Bhopal’s Flowers | Interview | New Album, ‘Alstroemeria: A Journey On Earth & Beyond’
A collective of like-minded musicians led by Lionel Pezzano and based in Montreal, Canada, Bhopal’s Flowers are inspired by both Eastern and Western influences in their soulful, sophisticated approach to songcraft.
Guided by the spiritual science of Anthroposophy, the band seeks truth through beauty, with each song blending modal and harmonic systems in a dancing constellation of esoteric concepts, powered by sitar and 12-string Rickenbacker guitar and driven by catchy melodies and intricate psychedelic arrangements.
The band recently released ‘Alstroemeria’ via Sugarbush Records and Kool Kat Musik. ‘Alstroemeria’ is a psychedelic concept record, mapping a 24 hours cycle, in which each song of the is linked with a specific time of the day/night, slicing its journey in two distinct parts: a bright and vintage Sunshine Pop on disc 1, facing a deep and Modern Moonlight pop on disc 2. Exploring the deepest mysteries of life and drawing an esoteric vision of the soul’s materialization from upper skies to down bellow, ‘Alstroemeria’ tales the cosmic and earthly adventures of the human soul, surrounded by numerous guides, divinities and historical characters: Galilee, the three Magi, Jesus Christ, Ettore Majorana, Archangel Uriel, Nikola Tesla, Angels Seraph & Metatron, Rudolf Steiner, Swami Vivekananda, Paul Dirac, Napoleon Bonaparte, Yahveh Zarathustra, Virgin Mary, Adam, Christopher Columbus, St John the Evangelist, Charles Darwin, Lord Krishna.
“To enjoy the rainbow, you first have to struggle through the tide”
Would you like to talk a bit about your background?
Lionel Pezzano: I’ve learn the guitar when I was 11 years old, rocked in country music repertoire. After ten years learning, playing and recording a very large music repertoire, I had the opportunity to learn the sétâr (a Persian luth) with Koorosh Nowroosi, a master of Persian music who taught the traditional Persian repertoire, the radif. In the meantime, I became the disciple of the classical North Indian musician (sarod player) and composer, Pandit Alok Lahiri, who taught me the sitar, in its most traditional way through the tradition of Guru shishya parampara: an old form of teaching who requires to the student to live in the house of his teacher (his Guru), to give full dedication to learn Hindustani music.
After decades of this Eastern music studies, I went back to rock’n roll with Bhopal’s Flowers, in which I never really included these exotics elements for personal reasons. It is only in 2016, when I have bought a Rickenbacker 360/12 that the band took this psychedelic turn.
When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music? What brought that about for you?
As my uncle was a live and studio musician, I grew up very young with this way of life model in the back of my mind. I was so used to join him during his rehearsals and his show that the concept writing and performing music was naturally written in my subconscious. So, as soon as I started to learn the guitar, writing and playing my own music was part of the deal.
What does the name “Bhopal’s Flower” refer to in the context of the band name?
It refers to the Bhopal disaster that happened in 1984 in India, a chemical substance has been spread by a lack of security of an industrial company located there. As flowers are in general expressing life and hope, I did this association with the city of Bhopal, mainly because at that time, the music I wrote was fed by this antagonism: deep and sad lyrics, on easy-listening melodies. The deep meaning of the name Bhopal’s Flowers is that after the tide, there’s always a rainbow that will come, but to enjoy the rainbow, you first have to struggle through the tide.
“Melody is the holy part of the music”
How do you usually approach music making?
I am always seeking for melody strong enough to be played over and over. If I don’t feel hooked by the melody or at least, the harmonic structure I wrote, I just give up the song until the next one comes to me. Melody is the holy part of the music, the one that comes from the Devachan, the place we go during our deep sleep, and when we die.
Some songs are directly coming from Hindustani ragas, like ‘Hail To Her Sun’ (based on raga ‘Ahir Bhairav’) or ‘Ohm Namah Shivaya’ (based on raga ‘Paramshwari’). Then, there is no rules, I sometimes write and record the song in one shot, like I did for ‘Midnight Girl’, ‘Cosmic Reflector’ or ‘When The Sinner Becomes A Saint (Then The Devil Bleeds)’. But things can be way more complicated, like it happened with ‘Mysteries Of Love or Enjoy Your Life on Earth’: once recorded and demoed, I had to struggle and investigate so hard to bring the song where it had to go. These two different situations reflect the fact that music already pre-exist to the composer. Musician’s job is to catch songs like they would catch fish, or translate something untouchable by our senses to make it accessible to our ears. But sometimes, we can’t see the song properly at first sight. But once we get rid of the fog that blurs the perception we have of the music, the songs appear the way they are, ready to shake ears of the listeners.
