It’s pouring rain in New York, and the Mercury Lounge is filled wall-to-wall with several hundred 20’s – so cramped it is. Peter Cat Registry Inc. he has to clear a path through the Lower East Side rock club to get to the stage from the front of the house.
Fans stand on sofas to get a quick glimpse of the New Delhi-based five-piece set, as crew members clamber over the audience and shuttle beers from the bar to the group. During the performance, devotees hand out gifts to musicians and beg for deep cuts. Later, frontman Suryakant Sawhney, in a cape with a black button and eyeliner, is outside smoking a cigarette with fans eager to shake his hand.
So why the noise? Peter Cat Recording Co., one of India’s best kept music secrets for years, finally sets foot in America. after it was announced first us tour, the band sold out three nights in New York and four in Los Angeles almost instantly, and they didn’t spend a penny on marketing. They attribute their growing popularity in the West, in part, to people discovering their music during the pandemic, supported by placing it on several popular playlists curated by Spotify. Peter Cat took a long time to arrive, with 2020 tour plans upset by the pandemic and the unforgiving economic landscape of Delhi’s music industry. they called themselves “one of the last few groups left in India”.
“We’re an anomaly,” says Sawhney, citing a rare livelihood that the band says lacks a real indie music scene in their home country. But if this tour is any indication, Peter Cat is ready to trade his underground reputation for global success. Multi-instrumentalist Kartik Pillai does not hesitate when I ask them if they are considering moving from India: “We want homes all over the world. We don’t want to live in one country.”
With 30 shows in just over a month, Peter Cat isn’t used to the uninterrupted nature of the tour and the attentive silence of the American audience compared to the rowdy Delhi crowd. “Silence is wonderful,” Sawhney says. “It’s like sharing a strange spiritual thing together.” In their limited New York free time, the group was guaranteed to do “standard tourist shit” on Broadway and watch “Wicked,” which according to the singer was “very disappointing.” They don’t write new music on the go, but Sawhney promises there will be a new Peter Cat album in the next 365 days.
I’m sitting across from Sawhney, multi-instrumentalist Pillai, drummer Karan Singh and bassist Dhruv Bhola in a cramped green room when I visit them in the basement of the Mercury Lounge before the band’s third sold-out show in the city. Rohit Gupta, playing keys and trumpet, takes a nap between Sawhney and cameraman Celeste Yumara Barbosa, who filmed the band’s first state tour. The group also brought in their own light and sound directors Abhinav Khetarpal and Deniz Sagdic from India; and artist manager Jaivir Dhruv Singh, tour manager Patrick Higgins, and monitor engineer/production manager Prathik Nedungadi.
Peter Cat is new to the US but has been around for a while. While the current lineup was formed in 2017, Sawhney adopted the nickname in 2009 and released Peter Cat’s debut album “Cinema” on January 1, 2011. It does not belong to a particular scene.” Their breakthrough in 2019 “Bismillah” is soulful, lively and totally loose. Psychedelic disco-rock meets turbocharged gypsy jazz, while trumpets glide over relaxed chord progressions and rocking drums. What attracts you, however, is Sawhney’s voice—a nimble, velvety purr similar to Sinatra with two tablets of acid.
The band’s individual influences range from Sam Cooke to Hindi soundtracks and Bangkok surf rock. Pillai says: “I listen to Marian Anderson gospel music and [Shanghai harsh noise act] The Torturing Nurse and everything in between. I like to watch multiple screens at once and torture myself until something pops out of my head. Put metal in the background and try to write.”
Sawhney cites the Velvet Underground and the Neutral Milk Hotel as examples of DIY groups that “have a nice mix of making music.” A little dirty – never fully polished. Singh, a former metal drummer, talks to me about his love for jazz while reading a book about Buddy Rich.
But despite their eclectic inspirations, Sawhney says singer music is one of the band’s common interests.
“This singing style is really emotional,” Sawhney says. “I also enjoy it in this weirdly masculine way. When I was younger I was attracted to that strong, macho voice. But he was conservative, you know? Those guys couldn’t sing poor quality. They needed to find cheesy ways to say ‘Hey, we’re going to make love tonight. That’s why I like the idea of being ruthless.
He is right. Sinatra never sang “All of them can suck my dick,” as Sawhney proclaimed in the booze-soaked “Shit I’m Dreaming.” And in “Heera,” a “My Way”-like farewell to a world that has abandoned him, Sawhney perversely mutters, “That’s how it ends / No money / No friends / And I just got an erection.”
The band’s sense of humor shines through on stage as well. Sunday night, a front-row fan handed Sawhney an envelope, “Is this a vape?” When she told him there was a letter, he dryly replied, “Thanks, I’ll drink later.” “Bass solo!”
Before I leave the hall, I ask Sawhney to explain where the band’s name came from. “I was in Kolkata and a man sold me some weed at a meat market – I didn’t even realize it because he got me hooked,” she says. “I started pulling down the sheets and seeing the carcasses and I said, ‘I have to go.’ So I took myself to this restaurant called Peter Cat. I personally don’t like this name, but years later I learned that Japanese writer Haruki Murakami opened a jazz club called Peter Cat in the 70s. ”
And why Recording Co.? “It’s good to think of ourselves as entrepreneurs like a business,” Sawhney says, and then cynically raises her voice, “Oh my God, we’re a tape!”