INTERVIEW: FAISAL SHEIKH
Updated: Jun 14, 2019
Frontman of Bahraini alt-rock trio The Relocators on his struggles with vocal issues, exploring new musical directions and the impact nature has on his well-being.
SWITCHED: Let’s start with the obvious. You’ve been working on a new record for a while now, what’s the progress on that? and when are you expecting to release it?
FAISAL SHEIKH: Yes, on and off..! We actually must have written over 20 songs during this time, 6 of which will be on this EP. To be honest we weren’t really sure if we were going to continue as a band. It was my call for us to rethink things and to reassess if it was something we were willing to put all our effort into. I guess we lacked a bit of clarity on where to take things, what ‘success’ means to us. Those kind of things. I could write and record music my entire life… But since we are putting ourselves out there, it has to be meaningful. I think it is very important for a band to have ‘the talk’ at a certain stage. We certainly got a lot of clarity, new ideas and a renewed passion. We are really looking forward to what’s coming.
One thing I’m proud of is our insistence on recording our tracks in one take from start to finish, with barely any punching in or anything.
SW: The Relocators last record was released almost 6 years ago - how much has changed with the band since?
FS: I think we are much better musicians, much more comfortable with what we do. More grounded as individuals and more expressive. Working with some producers has also evolved the way we think when we write and perform music. That first record is always going to be the symbol of our approach: Live, raw, pure, melodic. One thing I’m proud of is our insistence on recording our tracks in one take from start to finish, with barely any punching in or anything. We are now working with the brilliant Abdulla Jamal (Soundman Studio) and It’s really fun exploring ideas with him in the mixing and production stage, which is something very different from the first record. The first one was recorded and mixed on my laptop with my very limited knowledge in sound production!
SW: Your new single, Part of Me, seems to be a continuation of your exploration of pure alternative rock yet it has a fresher sound…
FS: I think it is more of an evolving of the sound we started with. The primary focus has always been to start with a good melody. It should sound good using air guitar and kitchen utensils. Recently the melodies have been inspired by 90’s music. Which is what we were listening to growing up. The guitars are plugged directly into the amps and recorded raw, like you would hear them at our shows. Also, as I mentioned before, approaching a song from the beginning with a producer’s hat on really makes a difference, you learn to make those tough decisions to serve the song. Even though you might be in love with certain things you played.
SW: One of the things I noted is that your voice has a softer tone in this record - is that something you worked on extensively?
FS: I’ve been working on my voice therapeutically. I certainly am exploring tones in my voice because there is much more freedom I experience now. I’m lucky to have a tone which cuts through without too much effort. The range where my voice sits naturally helps it.
SW: I know that you’ve had issues in the past with your vocals - what was it and how did you deal with it?
FS: I’ve had a condition called Muscle Tension Dysphonia since childhood. I didn’t know there was a problem but I always had to put a lot of effort into speaking, let alone singing. It was very tiring. The condition has many variations. In my case, there was an over involvement of neck muscles which should have nothing to do with speaking or singing, to the point of pain and fatigue. My voice would change from day to day and sometimes would give out completely. Over time, it got worse. I was lucky enough to get the right resources and knowledge at the right time. Vocal science is relatively new and I am very interested in all kinds of researches that are coming up these days. I was determined enough and I can say I’ve recovered my voice to about 90% and continue to make progress day by day.
SW: How did that change the way you approach your music and the way you record/perform?
FS: Since the first EP, I really struggled and we barely recorded anything. I could pull things off live, but I just couldn’t record my voice the way I wanted to. Now I don’t really have to alter the way I record and perform. It is more about the everyday habits in speech, posture, tension release, breathing properly. And meditation helped a lot!
I really believe the natural world nurtures and builds you internally like nothing else could. Silence and nature, nothing like it.
SW: Apart from music, you seem to have a deep passion for nature - whether it’s through travel or outdoor activities...
FS: I definitely do. I really find a lot of grounding and inspiration in nature. I’ve always been a sort of a loner. I keep very few selected friends and spend most of my time by myself, and I’d take time alone in nature over parties or events anytime. I really believe the natural world nurtures and builds you internally like nothing else could. Silence and nature, nothing like it.
SW: I liked the initiative that you’re doing with The Relocators, wherein you pledge to plant 3 trees for every gig you do…
FS: We are very active when it comes to environmental issues. I’ve always been interested in sustainability. My Masters thesis was in studying some of the barriers, psychological and otherwise, in sustainable practices in the real estate sector. Ali (drummer) is also the founder and chairman of Cleanup Bahrain, a very influential nonprofit organization which I am also a part of and very proud of. We recently began looking for ways we could contribute to having more trees and greenery. Along with a group of very passionate environmentalist we are finalizing a mechanism to make this possible. Three trees per gig/appearance is only a starting point. I can’t really talk for other musicians and artists because in the end, you are the expression of the beliefs you hold on to and you will act accordingly. I most certainly would like to see everyone doing their part in fixing something, fulfilling some kind of existential purpose bigger than ourselves, as long as it is done from a very truthful and authentic place within.
SW: Final note… is rock music still alive?
FS: Always has been, always will be in some form or the other. No matter what happens in the world, there will always be people who look for authenticity, and that’s what true rock music is to me.