Landmine is an independent, alternative indie band from Palo Alto, CA made up of high school friends Parth Relan, Daniel Bortner, and Alex Vahidsafa. The band has been going since 2013. They deliver a gorgeous lush familiar sound that sits comfortably, anywhere between REM and Neil Young, listening to Landmine is like sharing a meal with an old friend or curled up with a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night; comforting, familiar and thoroughly enjoyable. Following on the “Rising Sun” Ep release, and their latest track “Daydreamer”, we recently interviewed band leader, Parth Relan.
- How long have you been doing what you’re doing and how did you get started in the first place?
Parth Relan: Daniel and I have been playing music together since 2009, and the three of us started playing music together since about mid-2010. We all met in high school; in fact, I learned about Alex’s talent on the piano through a Music Theory class. We used to always just jam for fun and write beginnings of songs that we never continued work on. In the middle of 2013, we decided to take our passions more seriously and released our first EP in February 2014.
- Who were your first musical influences that you can remember?
Parth Relan: I still remember the first three albums that I bought—Songs About Jane by Maroon 5, American Idiot by Green Day, and Meteora by Linkin Park. I also listened to Blink-182 and Avril Lavigne around the time I first got exposed to music—back when I was thirteen years old. My tastes eventually evolved and I was listening to a lot of Audioslave, Coldplay, and Red Hot Chili Peppers as I got into high school.
- Which artists are you currently listening to? And is there anybody you’d like to collaborate with?
Parth Relan: These days, I’m usually blasting “6PM in New York” or “Tuscan Leather” by Drake in my car, haha. I’m also a massive Fort Minor fan, so his new song, “Welcome,” made me rediscover his genius. In the past six months, I’ve had phases where I was listening to a lot of “pure” hip-hop… artists like Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre, Nas, J. Cole, Mobb Deep, and AZ. I’ve also been checking out some modernized jazz, a genre that Spotify calls “Jazztronica,” and I love listening to solo piano—artists like Nils Frahm and Agnes Obel (a FANTASTIC artist that everyone should check out). There’s this girl who’s local to the Bay Area named Gaby Castro—she has a really nice voice and it would be awesome to collaborate with her. Palo Alto actually has a relatively big music scene. A lot of people I know from high school are aspiring musicians and do some really great stuff, and I’d love to collaborate with a bunch of them if the right song or right project presents itself.
- Describe the first piece of musical equipment that you actually purchased. And which is the one piece of hardware or software you’re still looking to add to your collection now?
Parth Relan: I bought a Yamaha EG-112 from Fry’s Electronics. It was basically a beginner’s guitar that came with a mini amplifier, and it was an imitation of a Fender Stratocaster. I used that thing for over three years before it’s input jack gave out on me, haha, and now it’s just sitting in my closet, stringless and covered in stickers, haha. There’s not too much that I’m still looking to add! I usually don’t need too much gear to write a LANDMINE song, but I do need to upgrade my studio monitors… haha.
- Tell us something about your current hardware/software and instrument setup?
Parth Relan: I use three main pieces of hardware when recording a LANDMINE demo—my Maschine, an electric guitar, and a MIDI keyboard. When I record a demo, I start off with a drum pattern and play that into my Maschine. Then I export that into Logic Pro X and DI my electric guitar, then I track guitar and keyboards. If our song has a string section, I’ll score it with a program called Sibelius, usually with the help of Alex or Andrew Hedge (our “unofficial” drummer). That’s pretty much it! Our demos usually don’t even have vocals on them since that’s always the last step for us when writing a song.
- Studio work and music creation, or performing and interacting with a live audience, which do you prefer?
Parth Relan: Well, I’ve only performed live a handful of times, but I would still say that I prefer performing (maybe BECAUSE I’ve only done it a few times… haha)! It’s even fun for me to rehearse our songs in Andrew’s garage or Daniel’s rehearsal space. Writing and studio work is an amazing and rewarding feeling, and it’s hard to compare—but I would say that I love the empowering feeling behind performing more.
- Which one of your original songs gets your emotion and adrenalin pumping the most, when performing it?
Parth Relan: Definitely “Insane.” I love playing that one, and that song has such a subtle intensity in its lyrics and instrumentals that it’s easy for me to get really passionate when I’m performing it.
- On which one of your songs do you feel you delivered your personal best performance so far, from purely a technical point of view?
Parth Relan: The cliché answer would be that I definitely haven’t delivered my best performance so far! Haha. But from the first EP and the single, I would say that I delivered my best technical performance on “Daydreamer.” There’s a part that’s buried under the mix where I subtly fingerpick at double the speed—it’s in the second pre-chorus, around 1:24—that took some practice for me to get down.
- How essential do you think video is in relation to your songs? Do you consider it more of a marketing tool or an added creative dimension of the song in question?
Parth Relan: Good question—the band has definitely discussed this before. I would say it’s a little bit of both. Some artists really have it down: how to make a video an added creative dimension, but I used to always think of them as just commercials, and never really cared for them. To be honest, I haven’t even thought about videos for LANDMINE’s music, but I know Daniel has had a few ideas.
- Tell us something about your experiences during the clip of your acoustic performance of “Insane.”
Parth Relan: That was our first performance as a band in front of a crowd of people we didn’t know! Since Andrew, our “unofficial” drummer, was in school at New York at the time, we came up with acoustic renditions of most of our songs, and chose a couple to play. It was a really intimate performance, at a local coffee shop, and the place was packed, so we were all honestly a bit nervous, haha. But it was awesome to see a crowd who had never heard our music before get into it as the performance went on, and a bunch of people were requesting a CD from me after the performance.
