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Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

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While not filled to the brim with mystery as last time, the lineup at this edition of The GoMad Festival was interesting and so was the approach the organizers had decided to take. This time bands had one-hour slots with half-hour soundchecks between performances! As the morning chill dissipated slightly on Day 1 with the arrival of the tardy and patchy sun, the festival kicked off with the rather interesting band from Chennai.

Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

The F16s were a perfect pick-me-up for people who made it to their set at the Blubaloo stage at 11 a.m. While we weren’t surprised that they claim to gain influence from bands like The Black Keys, The Arctic Monkeys, Jet and The Strokes they do manage to make it interesting. ‘Nuke’ was played early on in the set and while it is one of their lesser catchy tunes, it served well as a prelude to the sort of sound we were to hear and boy, were we impressed. They went through their set with ease and minimal banter and the smattering of a crowd was visibly enjoying. ‘My Shallow Lover’ is a real body jerker, by which we mean it makes you twitch in time with its cutesy rhythm and slightly incomprehensible lyrics – a requirement in this sort of musical corner, we think. ‘Light bulbs’ is a really interesting song as well and all in all we were the better for staying throughout the band’s set that morning. They were our dark horse for the day. What a great start!

Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

In our elephantine memory, Girish and the Chronicles has never disappointed and if they ever manage to in the future, it’ll be a dark day indeed. They were the first band on the Calaloo stage and they set the bar real high. The weather and everything synced to create a wonderful atmosphere that the band thrived in – playing originals and covers with very apparent ease. Girish did jokingly comment that he was reluctant to play his own originals because they were “too hard to sing”. Led Zep and AC/DC covered to perfection on a beautiful Friday morning at a hill station – you couldn’t ask for much more.

Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

The Down Troddence, Bangalore/Kerala based Groove metal band, the first metal band of the festival of the six lined up in total, took the Blubaloo stage next. The festival , which had just one metal act (Kryptos) last year, had decided to cater better to metalheads by adding more metal bands to the roster. We believe that listening to some great metal in the morning is the best way to wake up and stay awake, and TDT delivered in spades. With tracks like ‘KFC’ and ‘Muck Fun Mohan’ (go back and read that again), they set the foundation for what was to be an amazing day. One song that stood out in particular was ‘Naagavalli’, a track named after Malayalam actress Shobana’s titular character from the thriller Manichitratazhu. Incidentally, Shobana and her dance troupe would be the last act we would see at the Festival. TDT ended their set with crowd favorite ‘Shiva’ and we hastily made our way through the woods to catch De’Sat who up next at the Calaloo.

Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

Though it was still quite early in the day for heavy music, De’Sat, Bangalore-based Prog metal group, did not seem to show that in the least bit, brimming with energy from the first track ‘Run Too’, an arabesque tune with generous helpings of heavy guitar riffs. Another track that stood out was ‘Power’, which had Srikiran doing some amazing work behind the drums. Their set also included a well-executed cover of Lamb of God’s ‘Laid to Rest’.

Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

Meanwhile, Blubaloo was occupied by Sean Roldan and Friends. They are yet another act emerging out of Chennai that has a folksy Tamil soul with generous dollops of western instrumentalization layered on top. The music’s infectious, likeable and something that can easily be a crowd puller. Their set though, was fairly early, and at the outset didn’t have much of a crowd to really build the kind of madness that one has come to expect from them. The jazzy, funky, basswork of Mani fits in brilliantly with Praveen’s percussive section and provided a solid rhythm section for improvisation on the slide as well as Sean aka Raghavendra’s impressive vocals. An attempt to infuse some rap into proceedings began interestingly but ended up crowding the sound and messing the vibe up. ’Mayakura Poovasam’, probably their most popular song was by far the pick of the setlist with an encore being performed once the crowd had built up. Other picks for this writer included ‘Inbai Velai’ and ‘Mandira’, which had a nice old Tamil film song vibe to it. All in all, it was an interesting setlist that could have used a little more energy from the performers as well as the audience.

Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

There were more amazing riffs to be unleashed at the Calaloo as Blind Image, a Chennai-based Groove metal band, was up after De’Sat. They got right into it with ‘Paroxysm’, a track which shows off frontman Noble Luke’s ability to growl almost endlessly. They were very tight and were performing as one unit, which did not come as a surprise really. ‘Glitch in the System’, a socio-political number, saw Noble using the delay on his vocals to great effect, aided by Siva on bass wielding a Spector bass. Our usual metalhead refrain of ‘Needs more double bass and guitar solos’ didn’t apply because we just didn’t feel that way with Blind Image. They felt just right. For the next track, ‘More Than Human’, Noble showed us that he could actually sing clean vocals quite well. As you may gather from the title this track was about Transhumanism (the first time we are ever using this word), quite a deep subject, and had some great lyrics as well.

Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

Over at the Blubaloo, Clown with a Frown were all set to be a whirlwind of energy. Their energetic vocalist can pack a punch with her voice and her onstage presence. They made a slumbering audience rise and march to the frontlines unasked and it was all thanks to Abby who was pushy enough to be cute and didn’t overdo it. CWAF played it old school. They played their hearts out and the audience automatically gravitated towards the front. They had a four-piece brass section playing with them and that only served to enhance their already sharp, tight sound. OCs ‘Cool Machine’, ‘Escape’ and ‘Dirty Paradise’ warmed the crowd up plenty and just when another original, ‘Dreams’, was getting interesting, the sound cut out. The band continued playing and earned several esteem points because they didn’t miss a beat. The vocalist even got the crowd to sing along! ‘Groove Machine’ is by far their most entertaining song; the chorus hits the nail on the head and the well-timed break before the catchy bassline really shows practiced timing and a genuine interest in being entertaining. They ended with a couple of covers – Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’ and James Brown’s ‘I Feel Good’.

Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

Blues Conscience were over at Calaloo. Dressed in dapper matching suits with top-hats to boot, the Chennai-based band were the first blues band to grace Calaloo on Day 1. Their set was a mixture of blues standards and originals, mostly taken from their debut album Down and Dirty (and were mostly about sex). They played a cover of ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ with some improv’d lyrics about drummer Neil Smith thrown in for good measure. ‘Morning After’, a song about well…the morning after, was next. Vocalist Anek claimed that people usually had sex after watching a BC gig, though empirical data from this writer suggests otherwise. Their OCs revisited standard blues tropes but they did so with some panache and verve. Cream’s ‘Strange Brew‘ segued into a Buddy Guy song before they performed the not-so-subtle ‘Big Bamboo’ which was about what you’d usually see in your email’s spam folder. The song was choc-a-block with bad euphemisms but provided the crowd a chance to giggle at the groan-worthy anatomical references. Anek even walked amongst the audience making impromptu verse about a few male members’ (no pun here) shortcomings. Innuendo!

Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

Parvaaz is a band that is quickly becoming the talk of town. Their brand of Kashmiri/Urdu psychedelia has found several followers and for good reason. At the Blubaloo right after CWAF, Parvaaz began with a longish sound check (as did several other acts to be honest). Vocalist Khalid’s power was apparent right at the outset with ‘Marika’. A constant throughout Parvaaz’s set was Fidel’s understated, steady and solid bass playing that fit in tightly with Sachin’s kick drum. Crowd favourite ‘Itne Arse ke Baad’ followed with quite a few people singing along. The sound mixing was horrible though (to be fair, the mixing was off the mark for most of the acts), and Sachin’s delicate touches on the otherwise excellent ‘Long Song’ were barely audible. Parvaaz’s shortish set list ended with a song off of their upcoming album. All in all, Parvaaz have been evolving with every gig we’ve seen, and the rhythm section is particularly strong. While the textures added by Kashif’s bluesy guitar playing and other ambient guitar sounds are interesting, a strong sound system, probably aided by a sound dude at the console who understands the intricacies of Parvaaz’s sound may just do the trick in the future.

Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

A neat little coincidence – Blues Conscience had an ad-libbed verse in ‘Big Bamboo’ (yes, that song) about a ‘lady in black’ in the crowd. She happened to be the gorgeous Tanya Nambiar who was the vocalist of Delhi-based alt rockers – Gravy Train, the next band on stage. Ironically they began their set with a song called ‘I Don’t Want to Be Here’. GT played a couple of covers as well – a sultry version of The Police hit ‘Roxanne’ as well as a misfired rendition of Lenny Kravitz’s ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’ during which the guitars were totally off. ‘Money Man’ – an original, lead to some self-effacing humour and Delhi jokes from the bassist Akshay. One noticeable aspect of the band was that their live act seemed manufactured which also, in our opinion, contributed to the lack of “tightness” of their sound. They played a few more lackluster originals to close out their set. Fizzle.

Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

“All the good bands are from Chennai, man!” – overheard at MAD. One wouldn’t disagree after Grey Shack’s powerful performance. This 4-piece from Chennai turned it up all the way to 11 in their noisy set at Blubaloo. Drawing from influences such as AC/DC and Jet, Grey Shack believe in pure, unadulterated rock. Driven by Vikram Vivekanand’s riffs, GS bought the house down with great arena-rock originals such as ‘She Bites’, the Hunter S Thompson inspired ‘Gonzo’ and also ‘Beautiful Man’, which had a neat little reggae bridge. Beyond the halfway mark, their songs did get repetitive with similar sounding chord structures and vocal lines. Their set infused some energy, which the audience carried forward till the night’s end. I hope no whammy bars and wah-wah pedals were harmed during this gig.

Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

After the success of their single ’You Say’, Black Letters, an energetic post punk/alternative band from Kerala has generated a lot of attention and curiosity. The sun had already set a few minutes ago, and the early dusk was rife with anticipation. The band seemed to already have garnered a large following, and these fans were cheering right from the start of the short set. Black Letters’ music is distinctly new American, with vocals delivered in flawless style, true to their chosen genre. The sound, however, was below par, but they managed to do a tight and entertaining set. Watch out for their album launch, which they claim is around the corner.

Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

Of all the acts on Day 1, the most incongruous was probably 1001 Ways. Helmed by an a kindly looking gentleman named Tobias Huber with impressively tweaked facial hair and an almost incomprehensible accent, we didn’t know what to expect when he came onstage at the Blubaloo. Sean Roldan and Friends and were playing with him and that tempered things for the positive slightly but all that went away quickly. To expect technical proficiency from this bad – or lyrical prowess for that matter – is folly. You could tell from Tobias’s beatific smile that this band was more about the message – spreading peace, love and (non-musical) harmony – than the music. To be fair, it did make for an eclectic mix of the tabla, the drumset and the layering of the violin over it, not to mention some very interesting plaintive violin solos. The song ‘Gandhi’ boasts a backing track of the Mahatma’s voice and had some nice elements of world music as did the other songs but the simplistic lyrics, unimpressive singing and seemingly roughshod effect overall fell short of pleasing as much as the rest of the performances in the day. Especially when the raucous sounds of what appeared to be unadulterated fun found its way over from Live Banned‘s set at the Calaloo.

Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

Live Banned has quickly become one of the more entertaining acts on the scene and for good reason – especially at a music festival with a large-ish, fairly ‘happy’ crowd. Taking over the reins on the Calaloo stage at a fairly prime slot, Live Banned had the crowd grooving in no time. Their mix of infectious poprockmetalbollywood, terribly funny lyrics and abysmally brilliant costumes (complete this time with Pandava style ‘kiritas’) is a fairly well-oiled machine and didn’t fail to elicit a smile and a guffaw or two (to say the least). Their set was especially energetic, with an emphasis on their ‘social issue’ themed originals. Large swathes of the crowd were jumping up and down throughout their set and first-time listeners lapped their act up with glee. Highlights of the set were their originals ‘Auto Tune’ and ‘Hey Mama’ as well as the usual multi-genre mashup to close out proceedings. While there tends be a bit of sameness once you’ve seen Live Banned a couple of times, they justified their slot and billing this time around.

Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

The last act on the Calaloo stage on day 1 was Amayama, a Spanish quartet showcasing some Spanish and North African folk music. The crowd was at the pinnacle of excitement at the end of a long day of nice music. Amayama’s set should have been scheduled earlier during the day when the audience were in a better frame of mind to appreciate the nuances of an outlandish music genre. As things transpired, they played a beautiful set to a fast thinning audience.

Day 1 of The GoMad Festival 2013 at FernHills Palace, Ooty

Closing out the proceedings on Day 1 at the Blubaloo and having the job of following a truly mad set by Live Banned, Sabelo Mthembu was the polar opposite of the dance-mosh madness that everyone had just witnessed. Hailing from South Africa, singer-songwriter Sabelo performed his Afro-Soul compositions as the day drew to a close. Singing in Zulu as well as English, Sabelo has this incredible calming texture in his voice. He, along with his backing band, performed originals like – ‘Lay Me Under’ and ‘Darling Why’. The songwriting was simple and pure without any unwanted embellishments. One could see the influence of Gospel music in the lyrics as well as the instrumentation. They covered the Tom Petty classic, ‘Free Fallin’ and got the appreciative audience to sing along as the dwindling crowd slowly made their way back to the their tents in the Ooty cold (oh lord, it was cold!), retrospecting Day 1 and shivering from the cold and anticipation of Day 2.

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Bhoomi, Caesar’s Palace and TAAQ at the Bengaluru Habba 2012

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First things first – What a venue! The open air amphitheater with the UB City tower looming majestically in the background, and its big bright blue horse logo looking down upon us was quite an amazing sight! And what’s more – for a city perpetually stuck in traffic jams, its habba started dot on time.

The line-up on this particular evening comprised of metal aficionados Bhoomi, the multi-genre, Bangalore based Caesar’s Palace and Bangalore rockers Thermal and a Quarter who made a surprise entry later. All three of them, veterans of the Bangalore rock scene, took to the stage with the promise of a great Saturday evening and they sure lived up to it.

Bhoomi, Caesar's Palace and TAAQ at the Bengaluru Habba 2012

First up was Bhoomi, one of Bangalore’s oldest and best metal acts. They started the evening with their renditions of rock classics like AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’, and smoothly drifted into Deep Purple land with Jason Zachariah belting out the keyboard solo to Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star’ and then Tony Das belting out the guitar solo from ‘Burn’, both playing them absolutely perfectly. Though I’m a fan of bands covering songs their own way rather than playing it exactly like it is, I have to admit that Bhoomi’s version of ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ did seem a tad out of place and unnecessarily heavy. Tony Das sang the next song ‘Burn it Down’, a very bluesy number with some great guitar licks. This was followed by another cover, Mr. Big’s ‘Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy’.

They finally went into their originals, starting with ‘Inside Story’, a song about the press today and its obsession with the personal lives and affairs of celebrities. It had some great harmonies between Tony and Jason and ended with a really cool guitar-hero solo from the former. Next they played ‘Uncultured’, a song about riots with some really powerful vocals. It had a great vibe and had me replaying “Come help us fight…War without reason” in my head even after they finished. Their last song was ‘The Game’, a song about playing music live (I loved how Sujay bonded with the audience by explaining each song before playing it. Tony thought the better alternative was to chug some beer before each song. I loved that too!) The final track had a great riff, fierce drumming from Kishan Balaji and very eerie vocal harmonies, a powerful song to end their performance.

The band announced their new album set to release later this year, which is being produced by Neil Kernon, of Queensryche and Nevermore fame. When asked if this is the next big step for Indian bands i.e., to have internationally produced and marketed albums, frontman Sujay replies, “Definitely. It’s already happening. Not only international producers, but there are also many Indian producers with very good technical skills. In a few years, the Indian rock scene will be self-sufficient and we won’t have to look to the west for everything.”

