Fresh off his debut EP released back in August, LA-based singer-songwriter Saahil Bhargava has unveiled what he’s dubbed an “homage” to one of Australia’s most beloved modern rock acts. His cover of “Umbra”, from Karnivool’s 2009 album Sound Awake, is a stripped back arrangement of the sprawling prog rocker.
Covering “Umbra” in any fashion is an ambitious effort, thanks to its shifting rhythms and complex chord progressions, as well as frontman Ian Kenny’s typically stunning vocals. Bhargava certainly made the task harder by translating the bulk of the track’s intricate guitar layers into a single piano part, backed by a fairly simple string section.
“I very recently came up with the term ‘cinematic rock’ as the best way to describe my music,” Saahil told Indian Link. “All of my songs have this very kind of big and epic feel to them. It’s supposed to give the listener the feeling of being transported into another world and seeing lots of things around them, and my lyrics tend to be very descriptive too.”
Drawing influence from classical music, Indian classical, Bollywood music, and “pretty much everything in between”, the musician started singing at the age of four, and took up piano shortly after. Since then, Saahil has picked up the guitar, bass, and even the alto saxophone.
Listening to his cover of “Umbra”, this keen musical ear is clear by small details of the original song he picks and expands upon. A short and barely audible descending guitar line at the end of the chorus appears in Saahil’s version as a grandiose string melody. Another high point of the cover is when it takes the original’s riff-heavy breakdown – unarguably its most ‘headbanging’ moment – and turns it into an elegant piano line, with the strings foregrounding the underlying harmonies from the original.
He elaborated, “This piano part I wrote was ridiculous; it took a while to get it and even longer to be able to record it. I worked with another guy who was also an exceptional keyboardist. Between the two of us, we got the part working, and then we decided after hearing it that we should add some strings into it. It took a long time because it was essentially dialling back what Karnivool had done, and then figuring out how to make it work with one instrument and then extrapolating it out to four more instruments.”
He cites Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, and Freddie Mercury as some of his singing influences, along with bands like Muse, Radiohead, and of course, Karnivool.
“I think (my interest) started when I was in high school living in India, and I actually missed their concert in Bombay. I had a final exam or something that day. My friend said it was one of the best concerts they’d seen,” Saahil said.
“Then it became a staple in my listening because there’s so much to unpack in Karnivool’s music. Every listen to each album, I would get something new out of it. I’ve always been a big fan of “Umbra” as a song in general, because it’s got such an exciting theme, and the lyrics really stood out to me.”
For some fans, the only downside of Saahil’s version may lie in the absence of Karnivool’s punchiness, mainly due to its lack of drums. But he certainly makes up for that with a fiercely emotive vocal performance that sharply emphasises the pain in lead singer Ian Kenny’s lyrics.
According to Saahil, “Each song gets its own inspiration.”
No doubt his cover will now introduce the Aussie modern rock act to entirely new audiences, further proving that music really transcends all boundaries.
Find Saahil Bhargava’s “Umbra” on YouTube, Spotify, YouTube Music and Amazon Prime Music.