Goddess Gagged on the 2Stroke Tour
All that went down between six people over 10 days as the Mumbai band played gigs across the country
There are some things you’ll see that no one would believe without photographic evidence. This particular pics-or-it-didn’t-happen moment came en route to Shillong from Guwahati when we spotted a green freight lorry with a huge Slipknot logo emblazoned on its side, a place usually reserved for the kitschy warning ”˜Horn OK Please’. Or seeing a kid wearing a T-shirt with a picture of Indian EDM poster boy Nucleya, zipping around Shillong’s cramped lanes. Or witnessing another kid in Guwahati become so overwhelmed after watching Goddess Gagged play “Visionary” that he prostrated himself before bassist Krishna Jhaveri, who got him off the ground and gave him a hug, not knowing what else to do.
Just like that, Goddess Gagged’s comeback tour as part of the 2Stroke series often became a case of something you had to witness to believe. In 10 days, across seven shows and between six people, the fourth edition of the 2Stroke Tour proved why Goddess Gagged will remain relevant for many years to come.
Why? Firstly, because they’re a band that’s never hunted for gigs. And this is an alternative/progressive metal with post-hardcore elements that was supposed to open for nu-metal band KoRn in Mumbai in 2012 and then ended up opening for Guns N’ Roses later that year. Guitarist Devesh Dayal, who joined the band along with vocalist Siddharth Basrur in 2010, says “On paper, it’s the most impressive thing any of us have ever done. Strictly on paper, though.” Even for the 2Stroke Tour, they were approached by Uddipan Sarmah, the cool-headed, no-bullshit Ahmedabad musician and owner of artist management agency BlueTree.
At the tour’s first gig in Kolkata on August 26th, the band were told by friends and scene people to not expect anything. But who knew 200 die-hard fans would show up, shouting their throats out for what will become the only encore on the tour, for their melodic anthem “Sink or Swim.” The song has been a favorite among fans since Goddess Gagged released a music video for it in November 2011, ahead of launching their debut full length Resurfaces.
Secondly, it’s been five years since Resurfaces but the band’s sound remains remarkably fresh. Some of the non-albumÂ singles””the charging, dance-y “Fine Lines” and the emotional, riff-led “Handmade Waterfalls” ””get crowds moving straight off. The last of the material they performed before going on a hiatus in 2014 was a dreamy, light-headed track called “Elation,” one that Dayal wrote as an “all clean” song.
“Elation” is their soundcheck song at their next stop, Shillong’s Cloud 9 lounge, as Basrur alternates between a deep voice and his signature croon in the refrain, “Destroying, rebuilding/Destroying again/ There’s too much nothing here.” Basrur has put off all his commercial recording work and corporate gigs to get on this tour. He’s the oldest guy in the band, in his mid-thirties, and just about a decade ahead in years of the oldest among the remaing members, Jhaveri. “They were all kids when I joined the band. I feel like I’m responsible for them in a certain way,” says Basrur, an hour before the band is to get on stage at Cloud 9. When Basrur is being a kid at heart and just sticking to being a vocalist in a band, Jhaveri is the one who lays down the law, whether it is the ”˜no party after gigs’ rule or advising band members on exactly what they should do if they ever feel lost. He’s always prepared. He’s even got the band into joining him for yoga.
As we sit outside the Guwahati venue Terra Maya, the third city on the tour, Jhaveri has helped solve an amp problem, despite the band not using amps on stage. He says, “I justÂ like to eliminate as many possibilities out of the equation. I think I seem to get the most mind-fucked if something’s going wrong. It manifests physiologically in a way that my heart starts beating faster and I start to feel uncomfortable and anxious.”
Having toured the U.S. and Europe with prog metal band Skyharbor (whom Dayal also plays for) and rock veterans Indus Creed, Jhaveri has experience like few others. He tells me, “Being on tour, a lot of lessons [come] from tour managers who worked with [prog bands] TesseracT, Sleepmakeswaves [American prog metal band] The Contortionist live their life on the road. After they released their album [Language], they spent nine out of 12 months on the road. For them, it’s second nature. They’re prepared for almost any outcome, so I definitely learned a lot from watching others.”
Despite the pre-gig rumination, when on stage, Jhaveri grooves, stares intensely and shouts out lyrics like he’s having the time of his life, while Dayal breaks into his living-the-life smile very often. If they ever mess up, they exchange a quick, pleasant smile, as if telling each other, “It’s okay, we’re having fun.” Of course it’s fun. The number of scatological jokes they make precisely when they’re eating and the way they cuddle up to each other every now and then is not because they like being fashionably goofy.
One time, guitarist Arman Menzies puts drummer Jeremy D’Souza (quietest, most chilled-out of the lot) off eating yoghurt by casually comparing it to a bodily fluid. That third day on the tour, in true family style, Menzies also runs up to the mother hen Jhaveri to complain that “Jeremy’s run out of fresh clothes.”
