By Aniruddh “Andrew” Bansal
Mumbai-based horror-themed heavy metal band Albatross released their new EP “The Kissing Flies” earlier this year, as part of the split release with Connecticut’s Vestal Claret. Subsequently, they did a four-show tour that took them to Chennai, Bangalore, Thane and all the way to Guwahati in the North-East of the country. They now prepare to return to Bangalore, to participate in the Bangalore Open Air festival, set to take place on June 16th. Earlier today, I caught up with vocalist Biprorshee Das to talk about what we can expect from the band at this festival, amongst other topics like the Guwahati show, his biggest influences, and lots more. Enjoy this conversation below, and make sure you get to the BOA arena early enough to catch Albatross’ set, which begins at noon.
First of all, tell me about your recent trip to the North-East. How that experience and what was was the crowd’s response like?
I mentioned this in a Facebook update of mine immediately after Albatross returned from Guwahati, how for long I have been told that North-East is the place for “rock and metal”, often by people who have no idea about “rock and metal”. Not that I don’t agree, but stereotypes I have a problem with. And that is one region that has been the butt of such stereotypical notions more often than not. “Every dude plays the guitar”, “Every guy sings songs and smokes pot”. Sure, and the rest of India is so different, right?
We went there to explore a place we’ve never been to before and whether we like it or not, somewhere there was the preconceived idea – “Fuck! This one’s going to be good”. The gig at Guwahati well lived up to the promise. I, at least came back with a lot of happy memories, and not all of them had to be about “Every North-Eastern guy is a metalhead”.
We were blown away by the people there and the hospitality. The trip was more than just playing a gig and forgetting about it. Guwahati is gorgeous as are its people!
At the gig, while we would have liked to see some more people in the audience, we did know that it was our first time there and we had to play our metal the best we could to the ones who were there. I’d like to think we did so. As soon as we broke into ‘Holy Diver’, a song that has become an inevitable part of our set now, those bunch of kids headbanging, cheering and singing along made for an overwhelming experience.
We were a little bummed about the Shillong gig that we had to cancel because of unforeseen circumstances but we made the most of the extra time we spent in Guwahati chilling with the local guys there, drinking, binging on food, getting tattooed and what not!
Here’s to another trip to the North-East very soon, to a longer set, to a wider audience. And we want to go back not because we think “every guy there listens to metal” but just that every metalhead there is a real badass, not very different from all of us!
Has that gig inspired you to start thinking about reaching out more to the unchartered territories in India?
Unchartered for Albatross? To think, we haven’t played Delhi yet or even my hometown, Kolkata. Such a shame! Of course, we are excited about every new city that we can head to. Chennai was one such awesome trip. Bangalore is almost home to us now. We want to lap up every opportunity to hit a new place. So, bring it on. We love travelling! And playing our music as we do so….hell yeah!
We are all gearing up for Bangalore Open Air, which is not far away now. What can we expect from you guys at that gig?
Us boys have been counting days ever since we were first confirmed to be a part of the line-up and that was a long time before it was formally announced. This one is going to be big for us, an open air gig for the first time! We are thrilled, especially with our good friends from Zygnema heading there with us. I am going to be grilling Sidharth and Jimmy for advice on being monsters at such an event.
We are looking at our set, tweaking it a bit from what we’ve been playing in the last couple of months. The audience too would be different, of course. Not just our friends from Bangalore. And we expect them to be unforgiving. It’s a chance we have and we would want to make those 40 minutes on stage count, play the metal louder and better than we ever have.
Iced Earth isn’t on the lineup anymore, unfortunately. How disappointed are you about the fact that they won’t be playing?
No one, I repeat, no one is probably as disappointed as I am. We’ve said this before and I say it again, Iced Earth is one of the biggest influences on Albatross. I’ve been a huge fan of Matt Barlow ever since I first heard Horror Show (my first Iced Earth album) but Stu Block blew me away in Dystopia and the recent gigs of the band that I checked out online. To have missed out playing the same festival with them sucked hard.
I was so hoping I would get to hear ‘Damien’ live; for every time that I have looped that song on my music player.
To take nothing away from the fact that we still get to be a part of the same line-up that boasts of Kreator and I know it is an opportunity, we will not get every day; I honestly was headed to Bangalore more as an Iced Earth fan than the Albatross vocalist.
Talking of Iced Earth, I just remembered you told me last time how big of a Tim Ripper Owens fan you are. What is it that you like most about his vocals and why do you think he’s so underrated?
What I like most about Ripper? The fact that he ‘sings’ metal (No! I haven’t forgotten Bruce Dickinson) with such incredible power. The pitches he hits, pardon me here, rips everything apart. I might offend a lot of Halford loyalists here but have you heard him sing ‘A Touch of Evil’ at ‘Live in London 2001’? Look it up on YouTube. Head straight to 4:07 and then listen to the part from 4:38 to 4:41 over and over again. Tell me if that doesn’t fucking thrill you!
‘Underrated’ is the word! I don’t know much about his experiences with Judas Priest and Iced Earth but I, as a fan, hated that tag of a ‘replacement’. I would never compare him with Rob Halford or Matt Barlow but I do wish he got his due in a band that was HIS own and gained much more attention.