Bhoomi, Caesar's Palace and TAAQ at the Bengaluru Habba 2012

Next up were Caesar’s Palace   a rock/funk/blues/soul/jazz/disco/phew! band from Bangalore. They played a very groovy, almost dance-y set of songs. They started with a cover of RHCP’s ‘Readymade’ and soon went into originals starting with ‘3 hour love affair’. The bassist Kenneth Wilson’s getup with his hood and shades (at 8:00 in the night) looked exponentially less pretentious with each note he played as he got them grooves going. ‘Stare’ had some funny lyrics about the cliche` of thinking deeper. Unni, the frontman then announced that they were going to cover Bappi Lahiri and frankly, I was disappointed to know that it was a joke. This is one band that could actually pull it off! They did come close to it though as they played a very 80s disco style original called ‘Get Your Mojo On’. By this time, Kishan Balaji had begun to look like some medieval war hero (read madman) behind his drums. He and Jason Zachariah had battled and conquered every style from heavy metal to funk and now even disco, both of them having played for both Bhoomi and Caesar’s palace.

They continued their brand of funk with a sense of humour with ‘Wol Chod’, which had some cool slap bass and screeching wah. ‘Dreams’ had a groove that got the entire amphitheater swinging their heads from side to side and had some interesting guitar and bass harmonies. The song ended with a great keyboard solo. They then went into a very well done medley of Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ and ‘Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough’ followed by Tenacious D’s ‘Tribute’ that ended with the outro of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ which Unni pulled off perfectly. It was great to see how open minded they are to different genres of music, and not just open minded, but also technically proficient enough to pull off all these varied styles.

Bhoomi, Caesar's Palace and TAAQ at the Bengaluru Habba 2012

The highlight of their performance was ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’ by Ray Charles, done in a modern John Mayer style. It ended with a jugalbandi of sorts between the guitar and keys. Jason then played a beautiful piano solo that quietly blended into ‘Swim’, a lovely ballad. They ended with ‘Bittersweet Mind’, a typical 12-bar blues song but with some exciting odd-time signature twists to it.

The night was already going on a high when Unni announced that Thermal and a Quarter was going to take to the stage next and caught everyone by surprise. Thermal and a Quarter or TAAQ , as they are popularly known, consists of Bruce Lee Mani on vocals/guitar, Rajeev Rajagopal on drums and Prakash K.N on bass who happen to be Bangalore’s favourite power trio. This was proven by the fact that despite the fact that it was getting late and terribly cold in the open air amphitheater, the audience didn’t seem to want to be anywhere else.

Bhoomi, Caesar's Palace and TAAQ at the Bengaluru Habba 2012

The trio kick-started their set with ‘Can you fly’, a typical TAAQ song with jazzy guitar playing, great vocals and a powerful rhythm section. Their second song was ‘Meter Mele One and a Half’, about the auto-rickshaw drivers in Bangalore. As Bruce Lee Mani sang about the woes of the average Bangalorean, I couldn’t help thinking that the band’s music IS indeed the sound of urban Bangalore. They do sound like UB City at night, like the traffic jams, like Masala Dosas, like an auto-rickshaw’s faulty meter, like Cubbon Park, IT parks and all things Bangalorean.

They continued in the same spirit with some “tapang-blues” with ‘If Them’ and ‘For the Cat’ which got few audience members even doing some tapang moves in the front row, as Bruce himself cheered them on! Quite impressive on the part of the dancers I’d say, considering the fact that ‘For the Cat’ had many time meter changes.

Their next song ‘Birthday’  was dedicated to Rajeev’s mother as it was the eve of her birthday. And apparently it’s no ordinary birthday song. As Bruce explained, “It’s about wanting my birthday to be a space and not a time. Very deep…very deep!” This was followed by one of my personal favourites – TAAQ’s rendition of ‘Hey Jude’. It amazed me to see how they could take a classic as popular as ‘Hey Jude’, turn it upside down and change it around completely and still maintain the feel of the original. TAAQ’s version of the song has to be heard to be believed! Their last song ‘Chainese Item’ sounded like the theme song to a spy movie where everyone’s running behind a plate of chow mein, for some reason. Or maybe the ridiculously cold breeze was finally getting to me!

Thermal and a Quarter were undoubtedly the heroes of the evening, captivating the audience with their distinct sound and energetic performance. Overall, a great gig and a perfect Saturday evening, all three bands providing three different versions of that rock and roll sound we all love.

The moral of the story at the Habba’s rock fest seemed to be that rock fests no longer mean copying the west. As the three veterans showed us, rock music in Bangalore today is more about ourselves and all the things that affect us in our lives. It’s more personal and easy to relate to than ever. I think it’s this quality of the music that made it so enjoyable and is making an increasing number of people turn up for concerts like these.

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Girish and The Chronicles at The Kyra Theatre, Bangalore

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It was a lazy Saturday evening with uncharacteristically empty roads in Bangalore, thanks to an extended holiday week. I had decided to attend the performance of a band that would be playing classic and ’80s rock. A quick check on Facebook about the band’s profile and some of their originals got me quite excited for the performance.

The gig was scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. and I was there by 8, not wanting to miss any part of the show. I got the chance to interact with the band’s manager, Ujjwal just before the show started and managed to get some interesting bits of information about the music scene in the North East.

The band came on stage a bit later than the scheduled start. After a brief jam and introduction session, they started off with The Eagles’ ‘New Kid in Town’. There was a small cheer from a section of the crowd as the familiar intro to the song started. Girish’s mellow vocals, although not a faithful reproduction of Glenn Frey’s, perfectly captured the melancholy of the fleeting nature of fame that The Eagles showcased in this song.

Next up was ‘Proud Mary’ by Creedence Clearwater Revival, another gem from the stable of classic rock. The band’s version of this song had a slight hard rock edge, understandably so, considering their influences and genre. Suraz set the stage ablaze with the brief but amazing solo; Girish carried off the raspy vocals in the style of John Fogerty quite well, just enough to retain the charm of the original in the signature “Rollin’…” chorus.

The band quickly shifted gears to the all-time Rock n’ Roll classic, ‘Johnny B. Goode’ by Chuck Berry. The high-energy song had the people on their feet soon enough and Suraz did complete justice to the legend’s solo.

Our expectations were already sky-high after three back to back perfectly executed classic rock songs but nothing had prepared us for the next one. Nagen and Yogesh started a sonic assault on the audience and soon Suraz and Girish joined in with a rocking riff and a high-pitched scream. The real rock-lovers in the audience were blown away. It was ‘Rock n’ Roll’ by Led Zeppelin! The performance was electrifying and raw, true to the style of Led Zeppelin. Bonzo would have been proud of the drumming. It would have been difficult to say if it was Plant or Girish on the stage if your eyes were closed. Suraz was impeccable. Not many bands dare play Led Zeppelin live but the quartet present in front of us matched the other legendary quartet in every aspect. The drum roll at the end of this song was icing on the cake.

By now, the band had everyone captivated and no one was going anywhere. Perhaps realizing that there is something as too much awesomeness, the band brought down the tempo a bit with another song by The Eagles, ‘Get Over It’. Suraz started off with an ear-melting solo. As the song progressed, it was clear that this was not a replica band. A distinct Judas Priest influence in the riffs and drums could be detected which made this classic even more enjoyable.

I was told earlier that Sebastian Bach of Skid Row was a fan of Girish’s vocal prowess. After this performance, I could understand why – the band performed the super-hit ballad by Skid Row from the 80s, ‘18 and Life’ which had Bach himself on the vocals. Girish had us mesmerized with his vocal range that’s a hallmark of this ballad. You have to listen to it to realize how difficult it can be to sing. Suraz was again at the top with a solo that captured the nostalgia of power ballads from the 80s era.

As the ballad faded out, we were greeted with what is perhaps the most famous riff in the history of rock music. ‘Smoke on the Water’ by Deep Purple was next in line. Girish had demonstrated an uncanny ability to sound similar to quite a few legendary vocalists by now and this one was no exception. The bassist had a nice slap tone for the sound and it seemed like Suraz would set the fret board on fire with a well-replicated solo.

