10 – 03 – 2021

Interview: Dameer

Last week, Bangladeshi alternative indie artist Dameer went HOT on our platform following the success of his debut EP 'For We Are Distant'. We sat down for a chat with Dameer about how he started releasing music, what it's like being an international artist in the streaming era, and his tips on making it abroad.

Hi Dameer, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. How did you start making music and who were your early influences?

I started normally, getting into guitar classes that my parents put me in. I didn’t stick to the actual classes but it definitely got the ball rolling for me; immediately I felt connected to it. Around 14 or 15, I picked up FL Studio and started making beats and that’s when I got into production. I was looking up to people like Tom Misch, he’s definitely the one that definitely pushed me to stop producing. I grew up on a lot of heavy music and classic rock, but I was getting into jazz and more contemporary music. Tom Misch was someone bringing classic hip-hop styles but putting a modern spin on it. He was also really young at the time, I was like: ‘he’s young, I’m young, let’s do this’.

It was also the feeling that people don’t really do ‘this’ a lot in Dhaka, kids don’t pick up production. It’s more common now, but definitely back then, everyone was studying or playing football, and I didn’t really feel connected to that. Everyone wanted me to get a job at an office or go to a nice university and get an engineering degree, but I was like no, this is my path to self-cultivation and self-identity.

When did you decide to start putting your music out there and which platforms were you posting music to?

I would make all kinds of stuff, I would do singer/songwriter stuff and I would do hip-hop. My friends thought it was pretty cool, so I thought; ‘let me upload it to Soundcloud’. Eventually the streams start coming in, you get 200, then 400, then you get 1,000 and you’re like “Oh my god”. There were a few things that got reposted by AnimeVibe and it got 10k, 15k streams on my SoundCloud which was insane for me. Then I had another song that organically went to 70k.

My world was YouTube back then, seeing a lot of artists that came up through Majestic Casual and The Sound You Need blowing up after one song, I started sending it to them. For like two or three years I sent it into this massive black hole with no replies, but then one did: That was Majestic Casual for my song ‘Easier’ and it was as simple as that. I’d been sending them demos for two years and one day they finally replied, that got the ball rolling and now I’m signed to them.

What are the benefits of having a label/management?

Well, what we’re seeing in today’s age is that you don’t need those traditional structures to make it, you can have a lot of power through your own voice and the internet. The music industry in Bangladesh is extremely underdeveloped, the labels are still learning, there’s not proper royalty collection services. There’s not that culture of doing it professionally, it’s still very casual. Having that backing from someone like Majestic Casual was extremely important to give me a stable foundation.

That being said, they’re still an indie label and a young label, the YouTube channel has existed for longer than the label, so there’s still lots of freedom and ambition. There’s open communication, it’s not bureaucratic, it’s not corporate, which really helped me. They flew me out to Berlin to record my EP, which was insane for me. They flew me to Berlin and we recorded in Red Bull Studios, they flew me to London and we met up with The Orchard, that was a fairy tale.

How has all of this travel influenced your music?

I really like borrowing from many different cultures. I grew up around a lot of Motown, Doo wop, reggae, stuff my dad would play. I grew with a really strong musical education just through experiential osmosis. Later on, I would become a total internet fiend, I’d be on YouTube all day trying to find as much music as I could. That’s how I found jazz, that’s how I found classical music. Coming to Malaysia too, there’s a very strong Korean, Japanese and Chinese presence here.

Travel has really influenced my music, because you have a song like ‘Sun’ which is really 70s, Steely Dan/Eagles inspired but it has the rough around the edges mix from more contemporary artists like Mac DeMarco or Tame Impala, but then Amar Jaan is something that’s very Benghali; the chorus is in Bangla, my native language. But then I put synthesizers, lots of reverb on it, trying to bring it all together. None of this I’ve done consciously, I understood after that if you surround yourself with great music, it will have an effect on your song writing and production.

Is there much of a music scene in Bangladesh?

I think there is a scene, but there isn’t an industry. The industry is underdeveloped. Young people love going to live shows; the good thing about Bangladesh is that everything is super economically accessible, we don’t have super high ticket prices.

