Basement Manners: Ashwin Bhandari

Written by Maddy Howell

Since beginning their musical journey in school choirs, Oxford’s Ashwin Bhandari has spent 14 years exploring the realms of countless genres. Having played in projects focused on metalcore, shoegaze, hardcore, lo-fi, pop, emo and pop-punk, Bhandari has never been one to stick to the status quo. 

Now playing as one quarter of London-based shoegaze band Night Swimming and performing under the solo moniker of G I V E U P, we caught up with Bhandari to see what the jack of all trades has been up to. 

Burn After Writing: Where did your musical journey start? 

Ashwin Bhandari: I was in three different musical choirs when I was in school and had to stop when I was in year 10 because I found out that my Catholic school was going to be singing to the pope. As a rebellious 15-year-old, I was like “no, thanks” and stopped going down the choir route then. 

It wasn’t until university that I had any experience in bands, but my first band formed in first year when the bassist of Night Swimming invited me to join a little metalcore project. We went to this friend’s house in Weybridge and recorded on his Mac, we were meant to do shows but nothing ever happened and he kept deleting our work by accident. 

In 2015 I saw someone post on the UK Emo Facebook group looking for a drummer, so I went to this jam session in Camden which eventually led to me joining a band called Bowels. I was in that for around 10 months but some shit happened and they kicked me out. 

I don’t know if it was related to that happening or not but I just decided “fuck it” and started writing solo stuff under the name G I V E U P, I’ve been doing that for a year now. Then my band Night Swimming formed a few months after I finished university and that’s my main project at the moment. 

BAW: When did it really click that performing music was something you wanted to invest your time into?

AB: There was one band that I was in when I was 15, we didn’t play any shows but we recorded a few times and I think that’s when I knew I wanted to be a musician. A lot of the times it’s just been other people not getting their shit together or everyone living too far away, so I didn’t get to perform live with any sort of project until 2015. 

BAW: Your band Night Swimming released their debut EP late last year, what sparked the decision to begin that project and what bands inspired the EP? 

AB: Whilst I enjoyed my time in my old band Bowels, I felt like I didn’t have any creative control, a lot of the ideas I had got shot down because I wasn’t the frontman. They were all very set in certain ideas and any interference in that would have fucked it up. 

The inspiration for the EP came from bands such as Nothing, Whirr and Title Fight – any sort of shoegaze made by hardcore kids. I wanted to have a project that showcased a heavier side to shoegaze and felt like there weren't many bands doing that, I wanted to sort of bridge that gap. I’m not sure if we’ll continue with that sound in future releases but that’s essentially what we were aiming for with this debut. 

BAW: Night Swimming released their second EP, 'Blossom', in June. How do the themes and style of this release vary to that of your debut? 

AB: Thematically, the first EP was very much centered around past relationships and venting my sadness of how things turned out. I think it's important to clarify I didn't want to write bitter "fuck you" songs because that wouldn't feel right. So 'Blossom' centres more around my mental health and daily struggles with anxiety and depression rather than a specific time in my life.   

The first line in the title track: "Is it too late for me to change my ways / or am I just in late bloom?" Is me coming to terms with the fact that I'm constantly comparing myself to people far more successful than me at my age. 

BAW: You recently re-released both of your EP’s through Further Sky Records. How did this decision come about? 

AB: I became friends with a band called Carpets when I was in Bowels as they'd played a house show with us, they happened to be signed to a label that specialised in grunge/shoegaze so I thought fuck it and sent them a message. Turns out Jenna Gamble (owner of Further Sky) was already a fan of us, and as no one really cared about the EP's when they first came out we thought re-releasing them would be beneficial. We still haven't really had anyone pay attention but we're still happy the material is out there. 

BAW: You’ve also recently announced Catt Dampler as the band’s new drummer, how has that addition influenced the band’s sound?

AB: I haven't even met her yet, but Catt went to a practice with Aidan (bass) and Lewis (guitar) the other week and they collectively decided that she was a good fit. Me playing drums and singing was always going to be temporary so fingers crossed this works out!

BAW: It’s been over a year since you put out your debut solo EP under the moniker of G I V E U P, what motivated you to begin releasing songs of a more lo-fi style? 

AB: I just had a load of iPhone recordings and decided rather than releasing an album and going out of my way to produce it, I’d do an experiment to see how people reacted to things released straight off my voice memos. I was inspired by Teen Suicide, as a lot of their songs are just phone recordings done in two or three takes and I love how raw it is. This was my attempt at doing an acoustic version of that, it had mixed results, but I’m happy with how it turned out in the end. Once I'm done with other projects I want to experiment and do more stuff that maybe isn’t just acoustic, maybe fuck around on Garageband and add some loops in. 

BAW: You describe this solo project as “a journal”, what exactly do you mean by this?

AB: I write the lyrics on my iPhone, usually as a venting process. It’s like when people say that when you get everyday frustrations you should always write them down, it’s my attempt at making something cohesive out of that. Even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense poetically, I want to channel the negatives of my life into something of artistic merit. 

More recently I’ve been inspired by the way Elliott Smith wrote a lot of his songs, especially with my two-song EP, 'UnComForTaBle'. A lot of his lyrics were handwritten in a stream of consciousness, and he often recorded the song twice, giving the effect of several voices and several guitars throughout. 

Some of the things I talk about may not be 100% realistic but it’s an honest viewpoint, even if it’s hyperbole. I sometimes look back at lyrics and think: 'wow, that was a major overreaction' but I like to be as unambiguous as possible. 

BAW: Your songs often lay bare your emotions in terms of mental health issues, do you ever feel uncomfortable giving people that much of an insight into your life? 

AB: I used to because I never thought I’d be releasing shitty iPhone recordings, but when I realised that what I’m doing is nowhere near as melodramatic as it could be I felt a bit more comfortable. When I played So Punk Festival in Southampton with Night Swimming at the beginning of the year a lot of bands were talking about mental health. It made me think how important it was to address these issues. 

BAW: What are your plans for the remainder of the year, across all your musical projects?

AB: I'm planning to move in with a pal in Brighton this month and move there from Oxford permanently. Once I'm settled in we're going to write G I V E U P material together, kinda like how Crywank operates. As for Night Swimming, we're planning to put out a full-length LP next year and continue playing shows whenever we can! 

The biggest priority is Night Swimming because it’s the thing I have the most cohesive plan for, the others are just a case of if and when I get round to it. People have this collective theory that 2016 was a shit year, and whilst I agree with that for the most part, I’m happy to finally have a project that people seem to care about and it’s not just me in the background this time.