When we talk about vocalists, Halford, Dio, and Dickinson are some of the most obvious names. Those three have inspired and influenced just about every traditional metal vocalist out there today. But I’m more interested in knowing, what are some of the more obscure, lesser-known singers that have influenced you (other than Ripper, obviously)?
I wish I listened to more obscure stuff. I know I will be a much more informed musician then. Riju, on a regular basis, keeps throwing links at me saying “Check this dude out! He’s so awesome”. And then, I know the treasure that is there to be discovered.
So, let me try and answer this question with ‘how non-metal singers have influenced this ‘traditional’ metal vocalist’.
Freddie Mercury, period! What a singer, what a singer, what a singer! I listen to ‘Save Me’ and wish I could sing like that. I will never sing ‘Too Much Love Will Kill You’ because NO ONE can sing it the way he did and the song doesn’t deserve to be heard any other way. (I will never sing, ‘We Will Rock You’ because every other band and five English ‘boys’ have ruined it for me.) Let the singing be; what a performer! Like Kurt Cobain said in his famous suicide note and what most Cobain worshippers probably overlooked as they celebrated “it is better to burn out than to fade away” – I wish I can enjoy how Mercury basked in the love he got from his audience. And he got it for a reason, no?
Then there is Jon Bon Jovi. I’ve been a huge fan of the guy’s vocal prowess. Listening to an ‘Always’ or a ‘Dry County’, I long for such soul in my singing. There’s The Boss! I’ve been listening to Bruce Springsteen since my toddler days, thanks to my elder brother who was a big fan. ‘The River’, wow! And then, I must mention Joan Baez whose every song is a lesson in singing.
So, there is a lot of such non ‘metal’ stuff I listen to and enjoy, and at my own peril, I must also say how much I respect a few artists like Jagjit Singh, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Kishore Kumar and more.
Seriously, there is no dearth of genres or artists you can seek inspiration from. On this note, I must add, I hate fusion music especially these bands that whip out every instrument under the sun and churn out what I can’t stand, in the name of ‘East meets West’.
Coming back to Albatross, Which song do you find most challenging to perform live?
Currently, it is Kissing Flies. You were there at our Chennai gig and even wrote how I kind of ran out of breath as we ended our set with that song in your review. It is one of the longest songs we’ve written (Imagine! You play 3 Albatross songs and then run out of time at a gig) and it drains me out with all the high pitched shrieks and singing. While I go through our set jumping, screaming, headbanging; know that I am praying fucking hard throughout, “Please God! Save me some breath for Kissing Flies’.
Having said that, it is also about gaining experience with writing more of such songs and performing them live. There was a time, I couldn’t sing ‘Among the Cannibals’ at a jam without gasping for breath. It is fun growing as a musician in a band.
Considering how hard it must be to sing these types of tunes for 40 minutes straight, do you give a lot of importance to keep the order of songs in the set list in such a way that you don’t run out of breath?
Like I just said, it could be a bit of a task. So yes, we do stress on the order in our set being right. I am sure it is the same with every band but it is definitely not about just hitting the stage and randomly throwing out your songs. Say before a Kissing Flies, we will usually have a song that I am comfortable with and will allow me to catch some breath and so on. There! I let out a secret.
At the same time, it is not always about my comfort too. You have to keep the set relevant and not make it too random, the guitarists need to down tune their guitars on some songs and that needs to be considered while deciding the order. Then there is the time constraint. Stuff like that.
For how long have you been a singer, and how did you become a member of Albatross?
I have been singing for as long as I can remember. I never had the patience to pick up an instrument and learn to play it. I am the only Albatross member who can’t play the guitar (and you will be surprised at the number of guitars I own) and can’t understand when someone in the jam room says, “Give me a G”. It all began for me aping singers I heard, in my room and for all the “Please beta [son], sing for uncle audience” and then somewhere sometime someone thought I was good enough to be in a band.
After being in my share of bands in college, I had little time once I started working and had given up. Riju has been a friend for around two decades now and for some reason thinks of me as a much better singer than I am. When he first put forward the idea of Albatross that began as a studio project, he asked me to sing the first song that was released – Gigi. I did. I wasn’t the first choice for the next song that was Dining Table but it eventually came to me. And when finally, Albatross going live was thought of, I would’ve maimed Dr. Hex had he even considered anyone else. Sometimes, I blame him for my sad career as a journalist.
In what ways have your vocals changed since the time you first started singing?
Like I said, I used to “copy” then and not sing. Now I do! Although, I can still pull off a rather entertaining Kumar Sanu for you if you care.
By the way, just before Albatross’ first ever gig, guess who were we waiting with at the airport lounge? An Ed Hardy-clad Kumar Sanu! I thought it was a fantastic sign till that gig in Bangalore, which remains our worst ever.
You must also check out the horror (excuse me) that is me on Gigi, released in 2008 and compare it with Kissing Flies. You’ll have fun.
Having a good voice and singing in the studio is one thing, but performing live is entirely another. In your opinion, what does it take to successfully make that transformation?
Practice, and fuckloads of it! It doesn’t matter in the studio with all the takes. There is little room for error live. I still feel I could have sung the songs on Kissing Flies a lot better had we not been actually writing the vocal parts in the studio. There, I let out another secret.
Once more, practice, jam with the band and then practice some more!