Bilal Khan Shares the Coke Studio Experience [Exclusive Interview]

1 ) Firstly, we are really glad to see you on board. Were you expecting this?

Thank you. I was never expecting any of this. I was always sort of just doing and hoping. With Coke Studio – I certainly did not expect for it to be this year. I just got a call one evening from a Karachi number and it’s the Assistant Producer of Coke Studio going, “Hey, I’m from Coke Studio, would you be free to take part in our upcoming season?” Initially I figured it was my one of my friends prank calling me. Pretty soon I realized none of my friends could be this smooth.

2 ) Coke Studio is no doubt the best, biggest and the most diverse musical show from Pakistan. How did it feel to experience that and be part of it?

I think I never thought of my experience at Coke Studio as “this is going to make me super famous.” Those things are in the stars. What I actually thought about the whole experience was “Okay great. Now I have something cool to tell my grandchildren when I turn 70.” It was a great learning experience as a musician and a songwriter. I just wanted to be like a sponge and absorb it all and hopefully grow from it.

3 ) This is something most of the upcoming artists would like to know to try to get themselves on board for the upcoming seasons of the Coke Studio. Were you contacted by the Coke Studio team or did you try to contact them to audition?

That’s a great question. Two months before I got a call from Coke Studio, I was told by a friend in Karachi that auditions for Coke Studio had happened already and they had finalised the artists for next season. I was sort of dejected because I didn’t know that there were auditions and I thought well maybe I’ll try for it next year then. Anyway, so I thought we’ll see what happens next year and I didn’t think about it after that. But then two months later, out of nowhere, I get a call from Coke Studio and they said they wanted me to be a part of their next season. So I don’t know if there are auditions, I was contacted by Coke Studio themselves.

4 ) You started off with the unplugged home recordings, followed by viral videos, studio album and now Coke Studio. Would you like to share a bit of the story with us?

I call it the unlikely story. A string of unlikely events strung together to form an unlikely narrative that I hope is likely to endure. It’s almost anti-climatic to say this but my musical career literally began under a tree at LUMS. Some of my friends recorded me singing “Bachana” one night out. This video begins circulating the viral waves and it becomes a viral success. After this, I record “Bachana” properly in a studio and make a music video for it to be played on TV — which becomes viral again (I think at this point it has crossed over a million views on YouTube). Meanwhile I’m putting out rough recordings of my other songs on the internet and thankfully people keep liking them, relating to them.

As it stands right now I have my debut album “Umeed” recorded and ready to be released. And of course, I get a call from Coke Studio and I am doing some of the songs from my album on Season 4.

5 ) Coke Studio has always been about diversity keeping intact the eastern essence. Do you think justice has been done to your songs performed at the Coke Studio?

To be honest I’ll be hearing the final versions of my songs on the day it airs. So I have no idea about how the songs sound right now. I’ll be watching as a first time listener too. This is cool but also scary at the same time. Can you imagine sitting there with your family and watching yourself. I don’t like watching myself on TV or hearing myself. So it’ll be really hard for me. But as far as the actual process was concerned I think Rohail gave me complete freedom as to where I wanted to take the songs. It was liberating.

6 ) What was your aesthetic vision when you first heard you have been selected as one of the featured artists.

I had a lot of thinking to do. How do I want my songs to sound? What should be the tempo? Do I amp them up? Do I add lyrics? You know there were so many questions. It was like the destiny of my songs are in my hands right now and I can take them into any direction I want. So after a lot of thinking I just told myself that I would not do anything just to sell the sound of the songs. I would just trust my gut and try to put a feel and groove to the song as opposed to try and make it sellable. I am well aware that my songs might not be instant hits like Jugni from last season but they’ll be songs that are there and keep growing. It was the same with my first song “Bachana”. A lot of people said I should make it dancy, more beat focused and I could’ve done that. But the fact that its simple and on an acoustic made it different and in the end that worked for the song. I would love that everyone loves my song but I would never make a song for that reason.

7 ) Will we be hearing some of your unreleased music at Coke Studio?

Absolutely. The song in the first episode is called “Tou Kia Hua” and its studio version hasn’t been released. Only a rough acoustic recording exists on my YouTube account.

8 ) Will we be seeing you collaborate with other artists?

I’ll let that be a surprise.

9 ) Would you like to share an interesting story from you recording sessions at the Coke Studio?

There are so many stories but I think one of the stories from the top of my head was when we were recording the final versions of the songs in the studio, they would just start recording without saying the word “GO”. So I would never know if they have started recording or were just going to start. And I would just keep playing my guitar along with the metronome playing in the background, you know totally lost and just practicing waiting for them to say GO. Then Rohail would talk into my headphones and say “Bilal I hope you know we are recording” and I’d look up and the whole band would be waiting for me. I’d be like “What? We started? No way!” And then Rohail would be like “Yes I thought that was too long for an intro part”. So that would happen a lot, they would just start recording and I finally said “I have to hear the word GO”. So then finally Rohail would just say “GO!” to make sure I wasn’t wasting precious space on the recording devices. “GO” is like pressing play button inside me that makes my music come out. I need “GO! 🙂