Zero’s Hook is our #1 album of the 2000s. In this special feature, as part of our decade in review, we go behind-the-scenes to find out just what this seminal album was all about.
Zero’s Hook is our #1 album of the 2000s. In this special feature, as part of our decade in review, we go behind-the-scenes to find out just what this seminal album was all about. Oh, and like did we mention we’re giving it away as a free download?
If you’ve just been reading our lists of the top songs and albums of the decade, you’ve probably come across the word “overthought” a couple of times. One of the biggest follies of Indian rock acts has always been the tendency to take oneself too seriously. It is thus fitting that the album of the decade took only a week to record. Everything from the recording, album art, and CD-making was done in a short span of seven days. There was no fucking around on these eight tunes – okay maybe a little on ‘Not My Kind Of Girl (Reprise)’ – they were the work of a band that had figured out that if they couldn’t remember a song the next day, nobody else would. It all started, as many great albums have, over a drinking session. Drummer Sidd Coutto was fascinated by the idea of EPs and decided that his band had to record one of their own. Luckily, they already had all the songs – songs that they had played hundreds of times before, songs that were initially booed by all but a few but eventually triumphed, winning fans even in the most mosh-obsessed metalheads. Hook was the album that confirmed what many had been thinking for a long time – that at a time when Pentagram was going farther into electronica territory, Zero was the great big hope of Indian rock. Filled from start-to-finish with eight irresistible pop-rock gems – sorry Sidd, the reprise pushes it into LP territory – Hook is an album that completely fulfils the criteria of a landmark record: it says something new in a way that people will remember for a long, long time.
We (Arjun S Ravi and Amit Gurbaxani) meet Girish ‘Bobby’ Talwar (bass) and Sidd Coutto (drums).
Sidd: The whole album came out of a drinking session. We had finished our first album (Albummed) already, and after that we didn’t have any concrete plans for an album or anything. But over time, since Warren used to work at Wadia’s (Farhad Wadia’s studio) he’d started recording some stuff there. I was in a pop band at the time so I’d bought this drum machine. And that’s how we did it. We’d done seven songs over one year, but there was no plan for anything.
I was drinking at a bar near here (we’re at the Only Much Louder office in Santacruz, Mumbai) with my friend Saumitra from Cusp (erstwhile Mumbai rock act). I was saying to him, “Man, we’re not doing anything with this band, we need to do something.” At the time I was very fascinated by the concept of EPs. Everyone was doing albums, nobody had EPs. It was very cool. So over whiskey we decided that whatever songs we had, we’d put them out as an EP.
Then, it was my job to convince the band that this was a good idea, that I’d come up with in a drinking session, with a guy who was not in the band. And I thought this guy (points to Bobby) was going to be the hardest to convince. He’d earlier given me some solid, (puts on pretend whiny voice) “No, no, we wont put it out now, we’ll wait…” I thought convincing Bobby was going to be a bitch. Surprisingly Bobby was the easiest (to convince). Rajeev wasn’t too hard. Warren was the toughest to convince.
We launched in December 2002, at a gig in Pune (at the PAN Card Club). All this happened just one week before that gig. In that one week we put the songs together, decided on an order, went to Saumi’s to design the cover, did all that.
Arjun: Whose idea was the title?
Amit: Was it to do with all the hooks in the songs?
Sidd: Yup, it’s as obvious as that.
Bobby: If there was no hook, there was no song.
Arjun: Yeah, not all of the Albummed songs made it to Hook.
Sidd: Like I said, there was never a plan for an album. One week before this gig, in full josh, we did it. The night before the gig, Bobby was at the printer with Saumi getting the CDs made.
Bobby: Whatever Hook ended up being, happened in that one week. I remember going to the printer and proof-reading and shit.
Arjun: Were you sitting in front of a mirror proof-reading the text on the CD? (see image below)
Bobby: We were actually going to print that stuff straight up. But then we thought we should do some keeda with this also. So we asked the printer is there was some way we could invert it. The printer was like, “This is easy.” And with one click it was done.
Warren was the least enthu about it (the album). Once the recording was over he was like, “Okay, now my work is done.” The two of us (Bobby and Sidd) put in the most effort to get it done.
Arjun: But by the time you’d decided to put these songs out as an EP/album, were the songs complete? A lot of songs have changed over the years.
Sidd: The songs were already recorded over time. They are our songs, we don’t like think about them too much. We just go out and play them. The year we won GIR, I was so nervous I couldn’t remember the ‘PSP’ groove. I played a different groove for ‘PSP’ for that show.
Bobby: Coming to ‘PSP’ specifically, even on the last album, what was its name?
