When It's Time

When It's Time

Blues-rock composer and guitarist Blackstratblues aka Warren Mendonsa’s fifth album When It’s Time is a retrofitted concept album. “I turn 40 on September 12, the day of the album release,” says Mendonsa. “There are eight songs and each song represents five years of my life.” The idea came to him after he finished writing the eight-track follow-up to 2017’s The Last Analog Generation, which topped India’s iTunes top albums chart. “When I started putting it together, I noticed it could be following a certain flow,” he says. “It was almost like you’re throwing stuff in the air and seeing where it lands and it lands in kind of a shape and you’re like, ‘Okay, now I can make sense of this.’ It does fit together in that it tells a story, which I’m happy with.” Mendonsa, who recorded the album with his band—drummer Jai Row Kavi, bassist Adi Mistry and keyboardist Beven Fonseca—at Mumbai’s Island City Studios, gave us a breakdown of the inspirations behind the tunes.
“Tiny Bit of Sky” “It’s about coming into the world and how everything is new. That’s what it signifies, landing on this planet and figuring out your first five years. I wanted a kid’s voice [on the track]. My daughter Nia had just discovered the mic and reverb and delay. She’s quite fascinated by it, to a point where I now have to hide the mic. She wants to use it every day. She’s saying ‘hello, hello’ at the start of the song. It’s almost like a lullaby. The name comes from the idea that a kid is a tiny bit of sky for everyone around. People can be in a crap mood and then a kid comes in and everyone’s mood lights up. They’re a tiny bit of sky on a cloudy day.”
“Happy E Friends” “In the scheme of the concept, it’s ages five to 10. That’s when I started playing guitar. My dad showed me my first few chords. He gave me [The] Beatles Greatest Hits cassette. I was hooked. The Beatles and church music, which I was [also] exposed to, were my education at that time. The title, ‘Happy E Friends’, came from a bit of laziness. Adi used to watch this show called Happy Tree Friends, which is an animated show but it’s quite morbid. The song is in E and it’s a happy affair on the whole, so that title stuck. We never thought of a better one.”
“Too Cool for Sunday School” “This is 10 to 15. Once puberty hits, you don’t want to listen to what many people are telling you even though it’s for your own good. At that time it started occurring to me that the whole idea of religion wasn’t as black and white as it was made out to be. The title came from this one incident. I used to play guitar in church during mass. It was a thrill because that was one of the few chances I would get to play electric guitar as opposed to just strumming an acoustic at home. I remember after mass, I was still plugged in and was playing ‘Johnny B Goode’ and I got this very disapproving look. It was like, ‘Don’t play that stuff in the house of God.’ For me it was just music. I just wanted to play music that made me happy. There’s one bit in the song when it switches from being peaceful and reverential and all hell breaks loose. That was like me saying. ‘I’m just going to do my own thing now.’”
“Interstellar Roadtrip” “That’s the 15 to 20 period when suddenly it’s like your world opens up because you’re out of school and you’re on your own. That’s when I got into Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. There’s a big Zeppelin influence in that song. And those harmonies are an Allman Brothers thing, which I love. The title is alluding to the fact that your world is opening up and almost everything at that point has got like a heightened sensitivity to it. The music hits you harder.”
“Black Hole X3” “You’ve seen the video ‘Rocking With Vasant’ (featuring Row Kavi’s alter ego, musician Vasant Rao Makadkar)? Vasant’s got a band called Black Hole Black Hole Black Hole. The voice you hear at the beginning, that’s Jai. I just slipped it out from that video and put it in [the song]. Not too far back, there was a picture of that black hole that came out and everybody was tripping about it. I saw Jai’s video again around the same time so these two things kind of clicked. In the theme, it’s 20 to 25. It’s a continuation from the previous phase but now you’re finally into adulthood and no one can tell you what to do. Musically, there’s a bit of a Queens of the Stone Age and early Black Sabbath [influence]. A slow, heavy rock thing.”
“Looking for Polaris” “26 to 30 is kind of the time you think about having a family of your own and moving towards settling down. There’s a bit of the way the chords move that’s similar to “North Star” [from The Last Analog Generation]. The title is a cool allusion to that song though it’s very different in terms of mood. The way it came together in the studio was quite nice. The whole way the progression just keeps flipping between two keys, that was what drove me. Once you have that, it’s like fill in the blanks and the ideas just flow.”
“Little Castles” “When you have a kid, you’re almost fearful, ‘What kind of a world have I brought the kid into?’ But there’s so much joy also, like the kid discovering that it is its own person. The song is about your hopes and dreams for them. I had an idea to have some percussion instead of the drums. There’s this guy from Dehradun, Yuktarth, who keeps coming to all our Delhi gigs. He gave me this little cajon he made for Nia with her name inscribed on the wood. That became her toy. I saw it lying around and was like, ‘Let me see if I can fit this in.’ So I put up a mic and started playing it. Then she walks in and sees me playing her toy and is like ‘How dare you do this, daddy?’ She started wailing and at one point she got really loud. Just when the guitar stopped playing. It was perfectly timed and you can hear it on the song. I was like ‘Cool, I’m going to leave this in.’”
“When It’s Time” “It marks the transition into the next stage of your life. The lick is very R&B. I could probably blame my wife, she plays a lot of R&B at home. There’s also this interesting sound I discovered. I’d gone to the States a little while before we started recording and I came across this pedal. It was supposed to be a fuzz pedal but when I tracked some guitars with it, it was almost like a horn section. I said, ‘Man, it would be cool to have some live horns on this.’ I was working with [electronic music producer] Sid Vashi on some of his stuff. I mentioned it to him and he said, ‘I play sax.’ I sent it to him and he sent back all these layers of sax that I blended into the guitars. You’ll hear bits in the middle where the horns poke out. It extends the textural range of the guitar, makes them sound a lot more open and airy.”


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