Needshes is the brainchild of singer/songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer Otabek Salamov (Bek). Bek was born in Tashkent in 1989 in the post-Soviet country of Uzbekistan. He is currently based in Tula, Russia. Let’s ask him some questions.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? What’s distinctive about where you grew up and how did it shape you?
“My sister and I grew up in Tashkent with only one parent, my mother. We were quite happy as children despite the almost absolute poverty. All problems were on the shoulders of our mother and we were just kids. My mum, she is a music theory teacher, has worked on many jobs besides teaching trying to make our lives better. That’s how I grew up. I was lucky to have free education in my country. It’s good that remained after the Soviet Union because today it’s not like that.”
“I found a couple of bands in Tashkent, starting from heavy metal styles. Years later I ended up with my own project, called NEEDSHES, which was also founded in Tashkent.”
“So all of that shaped me into the person I am today. I’m very sceptical about all things in the music business, because it’s rather weird when you had such an experience in the early years of your life that things are not the way people want them to look.”
“Most of the music we hear today from the top media is no longer real music. It’s dangerous, I think.”
“Music is something beautiful, and it is out of this world. When someone tries to catch this bird and put it in a cage, it makes me angry and at the same time makes me laugh, because they will never be able to do it. But in a global art environment, this poses a real threat, because most of the music we hear today from the top media is no longer real music. It’s dangerous, I think.”
Where are you in the world right now? Have the current circumstances affected your art?
“Right now I am in Tula, Russia, with my wife and her parents. We are all safe. A lot has changed, but it’s not that bad. And here the music business has snapped again, like a tiny stick, which shows us that music and all forms of art are not out of politics because this is a business.
“We don’t have the opportunity to work with all the companies we’ve worked with to deliver new music to the world like the Orchard. They just removed the new releases without any explanation. Other companies like Spotify act like they’re not music delivery services, but some kind of political or government platform. They are blocking artists who are 99.9% peaceful and pacifists and against all kinds of wars and crimes. This is weird. So I have my position to keep myself out of this stuff. I’m just going to make my music, do my job that keeps me alive, and that’s it. The music I write and produce is my own need and I’m going to keep doing it. If people like it and listen to it, that’s great. It always cheers me up, but it should be out of “business”.”
Is there anything you miss about Uzbekistan?
“Of course, a lot of things, food, warm sunny weather, places where I grew up, some relatives and, of course, my mom and my nephew who still live in Uzbekistan.”
Are there any cool bands in your current hometown we should know about?
“Actually, I’m not really involved in the local music scene right now. I haven’t had offline shows for a long time. I’ve been streaming online concerts. In general, there are a lot of great bands in Russia that play really inspiring and interesting music.”
You are a multi-instrumentalist. What instruments do you play? What’s your main instrument for writing songs?
“Of course, the main ones are guitar and piano, because they are really fundamental and rich, but sometimes a melody on a trumpet can lead to a whole new song. I try to play many of them, some of them I play better, some I play badly, but I keep adding the instruments I like and keep learning them very slowly but steadily. I include in my performances instruments such as flute, clarinet, trumpet, Persian tar, doira.”
You have incorporated some traditional instruments (or sounds) in your music. Is it important to you to mix the traditional with the new?
“I like the idea of globalization but I’m not the soldier of it or mixing cultures. I just play music, but if it will help some people to dive in world music, I think that’s good. I bought this instrument, tar, in Tashkent at a flea market. I was writing a song and it was just an experiment. At first I played ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ on tar and it sounded beautiful and funny, we were laughing with my wife when we were in Uzbekistan. I started playing some familiar melodies on this instrument, they all sounded different but familiar at the same time and then I thought I want to use it in my music. When you listen to this song ‘Love’ you don’t feel the ethnic flavor, it doesn’t have it, it just has a strange sounding instrument, but in the song ‘Truth Power’ you can feel the ethnic vibe for sure.”
When did you first fall in love with making music?
“I love music from the day I can remember myself. It always grabs my full attention. I danced to music, sang songs, I loved everything related to music. My mom says I was putting on my sister’s dress with a long skirt and I danced to make it fly and laughed. My sister played the piano all the time. And I remember me playing the piano all the time. I even had my own stuff, little melodies that I composed. And that was around 4 or 5 years old. It wasn’t real music, I’m not saying I’m a wunderkind. It was just my interest in music.”
“My first works sounded just awful, terrible. It took me a long time to learn how to play instruments, make records and all that stuff. I did it all by myself because I was trained to do things this way. I’ve never had the opportunity to go into a studio and make a recording. Thank God we have computers and affordable equipment today, which makes all of this stuff available for everyone to make their music sound like it was produced in the best studios of the world, and sometimes even better. And of course, YouTube, on YouTube you can learn anything you want.”
How long have you been singing and performing for?
“I started performing from the first exam at the music school, which always was in a concert format – a lot of people listening to you playing music. It has always been scary and uncomfortable – I don’t remember that I got any joy from the process, it has always been stressful. I did it robotically. I thought I had the worst kind of stage fright. But year after year I got used to it and started to feel more free. By the time I founded my first band, I was completely free in this stuff, I felt really comfortable on stage. And the fact that I played my own music gave me confidence and inspiration, so it was always fun from the first concert even though we sounded terrible. And my mom was saying: “this is not the real music, stop fooling around”. But again, band after band, song after song, it was shaping up to something that you actually can listen to.”
