"My teachers used to skip over my name and say, 'Oh, you're here,' " says Never Come Down frontman Hargobind Hari Singh Khalsa. "Kids started calling me Hargo when I was 7." Hargo, 21, is Sikh. "People say, 'What is that?' It's the fifth-largest religion in the world, but people don't even know about it."
Hargo got his first taste of fame at the age of 16, when his tune “Giving” was selected as official theme song for the 1999 South Africa Peace Conference. “I wrote that when I was eight years old, in choir,” he says. “While performing in Oregon [years later], I got to do that song. A woman approached me and said they were looking for a theme song to kick off that event.”
A 2000 performance opening for Seal earned him a ringing endorsement from the headliner (“This young man’s music moved me deeply”). Hargo says “That was around 2000, in New Mexico, at the Peace Festival. I played him a few of my songs on a 12-string. He flipped it over, Hendrix style, and played a song from his new album. He asked me what I thought about another song he played, and I told him it had interesting chords. When he played the bridge, I told him I thought it was too chordy, and it took away from the strength of the melody.”
Seal isn't Hargo's only famous fan. “Shortly after I had decided to really make a move in the music scene in San Diego, Kate Pierson of the B-52s told me to stick with my nickname Hargo, as opposed to some stage name or something. She said ‘It’s one word, unique, and easy to remember….it just sounds cool.’ ”
Hargo's publicity photos include several shots by legendary rock photographer Mick Rock. “His photos were being displayed at Morrison Hotel [in La Jolla],” says Hargo. “We saw in the Reader that he was going to be there, but we missed it by a day. When my dad mentioned it to a yoga teacher in New York, the guy said ‘He’s one of my students.’ When I was there, I asked if I could meet him. He’s a really cool, laid back guy…I was one of only three people he's ever photographed that wasn't already famous. And he did it at a greatly reduced rate. Before he’d take pictures, he’d twirl around with his eyes closed. Then he’d open his eyes and just start shooting pictures. I’d hear him say ‘Okay, Hargo, we got a great shot, you motherf*cker!’ It was a lot of fun.”
The singer/songwriter/guitarist often plays solo at open mikes. Lately he's been getting gigs with a four-member backup band (also called Hargo) that he formed in fall 2006. Around the same time, Hargo's song "Crying for John Lennon" drew the attention of left-leaning KLSD; the talk-radio station asked Hargo to play a John Lennon tribute show last December at Dick's Last Resort.
"People would say, 'Who is that wacko onstage?' Especially after 9/11, people say, 'Why does he wear a turban? He must be Muslim....' One time this guy came up to me in the mall and said, 'What's that thing on your head?' I explained that it was a Sikh thing. He said, 'Now, is that Jesus?' I explain it to him, but he gets this confused look on his face. I tell him it's not that we don't believe in Jesus; it's just that we don't think he is God or the son of God. He burst into this traditional biblical song."
Hargo's turban, which he's worn since kindergarten, makes it easier to manage his hair; he's never cut it or shaved. "The yogic idea is that hair has energy. You don't want to cut it off."
In early April 2007, accused murderer Phil Spector produced Hargo's song “Crying for John Lennon,” intended for use in a documentary film called Strawberry Fields, for which Spector was being interviewed. Hargo first met the producer at the same castle-like home in Alhambra where victim Lana Clarkson was found in February 2003.
“We were all there,” says Hargo, “waiting for Phil. The film crew was there. Everybody involved in the production was there.” It was only three weeks before the start of the fated record producer’s re-trial for murder in 2009. Spector, out on bail, was knee-deep in preparing to defend against the accusation that he’d shot Clarkson. Still, he agreed to tape an interview segment for a documentary about John Lennon.
And, he couldn’t have known it at the time, but in the next weeks he would also produce a tune for the soundtrack, Hargo’s “Crying for John Lennon,” likely the last record that Spector would ever work in this lifetime.
The crew waited. “Then, I saw this old lady walk in,” says Hargo. It turned out to be Spector. “He had this blond wig on, and a 1960s suit with an overcoat with these wide lapels. It was just a trip.”
Days later, Spector asked Hargo to return to Alhambra to lay down the vocal tracks to “Crying for John Lennon.” Hargo was to come alone. “My dad drove me. Later, he said he was thinking I just dropped my son off at the house of a guy who is on trial for murder. Am I a good father?”
Spector is now serving 19 years-to-life on a conviction of second degree murder. He will be eligible for parole when he turns 88.
Of that final session, Hargo says that Spector was his usual trademark eccentric to the very end. “Phil never spoke to me directly during the session. He would say something to the engineer, and the engineer would relay it to me. Spector had his back to me the whole time.”
Hargo performed the Lennon song and was interviewed on Court TV on August 16, 2007, during the network’s daytime coverage of Spector’s murder trial. “[Spector] is actually really shy,” said Hargo. “He doesn’t always look people in the eye…. In fact, he had his back turned to me when I first played him the CD demo. When he turned around, he told me it reminded him of John [Lennon], especially the slap echo I used on my voice.”
