“For tonight’s reporting assignment, we’ll be attending a show at the art gallery,” My professor announced. All ten students in the class pulled up the information on their laptops as she explained how we’d have to interview someone at the gallery and write a 400-word story.
I looked at the two musicians who would be performing and quickly did a Google search. A minute later, I exclaimed, almost interrupting my professor. “Dude!” I hissed at my classmate, pointing at my screen, “check this out!” He looked at the Spotify page of an artist named Klinsvin. I redirected his glance towards the middle of the bio. “Born in Kozhikode! He’s from Kerala!”
And how did he end up performing at an art gallery in Canada? I’d start to get the answers that night. This is the story of how I met and became friends with the musician Klinsvin Glibert.
There were about 200 people in the hall, most of them seated, when my friend and I entered. I glanced up and saw my sahodharan for the first time. Long black hair that fell past the shoulders, brushing against the strap of the acoustic guitar that he was strumming as he sang. A gruff beard to go along with a gruff voice, I thought. Of course, I knew next to nothing about music, which was why my friend had to point out the obvious.
“See how he’s using the loop pedal?”
“Ah, yes,” I said, vaguely remembering seeing guitarists use the device in certain YouTube videos. Only later would I come to know how important that loop pedal was to Klinsvin’s story.
“He’s an amazing guitarist!”
I nodded along, too preoccupied with the impending task. I wanted to get an interview with him, ask him the kind of questions that would secure me the best possible grade for my reporting assignment. Turned out all my classmates were thinking the same thing, and once Klinsvin finished his performance, eight of us rushed backstage wielding our phones as recording devices. We passed by the counter where his music CDs were being sold.
With each question that was asked and answered, I began to get a picture of this aspiring musician. Klinsvin Gilbert was born in 1994 in Kozhikode to a middle-class family that didn’t have any particular interest in music. “It all started in my early teens when I discovered Metallica and Guns’ N Roses…” he explained, trying to make eye contact with all eight of us aspiring journalists.
“My mom bought me a guitar when I was around 13….” He’d tell me a few weeks later. “And then in 10th standard, my friend Santosh Sreenivas simply asked me to take part in the school youth festival. I ended up getting second place. And that’s when I started taking music seriously…”
“…And then I worked with a band,” Klinsvin continued, his voice echoing in the corridor of the art gallery. “And then I went to this place called Kochi to work as a freelance musician, and that’s when I did my research to go abroad. And that’s how I came here.”
Two weeks later, as we sipped coffee and walked through the snow, Klinsvin told me about the band he’d been in years ago. It was called “MintFlavour”, and though they had many great performances, ultimately things didn’t work out.
When asked why, Klinsvin recollected something a professor had once told him. About how there were two professions in the world where it was absolutely necessary to function as a team. The military, and a music band. “Because in a music band, you are with your band members every single day. And if you don’t get along with them, if the brotherhood isn’t strong, it all crumbles. It’s what happens with many bands.”
I thought about that word. Crumbles. The more I found out about Klinsvin, the more this theme seemed to recur.
After finishing high school, the heavy metal and hard rock fan headed to Bangalore for a Diploma in Sound Recording and Engineering at Government Film and Television Institute. After a rocky start (Editor’s note: Seriously, no pun intended), Klinsvin began learning more about the music business by performing several gigs, and even represented Kerala in the Guitar Solo category for three years running, finally winning second runner up at the 2017 National Youth Festival. But then his music career stalled. This time in a car accident.
We didn’t talk about the accident, but Klinsvin made vague references to it throughout our conversations. I didn’t press about it, instead deciding to focus on the positive side. After the breakup of the band and the life-threatening accident, things seemed to have turned around.
“So in 2017 you came to Canada?” I asked.
After graduating, Klinsvin worked as a freelance musician for two years in Kochi. He told me about how he lived in a small room that had a steel sheet as a roof. It used to get so hot that he’d wake up “sweating bullets”. One day his friend came over to meet him, and Klinsvin remembers telling him, “You know, I’m going to make it! Believe me, I’m going to make it!”
His friend looked up at the roof that’d turned the room into a literal hotbox, but as we trudged through the snow, I could appreciate the story. What turned my appreciation into admiration was the specific way Klinsvin extracted himself from that hotbox.
“I’d saved up money from playing gigs, and then I took a loan,” he said. “My parents didn’t approve of me coming here to study Music Business Management.”
“Wait, so you are here on your own?” I asked, instinctively remembering the last time I talked to my parents.
“Yeah, bro. While I was studying, I did all kinds of part-time jobs. Working in factories, pizza shops…ended up hurting my back. And with the money, I earned I’d perform at shows in Toronto and at college. I had to manage both music and paying for my education at the same time.”
Scary? I couldn’t express what I felt. But at the same time, I was beginning to put the pieces together and see how they connected. The loop pedal that Klinsvin used. The CDs that were being sold outside the hall for 10 dollars. The band that didn’t work out. The Spotify account.
“You – you’re really serious about this, huh?” I asked.
For a second, Klinsvin looked confused. “What do you mean?”
“I mean – your dream is to become a successful singer? This…this music thing isn’t….you know, just a thing?”
He shook his head vehemently. “I’m passionate about music, bro. I – I just can’t stop. In fact, that’s the reason why I use a loop pedal. I used to be in a band, but then everyone had their own priorities. Some focused on their “career” and making sure they had proper jobs. But for me, this is my life!”
Rubbing his hands together to warm them up, he continued. “One of my favourite guitar players Steve Vai said this one thing – You have to visualize who you’re going to be before you’re going to be it. And that visualization is my juice for motivation.”
As I write this, I understand I was wrong to think the theme in Klinsvin’s life was about things crumbling. That was just one half of the story. The other half was about things being rebuilt. Here’s a guy, living in a foreign country on his own, depending on his music to make ends meet. A guy who didn’t have the traditional support system in place. A guy who was focusing on breaking into an industry that’s notoriously competitive and fickle.
Yet the last time we met for this article, the conversation wasn’t about how difficult it is to pay the rent, or how terrible seasonal affective disorder is. Instead, Klinsvin was beaming.
“My song ‘She Makes Me Go’ crossed 2,000 streams today, bro!”
“Oh, wow!” I replied, remembering him mentioning it crossing a thousand streams a couple of weeks back.
“Yeah, it feels like things are picking up! Back in September last year, Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue retweeted my version of their song “On With The Show! That was such a special moment man! Getting recognized by the founder of a band that’s sold over 100 million albums!”
And I smiled. Because even though I wasn’t one of those 40,000 users on Twitter who listened to Klinsvin’s song, I was rooting for him. Not because he was a fellow Malayali. But because he was a fellow Malayali who was chasing an unlikely passion. It’s not often you see the former in Canada. It’s nearly impossible to see the latter.
If, or as he’d correct me, when, Klinsvin plays at a concert or arena or studio sometime in the future, I’m sure many people will step forward after the performance and enquire about which part of India he’s from. But as nice as it’d be to see our state be represented, I’m more interested in the Malayalis who will rush forward, dying to switch from phrases like “That was a great performance, we loved it!” to “Bro, adipoli! Thagarthu!”
It’s nice to think at least some of those Malayalis will go home that night, reassured that they too can chase their dream. Even if it means taking a loan and learning how to use a loop pedal.
Klinsvin’s music is available on Spotify, and his new single “Worth While” is out now.