The Singhs
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The Singhs

Boston, Massachusetts, United States | INDIE

Boston, Massachusetts, United States | INDIE
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Worldly travelers
Dragonfly and the many sides of Brother Cleve
By JIM SULLIVAN

He’s had drinks with Tom Waits and hung with Tom Petty, and he played keyboards in two of Boston’s more successful bands: the Del Fuegos and Combustible Edison. And that’s just some of what Brother Cleve has achieved over the course of two-plus decades. Behind the scenes, he’s scored themes for Cinemax, composed a piece for the Texas Rangers, and written music for interactive exhibits at the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota. More recently, though, Brother Cleve has become something of an international presence, thanks to an eclectic band he plays keyboards in called Dragonfly and to an increasingly successful career as a DJ.

Dragonfly was formed by Miki “Jeet” Singh, an MIT graduate who helped found a software company in 1991 and cashed in big-time on the tech boom. The son of an Indian diplomat, Singh had been in a band in college and was looking to get back into music when he met Cleve. He hooked up with local guitarist Peter Parcek, at first to help him sharpen his guitar skills and then as a part of Dragonfly. In 2001, he brought Cleve aboard, first to do house remixes of some of the songs he’d written — songs that blend funk, rock, and pop with Indian and other exotic world-music strains. He flew Cleve down to a studio he’d built in a house he’d bought on the island of St. Barts. And before long, he realized he’d found a keyboard player with the right mind set for Dragonfly.

“These guys are not into it for ego,” he explained before a performance by Dragonfly at the Paradise Lounge last month to celebrate the release of their second album, the self-released Blind (Redstar). “They’re more interested in having an identity than being famous — more interested in having a voice that’s distinguished. The trust factor is high. We are like family.”

Cleve echoes the “family” line: “We spend a lot of time under the same roof.” It doesn’t hurt that that roof just happens to be on a tropical island. But Cleve was also drawn to the musical freedom offered by Dragonfly. “I get to get away with murder and bring all sorts of elements into the music. They work with loose chordal structures and I get to come in and co-produce and mold stuff electronically.”

Singh first met Cleve (born Robert Toomey) at Mantra, a Boston club where Cleve was DJing. It wasn’t long before he became aware of Cleve’s encyclopædic knowledge of music, a knowledge that ranges from ’60s soundtracks to electric jazz, Philly soul, and funk, punk to roots rock, reggae to Bollywood pop, and just about everything else. Next year, Cleve is planning to release Bombay Disco, a compilation of, well, Indian disco tracks. Singh: “He is really one of the most interesting cats I’ve ever met. He’s obsessively interested in things as a musicologist, a barman, a Bollywood disco freak. Here’s a Boston Irish guy with a more open view of people and the world than many I have met who you would expect to have an open attitude but don’t.”

Dragonfly cut their teeth not in the Boston club scene but overseas, in Singh’s native India, where among other things they opened for Bryan Adams in front of a crowd of 40,000. So Cleve, who like the rest of the band is on retainer, knows that he could be on the move at any time. In the meantime he’s keeping himself busy DJing around town. He has a regular Saturday-night gig at Devlin’s in Brighton, and when I meet up with him at Eastern Standard in Kenmore Square, he’s on his way to the Western Front in Cambridge to spin South Asian music. At Devlin’s, he caters to the crowd’s taste for classic ’80s hits. He figures he has more than a million songs at his disposal, and he’ll bring around 80 vinyl albums to a basic 90-minute gig.

“When I get interested in something, I just run with it,” he explains. That’s a bit of an understatement for a guy who’s made a living at music for a quarter-century. He was in the 1977 incarnation of Fox Pass, what he describes as “one of those bands getting away from those 10-minute arena-rock opuses.” He played punk funk with the Suede Cowboys, joke rock with the Swinging Erudites, R&B with Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, C&W with the Wheelers & Dealers, and gritty roots rock with the Dawgs.

The Brother Cleve moniker came courtesy of DJ Tony V, who had him play a radio character who was in Cleve’s words “a cross between a black party comedian and a gospel preacher.” This Brother Cleve took to the airwaves on WTBS FM (now WMBR). The name stuck.

