The Atif project, led by singer-songwriter and upcoming Pakistani rock star, Atif Ali Khan who is not one to shy away from challenges, have done the almost unthinkable by releasing a 6-track tribute album to Michael Jackson. The ‘unthinkable part’, is that The Atif do MJ within the rock idiom!
“At the death of Michael Jackson- the world was shocked,” says Atif Ali Khan, “and we took the challenge to immortalize the King’s artistic contribution to the world of music. We did it all in Rock genre and all live.”
In a recent review, Sleepingbagstudios had this to say about the album: “To have the courage that The Atif has here, to turn what was once simply an audible pleasure on their stereos into a true expression of love & respect for an artist they love like they have here on these singles is a real testament to the ongoing support for MJ’s music. It’s excellent to re-visit these songs through a fresh perspective like The Atif regardless of how you might feel they stack up to the originals.”
In a recent, exclusive interview with Jamsphere, Atif Ali Khan told us more about how he sees the industry and his music.
- How long have you been in the music business and how did you get started in the first place?
Atif Ali Khan: I have been in the music business for a while. I started as a wanderlust singer traveling across the globe, occasionally getting paid through free meals and accommodation. I have been a singer as far as my memory goes, picked up pianos at 12 and guitars at 16.
- Who were your first musical influences that you can remember?
Atif Ali Khan: Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean was my first proper song in memory- though I head it in 87 but that was when I started believing in magic of music. Then I liked Bryan Adams and Phil Collins besides many.
- Which artists are you currently listening to? And is there anyone of these that you’d like to collaborate with?
Atif Ali Khan: Might sound pompous, but I would love to sing with AC/DC or replace Axl in GnR. Currently I am listening to Rock or Bust by AC/DC.
- Have you suffered any ‘resistance’ from within the industry in your country, or elsewhere and if so how have you handled that, and how do you handle criticism in general?
Atif Ali Khan: I hate criticism, but I take it. They have the right to shout as I have a right to sing. In Pakistan music is considered an undignified profession- so I had to leave my home to pursue my favorite expression. I have slept on beaches and warehouses and roof tops with birds waking me up. But I can’t give up how I express myself.
- How do you usually promote and distribute your music and brand? Do you take care of the business stuff yourself or do you outsource to a management team and think about the music only?
Atif Ali Khan: iTunes redefined the business model of music and killed all the labels for good. Through online you have the luxury to stay true to yourself and your art. People can connect on personal level and interact with the artist- the pedestal is gone and there is a lot going on. You don’t need a latest hairdo anymore.
- What exactly is the current state of indie music in Pakistan, and how does the rock influenced The ATIF fit into this scheme?
Atif Ali Khan: It’s pretty lame. On one hand it is easy to please but then there is so much piracy. So we go to Bollywood and like I struck the deal with Universal Music India- things started rolling in my favor. And consequently I signed a deal with YAAR Music Dallas. Back home, they love to see a desi (slang for native) guy singing MJ with acoustic guitar. That gives them an instant international recognition and they love to own me.
- How did the Michael Jackson tribute music idea come about, and how has it been received both in your country and abroad?
Atif Ali Khan: 24 June 2009 I missed a flight on Bangkok airport and after hire/fire regular job vacation I wanted to look forward to something exciting to do in Pakistan. I heard a band in Malaysia- Penang singing Wicked Games in rock. My love for MJ and AC/DC collided and I created Billie Jean after my return. On 29th strangely enough MJ died. I created a cheap video and it went viral in time. The iTunes people asked me to create a full length tribute after the enormous response.
- Which are your current album and/or single releases, and where can finds find them?
Atif Ali Khan: It can all be found one www.theatif.com you can hear my Bollywood and Hollywood tracks and find me on iTunes and every major online radio besides 40 other distribution networks both online and offline across the globe. In India my Bollywood CDs are available on Cash on Delivery as well as physical stores.
- Tell us something about your lyrics, music, and instrumental performances on your releases and live shows. Which part of these processes do you handle, and which do you outsource?