Bobby: Yeah, even on Procrastination, we didn’t want to include ‘PSP’ on that album. Because by that time we were getting bored of that song. But then I was like, “Not everyone has heard this song and it should be on it.” By that time we were just focusing on the strongest songs.
Amit: How many CDs of Hook did you sell?
Bobby: Some thousands… I remember at some time, we sold 250 copies in just one concert.
Arjun: But you only sold it like that, at the end of gigs? You couldn’t buy it in stores.
Bobby: You couldn’t buy it in stores because at that time CCR (Counter Culture Records) wasn’t set up. At that time Vijay (Vijay Nair. co-founder Only Much Louder, band manager) and I were researching how to get the album out. We would go to record companies and ask them to put it out. They would be like, “Are you crazy? What the hell is this?” They’d just see the CD and not look at us.
Sidd: The 50 buck price was Vijay Nair’s idea.
Amit: How much did it cost you to make the CDs?
Bobby: 20-25 bucks.
Amit: And you made 200 CDs initially? *Bobby nods* So it cost you less than 5,000 bucks to make your first CDs.
Bobby: We were burning these CDs till four in the morning!
Sidd: Albummed was recorded on a computer with 16GB RAM. *look of surprise on Arjun’s face* Sorry, 16MB RAM. For Hook, I burned these CDs all night in my office. I was burning CDs on one computer, printing the labels on another, all this while I was also doing work in the studio (where he worked at the time).
Arjun: Whose idea was the cover? There’s a picture of a dog there. Whose dog is that?
Sidd: That’s Hansu’s dog. Hansu’s the guy who mixed Helga’s Fun Castle’s album.
Bobby: The cover was designed by Saumitra.
Sidd: Warren and I were in Rajeev’s room. No one else was there. Warren started playing the opening guitar part. And then, I had girlfriend problems at the time I guess. And that was the song. That was the first song Warren and I wrote in Zero. We’d written together before, but not for Zero. This was written around ’98.
The whole song was written in one go. Warren was playing on Rajeev’s bed. I sang it. It was done.
Bobby: If we got bored in a song, we’d drop it immediately.
In some of our shows Rajeev would start this song by saying, “This is where it all began.” And then we’d start ‘Not My Kind of Girl’. I never really got that. *laughter* Then at some point I got it and I was like, “Oh! Right.”
Sidd: This was the first song that went out. It was on a GIR compilation, so it was the first time people outside our friends circle heard us.
Download: ‘Not My Kind of Girl’
Sidd: ‘Lost’ was a song we wrote in rehearsal. We had to record a song for a compilation called For Our Kids. It was Claver’s (Menezes) project. We had to go to record it at his studio. We chose this song cos we could do some interesting stuff with it at his studio. This was before Warren and I got into our studio work. ‘Lost’ was also on Albummed. I think it’s the first song we ever recorded properly.
Bobby: His studio had a sound booth the size of a telephone booth. It was tiny. There was no fan in it. Rajeev had to squeeze himself into it and all he could see was himself.
Sidd: There’s this really high part in the song and we could literally see Rajeev’s eyes bulging. We’re all standing outside laughing at him.
Arjun: This sounds like a song that Warren would have a larger part to play in.
Sidd: Yeah, I only wrote some last bit of it.
Arjun: Was it ever like, if Warren wanted something in a song, he’d get his way?
Bobby: Not really. But sometimes if he really wanted something we’d give in knowing that otherwise he’d whine for a whole year. He’d be like, “No, let’s finish rehearsal, I’m going home.”
Sidd: That was just for Buffy. That was his main thing. Practice had to finish before Buffy.
Arjun: Buffy The Vampire Slayer?
Sidd: He HAD to go home to watch Buffy.
‘Spitleaf’ happened before Zero. I’d gone to Warren’s house one day and he played me this track. I was like, “What is this? Joe Satriani?” Then he told me this was his. I was like, “Woah!”
Bobby: We were playing football one day, and Warren, who usually never liked playing, would once in a while get enthu enough to play. So we were playing football, and Warren was sweaty and tired.
Sidd: He sat down, and I sat down next to him. He was breathing heavily, and then he goes, “Thoo…” His spit landed on a leaf. He said, “Hey let’s call that song Spitleaf.” And that was it.
Sidd: ‘PSP’ was a song that Bobby and I wrote waiting for Warren and Garreth D’Mello (of Split, Dischordian) to come for practice. He (Garreth) was singing with us for a gig, and we were just bored waiting for these two fuckers to come. Bobby started this slap thing, I wrote the song on top on it. We reached the chorus and we’re like, “Now we have a song!”