Post-gig, I’m holding an iPhone set to slow motion video recording, and the band is indulging in some fun on a pool table””showering money on Dayal and Basrur to the sound “Paper Planes” by M.I.A. That was their merchandize income, earned from selling a part of the goodies stored in a red suitcase carrying over 200 T-shirts and tank tops. The band sold an average of 20 to 30 pieces in each city.
Goddess Gagged also brought Sarmah the highest number of pre-sale tickets compared to previous 2Stroke Tour editions. Sarmah told me at the end of the tour, “This is what Indian bands have to take seriously. The moment Krishna told me about merchandize, I was sure they’ll get a profit.” Yet, the next morning after showing off their money, Goddess Gagged, Sarmah and I take three autos to Guwahati airport. Dayal, who tried for the umpteenth time, finally lands a taxi that didn’t bail.
In New Delhi, Dayal and Jhaveri head out to meet producer and Skyharbor guitarist Keshav Dhar and finish up recording more parts for their upcoming album. Dhar has been just recovering from chikungunya, and the band has been taking especially safe precautions to avoid it. Dayal passes around the mosquito repellents, whether it’s Odomos cream or patches they’ve stuck on their clothes. Basrur also joins the band as a spectator.
The chikungunya spook gets to Sarmah as well, who’s lying down on a couch a fewÂ hours before the show kicks off at Antisocial in Hauz Khas Village. He’s actually just got an upset stomach and he sprung back to life after drinking enough water. Coming in straight from New Delhi electronica artist Curtain Blue’s Malaysia Tour, Sarmah just wants to go back home to his bed by the time the 2Stroke Tour reaches Mumbai.
But he knows how to promote a tour. This time around, all opening bands have been local acts from the city, giving them a chance to associate with the growing brand value of 2Stroke. From Guwahati’s alt rock/metal band Lucid Recess to Kolkata fire-starters What Escapes Me, Shillong rock act Dossers Urge, Delhi math rock band Kraken and Mumbai pop rockers Ferry Tales, these were the best bets anyone could ask for, adding to the diversity of the tour.
Things get much more laid-back in the second half of the shows. With a road trip to Pune and a late soundcheck, the band seems much more relaxed. It’s mostly aÂ party crowd at The High Spirits CafÃ©””where Goddess Gagged incidentally played their last show in January 2014 before going on a hiatus””but the post-show banter is something else. Someone in the band gets a handcrafted guitar pick while another receives an invitation for a threesome.
The next show is in Bengaluru, one of the most anticipated shows for a band that once won the prestigious Strawberry Fields band competition in 2010. “Jeremy, tomorrow you have to give all your balls. We all have to,” Menzies says as we leave Pune.
In Bengaluru, fans are rabid at Humming Tree””the band loses count of how much merch they’ve sold. Basrur probably gets a bit annoyed when a few people persistently ask for Skyharbor songs. “You can go home and listen to Skyharbor,” he says on stage, where they are joined by metallers Bhayanak Maut’s vocalist Sunneith Revankar, who is now based in the city. The latter adds growls to GG’s best known songs like “Modern Machines” and “Visionary” and devours his section as if he’d been performing these songs with the band for years. Everyone on stage is ecstatic.
At their final stop in Mumbai, there’s everything that you might expect at a homecoming show””the clockwork lighting by Naveen Deshpande, exuberant cheers for songs like “Sink or Swim” and “Dreamer” and the poignant moments when they wrap up the gig with the eight-minute track “Preliminary,” with over 300 people chanting along to the refrain, “I will be/Holding on,”
Menzies, who got into electronic music under the moniker Zokhuma when the band went on a break, said in New Delhi, “People who didn’t know I played metal are coming out to these shows, so that’s fun.” Goddess Gagged’s wide appeal remains. They’re a band that can probably fit into a lot of lineups, because they can make people sway, dance and mosh to their music, often all in one song. Jhaveri adds that future material is definitely on the cards, “It will still maintain that vibe””with those kind of chords and leads and stuff, but obviously taken in different directions.”
After the Mumbai show, Dayal has to be at the airport in a few hours to catch his flight back to Boston, where’s he studying at the Berklee College of Music. Once he finishes the course, he’s probably moving to Los Angeles and taking up more work as a musician, producer and mixing engineer, although Skyharbor and Goddess Gagged will remain a priority. After hugs go around, D’Souza sums it up for himself, “From tomorrow, I’m a bum. But today, I’m happy.”
This article appeared in the October 2016 issue of Rolling Stone India.Â
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Goddess Gagged performs at Bacardi NH7 Weekender on December 3rd, 2016, at Life Republic, Pune.Â