When we talk about Pakistanis abroad, we rarely bring up the accomplishments of musicians or other artists. (No, Zayn Malik doesn’t count.)
The conversation usually revolves around doctors and entrepreneurs doing great work and creating positive buzz for the rest of the Pakistani community. Like, how often do we get to say: ‘Hey, you know that Pakistani guy that worked on the score for a bunch of Hollywood films with Hans Zimmer?’
Meet Taurees Habib, a 28-year-old Karachiite who did just that.
After moving to Los Angeles in 2012, Habib landed a job in Hans Zimmer’s sound sampling team. He has so far helped design the score for roughly 12 Hollywood films, including Interstellar, Man of Steel, The Amazing Spiderman 2, Kung Fu Panda 3, Batman v Superman, Terminator Genesis and Chappie.
Hans Zimmer is one of Hollywood’s most celebrated music producers who has won an Oscar (for The Lion King score) and a few Golden Globes and Grammys for his other compositions. Bagging the opportunity to work with a man who has composed some of the most incredible film music in Hollywood is an accomplishment in its own right.
We talk to Habib about working in Hollywood and a recently released album of his own under the moniker ‘Bedlam Jackson’.
“I spent most of my childhood and adolescence in Karachi,” Habib began. "I started playing music from a very early age, about seven was the first time I had any formal instruction - I think. And since then I've played - for better or worse - the recorder, the cello, trombone, piano, guitar and bass guitar. If you define my ‘career’ as when I started getting paid, my first paying gig was when I was about 15 years old and was hired to play a small acoustic set before a high school awards event.”
Habib went on to study at the Berklee College of Music and returned home for a short while after graduating. While in Karachi, he worked for Made For Stage Productions’ original play Karachi: The Musical and spent some time taking intensive vocal lessons from a Qawaali ustaad.
Eventually, Habib moved to LA in 2012 and after working for Interscope Records for six months, he got a job in Hans Zimmer’s team.
“I majored in music production and audio engineering while I was at university, and wanted to – still want to – be a record producer,” he shared. A friend tipped Habib off that Hans Zimmer’s sampling team was looking for engineers and Habib managed to get the job.
“It's been great!" Habib says of the experience. "Definitely intense at times, but I've learned a lot. It's been the kind of learning experience that beyond teaching you something you know you don’t know, it has shown me that there is still a lot that I [wasn’t aware] I didn’t know.”
What's it like to be Hans Zimmer's sample artist?
“My job is to design and create custom sample libraries for Hans,” said Habib. “These days, you can write an entire record on a laptop. Maybe you’ve played around with something like Apple’s Garage Band.”
Computers allow artistes to create realistic musical performances and sounds with the help of various music software. There are companies specialising in creating ‘sample libraries’, which are virtual instruments of sorts.
“So when I want to write a piece for violin for example, I can go out and buy software that lets me create a recording of a violin on my computer,” Habib elaborates. “A big reason for doing your own samples is that it gives you something unique that no one else has - rather than buying samples that anyone else can, you have created something tailored to your specific tastes and requirements.”
Building these sample libraries takes some doing. Habib describes it as a process involving hours of recording the instrument you are aiming to sample, followed by programming a software that allows you to manipulate that recording in a manner that helps you create the illusion of a live performance.
Out of all the film scores that Habib has worked on so far, Interstellar is his favourite.
Finding time for his own jam
Earlier this year, Hans Zimmer was on tour. This gave Habib more time to finally finish Bedlam Jack, his eponymous four-song EP, which he released in May.
“I really wanted to do a cohesive collection of original material,” he explained. “Most of my work up until that point had just been one off tracks where I was emulating styles of different artists and songs I liked. This record was born of a collection of unfinished ideas.”
“I am planning on writing more songs, whether those become their own EP or join forces with the first one to make an LP remains to be seen,” Habib adds. But one thing's for sure - Habib favours EPs over albums.
“I like how the four songs on the current EP – at least for me – tell a story,” he explained. “There is a journey of highs and lows that you go on when you listen from start to finish. People don't really do that with albums the way they used to. When was the last time you cued up track #1 and listened all the way through? We don't consume music like that anymore.”
Habib decided to record and produce the EP himself was a conscious decision he took because he knew he could. “I've spent so much time learning and practicing all the different art forms that go into a record: song writing, playing, singing, engineering, mixing and producing.
"As a musician, mastery comes from being able to take what is in your head and turn it into something other people can experience. I wanted to do it all myself to grow, but also just to prove to myself that I could,” he adds.
After Habib put out Bedlam Jackson, he saw support from both sides of the world: US and Pakistan. In fact, the level of interest he received from Pakistan was a bit more enthusiastic.
“It makes sense,” he said. “LA is saturated with people who are doing either music or acting. But from a Pakistani perspective, I'm doing something unusual and exciting, and I've been very lucky to have people take notice of it.”
More work in Pakistan
While Habib hasn’t been involved in working on film music in Pakistan, he will be working on a Pakistani project soon. “In preparation, I have been checking out a lot of scores - especially of Pakistani documentaries,” he shared.
When it comes to the difference in working on film scores in the West and in Pakistan, the main distinction he noticed is in the sonic palate.
“Desi classical instruments versus western classical instruments… it's a totally different vibe. Desi instruments are a little better versed in the art of subtlety,” he added.
Habib also hopes to collaborate with Pakistani artists someday.
He claims that the music industry in Pakistan has a long way to go before he could consider setting up shop here permanently, but he would love for the opportunity to work with artists back home. “We have so much raw talent and potential, and I think the internet has been such a blessing for a country with a music industry that doesn't really empower independent artists who want to push creative boundaries beyond what is considered ‘mainstream’.”