It was through touring with the Del Fuegos from 1985 to 1988 that Cleve got his first taste of the rock-and-roll high life. They opened for Tom Petty, INXS, and ZZ Top. “The glory years,” he jokes, recalling gigs at arenas and sheds. “Tour bus, the rock-star life, hung out with Little Richard . . . ”

When the Fuegos ended, Cleve moved on — “I just kept working.” In fact, he took a bit of a left turn by joining a popular local reggae band called the I-To - The Phoenix


For Dragonfly frontman
Singh, career’s in name
By Christopher John Treacy
Friday, October 20, 2006 - Updated: 12:00 AM EST
Most bands figure success comes with a tidy
bankroll.
Miki Singh, the 43-year-old frontman for
Dragonfly, figured if he started with a bankroll it
would be easier to find success.
Singh started in music 25 years ago, left to save
some cash, and is now back with Dragonfly, a
Boston band by way of India that celebrates the
release of its sophomore disc, “Blind,” tonight at the
Paradise.
“I came to Boston in the early ’80s to attend MIT,
and I started playing in a band while I was there,”
Singh said. “It was called Modern Man. We won an
MIT battle of the bands and scored a little airplay on
(WFNX-FM). But after I graduated, I quit music to
earn a living.”
Forced to squelch his rock star dream in favor of
stability, Singh moved between software start-ups
and telecommunications companies before launching
his own firm.
About 10 years ago he checked out local blues
guitarist Peter Parcek at Harvard Square’s House of
Blues and was blown away.
“I ended up taking sporadic guitar lessons from
Peter,” Singh said. “Five years later he asked me to
play in a band he’d assembled on a lark for a
Caribbean festival, which is how I met the rest of
what’s become Dragonfly, except (keyboardist/DJ)
Brother Cleve, who I met separately.”
Dragonfly’s 2003 debut, “The Edge of the
World,” featured unusually lush and expensivelooking
packaging to go along with its multicultural
rock sound; “Blind” follows suit soundwise and with
its hard-bound mini-storybook format. Singh says
Dragonfly took a financial beating on the first disc,
but got wiserfor the new release.
“This time we got the price down to $1 apiece
through a book publisher. The first disc was printed
in Italy and cost five times that, so this time we
shopped around more carefully.”
Singh admits Dragonfly started out as more a
collection of session musicians than a proper band.
That’s changed.
“In the beginning, this felt like my project with a
bunch of excellent guys helping flesh out my ideas,”
he said. “Now this is a fully functioning band. Over the last two years trust has grown and we’ve
developed a distinctive sound. We’re really
collaborating now.” - Boston Herald


The US-based music band Dragonfly has a big audience
in India. They've toured the country twice, playing to large
crowds. And they've had their videos air on MTV India.

There's a couple of reasons why Indian music fans are
warming up to the band -- according to Dragonfly's founder and singer Miki Singh

SINGH: This latest album happens to be Indian
influenced, not just because I happen to be half Indian,
but brother Clive who's our keyboardist has actually been
a Bollywood freak for 25 years or more.

MARCO: Miki Singh of Dragonfly. Their second cd is called
"Blind." It was released in India last year. It's now
available in the States. How hard is it for a rock band to
compete in India next to this mammoth of Bollywood
music?

SINGH: Yeah, it's very hard to sell music. It's very hard
to get airtime although that is changing. You know,
Bollywood dominates the Indian market and all the
channels there. However, now with the internet and with
cable tv opening up around India suddenly choices have
expanded and they're expanding pretty quickly.

Music in English has always been popular, but very specific bands.
When I grew up, I was in high school in India in the 70s,
you had bands like Led Zepplin, Queen, very specific
groups. You know the Rolling Stones show up in India,
Bryan Adams shows up regularly in India and he's a
bigger star than the Stones. So, it's a market that's had
limited access but that's changing.

MARCO: When you listen to it there's an obvious
connection between your sound and the Beatles use of
Indian experimentation. The big difference is that you're
not borrowing the music of the Indian subcontinent, it is
already your music in a way.

SINGH: Well, you know the interesting thing is a lot of
the textures that you hear in pop music so many of them
are borrowed. So, the sound of tablas and Indian
percussion or Arabic percussion or sitars, yeah the
Beatles were very early pioneers, but now it's part of
lounge music, it's part of dance music, it's not at all
strange to hear those rhythms.

A lot of people will hear
our music and say that's kind of neat and won't think oh,
what's that weird percussion sound.

MARCO: Times have changed a lot haven't they?

SINGH: Yeah, times have changed a lot. And you know
Indian influences happen to be on this album, but we're
already working on a lot of new music and there are
things that are gypsy and things that are South Pacific,
but all within a context of pop-rock.

MARCO: The name of the band is Dragonfly - Miki Singh
their band leader. The title of their debut cd here in the
United States is Blind. Thank you very much for speaking
with us Miki.

SINGH: Thanks for having me. - BBC News The World


Discography

2008 - 'Supersaturated' (Redstar)
2005 - 'Blind' (Redstar/Sony Music)
2005 - 'Blind/The Remixes' (Redstar/Sony Music)
2003 - 'The Edge Of The World' (Redstar)

Radio airplay: 'Blind', 'The Holy Rollers', 'Where Did The Heroes Go?'