Atif Ali Khan: I have a team of amazing friends who are coincidently musicians too. Kashan Admani is an internationally renowned guitarist and producer. Pretty famous in Austin music scene, he produced my album around my ideas. Then Alfred D’Mello adds the beat of live drums which makes this MJ Tribute so exceptional. Then in my own studio I have Zulfiqar Bhojani he is the arranger, performer and engineer on most of my Bollywood songs. Tahir Khan an ace guitarist from Pakistan plays with me on TV and Radio shows along with all guitars. He is my guitar teacher too.
- Which do you ultimately prefer? Entertaining a live audience or creating music in a studio setting?
Atif Ali Khan: I love both. The conception in studio and delivery in live. Honestly nothing like live. My mates say I am a better live singer than studio. Don’t know if that’s a compliment.
- If you were forced to choose only one, which emotion, more than any other drives you to be a part of this tough business. Is it joy, desire, passion or pride and why?
Atif Ali Khan: I think it’s passion. Though it’s quite ambivalent.
- Which aspects of being an independent artist excite you most and which aspects discourages you most?
Atif Ali Khan: First I have total creative liberty. Second I don’t have machinery to provide support system.
- How do you achieve the sound that can be heard on your recordings? Do you work from a private home recording environment or do you use commercial sound studios?
Atif Ali Khan: Kashan has a commercial facility so my MJ tribute was done there. You can probably feel it in the sonic vibe. Bollywood stuff I have done in my own studio. It requires low melo intimacy- so me and Zulfi nail it to our precision and fancy.
- What is the best piece of advice in this business you actually followed so far, and one you didn’t follow, but now know for sure that you should have?
Atif Ali Khan: I always wanted to do my own thing. Internet gave me the liberty. But in the end audio without audience is pretty much scopeless- so now I try to create groovy easy listening stuff.
- Do you consider Internet and all the social media websites, as fundamental to your music, and the music business in general, or do you think it has only produces a mass of mediocre “copy-and-paste” artists, who flood the web, making it difficult for real talent to emerge?
Atif Ali Khan: It has given a right to everyone and anyone to pitch his stuff. From Elvis to Beatles to MJ and today it was always about connecting with people. So online is a real competition in contrast to label driven BS that looked into styling more and less in music. Of course an artist has to be super sexy and hot but after considerable artistic value. MTV created self-destructive shit business model and I am glad the irony is over.
- If someone who has never heard you, asks what does The ATIF sound like? Which 3 keywords would you personally use to describe your overall sound and style?
Atif Ali Khan: Rhythm, Groove, Melody.
- What are your thoughts on visual media? Do think that video is an appropriate marketing tool for your music, and do you have any videos to support your latest releases?
Atif Ali Khan: DSLR killed manipulative directors who would make you sell your house to complete the video. The digital revolution has fucked the monopoly and I love it. And yes, why not visual- actually I am competing in Palm Springs Film Festivals for my short film. So yes though music should be standalone good video can further glorify it.
- As you continue to work your way through your career, which, more than any other fires-up your imagination – A Grammy Award, Platinum music sales or any other particular goal?
Atif Ali Khan: Strangely I hate Grammy when Tom Petty’s ripped off songs get Grammys- I hate this mafia. All these Jay Zs and other Kanye West xyz- I mean they are good but they are not Quincy Jones so better not position that way. Their music has no worth so it filters away in a few days. Then these freaks like Biebers and other nymphos that I can’t remember the names of- they suck big time. I am eyeing an Oscar for my Short Film- but let’s see. You can find it online “Do You Know Me”? a five minute short.
- Straight off the top of your head, can you briefly describe why you think The ATIF should be discovered and listened to by new fans?
Atif Ali Khan: Because MJ is gone- his music is invincible and nothing like hearing it live with screaming guitars.
- What is the ONE thing you are NOT willing or prepared to do EVER, in your quest to achieve a successful musical career?
Atif Ali Khan: Sing Bieber’s Baby- it gets my blood boiling. But I hear Tracy Chapman’s Baby Can I Hold You Tonight and I feel ok.