Interview Ian Jones (Karnataka)

"Requiem For A Dream means our mourning for a once beautiful planet"

(June 2024, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen, pictures provided by Ian Jones)

Karnataka are a Welsh progressive rock act formed in 1997 by bassist Ian Jones, singer Rachel Jones and keyboardist Jonathan Edwards. The band name was chosen from a suggestion by Ian Jones following his trips to that state of India. Karnataka released their eponymous debut album in 1998, followed by The Storm in 2000, but it was the third album Delicate Flame Of Desire that became the band's breakthrough album to a wider audience. This album was followed by The Gathering Light (2010) and Secrets Of Angels (2015) which both had exceptionally positive reviews. However, their latest album Requiem For A Dream that appeared in 2023 is a real masterpiece! For that reason, Background Magazine wanted to know everything about this album, so we asked band leader, composer and multi-instrumentalist Ian Jones how this impressive album came about!

Ian Jones
Congratulations with your excellent new album Ian. Did it appear the way you wanted it to be?
"Thank you so much Henri! It's great to hear you're enjoying the album. It probably came out better than we'd hoped in some ways. I don't think we envisaged creating such an epic track as the title track at the start of writing, but it's a track we're incredibly proud of, as we are of the whole album. I think we touched on some lyrical themes which are very important to us, and that always adds weight to the impact of a track for me personally. It felt like we were taking some risks, and the album feels like a progression from previous works, which again is something that I personally like to feel from album to album."

How long did it take you to compose this album?
"Well, tracks such as Sacrifice, The Night's Dance and elements of the Requiem For A Dream started back in 2018, but most of the writing took place between 2019 and 2021. Usually, our process is to record demo versions first and these evolve overtime as we work on arrangements and production ideas before starting the full recordings."

According to the album credits Karnataka nowadays consists of only you and singer Sertari. How did you find such an incredible singer such as Sertari, who sounds a lot like her predecessor Hayley Griffiths?
"It was really a chance meeting that brought us all together. Sertari had been viewing our profile on a website used by bands to look for musicians. At the same time, and unbeknown to each other, we'd been looking at Sertari's music profile on the same website. So, we'd both been listening to each other's music. Sertari noticed we'd seen her profile and got in touch to ask if we were looking for a singer. We arranged an audition and loved Sertari's voice, so it was a very easy decision!"

How did you get guitarist Luke Machin, drummer Chris Allan, flutist Troy Donockley and keyboardist Gonzalo Carrera on board to contribute to the album?
"I'd already worked with Luke Machin on my debut Illuminae album with vocalist Agnieszka Swita (well-known from the rock opera Alchemy by Clive Nolan, HS) and just thought he'd be perfect for Karnataka. He's such an amazing guitar player but also very sympathetic to the music, he understood and appreciated our direction and vision. Chris Allan is a very respected session drummer who was due to tour with the band when, unfortunately, the covid pandemic happened and all touring stopped. But we stayed in touch and Chris was an obvious choice for the album as he'd already started working on some of the tracks. Chris wasn't able to tour with us more recently as he's been touring extensively with the Guitar Heroes show. Troy Donockley is a dear friend who has played with the band since The Gathering Light. We call him an honorary band member! He's such a talented musician and has such a sensitive ear for our music! I'd worked with Gonzalo Carrera previously on The Gathering Light."

I guess you did most of the keyboard parts yourself, including the amazing synthesizer solos which we can find on the entire album?
"Yes, I mainly write on keyboards and piano these days, so it was a natural step to be recording them too. I've been recording more and more keys and string arrangements on all the albums from The Gathering Light."

What does Requiem For A Dream exactly mean with regard to this album? Would you call it a concept album?
"In the context of the album, Requiem For A Dream means our mourning for a once beautiful planet which has been ravaged by human activity. It symbolises the change in the planet's climate and the seemingly ever worsening climate crisis. And yes, it is a concept album in the sense that it has a lot of interconnected themes which run through the album, with 'time' being something of a binding thread throughout. During the writing, we felt climate change coming to the fore on a couple of tracks. This is something that both myself and Sertari had a personal interest in. We had a few concerns that some might see us as jumping on a 'climate change' band wagon but in 1998 I graduated as an environmental scientist, my degree having a strong focus on sustainable and third world development, which was strongly connected to my interest in India. This was a long time before climate had become a real buzzword or major concern. We were also aware that climate is a very divisive subject for some, but we felt we needed to go with our hearts and minds on this and stick to our guns."

