Metal In Mumbai

Think about metal, and everything you know about it. It’s a musical genre that’s consistently grown outside the main- stream. It came into existence in the US alongside punk, with bands playing in basements and living rooms, and in veterans’ halls that had no idea what kind of shows they were booking.

Now imagine metal trying to gain a foothold in Mumbai, the business capital of India. Indian culture puts entire extended families in the same household: parents, grandparents, cousins, uncles… Imagine those first aspiring metal musi- cians looking for a place to put on a show. House shows and basement jams are out of the question, there’s just too many old people around. Mumbai’s venues aren’t helping either, hosting no concerts outside of traditional Indian music, or the occasional super-band coming through on tour.

Where do you turn in such bleak circumstances? YouTube! Indian metal bands got their start by showcasing their music on social media websites. From that platform they’ve man- aged to create a local metal scene, and for the past six years venues have been gradually deciding to accept metal. The Indian entertainment industry has even begun sponsoring metal stages at festivals.

These have been big steps, but in such a densely populated country (around 1.25 billion citizens), there are still only five cities on the metal tour circuit, and only a handful of venues in each of those cities. I use the term “tour-circuit” loosely; touring around India in a van is extremely impractical given the distances between cities. In these trying times, India’s metal scene is held together by a tight-knit network of VERY passionate musicians.

Last summer I traveled to Mumbai, and was fortunate enough to meet some of them. It all came about when my roommate, Sheel Doshi, invited me on a trip to visit his family.

A few weeks before our departure, Sheel informed me that he had arranged to meet the guitarist of a metal band that had just blown up on the international radar: His name was Davesh Dayal, and the band was Skyharbor. They had come out of nowhere, signing with a European record label called Basick Records, and opening for none other than Lamb Of God. They performed for over 10,000 people for what was only their fifth show ever. Even more remarkable was the fact that Skyharbor was comprised of members residing in Mumbai, the UK, and Maryland. Sheel and I were dead- set on discovering how they had accomplished so much with their online collaboration.

Sheel overestimated how difficult it would be to contact Davesh, posing as a member of the press in order to secure a formal interview. What we found was that Davesh was actually really easy to contact, and more than willing to meet with
us. Arrangements were made to meet Davesh at the practice space of his Mumbai-based metal band, Goddess Gagged.

We spent our first days in Mumbai agonizing over what questions to ask this relatively famous rockstar. By the way Sheel was acting, we might have been preparing to interview Kurt Cobain. “Just let me do the talking,” he would say, “and if they want to hang out, that’s cool… do you think they’ll want to hang out?” His excitement was contagious, and I caught it.

The appointed day arrived, and Sheel’s aunt dropped us off on a busy street corner. It was immediately clear that we were not in Mumbai’s tourist neighborhood anymore. We had a lot of eyes on us, and I became increasingly aware of my painfully white skin, the big floppy hat on my head, the bulky Canon camera around my neck, the silver tripod in my hand, and the bright green backpack I sported. A bunch of running, screaming kids stopped in their tracks to check me out. An old woman holding a chicken was staring at me. Sheel kept checking and re-checking his phone, wondering out loud if we were in the right place or not.

Eventually, true to his word, Davesh showed up. A little four-door car pulled up, and Davesh got out, followed by a couple of his band-mates from Goddess Gagged. He was immediately easy-going and likeable. He had an air of modesty about him, despite being the most fashionable person on the block: wearing glasses with designer frames, a stylish button down shirt, and sporting skillfully gelled hair. His distinctly American accent caught me off-guard. He could have told me that he was born and raised in L.A., and I would have believed it. His band- mates removed a surprisingly large amount of equipment from their tiny car, and we set off towards their jam space.

Davesh navigated us through the crowd and into a narrow alleyway. We weren’t really in the slums of Mumbai, but the dilapidated concrete buildings, and the ramshackle shelters along their foundations, spoke of the impoverished state of this area. All manner of sheets and clothing fluttered above
us on laundry lines that criss-crossed between windows. The alley terminated in a square lot, and once we reached the far end, a wiry old man spoke briefly with one of the bandmates, then made way for us to enter. The jam space within was quite cramped, and the heat would have been unbearable if not for a fan set to full blast.

When the door was shut behind us, we might have been in a jam space in the heart of L.A. It consisted of three rooms con- nected by narrow portals. The middle room had a huge mirror in it (to give yourself a good, hard look before practicing, maybe?). We sat in the first room, which served as the green room, and got to know the members of Goddess Gagged for a while, before we proceeded through the “self-reflection room” into a heavy sound-proof door that led to the practice area. Serious rocking ensued.

 

Goddess Gagged was everything that progressive metal should be. Their music was well put together; they were tight, and vastly dynamic. They knew when to drop the hammer, and when to fly with the seabirds.

 

After the practice, we got to pick their brains for a couple hours. They educated us about the state of India’s music scene, and Davesh gave us some insight into his past, and the inner-workings of his much bigger band, Skyharbor.

So Davesh, tell me a bit about your musical background. How did you get started?