I had barely recovered from the crescendo that Girish’s voice reached at the end of ‘Smoke on the Water’ and I could already recognize the badass intro sequence from ‘Highway Star’ (Deep Purple again) drifting into my ears. The quartet was blasting out this classic with the same raw intensity as they had displayed with ‘Rock n’ Roll’ by Zeppelin. The fact that no one felt the absence of the organ solo in this song says a lot about the tight and technically-accurate performance. The night just kept getting better.

Taking pity on the audience who were delirious with the mind-numbing performances put forth, the band switched to one of their originals called ‘Angel’. It is a power ballad with a very 80s feel to it, complete with a powerful build-up and a wailing guitar solo in the middle. Some were holding up candles and waving them as they sang along. It might have been as well a scene from a Def Leppard show with a signature power ballad track.

It was time for some old-school progressive rock as the band started with the high energy intro to ‘Rock Bottom’ by UFO. This was just an indicator of the versatility of the band with respect to the genres that they play. Suraz did an excellent job playing the intricate solos that form the major part of the song. This was perhaps the first time I have ever seen an Indian band perform a song from the lesser known yet legendary bands like UFO.

The band quickly progressed from ‘Rock Bottom’ to ‘Black Night’ by Deep Purple. They were turning out to be quite the Deep Purple followers! The drumming was exceptional, to say the least and was reminiscent of Neil Peart’s style in a few places.

After lulling the audience with a bluesy piece, the band decided to take the energy levels in Kyra to another level by playing two back to back AC/DC super-hits, ‘Back in Black’ and ‘Highway to Hell’. Girish’s vocals seemed a bit tired out by the time he reached the latter but then, playing such a long set with demanding vocals like that of Bon Scott can take a toll on anyone.

The band was now taking requests from the audience – along came the perfectly executed ‘Cryin’ by Aerosmith which got everyone in the audience singing along. It was time for some Led Zeppelin again with ‘Stairway to Heaven’. The band outdid themselves in this piece. It reminded me of Led Zeppelin’s performance of the same song in 1975 at Madison Square Garden. The intro to the song was simple captivating. Girish pulled off a Plant-esque stage persona with the latter’s famously generous use of “baby” in most live renditions of their songs. The highlight of the performance though was the solo by Suraz. It wasn’t a faithful reproduction of the original but that made it even the more enjoyable as we got to see his creativity in full flow.

Another request came in. This time it was ‘The Trooper’ by Iron Maiden. Girish did mention something about the band not having practiced this well enough, but it certainly didn’t seem like it when they started playing. A few people were seen headbanging to this heavy metal classic.

Sweet Child of Mine’ was their last song of the night. The song started out a bit slow compared to the original with the band taking a while to build up the tempo, but once they got into the groove it was paradise city for those who stayed back till the end.

Once the band got off stage, I could finally take my eyes off them and take in the reactions of the people around me. Folks who were in there for some good old Rock n’ Roll had got their money’s worth and the incredulous looks on their faces said it all. With bands like Girish and The Chronicles around, we don’t have to worry about good music dying out.

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Phoenix at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

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This review isn’t going to be a long drawn out affair because, frankly, I’m not a fan of prolonging the agony. The Phoenix gig at HRC Bangalore, showed promise because they followed Thursday night acts that have been in more than a few good books. In the current musical atmosphere – the Indian music scene blossoming as it is with bands attempting to re-invent themselves with each album, it’s difficult to appreciate or even stomach the thought of a band sustaining itself with a cover-oriented approach. But there’s a silver lining to everything, I assume.

Phoenix at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

Phoenix is a crew of five – singer Ruben, bassist Lokhi, percussionist Badri, guitarist Keith and Ankita who sings and plays the keys.

The band started out with a few Marley numbers (‘Redemption Song’ being the most notable performance). Ruben’s reedy vocals suit the dreadlocked artist’s music in specific. But no one can pull off Marley like Marley; with the second song, I was looking for a change. Welcome or not, it came in the form of The Police’s ‘Roxanne’ – an average performance that served more as a gentle reminder of the song than a powerful rendition. The only cover that I appreciated for its unique quality was their mash up of ‘Zombie’ and ‘Numb’; though it had its weak moments with the harmonies being frightfully off. YouTubing led me to a similar arrangement here. Phoenix’s version was definitely better than this. Bill Withers’ classic ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ was shaky in places. But they pulled it off with a quirky air to it. You could tell they’re better with the endearingly lazy styling of a reggae band than classic rock.

The band thereafter went through a riot of songs and artists, including Marley’s ‘Is This Love’, Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’, Guns n’ Roses, ‘Use Somebody’ by the Kings of Leon, Adele’s supremely popular ‘Rolling in the Deep’, ZZ Top’s ‘La Range’, Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’, The Doors and even a very low rendition of AC/DC and Ozzy.

Phoenix at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

I know I run the risk of sounding too close to an American Idol judge for comfort after this statement, but song choice was a huge issue; it seems to have been based more on the popularity of the song than the actual capability of the vocalists. Ankita’s voice has a beautiful tone to it but it’s not enough of a powerhouse to carry off Adele without glaring flaws and coming off as more Karaoke than Cover. Slowing the song down, adding an out-of-way instrument or doing a reggae version would’ve taken the pressure of Ankita to perform as well as the original artist.

Phoenix at Hard Rock Cafe, Bangalore

Guitarist Keith shone throughout the performance. He whipped out a mean looking guitar just before the cover of Ozzy’s ‘Crazy Train’ and had the audience in a tizzy with his skill thereafter. Drummer Badri, hidden in the far corner of the raised stage, went about his business holding it together with as little ado as possible as did bassist Lokhi – whose dry sense of humour came across when he admitted to being “the old guy”.

All in all, I wasn’t too impressed with the band. It’s a tough business; however talented you are individually, you need to work creativity into your arrangements as a band to stand out from the crowd.

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Interview with George Kollias

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George Kollias is a world renowned and much accomplished drummer from Greece. He is best known as the drummer of the American Death Metal band, Nile. He is also a very sought-after drum teacher and conducts power packed drum clinics all over the world. WTS caught up with him for a tête-à-tête, where he spoke at length about his drumming style and techniques and his inspirations. Read on to find out where India lies in Nile’s and George’s future plans…

WTS: Expression in drumming has to do with dynamics and the idea of ‘playing with feel.’ How do you incorporate this into your drumming style?

George: For death metal, there’s not enough dynamics, you’ve to be very solid and as less dynamic as possible. For other styles of music, of course you need dynamics, you know, it’s a big point of the expression. For example, if you are playing jazz music or folk music, you gotta have lots of dynamics always. For death metal, not so much. It’s a different style, we need more speed and stamina instead of dynamics. And I always try to approach any style I’m playing in the best possible way.

WTS: A lot of drummers want to know why you use one pedal to play blast-beats when there are double bass pedals available.

George: Well, umm, the main reason is, because of some of my favorite drummers when I started playing. Like Pete Sandoval from Morbid Angel, he was doing wonderful blasts. The truth is, where I grew up, in a small town about an hour from Athens, there were no metal drummers. I didn’t actually know two feet blasts, so I had to do one foot blasts. When I learned the easier way, it was too late, because I was too fast already! (laughs)

WTS: We’ve noticed that you use your wrists instead of swiveling the sticks in your fingers when playing quick. Is there any particular reason for approaching speed-drumming this way?

George: Yeah, that’s another reason, you know I was looking upto old school drummers, like Pete Sandoval, Dave Lombardo, Igor Cavalera. I grew up (listening) to these guys, and back in the day everyone was mostly using wrists. So till today, you have these drummers who are using mostly wrists for speed. And its again too late cos, you know, I can go as fast as I can with wrists and there’s no reason to change anything right now. But the main reason again, like the one foot blast, is that I didn’t know the other way! (laughs) I just wanted to play traditional metal.

