
I mean that depends. What I would really want to do is kind of move Bangladeshi music forward because actually I feel the scene has been very stagnant for a very long time. We had a lot of innovation in the 70s, 80s, 90s but I think in the 2000s until now we haven't had any innovation, or very little innovation. So as much as I'd like to show the world what traditional Bangladeshi music is like. I would also want to develop it or make something new from it. Whether that means singing in Bangladeshi or not, it's got to be something unique and something people haven't heard before.
So let’s talk a bit more about the sound on this upcoming EP. I can hear a lot of vintage, almost eighties psych and pop sounds. Can you tell us more about your influences and inspirations?
Yeah, dude. This EP is Carlos Antonio Jobim meets Phil Collins. Rabindranath Tagore, I dunno, like lots of Latin music, Latin jazz. I love Latin jazz. I listened to lots and lots of Latin jazz and, American 80s pop, you know, Phil Collins, Hall & Oates, Blondie, New Order, and that influence definitely came from my parents. Like my mom listens to a lot of 80s American pop and my dad listens to a lot of samba music and salsa music and stuff like that. For me, I have some influences from Bangladesh too. There's this guy called Arnob and Anusheh Anadil, there's another called Lucky Akhand who was this great songwriter from the 80s I think, and a lot of music from my dad's band, Renaissance too. So just kind of bringing it all together.
Let’s talk about the big premiere that's going out this week. Your track ‘Sun’. Can you tell us about the story of this track?
So the first line that I wrote for this song is the line, "stick your steely knives from 1985" and I got that from this poem by Charles Bukowski, he has a line that goes, "I've had so many knives stuck into me, when they hand me a flower I can't quite make out what it is. It takes time." So he uses this metaphor of a knife to represent a traumatic event in his life. This is kinda what I felt like growing up in a conservative setting with conservative authority figures around. Bangladesh is a pretty conservative place and I feel like for my parents' generation growing up it was really hard. They were born right around the war of independence and after that the country was in a really bad situation – drought, famine, huge deficits – it was a really bad situation. So they adopted this intense hustle culture. It takes a toll on you and you get lots of knives stuck into you if you spend your 20s and 30s hustling right? Then suddenly you're 45 and you got two kids, but you realize that half of your life has passed you by and it has an effect on how you treat your kids and how you treat the people younger than you. I feel like a lot of these authority figures would take the knives that were stuck into them out and then stab them into the younger generation, because that's how the transfer of trauma goes.
That said though, the track itself is actually really upbeat!
I wanted to take it from that place and turn it into something a bit more celebratory. I mean, be that in Bangladesh but also anywhere, our generation has grown up with such a different fundamental theory of knowledge. We see the world completely differently. A lot of parents back home still try to kind of bootcamp their kids into behaving the way they want them to but a lot of kids fight back and, sometimes when they fight back it's kind of ugly, but sometimes when they fight back it's beautiful and liberating and if it's communicated well, both parties come up wiser and happier people. And so the chorus goes, “why don't you give up and let the sun come up?” And sun here it's a double entendre, like let the sun come up, but also let your son come up. Especially with how my music has shifted to such a large platform and everything has felt like a roller coaster ride for me. It's a song that really hits home. It's both autobiographical and it's for everyone else who feels like they grew up in a cage and now they just want to spread their wings.
So with the EP what else can we expect lyrically. Are you writing the music primarily for you or is it for others, or maybe a bit of both?
I think the best pop music does both. I mean you see a lot of parody or satirical videos on YouTube talking about pop songs today. That they relate to everyone because the lyrics are like so lowest common denominator. But I think beneath that is a really important lesson for pop music, that you're making music for the masses. There's a science to it. There's this whole history of pop music that's all about being global. It can be for everyone. I think that that approach is more of an older style and the newer music is more like, this is my diary. Growing up with both those influences I want to merge the two together. I definitely don't just think of myself when I'm doing this because I want my music to be as cathartic for other people as it has been for me. That's particularly why a lot of my songs are really happy. Like I barely write songs in a minor key because there's one thing to identify the problem with art. There's one thing to identify loneliness. There's one thing to identify isolation, but it's another thing to show a door out. Show some kind of escape from it. I like music that takes you to another place.
So if you had to pin it down to a particular topic or theme, what is it exactly that you’re exploring with this upcoming EP?
Well more than anything this album is about growing up. That terrifyingly swift transition from adolescence to young adulthood. Eventually I was confronted with the absurdity of life. You begin to realize soon, around 14, 15, that this world is not really the world that was advertised to you as a kid. Life is pretty insane. There’s a lot of suffering. Life seemingly doesn’t have much meaning and love is ridiculously complicated and the ice caps are melting. There’s this essay that was super influential during my songwriting process, it’s called ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ by Albert Camus. I feel like this essay was a big turning point for me emotionally and intellectually. He talks about the Greek myth of Sisyphus, a man who pissed off the gods because he tried to cheat death by tricking Hades (total badass), and therefore he was condemned to pushing a massive boulder up a mountain, only to watch it fall down as he reaches the peak, for the rest of eternity. This is what I felt like. I felt like my search for meaning in life, in searching for any transcendent good or purpose in our world whatsoever, was like pushing a boulder up a mountain only to watch it fall back down as the universe answers my questions with total silence. I’m not very religious, I definitely don’t believe in any afterlife, I feel like this is it, there is only the world at present. But Camus’ point is that, the Gods condemned Sisyphus to push the boulder up, not to resent it. He says that just because life is seemingly meaningless, it doesn’t mean it cannot be enjoyed, especially if one believes this world is the only one. All the senses are granted stronger authority. Life is so imperfect, lovers will always be embroiled in miscommunication, trauma will always come back to visit, memories will continue to fade, but life came out of the box deeply flawed. This does not negate beauty, there is still so much beauty out there. In being lucid of the absurdity of life, one gives more importance to the bits of wonder and love and beauty, they aren’t thought of as constants, they are gifts to be appreciated. In this album I reflect on all the absurd bits of life I’ve come across, and appreciate the bits of beauty in every one of those scenes.
I'm interested to know if you had one lyric from the whole EP that sets the tone, what would it be?
Okay so the lyric is taken from the song ‘Mishel’ and it goes, "every song seems to bring me back to a time that I never had." It's about this relationship that I had and it's weird because in retrospect it all seems like a blur. It went by really quickly. Sometimes your relationship, especially if you're a teenager, you don't think to reflect. Then after we broke up, I'm listening to all our favorite songs and it started reminding me of something. There was something there between us, but I don't remember what, because definitely that something between us was an illusion. It was the illusion of true love but now since we're out of love, I can't feel it anymore. It's this absurd feeling and those kinds of experiences are the ones I wanted to capture.
What can we expect from Dameer coming into 2020 and after this next single?
So we can expect the full length EP and by the time that's out, I will have graduated from high school and hopefully will have the time to do some live gigs. I can start travelling around and keep on following my dreams. More music, more art. Hopefully even more than just music I want to get into film scoring or collaborations.
If you've got three people to collaborate with in your life. Who are they going to be?
Oh wow. Well I’d have to say... Tom Misch, Max Martin and….Herbie Hancock.