“The name came really easy, it means nothing, but it sounds awesome.”
When did Needshes start? How hard was it to come up with a name for the project?
“Needshes was first formed in Tashkent around 2012. The name came really easy, it means nothing, but it sounds awesome. I think it came to me in a dream because I really can’t remember how I came up with that name. I was recording my first metalcore album and it was almost done when I had this idea to add a melodic ballad to it. I wrote it and it was the first song for Needshes, because I realized this is what I want to do. I think I just grew up.”
Am I correct that Needshes is basically your solo studio project and you have a band when playing live?
“Yes, you’re right. At the moment, I’m playing live as a one-man-band using a live looping technique.”
Your music is rather diverse. How would you describe your sound without using genre names?
“Each song has its shape and form and I always try to do what it wants and how it wants to sound. It’s like a song always comes with its own personality, style, and genre. It sounds in my head fully and I just try to capture all this stuff and make it real. That’s why I’m always learning new styles and instruments, in order to make it happen. I don’t care about genres.”
Regarding musical styles, is there anything different that you would like to explore but you haven’t yet?
“I think I will explore the endless things called music and art untill the day I die.”
What inspires your lyrics? To what extent do you draw influence from areas outside music?
“Sometimes it’s my own experience, sometimes it’s something I’ve never felt or hopefully never will in the future. Sometimes it’s simply stories about a collective character. All the things that I’ve heard from different people, their stories, they blend somehow. Every time we have an interesting character doing something, it can be good or bad, but it’s always interesting.”
Are you someone that continually writes music or can you go weeks without writing new music?
“I always try to write music constantly, almost every day. But sometimes, if I have a lot of work to do – which is still writing music, I put a pause to my own stuff. I think I keep collecting ideas subconsciously in my head even though I’m not working on it. For example, if I do some work with my hands, I collect these ideas subconsciously and when I come to the studio, I just open this chest and start working on it.”
Tell me about ‘Song for You’. What’s it about?
“In spring 2021 I bought the piano and started building my own studio for performing online. Strangely enough, in the process of tuning the piano, this song was born. I wrote it at once, only the bridge was created two days later.”
“It’s about the moment everyone had or will have in their life when you fall in love selflessly. This can happen many times until you find right person.”
You go live on Twitch and YouTube regularly, what can people expect from those live shows?
“I’ve been going live on Twitch and YouTube regularly. There are several concert recordings on YouTube where you can see what it looks like and sounds like. Right now I’m kinda on a hold but I’m still working and I’m planning to resume all the stuff asap.”
What do you enjoy most as a musician? Is there anything you dislike?
“I just love making music and I can’t imagine being anyone else. It shapes me the way I am. I can’t imagine myself without it. However like in any job, music production has a lot of routine. I hate fixing wires, I hate changing strings, I hate cleaning my studio and workspace. I hate it when something doesn’t sound good in the first place and you have to deal with it and solve the problem. I’m pretty lazy at this. So there are a lot of things that I don’t like.”
“When I look at young girls and boys on the street, they are quite sad, they are depressed with everything that is happening in the world right now. They don’t deserve any blame, all these young beautiful people with big shiny eyes and a beautiful future…”
What are you working on right now?
“I keep working on my music, there are a lot of new songs. If I don’t have the opportunity to put them on music platforms, I’ll just upload them to the Internet. I don’t care about this stuff. I’ll do it as soon as it’s ready. I have two songs that are complete. And I started to sing in Russian! It came out very naturally, I always tried to start doing that, but it always felt strange, and I hated my voice, the way it sounds in Russian.”
“But right now, when I look at young girls and boys on the street, they are quite sad, they are depressed with everything that is happening in the world right now. They don’t deserve any blame, all these young beautiful people with big shiny eyes and a beautiful future I hope, moms and dads. I just wanted to sing some songs for them so that they understand every single word as support. And, of course, I listen to Tchaikovsky all the time, read Dostoevsky, and re-watch all the films with Keanu Reeves.”
What’s next? What are your goals for this year?
“The goal is the same, whatever happens: stay healthy, stay positive, stay as happy as you can. Just forge yourself to feel happiness that you’re still alive, that you have enough food, and there are beautiful people around you. That you can be yourself and work on your music. This is more than enough.”
“And by the way, we’re preparing to be parents, maybe it’s a little early for this year, but maybe not. And I want to have a dog.”
What’s your favourite song from the Cool Top 20 and why?
“I enjoyed ‘Jenny’ by Thirsty Curses, it reminded me of one of my songs, and the voice seemed familiar.”
What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?
“I’d really like to feature the band The Medicine Dolls, a song called ‘Mix My Medicine’. This is the band from Cape Town, South Africa that I discovered recently on Instagram among our listeners. This is the most inspiring new band I’ve heard for the last years. They sound so classy, awesome, and crazy! You just need to hear it.”
(Cover photo by Alexander Efanov)