Interview with George Kollias

WTS: Have you ever drummed using wrong techniques and incurred injuries because of it?

George: Umm, never. I got few injuries here and there because of playing too much or not warming up. You know, we go on tours so much and I have to warm up everyday and somewhere in the middle of the tour it gets a little bit boring, there is no room to warm up. So, I’m like “You know what, let’s go without warming up.” That’s quite wrong for metal. Yeah, so, I’ve had few minor problems here and there and that’s only because I didn’t warm up.

WTS: So, your advice to prevent any such injuries is to warm up before playing?

George: Yeah, these days I’ve a personal doctor and what he suggests, and which I always do, and I don’t have a single problem since, is to stretch. So, he gave me a couple of stretching exercises and everything works so much better, you know. For death metal, you have to warm up and stretch a little bit, and it’s a different kind of music, you know. If I were playing a jazz gig or something, I would never warm up – it’s just different for metal.

WTS: So, do you play at jazz gigs as well?

George: Not gigs, but I practice, I practice a lot. I actually have a trio, but we don’t play so often and we have no plans for shows. It’s for fun and, you know, to develop a better technique, become a better drummer. That’s basically for fun and for myself.

WTS: You’ve learnt from the great Yannis Stavropoulos. What is it that you can share as the crux of your learning? There are a lot of drummers out there who envy your technique and style!

George: We did some rock drumming and we did some jazz drumming. When I started the lessons with Yannis – it was just a year, you know – when I started the lessons, I was already a well-known drummer here and I was fast to play in any band. So, what he basically did was, open my mind to new drumming techniques, new drumming approaches, different styles- jazz drumming or, you know, funk music and also, he helped me so much in how to become a teacher, how to understand what I’m doing and how to explain how I came up with my own exercises and stuff. He was also a huge part of my DVD. We were watching my exercises and he was giving different names (to them), suggesting different things. So, basically, he’s my older brother right now, he’s my mentor. We always hang out, talk drums. Today this is actually what I need. He always helps me out, man, always.

Interview with George Kollias

WTS: About your drum kit – would it be right to say that it’s built for a rather ambidextrous approach?

George: Yeah, yeah, it’s an extreme metal drum kit, a big one. You know what’s interesting – lately I’ve been interested in the smaller drum kits. So, to me when I wanna have fun, I’m usually practicing on my small kit, which is like one tom, one floor tom, right cymbal, high-hat, that’s it. Very very simple. But for metal I’ve to play this big drum set. When you tour, there are too many things to worry about, too many cymbals, we’ve to carry too much of gear all the time. You gonna have atleast two drumsets if you’re going to have some serious practice.

WTS: Can you tell us more about your drumkit?

George: I use three floor toms, that’s two on the right side and one on the left. I use two snares – one 14 inch, my main snare, and one 12 inch snare. Two kicks 22/18. That’s it for drums. It’s all Pearl. I have a Pearl Masters Premium and I’ve my main kit which is Pearl Masterworks, that’s custom made drums. These days I’m expecting my new Pearl Reference Pure. This is the brand new model from Pearl based on the old successful Reference series, but I think the new one is better and more versatile to other styles of music as well. Like I said everything is from Pearl! I play Sabian Cymbals, Evans drumheads, and I play Axis pedals. I also use Extreme headphones and have been playing Vic Firth drumsticks for 22 years or so! (laughs) And right now, right next to me I’ve my new signature drumsticks, which, you know, we’re working on new prototypes at Vic Firth. So, my personal signature drumstick is one the way right now and I think it will be ready in about a month and released. Something, I’m really really proud and really really happy.

WTS: Will you be bringing those to your next show in India?

George: I don’t know if they are gonna be ready, but I got some prototype here. We’ve got 3 different models which I checked and we develop my own signature model, but the stick I was using in the past, and I still use, is the Vic Firth 55A, which, of course, has my signature on. But, I don’t know whether my signature model will be ready by then.

Interview with George Kollias

WTS: While looking at the picture of your drumkit, we see a lot of Sabian AAX and HHX series cymbals. What is it about these series that draws you to them?

George: Well, the AAX are studio cymbals. They’re versatile and you can play any style with these cymbals. So, that was my first approach. The HHX series, they are more smooth and dark, (which I use for) more dynamical purposes. Like I said, I use stuff I would use for other gigs as well. So, my drumkit looks metal, but it’s not only for metal. You can play rock music, you can play, not jazz music, but many different styles on it and this is what I do also. Last two months I did some recording sessions for some really weird different bands, like I played for a punk band, I played for a band – they were progressive like Porcupine Tree stuff. So, all the time I was using (the same cymbals) for more sound options and that’s the reason I don’t use AAX metal crashes, because they’re only for metal. So, my crashes are (the ones on which) you can play different styles. Cymbals are never enough, never enough. You can have 50 cymbals and you will need more, that’s for sure.

WTS: Who among the current crop of extreme metal drummers do you follow and admire?

George: Extreme metal drummers? To be honest, nobody. I kinda lost interest for extreme metal drummers, because we do so much, we talk about this so much – I teach extreme metal class and all these clinics all over the world. So, what I really need is different drummers. Do you understand what I’m saying? I mean there are many great extreme metal drummers – one is Dave Haley from Psycroptic from Australia. I really like Jade Simonetto from Hate Eternal – this guy’s a monster. Romain Goulon from France – these would be my favorite extreme metal drummers. But, what I really need for my playing is to approach different drummers. For example, the last year I practiced a lot with Benny Greb, Chris Coleman. So, these are the drummers I’m watching and and trying to get into the sounds they do, mostly and not so much about extreme metal drummers anymore.

Interview with George Kollias

WTS: You started out playing music at a pretty young age. What got you into music? Was your family into music?

George: No, no, not at all. What happened was I started listening to metal when I was seven. So, it was very natural for me to pick up an instrument a few years later.And what I did was I picked the guitar when I was 10. I still play the guitar, you know, I own three guitars here and I write music all the time. I always wanted to start drumming as well cos, I don’t know, it was cool? I don’t know. I always had the rhythm inside me, I wanted to get involved with drums. But, it was the money issue mostly and I couldn’t get the money to get my first drumkit, which I finally did when I was twelve and from that day I’m just a drummer. The main reason was I wanted to play metal, that’s it. Now there are more, but back in the day I just wanted to play Metallica, Sepultura, Slayer songs, that’s it.

WTS: So, what are your earliest memories of metal?

George: Yeah, it was a guy from Canada. He was a lot older than me and older than my brother. I remember then he had just moved to Greece and, this is a small town, in Korinthos. And, I remember me and my brother were at his home listening to music. He was into metal and we were learning and we were listening to Judas Priest. And we were like, “Oh my God, this is so fucking cool. We gotta follow this style, we gotta listen to this music.” And, next week or so, my brother and I bought AC/DC’s Flick Of The Switch album. That’s pretty much the beginning for me and then Iron Maiden and Metallica and everything.

Interview with George Kollias

WTS: Having handled drumming duties on three albums so far with Nile, what is it about Nile, as a band, that keeps you going with them?

George: When I joined the band, the band was big enough, but not as big as we are today. To me, it was my favorite extreme metal band. So, to start with, I joined the band because it was my favorite band. That’s it. And why we keep going on? Because we fit together, we communicate very easily, we have fun, we are friends. You know, I think it’s the whole package, it’s what we do, we have the chemistry. I think that’s the most important thing. No matter how great a musician you are, if the chemistry is not there, it doesn’t really work and, thankfully, with Nile I found some good chemistry.

WTS: Is Nile recording any new material right now?

George: Right now, we are working on the new Nile album. We will probably get into the studio around November, December or January. That would be my fourth album with Nile.

WTS: From a drummer’s perspective, what is it that you think forms the primary component in Nile’s music? If someone was asked to drum for Nile, what attributes do you think he/she needs to have?

