In an exclusive live interview with Headbangers India’s Singapore-exiled Ishaan Kumar, Vedic death metal band Rudra’s Kathir (2nd from left) and Vinod (extreme right) talk about the band’s journey so far, their relationship with Hindu philosophy and their take on religion.
Q1. Hello guys. Greeting from Headbangers India. I’m sure you guys have answered this question numerous times before, but could you talk about how Rudra was formed?
Kathir– It was formed by myself, Shiva and one of our ex-bandmates Bala. We were all studying together at a local polytechnic and we sooner realized that we shared the common love for rock and metal music. I asked Shiva if we could form a band and he was already in band at that time. We then ended up jamming together and we played covers of bands like Slayer and Bathory and then in 1992, after a bunch of bedroom jams and recordings, we recorded our 1st demo. So even back then we started off by playing original music because we decided it was a better idea.
Vinod– When I was going to join, the band had Kathir on bass and vocals, Anil and Kannan on guitars and Shiva on drums. Kannan left, Anil was voted out. John replaced Kannan and this was 3 years ago. Then in 2009, I replaced Anil. I was initially a fan of Rudra and I wanted to be just like them. One day I got a call from Kathir asking me if I would like to play for the band. I thought it was a joke even though Kathir is quite an old friend of mine. And then the next thing I know, I’m jamming with them and posing at photoshoots and for me its quite a huge leap from being a fan to being part of the band itself.
Q2. Now, about being original, you guys chose a very unusual path to originality. In a time when bands like God Dethroned and Behemoth are screaming songs about anti-Christianity,Satanism and gore, where did the idea of choosing a Vedic theme come from?
Kathir- During the time from ’93-’94, we started questioning our identity as a band, where we fell in the metal scene. Because at that time, every second..no actually EVERY band was trying to ape either Metallica, Megadeth or Iron Maiden. We decided that if we must write original music, we need to be original about it. And what could be better than diving into our own culture. So we actually searched within and went into the culture we were brought up with. And we thought that there was no better source than the Vedas because we grew up practicing it and hence we have a philosophical conviction towards it. The we took it a step further and incorporated Indian ragas and folk melodies into our music to make it sound more authentic. And till today, we use the same formula.
Q3. Also, congratulations on your new music video. So why did you choose the song Hymns from the Blazing Chariot as the music video song?
Kathir- Well we wanted the video to be a big bang. We then approached Jason Chan who approached us at the same time, and we decided we should make a music video that people would talk about. So we went through the tracklisting and, come on, Kurukshetra is epic, so it was an obvious choice. But the challenge was to recreate the atmosphere of that battle and I think that was where Jason did a fantastic job. We had a lot of meetings to go from storyboard to final product.
Q4. Was the process difficult?
Kathir- Yes it was tiring. The entire shoot took only 2 days but the post-production took long. Because the challenge was how to depict the visual in terms of the lyrics. We also used symbols like this (makes the Gyaan mudra with his right hand) to better convey the idea.
Q5. Going back to the topic of Vedic metal, how was the idea of the Vedas being used in death metal received? Did fans of bands like Cannibal Corpse and Autopsy immediately take a liking to your music?
Kathir- Well that’s interesting because we are older than Nile. I remember doing an interview with a Norwegian magazine asking us “so are you guys influenced by Nile and Melechesh?” and I told him that we are older than both bands and he sounded surprised. Since we had already released demos before them so it was not like we decided to follow in their footsteps.
Our first major release was in 1998, our debut album (self-titled). We were keeping our fingers crossed because we knew it would either be shot down or be critically acclaimed. It was a binary situation. That was when we got a repeat order from our record label. In Romania, we sold out. And the Romanians decided to take the license to re-print another 1000 tapes there and they sold out as well. The album was an experimentation. Getting such response from the Western nations was great because in Asia, particularly south-east Asia, the people are already well informed about our culture.
Q6. Another exciting bit of news from the Rudra camp is that you’re finally coming out with the final chapter in the Brahmavidya trilogy, called Immortal I. Could you talk more about it?
