In the Drummer's Den

Drummer Louis John Pinto, aka Gumby, talks exclusively to Images on Sunday about the new studio he set up with Mauj-frontman Omran Shafique and ace-bassist Khalid Khan, record producers, and what's next in store for him.

A cool breeze rushes over the roof of this inconspicuous Zamzama apartment. The night sky is illuminated by the lights of the passing cars because there’s no power at the moment. But the inhabitants of this rooftop do not mind, they are used to it. I’m introduced the moment I arrive. “Have you met my friends?” asks Louis John Pinto, better known to the world as Gumby. Sitting on a water tank are three prominent musicians waiting for the power to return: Omran Shafique, Khalid Khan and John Saville. A few moments of pleasant talk later the power comes back – and for these musicians – so does their purpose. Several minutes later, Gumby enters his den and everybody starts to jam.

The musicians fall into a groove instantly. With Khalid and John, all it takes is a look and a glance, and the two match their notes and chords according to what Gumby has in mind. Just as Omran gets his guitar tuned, he too joins the group. As a live act, these people are truly a treat to experience but this practice jam is something else. It’s a kind of a behind-the-scenes look, a glance into something one hardly gets to see every day. Within the 20 minutes in which these four people play, hardly a word is spoken.

“I’m constantly thinking about what’s next, I don’t dwell in the past at all.” Anyone who knows Gumby knows that that’s very true. Far from someone to retreat and hibernate, Gumby has been a slow and steady part of most of the recent musical achievements by Pakistani musicians. After a tumultuous and a very public break up from Noori, Gumby’s catharsis has resulted in an explosion of work. Maryam Kizilbash, Kaavish, Ali Azmat, Kolachi Quartet, Raeth, Zeb and Haniya, and not to mention the Coke Studio (CS) projects, are just some of the albums or projects that he’s been a part of in recent times. He speaks of these experiences with a tone of respect and excitement; however it was his experience with CS that really outshines the rest of them. “I was blessed to have been a part of that. I mean there are other drummers that they could’ve taken, but they took me and I thought that it was an honor to be a part of such an expansive project and especially to work with Rohail.” Throughout our conversation, Rohail Hyatt’s name would be heard time and again, and each time it would only re-instate Gumby’s admiration and respect for the Vital Signs-member-turned-CS project leader.

“So basically, this was what was next for me: a place of my own,” Gumby said, sitting in a cozy sofa and table arrangement, a unique and quirky arrangement considering this is actually the studio itself. “This place actually belongs to one of our friends,” he said, adding that “he was about to sell it and not wanting to let go of this opportunity, and the place itself, I spoke to Momo (Omran Shafiqe) and Khalid. Together, we saved it for ourselves. We jam here, we play here, we record here – everything related to music.” He went on to say that even though it’s his studio, there will be an arsenal of musicians that will come here, just perhaps to jam even. Besides jamming and recording is his intention to become a producer for musicians? “Yes,” he responded, “that’s my direction.” He added that he wants to take on that role in a gradual process rather than relying on his equipment and gear. As for his own album he has started to work on it, but his vision is to “keep a simple and uncomplicated approach to music.” The only reason why it’s taking so much time is that for him (as a rhythm player) it takes a while to approach compositions.

I ask him about the dogged act of actually putting out an album via a record label. “That depends on what your point is, personally, I don’t give it much thought. All I want is to get my kind of music out there and if the record labels don’t think too much of it, I’ll just put it online.” His words echo the ordeal of bands like Mauj and Kaavish, who were stifled due to their albums being delayed for a long time.

Regarding his new studio, does that mean that now if a musician wants to record with Gumby they would have to come to his studio? “Yes, with the exception of CS, because it requires such a huge set up. I think for my sound, this place is one of the best in the country.” Hearing about CS, I ask him about what’s next in store for him and the project. “There is talk of it,” remaining tight-lipped on the details, “I’m pretty thankful about them having chosen me.” He also attributes his attendance to both CS and Rohail, whom he again showers with praise. Since Rohail is also a producer, albeit a former musician, does that mean Gumby is comfortable working with producers who are musicians? “Yes, that’s true. It’s more of a comfortable spot for me, since we both understand the dynamics. And partly this studio was also inspired by him and the way he works,” he adds that, “there are two kinds of producers; one tells you how your music should fit in with the song and the other tells you how great it sounds. If I’m coming up with all the parts by myself and they’re just saying, ‘yeah that sounds great’, that’s just technical basic stuff, even I can do that.”

“To be honest, I set up this place because I was sick of those producers who know nothing about music – who can’t even tell the difference between two chords – and end up being producers.” His statement clearly alludes to a rumoured scuffle between him and a certain producer. My next question to him was – to their credit – don’t these producers work with a lot of musicians who may/may not have a problem working with them? “Well, it’s all about how much of a victim you want to be,” Gumby said. “You’re either a victim of not being able to afford the best musicians and producers with the best knowledge or you’re a victim of not knowing what music is at all.” He further stated that if people can’t afford the best, they obviously go to people who aren’t professionals. “It’s sad that this country has only four producers and five drummers.” Clearly, Gumby is one of those rare individuals who isn’t afraid of speaking their mind. He is quick to add that “everybody has their own perception of their music and they’re pretty defensive about it.”

I can’t help but ask Gumby, given his nature and his past – somewhat rocky – experiences, won’t all of this (the studio) make him seem more arrogant in their eyes? Gumby’s reaction is nonchalant. “If arrogance means that I know what music is, how to make it, and that I have the best-equipped studio, then yes, I’m arrogant.” Clearly he is unmoved by any of the remarks made against him. Instead, he is diving in head first into his studio work.

Currently, he’s working on a project with a guitarist/musician by the name of Taimur. “He’s pretty awesome, Taimur is quite the guitarist and although he doesn’t play around and you may not have heard of him, he has his own songs, in English.” Gumby also said that Taimur’s songs were heavily influenced by 90s rock and Alice in Chains in particular. Apart from that he is also working on a song for another group, whose name he has not yet revealed. “I’m excited about that too, but I can’t tell you just yet.”

There are musicians like Gumby, never far from the heat of controversy, and yet always focused on the music at hand. For musicians like Gumby, music is a way of life as it has been for him since childhood. After all that has happened and has been said, it’s pretty loud and clear, like the sound of a drum: in the den of this drummer, the man who holds the drumsticks is king.

Profile shoot
Designer: Kash Hussain
Photography: FAYYAZ AHMED
Styling: Sajid
Model: Gumby, Khalid & Omran 'Momo' Shafique
Fashion Editor & co-ordination: Madeeha Syed


longblackveil said...

w00t! I love Gumby. Ever since I stumbled upon his name while watching the Coke Studio sessions, and then researched the lad etc. And then you show up on Twitter with an inside look at his 'studio'. Yee haw. Serendipity :)

Khaver Siddiqi said...

Hey thanks for your comment, I'm glad you enjoyed the piece :)