George: Nile is traditional death metal, so you gotta be able to play all these wonderful blasts. You gotta be able to play double bass drumming to a certain level, to a certain beats per minute. You gotta be able to play ‘cruiser’ extreme metal beats, you know. For example, no matter how fast are your beats, you gotta be able to keep it going, so you gotta have great stamina. There are so many fills, there are so many odd signature meters, you know. In ‘What Can Be Safely Written’, there’s a time signature that’s very weird, like a 30/16 on a breakdown and what I do is I follow the 30/16 and I break it down to groups of 3s. So, there are some rhythmic illusions going on in Nile’s music. So, in a few words, you gotta be able to play fast, you gotta have a good technique. Some drummers are faster, some are more creative, it depends. Nile has a little bit of everything. This why I really like the music.

WTS: Any plans for Nile to come to this part of the world?

George: We already tried three times to get to India and we failed three times. Right now, I’ve managed to come there myself. Everybody in the band is really happy atleast I made it. We actually agreed for a short tour very soon, that would be definitely within the next year – to come and do Singapore and all together, and maybe we will be able to come to India as well. Because, the last time we weren’t able to come to India was because the cost was too much for the band to fly to India – they were asking about $30000, you know. So, that’s too much money, but if we are touring in Singapore – very close to India – then it will cost us 1/3rd the amount to come to India and we can make it, and we will make it. We really want to get there. We have so many fans in India, we get so many mails. You know, this is something we talk about so many times. So, in a way, I’m happy it is happening, in a way atleast, with this drum clinic.

WTS: You started teaching drumming quite early – how has this worked in tandem with touring and gigging?

George: Well, I started teaching drums way before I joined the band. And then I joined Modern Music School and, now I’m drum instructor in Modern Music School in Athens – actually, worldwide, because our school is pretty big, we have like 70-something schools worldwide. So, sometimes we teach in different places. Last week I was in Germany teaching for the professional program of our school. It’s pretty tough with always touring and sometimes my students have to wait. But there is another way, they are lucky to have a touring drummer as a teacher instead of just having a teacher. Because, I tour different parts of the world and I can advise in different aspects and I think they like it even though it’s hard on everybody.

Interview with George Kollias

WTS: We see that you’re actively driving learning in metal drumming – what prompted you to make the instructional DVD Intense Metal Drumming?

George: The only reason I did was because of my love for music and for drummers. I wanted to share what I have and this is what I was doing online with my forum, this is what I was doing when I met fans – always talk drums, always share what I have. So, I wanted to be little more professional and little more serious, and release a DVD, which I did, and which, thankfully, went very well. And, right now, actually, I’m getting ready to shoot the new DVD to be out in January 2012.

WTS: Any other activities or ventures that your fans normally don’t know about?

George: These days I’m really busy. I did 4 albums for different bands. Actually, most of them were guest albums, like one song or three songs or whatever. I’ll be doing the new Cerebrum album – it’s a band from Greece, very technical metal. I’m working on the Nile songs and working on my solo project, which I think will be released early next year as well.

WTS: Give us some info about your solo project.

George: I got eight songs so far, everything is metal, black metal, it’s groovy in a way, it’s pretty fast as well. The music is almost ready. I’m working on the lyrics when I’ve the time. I don’t know when I’ll be able to record, but the sure thing is Eric Rutan from Hate Eternal wants to do the mix. So, Eric’s gonna be a big part of this CD. And, I’m gonna have many other guests – guitar players to play the solos. Everything is gonna be me, I’m gonna sing, I’m gonna play everything, I’m gonna write everything, except the guitar solo which I’m gonna leave to some guest guitarists.

WTS: Is this your first trip to India?

George: Yes.

WTS: Do you have any idea about the metal scene here in India?

George: I do have an idea because we have many fans there and I heard about a crazy crowd, the huge metal scene, and I’m very excited and I can’t wait to come there and play for you guys. I think it’s going to be a great clinic.

Interview with George Kollias

WTS: Give us a bit of info on the drum clinics you do. What can we expect in the drum clinic?

George: Well, I’m gonna be playing Nile songs for sure. It will be kinda like a show. I’ll present a few Nile songs, maybe a new song, let’s see. I’m gonna play some of my songs, maybe a few solos -depends on the time we have and the feedback we have from the crowd. And, of course, I’m gonna share some exercises and tips for the drummers. And, the main thing – and this is actually why we do the clinics – is for the drummers and fans to be able to communicate, come see and talk to you. In general, we’re gonna have a great great time.

WTS: What would be your advice to young budding drummers – the most important message you would like to give?

George: Get a teacher and get serious. That’s it. It is simple because most of the metal drummers are lazy, nobody is going for a teacher. I see with my students. When I was on my forum online everyone was like “Oh I wanna study with George, I wanna study with George.” And when I launch my online lessons I’ve only 20 people. So, yeah, I would like to see serious drummers. No matter where you are, there is always a great teacher. You gotta go there, you gotta pay him, of course. Because, you know, he will spend his time for you. If you wanna do it, do it the right way – find a teacher, open your mind to different styles of music, you know, be a drummer in general – not just blast beats, you know. That would be my message.

WTS: Anything else you would like to say?

George: Well, just looking forward to getting to India. I’m really excited. I’ve talked with many people, I get so many emails. So, I think it’s going to be a crazy day there. I’m really excited to see your beautiful country, and I’m really really looking forward to come there. I’ll be here this time for just one and a half days because there are many clinics before and after the one in India. I wish I had more days, but, unfortunately, I’ve to stay for one and a half days only. But, you know, it’s enough for me. I just wanna say to everyone, try and come for the clinics, meet me there, let’s have some fun, let’s talk all things drums. I’ll do my best to deliver one of the best shows you ever saw.

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Interview with Kryptos

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Kryptos is a melodic/thrash metal band from Bangalore. It was formed in 1998 by Nolan Lewis (vocals/guitars) and Ganesh Krishnamurthy (ex- vocalist/bassist). The band went on to release their debut album Spiral Ascent in 2004 and eventually went on to become one of India’s biggest Metal bands. In 2008,Kryptos released their second album The Ark of Gemini, under Old School Metal Records. Their music is an amalgamation of aggressive riffing, melodic lines and ambient drumming.

WTS: Tell us about how your band got started and took its first steps musically?

Nolan: The band started around ’98, it started with me and our ex-vocalist, his name is Ganesh. We were both classmates in Josephs Commerce College. He had another band, they used to play just covers and stuff, and they needed another guitarist so they asked me. But then that band broke up. Then we decided to do something on our own and we found this drummer from the north-east his name is Ching Len. We had put up an ad on one of our local music magazines and he answered that advertisement 8 months later! (laughs) Luckily by then we hadn’t found anyone so he joined us. It was just three of us in the beginning. We used to practice at the drummer’s place in Frazer town. It was a really tiny place, a small garage and we had terrible equipment, everything was terrible! (laughs) We were just doing it for fun that time. It was just like a hobby. There were quite a few metal bands back then like Millennium, Warden, Vulcan Haze, Crimson Storm, plus we had the other bands like Angeldust, Thermal and a Quarter etc. who used to play a lot.

Rohit: Around the same time that we started out, bands like Threinody and Myndsnare started. They started slightly before us, and we picked up after that.

WTS: How has the band evolved in terms of band members and how has that affected the music?

Nolan: Our drummer had to go back and take over family business, last we heard he’s into politics and stuff. (laughs) Ganesh lasted for quite a long time, he was with us for 8 years, but then had his own priorities and couldn’t dedicate enough time for the band so we just decided to part ways. Ryan joined in 2002-2003 and these guys joined in 2006.

Jayawant: November 2006!

Nolan: November 2006! (laughs) Yeah! Before that we had a guitarist called Akshay who was with us for 2 years or so and then he left. When Ryan joined we weren’t doing much, we were just playing competitions, playing covers and a few originals here and there. After he joined we started writing more stuff, it started becoming very stable, after we released our first album the other guys joined. Luckily it happened at a time when we could manage everything!

