The son of parents of the Indian diaspora, he has travelled a path of his own across the world, helping others make music
He’s from Newfoundland, but you might say the world is Arnob Bal’s production studio.
Bal is the son of parents born in India before that country gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. By the time he was born in 1983, his family was living in St. John’s.
His father, Arya, was a professor of biology at Memorial University. His mother, Bani, was always organizing cultural events and fundraising for philanthropic activities; one project funded the building of a school for disabled children in West Bengal.
She emphasized the importance of a good education, but Bal was also encouraged to study the piano and guitar, and he became adept enough to end up in advanced placement music courses in high school.
“When I saw (producer) Rick Rubin doing what he was doing (and) when it sunk in that is what a producer does, I (thought), yeah, that should be my career." — Arnob Bal
A lover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, he would constantly watch the 1991 documentary Funky Monks, which followed the band while they made their album Blood Sugar Sex Magik. But his attention became fixed on someone who was not in the band.
“When I saw (producer) Rick Rubin doing what he was doing (and) when it sunk in that is what a producer does, I (thought), yeah, that should be my career,” Bal said.
After high school, while his friends were playing in rock bands downtown, Bal spent years solving mathematical proofs at the food court in the Avalon Mall, but along with stacks of paper, there would be a stack of CDs. While others ate, he was consuming as much music as he could through his headphones.
“(Then) I would come home … I would be jamming with myself and making music on some very rudimentary software, just plugging directly into the mic jack on the back of my PC,” he said.
In those days, his dream was to move to Toronto to produce music. But that was put on hold for a couple of years after a friend asked him to backpack through Eastern Europe.
“Ever since, my life has just been a bunch of weird, uncertain risks,” he said.
He ended up in Scotland, living in a 16-bed hostel for a year.
“(I would) get up in the morning … put on a shirt and tie and go work in an office,” he said.
He backpacked through India for three months before coming back to North America and finally making it to Toronto. There, he got his chance to produce, first for R&B singer AndrewLIVE, and for the rock band The Lipstick Junkies.
Then, in 2011, he learned his father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.
The news came from India, to where his parents had returned.
“Dad’s condition was deteriorating more and more, and I would be back and forth between India and Canada,” he said.
On one of those trips, he discovered his mother had fallen victim to an identity theft scam and he felt the need to provide more support to his family.
“I had to make the decision to wind down my life in Toronto and move to (Mumbai),” he said. “The plan was to be nearby… when (my father) eventually passed away.”
While Bal didn’t make the move to India before his father’s death in 2014, he still decided to settle in Mumbai.
“(My father’s death) changed my mentality to take a sabbatical for a year,” he said.
During that year, a friend’s ‘Aunty’ – in Indian culture, a woman older than the person using the term, not necessarily a relation — put him in touch with Karun Kannampilly, a drummer from a local band called The Koniac Net.
“My life revolves around bringing everyone into one circle,” Kannampilly said. “The more I got to know Arnob, he was obviously so talented.”
Kannampilly tried to introduce Bal to as many of his friends as possible. But he was still just hanging out — no music was being made.
Meanwhile, Bal remained in touch with his friends in Newfoundland.
Michael Lahey, who plays guitar in the group Roundelay, met Bal in junior high when they were table tennis rivals.
The longtime friends began talking about Bal producing a new Roundelay album. But the band members were spread across Canada, living in St. John’s, Whistler, B.C., and Toronto.
“Arnob was like, ‘OK, this artistic endeavour is worthwhile… let’s make it happen,” Lahey said.
“And also he had never been to B.C., so that’s also part of it too. He’s very much a citizen of the world.”
After flying to all three provinces to track the album, Bal returned to Mumbai to mix. With no fixed residence, he travelled around with only a backpack and a MIDI-controller, sleeping on the couches of friends.
The Roundelay album, “There Just Might Be Enough Time,” was finished in late 2017, and mixed in the studio of a friend, Jason D’Souza, who plays in The Koniac Net with Kannampilly.
D’Souza, seeing what his friend was capable of doing, suggested Bal produce his group’s next album. It was his first production gig in India.
Kannampilly said Bal brought fresh ears that helped shape the sound of that album.
“There’s this vocal arrangement he did for the song “They Finally Herd Us’”… he really nailed that vocal arrangement, man,” Kannampilly said. “That was a really cool moment.”
The production hasn’t stopped. And while Bal does voice-over work, as well as the occasional jingle, to keep himself afloat, those are jobs perfectly suited to him, as he can do them from anywhere in the world.