Burning it Down with Aag - An Interview with Haroon & Usman Sheikh

Aag, a name that needs no introduction in the world of rock bands in Pakistan, have the knack to blow out anyone out of the scene on any given day. Comprising of two brothers, Haroon Sheikh and Usman Sheikh, Aag rose to prominence with their debut single, Aag in 2006. Since then, Aag with it’s sumptuous, close harmonies and thoughtful lyricism, has been making waves around the country.

Haroon Sheikh of Aag speaking to Musicians of Pakistan in an exclusive interview.
Haroon Sheikh
It is not just rock music that defines the band. Aag has shown its different range of colours time and time again. Even with an Acapella song, they can give others a run for their money and we have seen a glimpse of that in their Independence Day tribute released in 2018. Not to forget their cover of Tum Mil Gaye - a heartfelt tribute to Vital Signs - speaks volumes of how versatile the brother-duo is. The band has been away for a while and it was the perfect time to know what they have been burning in their studio.

In this interview, Haroon and Usman of Aag reflect on their musical journey, talk about the music industry in Pakistan, future projects, and more.

1. Almost 13 years in the industry and still counting, how would you reflect on your journey? 

Haroon:
14 actually. From lineup changes to breakups, from being on Coke Studio (and not getting aired for some mysterious reason) to being broke and depressed, from having top managers rip us off to working with the legends of the industry…we’ve been through it all. It has been a heck of a journey, full of untamable energy and never in the same state twice, quite like the nature of fire, and it far from over… hopefully in a good way.

Usman:
I think there’s a lot of journey still to be had so I will reflect on this the moment I have played enough gigs to see huge crowds sing our songs with us louder than the loudest sounds we can make on the loudest PA systems. Right now I just wanna make music and put it out.

2. What was the biggest obstacle Aag had to overcome in the early stages?

Haroon: 
To find people (musicians) who could play our songs. An entire generation had to grow up into adults to be able to play our guitar/bass parts etc. Not even kidding.

Usman:
Finding musicians and players who could play our stuff. I mean its not very complex by any means but there are micro complexities in the middle of simple passages so getting those right is important to get the right effect and that’s why it was so hard to have a long term guitar player or a bass player.

3. Your debut song Aag was a huge hit having a unique mix of Indian classical and rock music. Was it a one off experiment or do you intend to release more songs in the same genre? 

Haroon:
We did a song on Nescafe Basement that went by the name “Do Pal”, it was in the same genre. A part of our cover for Imran Khan’s Bewafa had that flavor. AND I believe that is part of our sound in some way so we have that in plenty of our unreleased stuff.

Usman:
Its definitely not a one off, if its worth doing then its definitely worth doing again for me. We have done that in other songs as well, not just Aag, it shows up when it shows up, it’s the way songwriting works, it reveals itself to you rather than you searching for it. It’ll probably show up again, but its like having cereal for breakfast, you don’t want it every day but its really nice.

4. Aag was one of the finest acts to come out in the early 2000s. What in your opinion is the reason you could not achieve as much as you should have considering the amount of talent and music sense you guys possess? 

Haroon:
I am pretty satisfied with what we have achieved. We have a die-hard cult following and our fans are just amazing! That’s pretty much all that matters really.

Usman:
Think our first single came out in 2009, so more like late 2000’s but in a way perhaps possibly that’s the reason it might seem that way, because the early 2000’s were a really good time in Pakistan for music, musicians and producers. We were on a boom in terms of the industry and pretty much everything kinda collapsed and dissolved around 2008, and we released our single a year after that, so considering the time and the circumstances, our song was still a hit and everything after that also worked really well, so all things considered I think we did the best that possibly could be done at that time.

5. Aag is sometimes perceived as a serious band. Are you? 

Haroon:
Serious? I’d rather call it intense. I draw from my experiences, things that shake me or move me, things that I feel strongly about and we turn those feelings into music. I guess we’re serious about what we do.

Usman:
I’m not sure what you really mean by serious, I would say things we’re serious about are performing a great live set, having a good stage presence, making really cool music that is new and interesting that we love to make and our fans connect with, and we do love our fans! If I think about all those things then we are pretty serious, but as people we don’t take ourselves too seriously because we think its important to laugh at your own self, find the comedy in things.

6. Lyrics have always been a strong point of your band. How do you always come up with such profound lyrics?

Haroon:
We take inspiration from things that affect us. There’s always plenty happening in the world that needs to be spoken about, don’t you think?

Usman:
Our lyrics really come from our lives, the things we’ve gone through the things we thought about and experienced, so how they say “art imitates life”, that’s what we try to do with our lyrics.

7. You guys don’t release music frequently but when you do, it is always different from the rest of your songs. Is it the creative process that takes time or you guys don’t want to release a lot of music? 