WTS: Was thrash metal a natural option for you to start off with?

Nolan: When we started off we didn’t know what we were playing actually. We had no idea what we should be playing. We used to just play covers, and the usual stuff – Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica. Nobody used to play originals then. Bands that played originals used to get booed. We had originals that we wrote which were pretty bad and whenever we used to play them at freedom jam and stuff people used to boo us, throw stuff at us, quite sad! (laughs) Back then we had very different preferences, I was more into thrash, Ganesh was more into blues, hard rock AC/DC stuff, our drummer was more into progressive music.

WTS: Were there other genres of metal that fascinated and interested you?

Nolan: Yeah, there was a point in time when Cradle of Filth and bands like that were really big in Bangalore for some reason. We also tried our hands at that, just to see how it goes. Back then we didn’t have a certain style, nothing. We even got a keyboardist for some time to see how it sounded. But then later on we figured out we’re no good at it! (laughs)

WTS: What bands could you consider as some of your influences or inspirations? Would you say that some of those influences are visible and can be tracked down in Kryptos?

Rohit: I hope that doesn’t happen! (laughs)

Nolan: Actually the good thing about our music is that our influences are all the old bands but we also put in some of the extreme types of music like doom, little bit of thrash, death metal here and there, so it’s like a mix. It sounds familiar but you can’t exactly pinpoint.

WTS: Are there any Melodic/Thrash Metal bands that have inspired you?

Nolan: Not really. The thrash bands weren’t that big of an influence. It was more like the 80s bands like Maiden, Priest. Maybe you could say Dark Tranquility was a big influence because they mixed death metal with the 80s metallic stuff. So, Dark Tranquility, In Flames and bands like that have definitely inspired us.

WTS: Could you tell us about your music making process?

Rohit: What we do is sit down and jam and whenever a song is good to our ears, we usually keep that. Let’s say Nolan has a riff, Ryan comes with a rhythm backing and if it sounds good to our ears then we build on it.

WTS: What are your rehearsals generally like? Do you guys have a set time during the week for that?

Ryan: We usually jam at 6:30 in the evening and it has worked out really well for all of us because even though these guys are working they put in a bit of effort and finish their work by 5:30-6:00. All of us make it for practice at 6:30. This happens every week, unless we have an interview or something! (laughs)

WTS: Tell us something about the releases you have had so far and what kind of plans you have for your future releases?

Jayawant: We got 2 albums down so far. First was in 2004, before Rohit and I joined the band; that was the old line up. With the new line up one of the first things we did was come up with new material. We recorded our second album in 2007 and finally launched that in 2008. We are currently working on our third album that we plan to record in February and hope to launch in March next year. We are experimenting a little with the lyrical content. As far the music goes, we’d like it to be more melodic, but we wouldn’t like to deviate from what we have already established as our genre.

WTS: How much has internet helped to get your band name around to people’s lips? What are some of the disadvantages of the internet in your opinion?

Nolan: It’s probably the most important factor in getting our stuff out. We actually had a tough time. The internet started becoming a useful tool only around 2005-2006. For the first seven years or so it was very tough. There weren’t any cellphones back then. At that time we didn’t know how to get in touch with people, nobody knew we existed. It was very difficult unless someone actually sees you. We only had landlines! If they had to call us we had to wait at home and wait till they call us. Of course, the main disadvantage is the downloading. Some bands don’t give their full album for download. They may give two or three songs. But now its picking up and people are buying a lot more CDs but college kids are the ones who usually download stuff. It’s alright to an extent because the music gets places, but it hurts the bands because they don’t make any money from whatever they invested in the first place.

WTS: What are the key elements of your sound?

Jayawant: A little bit of Lithium and Potassium…

Nolan: All the metals (laughs) Of course, the most important element is melody. Our songs have to have some melody, have some catchiness to it. There’s no point taking a bunch of riffs together, if it doesn’t make sense. We try and balance out the melodic stuff with the aggressive stuff, that’s exactly what our sound is actually. Back then most of the guys used to listen to old bands and stuff but now because of the new bands that are coming out, they are getting more brutal and aggressive and the audience is of course tuned into it. But today a lot of them are getting back into the old stuff. They get into that and start working their way backwards.

WTS: What is the most challenging and hardest thing for you in terms of song writing?

Ryan: Sometimes one of us has an idea, and we share it with the rest of the guys while jamming and then it is just inspiration and spontaneity. We just try different stuff out and we work it by ear. Sometimes a song works itself out. If you’re having a bad day you have to keep doing it over and over again, that is the tough part. When it’s a good day, we get it in just like one or two shots.

WTS: What are the main themes/topics in your songs? 

Nolan: We are not a death and destruction sort of a band. That’s too clichéd, that’s a stereotypical image that people have. For our first album Ganesh wrote all the lyrics and he had this very abstract way of writing lyrics. We tackled a lot of subjects like child abuse, sci-fi stuff and things to do with philosophy – he was totally into philosophy and stuff. For the second album, I started writing the lyrics. I’m very anti-religion, anti-politics, so those were some of the topics, mythology and a lot of environmental stuff too, there’s one song which deals with what the world will end up like if people continue to destroy the environment.

With the next album, the concept is a little weird, is sort of occult based and how it fits into the global scenario. Who is actually behind the scenes? Everyone thinks there’s good and evil. There’s God, the Devil, and the man stuck in the middle. But the next album is about how evil actually controls both sides. It’s like, God and man are puppets of the Devil. But he himself is the puppet of someone else who nobody knows. This kind of answers the question, why do so many bad things happen in the word and if God was actually there then why he doesn’t do anything about it? So he pretty much doesn’t exist. He is actually a creation of the Devil who himself is the creation of somebody else. (laughs)

WTS: Your last studio album ‘The Ark Of Gemini’ was released in 2008. When are you planning to record some new material?

Ryan: We are planning on recording the third album in Feb. I personally, want to get everything right this time. So I don’t mind taking the extra time and effort when it comes to practicing and of course, finding the right studio, getting the right sound, getting the right sound engineer and figuring out how much it all costs. I just don’t want to do the album and let it die down. Together all of us are planning things in such a way that we can do an album and start touring after that, and get shows so that everything works out in a sequence.

WTS: Tell us all about your tour across Europe. Was your music well received?

Jayawant: The tour… they were pleasantly surprised. What basically happened, was people expected something very Indian to be delivered as a part of our performance, but when they saw that it was genuine old school stuff, for a lot of the older guys it was a feeling of nostalgia which made them come right to the front and head bang, and for the younger crowd even though they were into different genres of metal they were still able to appreciate this as being something true and genuine. We got a fantastic response and got great feedback to the extent that they want us back again next year. Three different tour managers were interested in having us back there and play in a different set of clubs and festival venues. The response was really encouraging. It’s only the question of us saving up money so that we can go there and play again.

WTS: You’re the first Indian metal band to be signed by an International label. How did that happen?

Ryan: It happened because Nolan spent a lot of time on the internet!

Nolan: Actually back then we didn’t know much about labels. I had a fair idea about who would be interested,. Write up of our babnd and stuff. The name was Old School Metal Records and it was very obvious that that. This is how it used to be done, they were pretty impressed. They liked the music straight away. Next thing you know they’re sending us a contract.

WTS: Despite being the biggest Indian metal band and having an international label, why do you think it’s been generally hard for you to sell records overseas? Is it mainly the lack of touring?

Nolan: The main thing is the media exposure. You need a lot of marketing, promotion. The label that signed us is not that big a label. Their distribution reach is pretty limited. There’s a lot of work that can get people intersred, a lot of hype that goes into actually promoting a band out there. A lot of our CDs got sold over there, so it worked out quite decently.

WTS: How important is interaction among bands in India, do you think it’s necessary?

Ryan: It is necessary because when we started out all of us used to help each other, passing on a show to somebody else which you couldn’t do. Everybody used to do that. As far as I’m concerned I still do that. People have more attitude now, or…I don’t know! I’m pretty much in touch with everybody . Especially Rohit and Nolan… these guys make it a point to meet other bands and stuff like that.