Vinod- Yeah as you said its the final chapter in the trilogy and it took us a lot of effort to put it together. It wasn’t easy. For me, I was used to jamming with a band for months and years working on just one album. But with Rudra it was different. Within months we wrote all the songs and the concept for the album and we were ready to hit the studio. We have already recorded all the guitars and everything, the album is now in the process of mixing.
The first in the Brahmavidya series was Primordial I, which was a very intense album, full of blast beats and basically very heavy. The 2nd one Transcendental I had a lot of guitar work and lots of melody. People commented on that fact and also about how it was a very long album. So for the 3rd album we were thinking ‘ why not end with a bang and make an impact’. So its going to be a very in-your-face death metal album. So this time around we would like to see how people respond to this album. We still have all the Vedic elements in place.
Kathir- In terms of the lyrics, Primordial I was based on the Upanishads while Transcendental I was based on famous texts like the Avaduta Gita. With this album we decided to take the route of the Brahmasutra, another ancient text that deals with the art of logic and refuting of doctrines. So its a little razor-sharp and polemic in its approach. So to stay faithful to the Brahmasutra, we wrote songs that refute popular doctrines around the world. So its full of either establishment of what is philosophically tenable and refuting what is untenable.
Q7. So I read that your performance yesterday incorporated flute and female vocals and today’s performance will add another surprise element. What is it about?
Kathir- Glad that you asked this question because it was a surprise for us an hour ago as well.
Vinod- Yeah we just got done with our rehearsal and that was the first time we saw a classical dance happening to our music and while I was playing I had goosebumps.
Kathir- It actually turned out much better than we expected
Q8. So what was the process behind the dance choreography?
Kathir- Well we’ve played a lot of shows in India and playing there gives us the opportunity to play long sets. So once we were sitting in our hotel room after a how and were wondering what could the next level in Rudra’s music be? So I told a journalist that I would actually love to stage the Mahabharata in the form of a metal opera. And after we shot our video, we got more inspired to go further with this idea. That was when we approached the Maya Dance Theatre here. At first they were very averse to heavy metal, calling it noisy and all that. We then told them to read the lyrics and then get back to us. Then the choreographer and the MD told us “Hey, I think we could do it”. So then we thought of doing a small scale version of our grand idea and this is it.
Q9. So how would you describe the Singapore metal scene to an outsider?
Kathir- I would love to be corrected on this but I think we were the first metal band to play original music in Singapore. When we started it it caught on like a fire. And today I see there is a big roster of bands in Singapore today. But my only problem is that bands don’t last for very long. We haven’t seen a single metal band with more than 4 albums. Probably the only exception to that is Impiety but the musicians are now all from Europe and South America so its not Singaporean anymore. In fact its interesting because in India the scene has really caught on and there are so many bands with original albums out like DR and Myndsnare. Its awesome music and a thriving scene and its testimony to the fact that in Asia it CAN work.
Q10. As a final question, what do you guys feel about your lyrical sources? What do you feel about the Vedas and the Upanishads and Hinduism in general. Is it often that you are called a religious band?
Kathir- Well I personally consider the Vedic philosophies and traditions far more ancient that modern Hinduism. Today’s temple worship and rituals and mythology are all a product of something far more ancient, more archaic. So while a particular cause can produce multiple effects, the cause remains the same. So instead of analyzing the effect and finding its defect, our approach was to make sense of all the effects by analyzing the source. So therefore we delved in Vedic texts like the Upanishads. Hence because of the association between cause and effect, people label us as religious. Because of the imagery as well. Not that I have an issue with that but if people have an issue with it, I don’t give a damn. But the point is we are far more Vedic than Hindu because we study the source. I myself have studied all the Upanishads and all the commentaries on them. I am averse to the word ‘religion’ because religion divides. If anything at all, I would call it spirituality. Having respect for each other as human beings is far more important than having a religious conviction that divides and religion is something that Rudra do not condone.
All right, any message to fans back in India?
I must put this on record that our best shows have been in India because our songs are not about this land we are in but stem from the country of India. And the experience there is just something I cannot describe. You could call it transcendental. We love the fans and actually we wouldn’t call them fans but our friends of metal from India and we would love to play more shows there and spend more time with you guys.