Usman:
All of our songs are created pretty quickly its not a very drawn out process the only thing that actually takes a while is the recording the material because we work as full time producers and if were not producing some other artists or band or some commercial work or a TV show, then we have full creative license and time to do our things right and we believe in doing our material justice and just doing the song right, that’s why it can take some time to release. But rest assured we have a lot of material that we think is just in the right place so we will be releasing a lot of material soon.

Usman Sheikh of Aag Band speaks to Musicians of Pakistan in this exclusive interview.
Usman Sheikh
8. Have you guys ever planned to expand your band? If yes, what additions do you intend to make in the band?

Haroon:
At this stage we are quite ok keeping the core lineup as Usman and myself. We have a live lineup that has one, two or three other members depending on the kind of sound we’re looking for in a particular show.

9. Today, a lot of music relies on technically sophisticated synthetic sound. Do you think this is one of the reasons why the current generation of musicians hasn’t been able to connect with the audience lately? 

Usman: 
I would say that sound, and the choice of sounds, and tonality, and genres and just the way you approach things or arrangements, changes with the times and with the era. Whatever that ends up becoming the signature of that era, we don’t really know until after the era has passed.Like a song from the 80’s sounds very much like the 80’s no matter what genre its in, one can tell. I think musicians matter in the end and whatever the sounds of the times is, its just something that they can choose to adapt to or disregard completely. That’s really up to the musicians.

10. Which age groups do you actually target with your music?

Haroon:
We don’t really target any group of people in particular when making music but we’re popular in the 18 – 24 age group according to our Facebook stats.

Usman:
Anyone with a curious soul and a free spirit can enjoy Aag’s music, so I don’t think about age that much.

11. How do you view the current state of Pakistan’s music industry?

Haroon:
What music industry? It’s just people pursuing their passions in unfavourable circumstances. Everyone trying to make a buck or two while at it.

Usman:
Kinda feels like a baby kitten trying to climb an adult sized bed. Were still trying to recover from the collapse that happened around 2008 and right now the movement is positive and there is a lot of bands putting out new music. I want that to keep going, so that at one point Pakistan has so much original music being created that the people are hard pressed to pick what to listen to. I think those are good times, and to me that’s a definition of a renaissance. I think the Pakistani music renaissance is yet still to come but what you see going on right now is the scenes of inception to that time. That’s what I hope anyway.

12. Any suggestions for the improvement of the music industry?

Haroon:
Practically speaking, the government needs to actively recognize it as an industry and make and enforce regulations that are favorable to everyone involved. You can’t make money off of a product unless everyone plays fair and there are laws in place. Everyone should profit from an equation for it to churn out gold.

Usman:
I think the artists need to give the audience a break and vice versa. The artist needs to understand that music exists to be shared, to be connected with, to be enjoyed, to be related with one’s life, so purposely trying to create music that only connects with you and you alone almost feels selfish to me. And the audience hopefully with time will understand that an artist’s expression while is meant to be shared with people, is also very deeply personal, its very hard to drag something out of yourself and put it down to make music out of it so a lot of respect should go into any artist offering their form of expression.

13. Be it classical, rock, metal, or acapella, whatever you guys have tried, you have proven your mettle. How do you wish to surprise your fans next? 

Haroon: 
Thanks. Well it’s a surprise, it wouldn’t be one if we told everyone…

Usman: 
A surprise wouldn’t be a surprise if we told you..

14. Do you think nepotism exists in the industry? What can be done to eradicate it altogether? 

Haroon:
Nepotism not so much, but favoritism for sure. But I guess that it is only human to pick favorites. If an opportunity comes by, and you’re around, and everyone likes you, and you’re good at what you do, chances are you’ll get it.

Usman:
Think nepotism is a secondary problem. The main problem that does exist is favoritism. People seem to hang around, produce, give awards to people they hang out with, and are friends with. I’m not sure if merit is such a huge deal to anyone.

15. Any new projects in the pipeline? 

Haroon: 
A few. But we’ve sworn to secrecy so cannot disclose yet.

Usman: 
Only top secret ones..

16. What is the best part of playing live? 

Haroon:
Playing live.

Usman:
Sound check. Hahaha, no … best part of playing live is somewhere in the middle of the gig when we’re a couple songs down and the crowd is asking for more, and I get to gratify them by starting the beat.

17. Please give a small message for your fans. 

Haroon: 
You guys are the best! Now take that favorite Aag song of yours and introduce it to 10 girls. Do it! You know it’s the only way..

Usman: 
I want you guys to know that you are the best and I really appreciate you guys and we’re gonna keep making music and I hope you guys keep listening.


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Comments

  1. I have always admired Haroon for his on-stage brilliance, he caught me off-guard this time with his wit and honesty. Love you guys Aag

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  2. I like Usman more, probably because of his appearances in Nescafe Basement. He is brilliant.

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  3. They didn't market themselves that led to their downfall after a promising start. Also, hoping that music sense prevails in Pakistani audience so that they recognize the real talent.

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  4. They are true live performers. I got to attend their concert in Karachi and it was outstanding

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  5. That tribute to Vital Signs is so sweet. Much love from LA guys

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