The Drop Zone
Waiting to release their first album in five years, Devoid frontman Arun Iyer talks about the band’s journey so far
Ask Mumbai-based death-thrash band Devoid what the toughest hurdle they’ve had to battle in their five years of existence is, and they’ll tell you it’s exams. As with every budding young metal band, Devoid ”“ vocalist and guitarist Arun Iyer, lead guitarist Keshav Kumar, bassist Frank Pawar and drummer Shubham Kumar ”“ struggled for the longest time with the relentless demands of academics and the frustrations of being in a metal band in an unsupportive scene, but managed to build a fan base playing the odd gig that came their way and a few sporadically released singles. Now finally poised to release their first album, frontman Iyer reflects on the band’s musical career so far and the struggle to find their own sound.
We’ve been hearing about the release of your debut album for the better part of a year. Is the album finally close to release?
Yeah, it took time and didn’t really work out for the longest time because we were looking for a label. But now we’ve spoken to Sahil Makhija and we’re planning on releasing it with [his] Demonstealer Records. So everything is going according to schedule. The album will probably be released mid-June. It was supposed to be out this month but I had my exams on, and that left me with no time to get the CDs pressed and ready. We really didn’t want to rush things so we shifted it to June.
Devoid have been around for close to five years now. Tell me a little bit about how you happened to form the band.
This happened a long time ago, actually. We all lived in the same colony ”“ the BPCL colony in Chembur ”“ and we all wanted to play music. I was in another band earlier; Afaque from Infernal Wrath was a part of that band. We then disbanded and I met Shubham, my drummer. We started practising in the colony and then we had Frank join on the bass and we just started jamming. We’ve been on the scene for quite a while but we haven’t been really regular.
What was the biggest problem with playing regular gigs?
There were always fucking exams! We had exams every two months, and Frank’s fed up with it. He’s always been complaining. Actually, he’s been very considerate in that sense but we’ve always had to keep pushing gigs and wait to get done with the academics to start gigging. But now pretty much all of us are graduates so once my exams get done we’ll be seriously gigging. Another serious issue is the utter and complete lack of gigs. We’ve gigged in most major cities expect Bengaluru where we should be playing soon but they’ve all been single shows.
So given the erratic gigging schedule and without an album out, how did you guys build your fanbase?
That’s a good question. I don’t exactly know how our fanbase came about but I guess it’s because the few gigs that we did do, we played well. We played a few Resurrections in Mumbai, which is the biggest metal gig in the city, and we’ve played a few shows outside, the big ones like Campus Rock. We were lucky enough to get those breaks and I guess that’s why we have had decent enough exposure.
You’ve also been a fixture on the college show circuit in and around Mumbai. Would you say college competitions are a good place for bands to cut their teeth on?
We’ve played college shows, but not many college competitions. We’ve played big competitions like NLS’s Strawberry Fields, but they’re not really the kind of shows where the band gets a lot of exposure because you get a maximum of 20 minutes, out of which 10 minutes is taken by the soundcheck, which is fucking little for a metal band. College competitions are all a farce, it’s barely a gig. People just do it for the cash.
How do you think your sound has changed since you started to the songs you’ve written now for your first album?
The sound has changed quite a bit. When we began, we were supposed to be like this old-school thrash outfit, more or less like Pune band Brute Force, but then that kinda shifted when we got bored of the normal melodic songs. In fact, our album does have remnants of our earlier influences. One song called ”˜Black Fortress,’ it doesn’t sound anything like the songs we have now. With time our sound has gotten more aggressive and probably more faster and more evil, darker. The album has a lot of riffs written by me and my influences have changed a lot after I heard a few bands like Deathchain, Hypnosia. My material now has the death-thrash feel to it. But now we’ve found our sound and we don’t want to really change any more. We want to keep doing what we do and try to find the best possible original way to do what we do.
So what kind of influences do you guys bring into the band?
We’ve all liked the same kind of music so we’ve more or less had the same kind of influences, except for Frank who used to play for Nipple the Pizza and other punk bands. But we all love metal, predominantly extreme metal which is death or thrash and we love bands like Slayer. We fucking idolised Slayer when we formed the band and that’s also how we came together. In fact, it was Shubham’s infectious love for Slayer that got me into the band. As usual, we started off playing Slayer covers and Metallica covers, just forming our sound. When we started playing our originals is when the influences really started to seep in.
Coming to your album, tell us a little about it and the songs that go into it.
The first song that we ever wrote as a band, ”˜Black Fortress’ is in the album as is the second song we wrote called ”˜Possessed,’ which is completely different from ”˜Fortress’ ”“ it’s a lot heavier, detuned guitars, aggressive drums. The album, called A God’s Lie, is actually a chronicle of our effort from day one to now, a sort of musical journey of the band. Then there’s a title track that we’ve been playing live but that song has undergone a lot of changes ”“ the structuring and the vibe changed but the concept still remains and it’s pretty straightforward. There’s no fixed concept running within the album. The songs have their own philosophy but it’s not like a very sophisticated, concept oriented record. It’s more like a mixtape of everything we’ve done over the last five years.
Was there a particular process you followed while composing for this album?
We used to work on them separately. I used to work on riffs and Keshav used to work on riffs and then sit down and just glue it together to form a song. But then our songwriting matured. We started coming up with riffs, and Shubham began adding a lot of stuff. It’s still the same process, we still come up with riffs individually, but when we get to the jamroom it’s a whole different beast. So it’s pretty much a mix of doing your homework and coming up with new stuff in the jam room.
What are your plans post the album release?
A lot of gigging, that is, if we get a lot of gigs. It’s pitiful because extreme metal is still not India’s cup of tea, that much is blatantly obvious. But change is happening, like the Blue Frog metal night that we’re playing this month. That’s awesome, not just for Devoid but for every band that plays metal and wants to make a living out of it. And we get to open for DR so there’s nothing quite like it. So, yeah after the album launch we’re just looking at a lot of gigging ”“ as much as possible, as many places as possible so we can get our music out there.
Part of the reason why this album took five years is because we as a band crib a lot about our music and other people’s music. We’re very analytical about it and we have a lot of opinions. And this, in fact, is a good thing because it has helped us criticise our own music so we can come up with better stuff. So the stuff that we have come out with is certainly the best that we could have but the second album is something that I’m looking forward to even more. We’ve already started writing for it.