WTS: What do you have to say about the current metal scene in India?

Nolan: They all split up. That’s a big problem actually. Bands get disheartened easily and there’s a lot of societal pressure. So bands crumble to that pressure.

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Interview with Marten Hagstrom of Meshuggah at GIR Bangalore 2010

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WTS: Good afternoon! So how has the travel been so far?

Hagstrom: Travel from Pune to here was extremely tiring. We were on an early flight. We haven’t slept much, but it’s all good.

WTS: How was the response from the crowd in Pune?

Hagstrom: It was really good. I mean, since we haven’t been here before we don’t know what to compare it to but for us it was a good experience. Like, it was the first show and people turned up so it was really good.

WTS: Moshpits?

Hagstrom: Yeah. All the crazy shit!

WTS: Did you get a chance to catch any of the local bands?

Hagstrom: Actually, no. The reason for it is like I said we have travelled for 24 hours to get here. So we had to catch the hours so we could sleep. Unfortunately we arrived at the stage like few minutes before the show so we caught a couple of songs by Enslaved.

WTS: Your musical style evolves in every album. Catch-33 was mostly experimental. ObZen saw a shift from experimental to being slightly melodious, and back to the roots. How does your musical style evolve?

Hagstrom: I’d really like to answer that question but honestly I can’t. When you are in a band, or at least in our band, what happens is that we are just a bunch of fu**ed-up guys who want to have fun with music. That’s how it started out and that’s the way it’s been since. So why an album turns out a certain way, we never sit down and think we need to do this or we should do that. We just, you know, when the ideas come we build on that and it turns into an album. So I guess it’s just a fingerprint of what we are going through at the time.

As for Catch-33, it is one of those things where we’ve been discussing doing that type of project. We never thought we’d get around with it but for that album we thought, okay now is that time. So it’s kind of a natural process. What happens on one album is dictated by what we have done on our albums before. Because we made Catch-33 that made it feel fresh to go back and use regular songs. What we do with the sound we have now is to bring in a little bit of tweak into the old style and create something new. So if we tried that when we were doing Catch-33 it probably wouldn’t have turned into the album it is. You know, we go back and forth a little bit (laughs). Having said that I don’t have a clue what the next album’s gonna sound like even thought we are writing it now. 

WTS: When’s the next album going to come out?

Hagstrom: I don’t know, next year probably. We are hoping September/October, maybe.

WTS: Which has been your favorite album since the time you started making music with Meshuggah and why would it be your favorite album?

Hagstrom: Personally, albums are fingerprints of the work you’ve been doing. There was something about the albums we made at the time which makes you feel “Oh this album is cool in this way and this album sucks in this way”, so, you know, it’s different. I like certain parts of certain albums. For us I’d say that Catch-33 was the most gratifying album to make because it was something very different and it was an idea we had for a very long time. It was one of those things, you know, like a white sheet of paper and you do whatever you want to. Because there were no rules! It was like start here and stop there. That was liberating and we had a lot of fun making that album.

If I had to pick one, I’d pick that one (Catch-33). But then again, albums are very different and it’s hard to choose just one because I like ObZen a lot for certain aspects of it. Catch-33 is such a monumental project because it’s just one track and we weren’t exactly sure how to pull it off. So when it came out it looked as close to our vision as possible. That’s a good feeling when you are done with an album.

WTS: How would you categorize Meshuggah – are you a Progressive Metal band or a Technical Death Metal band or an Experimental Metal band?

Hagstrom: It’s pointless to describe it. ‘Cause we’ve been called a lot. Like Swedish Death Metal, Math Metal, you know, and I guess every band gets that. But for us it is Experimental Metal. We’ve been Black Metal from Norway too according to the media (laughs). It’s tricky, because you do your stuff and in the end it’s just Metal, you know.

WTS: Speaking of genres, Motorhead call themselves a rock n’ roll band. They do not agree with the media classification of them as a Speed Metal or for that matter any metal band.

Hagstrom: Um hmmm… I understand that. Because in terms of what you do as a musician that (genre classification) should be the least important aspect of what you do. You do your music and then people listen to it and they say different stuff about it. That’s fine. That’s awesome. For us we never thought what kind of music we play. We play Meshuggah Metal. I mean, that’s what we do. There’s no use thinking about it. One point of time, in the US, there was a lot of talk about that Math Metal thing. They said, “You are the pioneers of Math Metal.” We cannot possibly be the pioneers of a genre we don’t even know what it means. I don’t even know what it is. So that’s probably not true.

WTS: Are you guys into Math at all?

Hagstrom: No.

WTS: Maybe you get this a lot but how do you achieve those time signatures and beats?

Hagstrom: We don’t achieve anything. It’s just 4/4 time signature all the time. Throughout the career of Meshuggah, there’s been polyrythmics and stuff, but through a theoretical standpoint if you could break it down (the song) what happens is the song starts and we’ve got 4/4 beat (claps to 4/4 beat) just like AC/DC, nothing more but we mess around with it. But the riffs revolve around 4/4. It’s rare that we create odd time signatures. It happens once in a while but 95% of Meshuggah songs are 4/4. People go, “It’s not, because you do this and that”. It’s not.

WTS: Where do your lyrical and musical inspirations/influences originate?

Hagstrom: When we were kids, when we started as a band we were very much influenced by the bay-area thrash scene. We were influenced by bands like Rush. As we evolved as a band the inspiration may have been less from other types of music and more from a movie or, you know, stuff that happens in your life. We also feed off each other a lot. When we start to write a song, we start to throw ideas at each other and that’s when the creative process flows.

But there’s a difference between influences and inspirations, in my opinion. In “influence” we actually hear (other bands) and try to achieve something, and you are not trying to copy something ’cause there’s a lot of band copying out there. Influence is when you hear, “Oh! This guy here wrote this song. You got to listen to his band.” And if you are “inspired” by something you don’t have to emulate anything about what you are doing. You might be inspired by a writer who has got nothing to do with music or art but the way he’s doing his thing so convincingly that it becomes unique. That is something that attracts the band. Pantera had their own music. They had their own style. But they have already done it. We try to create our own unique music. Our own sounds which people instantly recognize with us even if it’s not successful.

WTS: What are the plans after the tour?

Hagstrom: Sleeping! For a week.

WTS: Isn’t it snowing heavily back in Sweden?

Hagstrom: I talked to my wife, it’s 20 Celsius below in Sweden. A lot of snow. It’s normal winter. It’s cold and it’s very different from here. But like I said we’ve slowly started writing an album, so we’ll just take some time off during Christmas holidays, spend time with our families then come January we are diving right into the writing process. The writing process is one of those things which might be quick, which might be slow. So we don’t know yet. Then we are gonna do some shows probably in March in Scandinavia, you know, shift focus from the writing process and then go back again (to recording). When the album’s completed and out for mixing we are gonna play some summer festivals across Europe.

WTS: What are your expectations from the Bangalore crowd tonight?

Hagstrom: I don’t know. We really had a good time last night. We hope it’s gonna be the same here. Like I said, first time in new territory you never know. There might be just 300 people here or more.

WTS: One last thing. Tell us about that 8-string crazy insane beast that you guys carry.

Hagstrom: It’s an Ibanez custom-made and to cut the story short, it started out when we wanted something new in our sound. We were experimenting with tuning down and tweaking the regular guitar then there was this guy who suggested, “Have you thought about an 8-string guitar?” The thought had crossed our mind but it didn’t seem right. He had one, that he’d prototyped. We tried it out and that really made the difference in the sound since the Nothing, I album. It made a huge impact on how we made the guitar sound. It is pretty much like you said “a beast” but on the other hand they are really well built guitars and work out just fine. They help us tremendously in teams of inspiration. The instrumental part sound just great and we could do shit just like we want to. The creativity just flows out.

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