Unfortunately for me, when I really started putting stuff out, I was already in Malaysia. I couldn’t really connect with the scene when I started releasing music, so definitely all the connections I have are online. Luckily for me, I’m painfully extroverted. I have no issue reaching out to people and asking if they want to have a call. Nine times out of ten, it results in an awesome relationship because people appreciate that connection. The internet has played a massive role in my connectivity to my home and my people.

What advice would you give to other international artists trying to make it in countries like the UK or the USA where there is more of a traditional ‘industry’?

I haven’t done any of this stuff myself, it’s because of Majestic that I’ve been able to do this. That being said, I imagine that’s changing now. If you blow up organically, the outlets will come to you. I was picked up by my label because I was reaching out to them for years, I’m sure that same dynamic will work for publications, blogs. Send your demo to Anthony Fantano - screw it!

What do you see as being the biggest hurdles for new and independent artists, especially from an international perspective?

There’s so much oversaturation - how do you cut through the noise? If you’re talking about things that really matter you, political matters, it’s so easy to feel like you’re talking into a black hole, like you’re not being listened to. The most interesting, engaging thing you can do as a creator is try to create something that hasn’t been done before. What I’m doing is bringing musical styles together that haven’t been brought together before, or maybe they have, but I’m trying to bring them together in my own way.

Personally for me, I suck at writing fiction. I’m good at being autobiographical, because I think that’s what people want to hear. My experiences are what I know the most vividly, I feel that’s what people will connect to. I feel like if people like my music, they’ll like - by extension - my own personality, not a character I’m putting on. If you’re making something that sounds like everyone, that’s not fun.

Do you think it’s more difficult to find an audience if there’s not an easy label that a blog or media outlet can throw on you?

When I started writing my stuff, it was a bit like Bedroom Pop. That’s not what I had in mind necessarily, but people like Mac Demarco and Clairo were coming up. I guess it’s a reflex for publications to have a snappy title, but that’s not what I’m interested in because it’s not as fun.

I’m a student of music before I’m a creator of it; I want to learn as much as I can, and my music brain spreads into all of these places intuitively. I think people have reacted well to that, especially now the EP is out. When you have three songs out, people can’t really have a favourite song. I have a few more, now people have favourites for different reasons; it’s not just the aesthetic they’re liking, but the message. We’re all a bit schizophrenic, my music is a reflection of that.

How plugged into the insights and data of your streaming and socials platforms are you?

I check it like a fiend. Some people wake up and they check Instagram, the first thing I do when I wake up is check Spotify For Artists. But the numbers are so unfulfilling, because that’s all they are. You get that little dopamine rush and it’s nice that you’re getting streams, but I’ve never looked at my streaming numbers and been like “I can die now”.

What does motivate me is engaging with people on social media; just recently, some people made a completely fan-made discord server that’s really well organised. They added 50-60 people before I joined, and it’s all people from Bangladesh - from rural areas too.

We did a Spotify canvas campaign where people played my song 'Amar Jaan' and did a video of their view from the roof. I was in lockdown back then and a lot of other people were also in lockdown, so I was like ‘send me a video of your view’ and I’ll make it my Spotify canvas for the week. We got people from all over the world to send in videos, and it was beautiful to see their views. That’s how I make it fulfilling, statistics don’t feel fulfilling for me.

How have your goals changed since you released your EP?

It was so hard to gauge my expectations, being Bangladeshi, I don’t know anyone who looks like me who has made it. If I was to ‘make it’ internationally, it would be a completely unique thing. My expectations were very muddled. Of course, there was that part of me who was like “I want to be like Kanye, I want to sell out stadiums and go all over the world”. Now, my expectations are a lot less muddled, right now I have solidified my message and I know where that can take me better than I did back then.

I know that I’m not making pop music - if I get on the charts, ‘hallelujah’ - but this isn’t necessarily the type of music that is going to blow up. My message is going to be one of sincerity, sharing the Bangladeshi experience and being really sincere about how messed up the world is. I know where that can take me now, because I’ve seen how people react to it. I don’t want to be a Kanye, I want to be a Dameer.

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