From L to R: Luke Machin, Jack Summerfield, Sertari, Ian Jones and Rob Wilsher

Would you please tell us what the separate songs are about lyric wise?
"Around The World is a positive message about how people are waking up to the dangers of the climate crisis and making their voices heard. Greta Thunberg, who's speech features in the track, has done a huge amount to inspire a younger generation to challenge the status quo and demand change. Whilst we were recording, the temperature actually hit 40C for the first time in the UK. It was a timely reminder of the impact of global warming. The track is an anthem for those who believe in fighting to limit the causes of climate change.
Look To The East is a track set in no particular time but a commentary on the darker sides of humanity, of war, enslavement and conscription, but also hope and our search for enlightenment. Musically we were once again drawn to Indian and Middle Eastern soundscapes, something I've always been fascinated by. I've been really impressed with the last couple of albums by Gary Numan where he's experimented with industrial and eastern influences and this was a bit of an influence.
Sacrifice is a track that reflects on the sacrifices made by humankind to become a highly advanced people. The echoes of the past are all around us from cave paintings to archaeological sites, the pyramids, Stonehenge, and the scars of war etcetera. They all trace our development, for better and for worse, in one way or another, they chart our sacrifices to become this sophisticated but flawed species.
The Night's Dance is written from the perspective of someone who battles their inner demons and dark voices, someone who has moments of self-doubt and turmoil but is pulled through by hearing, focussing on and following their positive voice, their'guardian angel'.
Say Goodbye Tomorrow can be interpreted in a literal or metaphorical way. On one level it is about finding a future beyond war, but it could be interpreted as something more personal, moving on from adversity. Fight against evil; there's always hope.
Forgiven is about something I've become more conscious of as I get older- the idea that we shouldn't leave it too late to tell the people we love that we love them, or that we say sorry when it needs to be said. This song is written from the perspective of someone who has left it to too late to say sorry to someone they loved. They see this person in their dreams but the person never speaks and they don't get the answer to their question - 'am I forgiven'. It also has some connection with The Night's Dance because it's also about our inner voice, and our conscience and our inner battles. Am I forgiven?
Don't Forget My Name has a strong connection with Forgiven in some ways: the idea that we should say the things we need to say but sometimes don't. This is written from the perspective of someone who is dying, but is telling their partner they must carry on and live their dreams... life must go on... but not to forget them. It's about the pain, bravery and unselfishness of being able to do that and say those words.
Requiem for a Dream deals with themes of time, denial, climate change but also addiction in the sense that our addiction to our lifestyles is contributing to climate change, but it's also about the wonder and uniqueness of the planet and hope for the future. 'We keep dancing in the rain' can be read as a metaphor for the insignificance of our planet in the vastness of space which is a reference to Carl Sagan's 'pale blue dot', but also as a cleansing mechanism - hope for a fresh start, a new beginning, hope that we can overcome global warming through change, science etcetera. So, this connects strongly to All Around the World and explains the tick tock message that starts and ends these tracks. The tick tock also makes reference to the cover artwork - I took my inspiration for the cover design from the concept of the Doomsday Clock, and extrapolated the idea to symbolise what happens if the clocks go past midnight."

The artwork of the cover and the design of the booklet are really beautiful. Did you do it yourself and does it have a special meaning? Why has all clocks different times and what do the clocks with the red scarves mean?
"Thank you for your kind words about the artwork. I wanted to capture the central theme of climate change and as I mentioned in my previous answer, I was inspired by the idea behind the Doomsday Clock which, for those who may not be familiar, symbolises the threats to the planet and humanity through the depiction of a clock: the closer the time gets to midnight, the closer the planet is to catastrophe. On the cover artwork I wanted to symbolise the idea of what happens when the clock goes beyond midnight, the idea, or the warning, that this is the result of catastrophic climate change. The different times on the clocks in the background are there to represent the idea that historically the planet and humanity have been in far less precarious times. The central clock is a vision of the future. The red scarf symbolises death, floating, waiting to find its home."

On the album credits Greta Thunberg and the United Nations are mentioned. Why?
"We were given permission by the United Nations to use part of one of Greta Thunberg's United Nations speeches on the track All Around The World. I think she's done a huge amount to bring climate issues to people's attention, but she also inspired a lot of young people to get involved in climate action. I think the most important thing she does is to encourage people to look at the science, the facts and make informed decisions. Too many people readily accept anything they read without challenging the information - especially on social media."

What is the line-up of the band when you do concerts and is it possible that they will appear on the next studio album?
"The next tour line-up will be the same as last year - myself of course on bass, Sertari on vocals, Luke Machin on lead guitar, Rob Wilsher on keyboards and Jack Summerfield on drums. It is very possible they will be on the next album!"

What has the future in store for Karnataka?
"We're filming the show in Poppodium Boerderij on this tour, so hopefully we'll have a live film to release early next year. After the tour it will be nice to focus more on writing. It's probably what I enjoy most and it's exciting to see which direction things go."

Ian thank you for answering my questions!
"You are very welcome, Henri!"

More info about Karnataka on the Internet:

       review album 'The Gathering Light' (2010)
       review album/DVD 'New Light Live In Concert' (2012)
       review album 'Secret Of Angels' (2015)
       review album 'Requiem For A Dream'

       review concert Uden (NL) January 25, 2013
       review concert Uden (NL) April 9, 2016
       review concert Uden (NL) April 7, 2017

All Rights Reserved Background Magazine 2024