Davesh: Well, I started playing guitar when I was nine—I lived in Bangkok at the time. It wasn’t that I wanted to for any particular reason, it was just that my neighbor was teaching guitar, for college. He came looking around to see if people would be interested in learning from him. So, my mom asked me and my sister, and we started playing guitar, kind of seri- ously… not too seriously though (laughs), my sister quit! Back then, she was in middle school and going to movies and shit, so she’d rather hang out with friends than play guitar, but I was like, “young and aspiring,” so I got quite attached to it.

I first heard about you and Skyharbor about a year back, when you opened for Lamb Of God. Did you play more than once with them?

Davesh: It was just one show. You see, the thing about Skyharbor is, it’s all one show at a time. We’ve only done four shows since I’ve been in the band, five in total; the first one was instrumental. So yeah, that show was cool. I mean, it was Lamb Of God! And [their drummer] said he listens to Skyharbor. I don’t really want to say “listens to me” right there, because I wasn’t really in yet. (laughs)

Krishna (bass): Stephen Carpenter from Deftones listens to Skyharbor too!

You’ve been in Skyharbor for a year now, with members spread all over the world. How has that been different from playing locally with Goddess Gagged?

Davesh: See, exactly what we just did today (gestures around at the jam space). We would never do this with Skyharbor. Obviously every- one lives all the way around the world. But this (gestures again) is like, we’re just getting together and practicing new songs. Also, the Skyharbor jams… they aren’t jams, they’re rehearsals. It’s like, you press play on the spacebar and you play the songs. I mean we can still sort of jam, and noodle around, but we can’t really write [like we do with Goddess Gagged].

 So, Skyharbor is in the lab working on the new album. What are the main influences for this one? Any new methods?

Davesh: The main approach that’s changed is we’re taking
a more organic approach, kinda like the group Karnivool… We can’t jam together, as a band, (laughs) so we’re trying to make it sound like we are. One of the ways we’re doing that is if we have a riff, we might just break it down to the bass line of that riff, then we’ll just jam guitar lines over it. Make it a little more spacey. So, It’s kind of less metal that way, but its still… it’s good, I like it. It’s very fresh.

I understand that Keshav Dhar wrote the guitars, and programmed the drums for the last album.

Davesh: Oh yeah, he did guitars, drums, lyrics, he’s amazing.

How much influence does Daniel Tompkins have on the instrumentals?

Davesh: Just things like, “Maybe this section should be longer” or, “This section should be shorter.” Arrangement stuff. It all happens online.

The new album is planned to be released on Basick Records. When will it be released, and how many more albums has Skyharbor been contracted to write under the label?

Davesh: I don’t know exactly, because Keshav handles all
that stuff, but if I remember… actually I don’t know if I’m
even allowed to talk about this stuff…(laughs) I think its two albums, and 9 months after the second album, we could leave, or stay.

What are some of the perks to being signed to Basick?

Davesh: It’s just international recognition. Like, I went to the UK last summer, and I was able to pick up the CD. (laughs) I just saw it right there. It’s just being signed to a label that’s trendy right now, a label that’s prominent in the new scene that is progressive metal. It’s always good to be associated with them.

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What’s the story behind Skyharbor getting a record deal?

Davesh: Keshav had the album ready and wanted to release it in November of 2011, which was when Goddess Gagged released our first album. That was actually around the time that I joined; I started messaging [Skyharbor] about playing with them. They had this friend that was writing for a maga- zine called Rock Street Journal, and he was kind of connected to Basick because they were sending him albums for review, something like that, and I think he put them in touch… I honestly don’t know for sure, because I wasn’t involved. I was there after the fact.

Skyharbor has been making some waves in the US, any chance you’ll be touring there in the near future?

Davesh: A lot of bands do it, they just fly themselves out. Skyharbor has played one show internationally, in Germany, and now we’re playing in the UK in July. These are just really good deals that we’ve gotten, and I really don’t know the specifics.

I’m not going to say too much, but we did get an offer to tour in the US in October/November, but it was an opening slot. It was a good tour, but it was an opening slot. We just got some advice from some people saying, “You’ve never toured before, you don’t want to hit the U.S just like that, on an opening slot. It won’t work out.” But we’ve also got some offers for a Europe tour, so that’s kind of a mini-version. If we could do that as our first tour then hopefully, hopefully we can just be ready for the real thing. Dan knows touring life because he toured with Tesseract… We’ll see what happens.

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A week later, walking through the market-place in downtown Mumbai, I found an issue of Rolling Stone Magazine that had Davesh and his Skyharbor bandmates on the front cover. The headline read “India’s Brightest Hope.” I really had no idea who we had been interviewing! Sheel and I later found out that Goddess Gagged won Best Band of the Year at the Mumbai Metal Awards. Although Goddess Gagged has since broken up, bassist Krishna Jhaveri has joined Davesh in Skyharbor’s line-up, and the band is looking to tour in the United States next summer. The metal scene has reached across the world… And now, a vision of metal’s future will be here in the US for all of us to marvel at. Keep your eyes out.

-Written by Eric McGuire

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