Arjun: So the person you’re “waiting” for in that song is Garreth D’Mello of Split? *rapturous laughter*
Sidd: No, it’s not Garreth D’Mello. “Standing by” was something I was thinking about at that point of time, to use in a song.
Bobby: Was it “standing by” we were singing at that time?
Sidd: Yup. Dude I can remember it from the second I wrote it. It’s like ‘Smoke Some Ganja’ (Helga’s Fun Castle song). You know that song’s going to stay in your head forever. We wrote it so quick and it was done.
Amit: So the #1 song of the decade took 10 minutes to write?
Sidd: No, no, no. Three. The chorus was out in three minutes, and well, that’s the song. Back in Zero, that’s how we wrote songs.
Arjun: And Rajeev never sings the same (verse) lyrics.
Sidd: The lyrics for the studio version I wrote down on a paper and gave him. He was like, “What is this?” I was like, “It means something.” So he sang them, and then he forgot them.
This was played live when we won Livewire (IIT Bombay’s rock show) for the first time. Rajeev had just come back, and we knew that for a live set, we needed only toda songs. So Bobby and I were like, “Look, we’ve got this toda song. Let’s play it.” So we told Rajeev everything he needed to know about it – the melody, the lyrics, etc. So we’re on stage. I’m sitting at the kit. Rajeev’s in front of me. We start the song, and Rajeev has by now walked down the entire ramp. He walks, walks, walks, then he turns around and comes running back! “Sidd! Sidd! What’s the melody?!” This is happening on stage, the year we won IIT!
Arjun: Obviously it’s come to be your biggest song. But when you wrote it, did you ever think it’d catch on this fast? At this first Livewire gig, were kids taken by it?
Sidd: Immediately. We walked off stage and kids were like, “Woh maa teri song kya hai?”
Bobby: People would call it the ‘Teri Maa’ song. When we wrote the chorus, we knew it was a catchy chorus.
Download: ‘PSP 12″‘
Sidd: Warren’s outside in his balcony. He was sitting down and then he looked up. It was July and there was a Christmas star hanging. He’s like, “What the fuck’s a Christmas star doing up in July? Hey, let’s call that new song Christmas in July!”
Amit: It had nothing to do with being in the southern hemisphere, and thus having winter in July?
Sidd: See this is why you can interpret art in whatever way you want. There’s this movie called You Don’t Mess With The Zohan. Dave Matthews is in it, and at some point he says, “This is Christmas in July.”
Download: ‘Christmas In July’
Bobby: ‘Lucy’ always had a heavy, bouncy groove to it. And it became one of our more popular songs.
Arjun: Who is Lucy?
Bobby: Go off the record.
*we go off record* *rapturous laughter*
(It’s a funny story, but we can’t say. Sorry.)
Sidd: The full name is actually ‘Lucy Sweet Strange Lady Friend’, which I’ve made a reference to in ‘Forest of Doom’ (on the new Tough On Tobacco album The Happy Goat).
Bobby: Basically there’s this friend of our’s called Lijo. Some of our friends were in town and we were rehearsing at our rehearsal space while they were chilling at the beach. They came back to the rehearsal space and Warren started playing this *hums ‘Lijo’ guitar refrain*. So Sam (Samira Kanwar of Babble Fish Productions) and Samar (close friend) went up to the mic and started singing, “Who is the man? It is Lijo.” There were some kids who were roaming around with them, so to trouble Lijo, they’d ask the kids, “Who is the man?” And all the kids would go, “Lijo!”
Sidd: Some years later Lijo went for a job interview. The interviewer looks at him and goes, “Lijo? Why have I heard that name before?” Lijo says, “There’s this song by a band called Zero.” The interviewer goes, “Yes!”
The song is Warren’s Mark Knopfler tribute.
Sidd: We liked the concept of starting with a song and ending with the same song.
Arjun: What are those backward vocals in the song?
Sidd: We were so bad at this music software. Warren had programmed an extra cycle of the guitar part into the song and he didn’t want to cut it.
Bobby: He never wanted to cut anything. He’d do the whole song in one take itself. His problem was that if he cut that extra part, he’d have to retake everything.
Sidd: So he put it on, and I imitated the ex-girlfriend, who the song is about. I just imitated her. When she found out a year or so later, she fired the fuck out of me. She’s still pissed off about it.
We’ve played that song live, and I’ve also done that crying bit live! People still ask me to play that song, even at TOT gigs.
Download: ‘Not My Kind of Girl (reprise)’
And here’s the entirety of the album, along with all these inlay pictures, wrapped up neatly in one RAR file.