I first heard your music via the Hypnotic Bridge Records 7″, which was perfect and was hoping for a full album!
Such sweet memories are popping in my heart when you talk about this single released on Hypnotic Bridge Records, mainly because I wrote and produced these two songs (as well as the design and visuals) in the same approach I did ‘Alstroemeria’: a job of investigation and readings led by a will to open an hidden door to another dimension. I don’t know how often it happens at Hypnotic Bridge Records, but my e-epistolary relationship with Stu, the man behind this company, has largely contributed to the successful result of this single.
You already self-released an album in 2018?
Indeed, ‘Lovesongs & Psychedelic Tones’ was released on our own through Bandcamp in 2018. I wrote that album in two or three months, fed by the creative power of the Rickenbacker 360-12 I just bought at that time. Surprisingly, this album has been pretty successful for an LP launched without any promotional support, label or marketing plan. Mainly I guess, because the UK magazine Shindig! has given a 5 stars review to the record. I’d love to find a label interested by a vinyl reissue of this LP, it has only been released on CD and digital, and I know for sure that a whole part of our audience would love to get that record on vinyl.
How would you describe your sound?
An anthroposophic message powered by a Rickenbacker 360-12 on a bed of tanpura buzz, ornamented by a lyrical sitar. I assume that it sounds like an ice cream advertisement on a Deli’s menu !
There aren’t many bands that successfully employ sitar in their music.
Probably because they haven’t spend enough time to learn Hindustani music tradition properly before to exploit (and sometimes spoil ) it. On an other hand, those who give enough devotion to this art to have a better knowledge of the tradition, are often leaving western music on the side to give 100% of their time to Indian music. I am in between, out of the frame, as I always was in my life.
Harrison stopped practicing the sitar after he realized that there will always be better sitar player than him in somewhere in India (apparently Clapton would have told him: “you should better practice your guitar than the sitar”), I know that ‘Crispian Mills’ from Kula Shaker was also learning the sarod. I think that it’s important to find a middle ground, continuing to take lessons with your Guru, practice your instrument as much as you can, to one day, being able to give a humble but good rendition of Hindustani music. Nowadays and unlike the innocent wave of the 60s, no matter what kind of music you play with your sitar, you should always keep in mind that if the sitar part you play would make an Indian musician laugh or feel ashamed for you, it means that your song should remain on your PC before to be proudly shared. It may sound a bit conservative but sitar belongs to Hindustani music tradition which is intrinsically conservative.
You have a new album ready, ‘Alstroemeria: A Journey On Earth And Beyond’. It’s released via Sugarbush Records as a double vinyl. Are you excited about it?
I am really happy about that release! Finding a tasty label like Sugarbush Records, courageous enough to press a double vinyl looks like a stars alignment to me. This will actually be the first time Bhopal’s Flowers’ music will be pressed on a 33 rpm. The concept of two records based on the Sunshine Pop (dis one) and Moonlight Pop (disc 2) ecosystem has imposed itself naturally during the time we recorded that album, I feel so blessed that Sugarbush embraced that concept by pressing a double vinyl.
“These two records are the two sides of the same coin”
There’s a lot of material on it. Is it a concept album? If so, what’s the story behind it?
Indeed, ‘Alstroemeria’ is a concept album, actually, the logical following part of our single at Hypnotic Bridge Record. These two records are the two sides of the same coin, mainly because the tracks are linked with a specific time of the day / night, like it is for ragas in India. If you go to India, you’ll never hear a morning raga performed at night time. We have lost this tradition in the West, but it gives to the music its full meaning. The Gregorian chant sang with specific modes, scales and lyrics for the monk prayers marks the last tail of this tradition of music linked with time of the day / night. Since the Renaissance time, as the self of the humans grows more and more in his being (which has given the concept of composition), we have lost that track. It is now time to combine modernity: the established “self” in our entities, with and older tradition: individual entities that are part of a group entitled universe.
As the album is splitted in two parts, Sunshine Pop (from 5 am to 6 pm on disc one) and Moonlight Pop (from 7 pm to 4 am on disc two), there is an analogy between the early hours in which the album starts and the birth of the human. As long as the songs go by, it draws not only a 24h path within a day, but also the life of a human being on Earth, we lift our souls day by day as we grow old, to final go back home to our original state, the Devachan.