As of 2008, Hargo's band included Nico Ananias (bass), Jesse Charnow (drums), Svetlana Pikous (keyboards), and Julie Coffman (backing vocals). Hargo's tribute song “Crying For John Lennon" –- posted on his MySpace page –- has been played over 2,400 times.
In summer 2009, Hargo recorded new tracks in New York City. He returned to San Diego in October to begin playing around town again. In 2010, he released The Faint Glow EP and toured India, during which he blogged (Hargo Goes to India) on the Reader website with self-shot “Turbancam” videos. A video for “Soul Survivor,” the first single from the Faint Glow EP, was released on his website.
Around the same time, he began a collaboration with rising Indian pop singer Himani Kapoor, to remake a classic Bollywood soundtrack song called “Dum Maro Dum.”
“It’s a famous tune from Hare Rama Hare Krishna, a 1971 Indian movie about drugs and hippies, and the song follows a similar theme. I put a contemporary spin on it.... One of the big labels over there, which owns the publishing to the original song, will be releasing the track and getting it placed in an upcoming movie. I’ll be working on the track in New York City with my producer and then flying to India to record female vocals and ethnic drums, and then I’ll mix and master it back here in the States.”
The Eastern pop singer joining him on the tune, Himani Kapoor, was a finalist in an Indian TV talent competition similar to American Idol. “Nobody from the West has tried to conquer India yet, nor have Indian singers made much headway in the U.S.,” says Hargo. “Given my unique perspective of East meets West as an American Sikh, I feel qualified to give it a go...maybe I’ll be the first to break through multiple markets with the Bollywood sound.”
The five-track Faint Glow EP was re-released in April 2011. The band sent out 500 promotional CDs in an effort to relaunch the group after a falling out with their previous drummer, which resulted in a brief hiatus. Ron Kerner has since taken over the traps alongside guitarist Sanjay Parekh and bassist/beat-programmer John Jolley.
“The Faint Glow comes from a lyric on the first track, ‘Soul Survivor,’” Hargo says. “It’s about Tokyo in the year 3000 — people being stripped of their emotions and trying to rebuild them. Another song is about the pharmaceutical industry. There’s a strong theme of just being human, not a citizen of anywhere — a citizen of nowhere. The humanity we share is what really matters, more so than being down with the king, you know? I went to school in India for a while, and there is definitely an Indian influence in the music and the lyrics.”
The album recorded in NYC in 2009, Out of Mankind, was finally released in February 2012, with a band lineup consisting of Hargo, drummer Ron Kerner, guitarist Sanjay Parekh, and bassist/beat programmer John Jolley. “We’ve been sitting on these tracks for a long time,” says Jolley. “So, for our live material, we’ve been going a more electronic direction. More experimental.”
“Our whole thing is never doing the same thing twice,” says Hargo. “There are a lot of moods and a lot of energies on the record, and that’s something that we strive to do. Always change it up...We’re just excited to get out and play as many shows as possible. We’ve got, like, 30 bah mitzvahs lined up.”
In late 2011, he landed a weekly Wednesday night residency at Stage San Diego. The following summer, he won a huge battle of the bands called Gimme the Gig, scoring a music video and recording session with celeb producer Don Was as part of a TV pilot taping. Sponsored by the Ford car company, Gimme the Gig initially taped entrants performing (Hargo’s set was in Del Mar) and solicited online votes to narrow down a dozen contestants, who then competed in front of Was.
“We were allowed to play two songs, ‘Forget Everything’ and ‘Regeneration X.’” After being asked to repeat the latter tune (from their full-length Out of Mankind), “Don Was came up to us and said, ‘Man, that was beautiful, the beginning almost has a Krishna Das kind of gospel chant, and then it really rocks!’”
After the 12 bands competed, “We all lined up in front of a Ford Focus, which had been outfitted with a recording console by Mad Mike from Pimp My Ride, and Don announced, ‘I’d like Hargo to stick around for the next day to record and shoot the video.’ It took a second to sink in. We were thinking, Wait, he wants us to come back tomorrow? So, that means we just won?”
Their song “Regeneration X” and the accompanying video were taped on the same day last month, with the audio portion recorded by Was from the Focus dashboard. “The console that was built into the car was really cool, and they outfitted it with a couple of Distressor compressors and some mic preamps, all analog, to give it that real vibe. I have to say I was kind of skeptical at first, but it actually worked very well. We tracked the song live with the rhythm section, overdubbed some guitars and vocals, and now it’s being mixed [by Grammy-winning engineer Krish Sharma].”
Hargo estimates, “To shoot a video like the one we did for Gimme the Gig would have cost $100,000, and we own a hundred percent of both audio and video. Ford is working with iTunes and some other outlets to really push the track we recorded, and we get all the royalties.”
“They’re acting almost like a label back in the day, but without stealing your publishing.”