- If you were forced to choose only one, which emotion, more than any other drives you to stay in this tough business. Is it joy, anger, desire, passion or pride and why?
Parth Relan: Passion. I honestly feel that there’s nothing I know better than music, because I have so much passion for it. With that said, I still have a TON to learn, haha, and I feel like I don’t know much. But regardless of which band I do it with, or if I do it alone, I really want to be making music all of my life.
- Illuminate us on your songwriting processes. Who does what, when and where?
Parth Relan: We each usually come up with song ideas on our own—usually in acoustic formats. I’ll give you a hypothetical example. Let’s say Alex brought me a song that’s just piano and vocals. The vocals would only be a hummed melody with no real words. I’ll tweak this initial idea with him until we’re happy with it, and then compose a full band arrangement on my own. Then I record a demo. When it comes to bass parts, me and Daniel usually work together on them. So let’s say in our hypothetical song, I wrote the verse bass part and Daniel wrote the chorus part—because that’s definitely happened before in some of our songs. Then I bring this almost completed demo to Andrew and he would write a drum part. Sometimes, I have a loose drum part already written out, but if not, he’s really good at understanding my vision and almost always plays what I’m envisioning in my head… he’s a fantastic drummer! Once we have the part down, we record another demo, with just guitar and drums, at his studio, and then I take it back to my studio and re-record all of the other parts and finalize the arrangement, and add strings or whatever else I feel the song needs. Alex usually helps me with the strings, and Andrew helps write the score. Then, me and Daniel work on lyrics, and as a trio we work out some vocal harmonies. Once we’re completely happy with the song, we’re ready to track the song professionally in the studio.
- What can you tell us about the mastering the song “Daydreamer” with the legendary Mike Wells?
Parth Relan: He’s one of the greatest engineers I’ve worked with! He’s SUPER intelligent and is an extremely nice and down-to-earth guy. Just from talking to him, I learned a ton about audio production and history of the music industry. He listened to “Daydreamer” and did exactly what the song needed. I still can’t really define what mastering is, but the difference between the pre- and post-mastered-by-Mike-Wells version of the song is like the difference between night and day, haha. The guy is a genius and I look forward to working with him more, because I’ll definitely be coming back to him.
- What is your personal favorite song on “Rising Sun EP”?
Parth Relan: My answer to that is constantly changing! I have favorites for different reasons. When we first recorded the EP, it was “Through My Eyes.” I’m really proud of the writing behind “Insane,” and I think that in some ways, it’s our most creative song. But overall, I think my favorite is “Give Me More.” It represents a whole different side to the band, has an epic feeling, and has a great vibe. It also has one of the more complex string sections we’ve written. It was a challenge to write and that’s part of the reason why I appreciate it more.
- As you work your way through your career, which more than any other fires-up your imagination – A Grammy award, Platinum music sales or some other tangible milestone?
Parth Relan: Platinum music sales. I’m honestly not the biggest fan of award shows, haha, but I would still be very honored if I was awarded a Grammy!
- Do you consider Internet and all the social media websites, as fundamental to your career, and indie music in general, or do you think it has only produced a mass of mediocre “copy-and-paste” artists, who flood the web, making it difficult for real talent to emerge?
Parth Relan: That’s a great question! I’ve heard a lot of debates on that topic. I think because the barrier to entry is so low, there are definitely a lot more mediocre artists out there than maybe ten years ago. But I don’t think those artists are preventing the real talent from shining through, because the consumer’s expectations are much higher and their attention span is shorter. So if an artist is really talented, they’ll get noticed. I also think that artists these days need to wear a lot of different hats. They need to be extremely talented at what they do, they need to be savvy with marketing and branding, and they need to be able to network and make connections.
- What is one piece of advice in this business you didn’t follow, but now know for sure that you should have?
Parth Relan: I think the best piece of advice would be to prepare for things to not go as planned. I can’t tell you the how many times I’ve had to change plans because life happened to one of my engineers or bandmates, and we had to delay or cancel a project, and it still happens to this day. Even when it comes to writing a song. Most often, your initial vision isn’t achieved, especially when you’re collaborating with other musicians.
- How would you personally describe or categorize the music of LANDMINE to someone who has never heard of the band?
Parth Relan: Hmm, good question. I’ve always classified our music as “Alternative/Rock/Indie.” To elaborate a bit, I would say it’s alternative/rock/indie with classical and orchestral influences, and my approach to recording music is very specific: I always want to get a raw and loose rhythmic performance, with minimal post-production. With all of the stuff I do with LANDMINE, I try to minimize on the electronics and technology—I just think it fits our sound better. I don’t even mind if the instruments are slightly out of tune. I just like to capture the moment.
- Let’s imagine for one moment that LANDMINE does not exist and you were given the opportunity to be in any past or present word-famous band of your choice, who would that band be, and why?
Parth Relan: Foo Fighters. They’re one of my personal favorite bands and they’re so inspiring—and after watching the making of their record, “Wasting Light, (one of my all-time favorite records)” they just seem like such a fun band to be in, haha. On a lower scale, there’s this up-and-coming band based in LA called Acidic whom I discovered around the time I was living in LA and we were writing “Daydreamer.” I used to wish I could be in that band all the time, haha, and I HIGHLY recommend their record, “Copper Man.”
- What is the ONE thing you are NOT ever willing or prepared to do, in your continuing quest to sustain a successful musical career?
Parth Relan: I’m not willing to have someone else solely write or record my music. I want all of my music to be a product of me and my own creativity.