As we never walk on our own, the album is surrounded by numerous guides, divinities and historical characters: Galilee, the three Magi, Ettore Majorana, Lord Krishna, Archangel Uriel, Nikola Tesla, Zarathustra, Virgin Mary, Adam, Christopher Columbus, Jesus Christ, Paul Dirac, Napoleon Bonaparte, Yahveh, angels Seraph & Metatron, Rudolf Steiner, St John The Evangelist, Charles Darwin & Swami Vivakananda.
Can you share some further details on how your latest album was recorded?
There’s a lot of back and forth between my home studio in my apartment and the Mandragore Studio where I do my recordings and mixing. All the tracks have been composed and recorded on a Rickenbacker 360/12 played on an AC-30 and a janglebox-compressor through an old Midas board. When the songs are completely arranged, Jeremy Thoma played the drums at the very end of the recording process, the opposite way the band usually record an album, but I guess this is the way we do the thing in Bhopal.
As said earlier, some tracks required to be arranged and re-arranged, mixed and remixed to final find the right balance. Some of them, like ‘Napoleon Candy Sweet’ have almost been composed and recorded in one shot … except that this one had to be re-recorded because I accidentally deleted the project from my computers and back up, without having at least a mix or a bounce of the track!
How pleased were you with the sound of the album?
As happy when you do the recording and mixing on your own, you always want some more, you always want to improve your playing, your takes and your mix. As a engineer, I learn so much every day, record after record, track after track. Of course, the Sunshine Pop disc on that records, sounds more vintage, so it has been a completely different approach of the recording and the mix than the Moonlight Pop disc, more modern. But I am really happy of the sound and the production, it gathers both sides of Bhopal’s Flowers’ sound, an old fashioned way to make music coupled with standard of the contemporary audio gear.
What are some future plans? How are you coping with pandemic?
I am currently recording our forthcoming record, ‘Joy Of The 4th’. As I recently became a happy father 3 months back, I took a little break to delay the recording of the second part of the album to this summer. The track list will of course be shorter than the one of ‘Alstroemeria’, but the album will be really colourful, psychedelic, filled with tanpura, sitar and mellotron. We also have a new line up on stage, as Jeremy, our original drummer, has definitely left North America to Europe. We will release a live recording of this new live band next September.
Is there an album that has profoundly affected you more than others?
Definitely yes, classics we all love from the Byrds, The Beach Boys or The Associations. ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ by Kula Shaker and ‘Healing Hands’ by Crispian Mills (only available on YouTube!) have been an album I listen over and over. But I most recently fell in love for The Seekers / ‘Seen In Green’ and for and The Searchers / ‘Take Me for What I’m Worth’.
Are any of you involved in any other bands or do you have any active side-projects going on at this point?
Yes, I drive another project named Youngstown, a country’s billy trio that plays bluegrass-like music on amphetamines. Our second album is recorded and on mixing process. I focused on Bhopal’s Flowers since 2017, but I have some many recordings to release. I used to collaborate with the science fiction writer Maurice G. Dantec who sadly passed away in 2016. A lot of our common work has not be released and I want to finalize this project in 2021. I am also daily practicing the sitar and weekly with a tabla player named Saulo Olmedo Evans. A busy schedule that sometimes requires me to make drastic choices regarding the project I can put the focus on.
Let’s end this interview with some of your favourite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
I am not so much aware about new bands release, but I am waiting to receive by post the new Electric Looking Glass vinyl LP, an interesting baroque pop from L.A. I’ve been blast by the last single of The Communicant ‘She Moves The Sky’ as well as the last LP of Constantine ‘Memory Of A Summer Day’. The French organ and composer Shepard Electrosoft in Public Garden has released last year an uncommon musical phenomenon named ‘Mountains’ sadly ignored by listeners and the music industry. As said Arvo Pärt: “miracles happen in secret”.
Thank you. Last word is yours.
Always keep in mind that Love is the force that has to be integrated to our environment in this Earth incarnation, the same way wisdom has been integrated to our world during the previous incarnation of our planet. Music will play its part in this process, so thank you so much for spreading this art all over the place and to take the time to listen to it the way you do. It seems meaningless but it brings so much to mankind’s future.
Bhopal’s Flowers Facebook / Instagram / Bandcamp / YouTube
Sugarbush Records Official Website / Facebook / Twitter / YouTube
Kool Kat Musik Official Website / Facebook
Hypnotic Bridge Records Official Website / Facebook / Instagram