We try to include all sorts of genres on New Music Friday ,but until this week, though, we’ve never featured a rock band with heavy African and Caribbean influences, which is fronted by an Indian guy from Queens, and has really, really good music videos with excellent use of green screens. That’s where Nikhil P. Yerawadekar, a member of afrobeat juggernaut Antibalas, comes in with his band, Low Mentality. They make Afrobeat-influenced rock and roll that plays with reggae, dancehall and hip-hop and reflects the eclectic diversity of New York City and Yerawadekar’s home borough of Queens. Their new album Everything Lasts Forever, is out today.
Yerawadekar was raised in Jamaica Estates, which is also, as he points out, Donald Trump’s neighborhood. Yerawadekar says his home was “equidistant between the Donald Trump parts and the Tribe Called Quest parts” of the neighborhood. Queens is one of the city’s most diverse areas, and Yerawadekar’s childhood home was no exception: his Indian family lived between a Cuban family and a Haitian family, so he was exposed to those musical cultures and other cultures as a kid. He attributes this diversity to curating his style and taste of music, but says that it’s very, very different from the Williamsburg neighborhood where he now lives.
“In Williamsburg, it’s more and more just one type of person,” he said “There are still parts of New York where people have to interact with each other, like where I grew up. In Williamsburg, though, everyone kind of comes from the same place, dresses the same, is around the same age.
Representing the true diversity of New York is an important part of his musical work.
“If I have a job in music, it’s to portray the different styles and things that I’ve appreciated throughout my life here,” he said. “The only fair way to do that is to be myself. I’ve seen enough people try to do different styles that aren’t really them, but I want to show that I’ve got my eyes open, and that there’s all this cool stuff around. It’s natural for me to hear a rock guitar part over a Soca/Calypso rhythm, because I’ve been exposed to all that stuff.”
In addition to the diverse array of music he was exposed to as a kid, Yerawadekar learned a lot about Afrobeat music while playing in Antibalas. Low Mentality also played a year’s worth of shows with legendary Ethiopian keyboardist Hailu Mergia, and Yerawadekar served as musical director for those shows. He says that the Ethiopian music he learned there was actually pretty similar to the traditional Indian music his parents listened to. But at its core, though, Yerawadekar says that Low Mentality is a rock band.
“The first generation of rock musicians, guys like Chuck Berry and Little Richard, what they did was combine their experiences with gospel, country, folk and blues styles to create rock music,” he said. “That’s what we do. Plus, there are shredding guitars.”
They also have really, really great music videos. The one above, for the song “Run Fast,” was the first music video they ever did, and they actually recorded the song at the same time as recording the video. The one below, though, might be my favorite music video, ever.
It features Yerawadekar being kind of an asshole and, as a result, getting beaten to death by his band. At the time of this interview, though, he seemed like a generally pretty cool guy (not an asshole) and, also, very much alive. It also features him dancing with a cardboard cutout of lady racecar driver Danica Patrick. I asked him who would be his ideal dance partner, cardboard or otherwise:
“Apart from my wife, I’d have to say Barack Obama’s tango partner,” he said. “She had some pretty serious moves.”
Their next New York show is May 27 at Barbès in Park Slope, but you should check their website for tour dates, other shows, and more fun stuff. You should also watch this video for some premium green screen action.
Lilly Vanek covers music stuff for Brokelyn. For more about local music, follow her on Twitter. and to pitch Lilly for New Music Friday, email her at lilly [at] brokelyn [dot] com.