TV Airplay (video clips): "Blind" "The Holy Rollers", "Post-Affection", "Torn-Up (Remix)"

Photos

Bio

The Singhs are a five-piece unconventional rock band that has traveled and performed all over the world. From Amsterdam to Morocco, Bombay to Paris, the band’s mix of funk, pop, and rock has been described as “intelligent and emotional”.

Front man Miki Singh brings distinctive vocals backed by a versatile band that moves from quiet and moody ballads to complex rock songs effortlessly.

Originally assembled as Dragonfly in 2001 by lead singer/songwriter Miki Singh and renowned blues guitarist Peter Parcek, the band has been together for the last six years and is rounded out by veteran keyboardist and DJ Brother Cleve (The Del Fuegos, Combustible Edison), drummer Steve Scully (James Taylor, Julianna Hatfield, Letters to Cleo), and bassist Marc Hickox (Peter Parcek, Trio, Lucky Stereo).

The band has self-produced and released its albums under its own label, Redstar Entertainment. The first album, The Edge of the World, was distributed in 2003 through Universal Music Group in the UK, and consisted of a double album of rock as well as ballads. Follow on album, Blind, distributed through Sony Music India in 2005 combined traditional Indian instruments with the band’s high-energy rock and funk sound, and was accompanied by a bonus disc of Indian-style remixes by well-known producers from around the world. Blind received three stars from Rolling Stone Magazine in France.

The band produced several videos for MTV India that more than 20 million viewers watched throughout the region. Dragonfly also toured in India twice and opened for Bryan Adams at The Parade Grounds in Bangalore to a welcoming audience of more than 40,000 people.

Now with the upcoming release of its first U.S. album, Supersaturated, the band blends its rock and funk heritage with a little blues to produce its best work yet.

Did You Know?

* Miki Singh was born in Sweeden and has lived in Spain, the former Soviet Union, South Vietnam, Columbia, Uganda, India and speaks English, Spanish, French and Hindi.

* The band was formed to play for just one festival in the Caribbean in 2000 and has continued to play ever since.

* Miki Singh and the co-founder of Art Technology Group, Joe Chung, used to play in a band in college called Modern Man—playing in all the well-known clubs in Boston including The Rat, Jack’s, Jonathan Swift’s, TT, The Bear’s, Club 3, Jumping Jack Flash. Their band opened for the pop-rock band New Man at the Harvard Memorial Church.

* Peter Parcek, the band’s lead guitarist was Miki’s guitar instructor for many years before the band was formed.

* The band opened for Bryan Adams in Bangalore, India playing to more than 40,000 people.

* The band’s first album, The Edge of the World, was arranged in Morocco with all the photos on the CD also taken there.

* Brother Cleve is an expert bartender, published expert on mixed drinks and a big fan of India’s Bollywood industry.

* The band played on a deserted island in the Maldives, organized for an international children’s scout camp.

* Many top British and Asian DJ’s and producers developed remixes of the songs on the second album, Blind for a remix CD that is part of the package.

* Miki Singh often writes the lyrics and of songs on the same day as they are actually recorded.

* The band has toured in India twice and produced half a dozen videos with Bollywood producers.

* Peter Parcek has won best blues performer in Boston multiple times.

* The band wrote and recorded over 50 new songs in 2006—weeded down the collection to 20 songs in 2007, then selected the current 12 songs for Supersaturated in 2008.

* The band records almost all of its music in a temporary studio located a few feet from the beach in Caribbean and recorded many instruments in the open air.

* The band line-up has not changed since its inception in 2000 and continues to work with the same producer, Ducky Carlisle for each album.

* France’s most famous rock guitarist, Louis Bertignac, often plays with the band in France and co-wrote and performs on the of the Supersaturated tracks,” Still They Die Young”.

The Singhs Tour History:

7.31.08- Church – Boston, MA
7.23.08- Sullivan Hall – New York, NY
5.25.08- Srinagar, Kashmir
8.8.07- Joe’s Pub – New York, NY
7.23.07- Stephen Talkhouse- Amagansett, NY
7.14.07- Lizard Lounge – Cambridge, MA
6.15.07- Devlin’s – Brighton, MA
5.17.07- The Living Room – New York, NY
5.16.07- Kenny’s Castaways - New York, NY
10.23.06- The Annex – New York, NY
10.20.06- Paradise Lounge – Boston, MA
8.14.06 – Boubou’s Music Festival – St. Barths, FWI
4.12.06- Le Resevoir – Paris, France
4.05.06- Café de la Danse – Paris, France
4.04.06– Café de la Danse – Paris, France
4.03.06- Café de la Danse – Paris, France
4.03.06- Le Zenith – Paris, France
6.27.05- Le Resevoir – Paris, France
6.24.05- Le Transbordeur – Lyon, France
6.22.05- Le Poste à Galène –