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Arjun ‘Chiq’ Dhanraj from NerveRek (August 09)

  • Interview by: Subhramani Sathyanarayan
  • Date: August 6, 2009

Whether you know him for his flowing silky locks or for his aggressive guitaring, ‘Chiq’ from NerveRek is a quite a well known figure in Indian metal. Headbangers India catches up with him for an exclusive interview to discuss his move to Apollonian quest, his plans for NerveRek and lots more. Read on…

HB: Tell us about more about yourself. Right from the day you started walking, picked up your guitar and idolized Mustaine, to where you are right now.

Chiq: I was born on October 24th 1984, although I can’t remember the day I started walking. I used to play the harmonica at the age of 3, ‘cause my dad was pretty good at it and he used to record some old Hindi classics, which I used to try and imitate. When I joined boarding school (Rishi Valley) in class 4, I played the harmonica for the talent shows too. It was here at Rishi Valley that I discovered the guitar and started learning from a roommate. By the 6th grade, I had almost forgotten about the harmonica and guitar became my new ‘talent’. Throughout my Rishi Valley days (until the end of 10th grade) I participated in musical evenings and house events. As you can imagine, a self taught guitarist, with no knowledge of theory, I specialized in Nirvana and easy Guns n’ Roses songs (minus the solos). I left Rishi Valley in the year 2000 and I shifted to Chennai, where I attended my first ever ‘rock concert’!!! JRO featured No Idea and Moksha. I still remember standing in the crowd imagining the day I get on stage and let my hair loose! That to me seemed a long way off!

A little less than a year later, I auditioned as a vocalist for a band called Ignition. I had seen an ad in the local Music World store and called the number given. After the auditions, I was recruited as the lead guitarist for Ignition. The rhythm guitarist – Shrinivasan “Cheenu” Natrajan and myself shared the vocals. Ignition was a fun project and we did a lot of song writing even as early young musicians finding our way into the scene. That, along with some covers ranging from Maiden to Metallica to System of a Down to Papa Roach would usually be an Ignition set list.

Ignition broke up in early 2003, which left me pretty much devastated. I couldn’t imagine forming my own band with whatever little I had learned about song writing. By this point I had just about been introduced to Megadeth and I grew to love their music! So it can be safe to say that I was pretty much in a Dave Mustaine situation (when he split ways with Metallica). As most wannabe teenagers would do, I used that as my inspiration to start my own band. Sure enough, the band was called Dethzone! This again was mostly an original band with amateur musicians. We couldn’t pull off too many Megadeth songs fully, nor could we do any Metallica songs fully. So, the best option was be to medley the two. That 11 song medley turned out to be quite a crowd favorite at CRI 2003. We were one of the two Chennai bands selected for the South Zone finals that year but unfortunately, that’s as far as we got.

I knew it was time for me to upgrade my music and the band if we wanted to get anywhere. So I suggested more effort during practice sessions, and invariably more practice sessions. I had also been introduced to Dream Theatre and so I wanted to “prog” up my band a little. By this point, some of my musicians couldn’t cope with the stress of work along with hardcore practices, so it was mutually decided that it would be better for both parties if they left the band. My brother filled in on the drums. This line up shared many interesting stories but we still hadn’t really won a major competition. Finally our biggest success was at IISC 2005 (or was it 2006?) where we beat Myndsnare in Bangalore! This was a shocking but pleasant surprise!!! But still… I didn’t feel like we did anything big! We needed LOTS of work!

We had tried many keyboardists by now and had finally settled with Rohith from a band called Public Issue. NerveRek’s music became a lot fuller with the added synth section, but the music was still undefined. I would think my music really kicked off when I was introduced to the Swedish progressive legends – Pain of Salvation. Their music was everything Dream Theater’s wasn’t and had much bigger balls than Megadeth! This was perfect! I had spent all my life as a self taught musician, so why not teach myself the art of writing music? Instead of learning from a local guitar teacher, I used references from my favorite artists. Dave Mustaine helped me get the balls to start my own band and Daneil Gildenlow (POS singer, guitarist and songwriter) taught me how to sustain it!

A few more line-up changes and we were ready to go! Ritesh on drums was a highlight worth mentioning.  NerveRek started winning competitions pretty soon, some of which were pretty popular! I even had the good fortune of winning a Fender Strat during one of the IIT Saarang fests. We had started featuring in the local papers and magazines quite frequently, which definitely did our confidence some good! NerveRek’s second attempt at CRI was in 2007 and the result is history! 🙂

I shifted to Bombay during the end of the year 2008, to see what the entertainment capital of the country can offer me! So far, the future looks bright!

HB: NerveRek has had its fair share of line-up changes over the years. Which, according to you, is the definite line up for the band?

Chiq: Every line up has brought something special to the band, so I wouldn’t really say that there is a DEFINITE line up. However, having said that, the most successful line up was Arjun – guitars/vocals, Ritesh – drums, Rohith keys and Kitha – bass. This was the line-up that nailed CRI 2007!

HB: Where is NerveRek right now? What does the future hold for you guys as a band?

Chiq: The remaining members of NerveRek are still all over the place. One of the older line ups (with a new vocalist and a guitarist) is now ‘The Previous Band’. Ritesh is STILL planning on joining the merchant Navy :-P, and I am in Bombay. NerveRek however, is now a Bombay based band with another make over to the line-up. The new line up looks exciting and I can’t wait for all our fans to finally get a glimpse of the new sound! Like I said earlier, the future looks bright!

HB: Sometime back, we were all treated to a few demos from the upcoming NerveRek album “Forever Endeavour.” What’s the present status of the album?

Chiq: ‘Forever Endeavour’ is still in the process of being recorded. One of the biggest problems Indian musicians face is the lack of good studios. Throughout my stay in Chennai, I have seen musicians get treated like shit by event managers, sound engineers and the likes. Things look different out here and for a guy who has enough material for two full length concept albums, I don’t think I have the patience for anymore shit from anyone! So I have decided to do the album on my own with as much help as I can get from fellow musicians. This may take a little more time than if we had a record deal, but the good news is you will not hear a better sounding NerveRek mix! So be patient, and you will be rewarded!

HB: Concept album, you say? Tell us more…

Chiq: I can’t really get into details with this one, ‘cause the concept’s not out yet, but the gist is pretty self explanatory. The concept is a story with a moral, and the moral is the name of the album. It’s happened to me and it’s probably happened to everyone else. If you strive to do something, anything, and you just keep going at it without losing hope, no matter what happens, you will get there!  🙂 Hope that’s good enough for now. It obviously has Vampires and Lycans and shit to make it a little twisted, cause I can’t explain my concept with normal human beings. 😛 I needed a fictional character and I like vampires! 😉

HB: How did it feel playing alongside international metal heavyweights Scorpions and Iron Maiden? What were the thoughts running through your head as you stepped on to the stage?

Chiq: Something tells me this is a rhetorical question! 😉 Well, to be honest, the Scorpions show was a lot better for us! The treatment we got, the response, the tightness of the show and everything! Being the only opening band, we felt special and we actually spent the entire Scorpions set list in the VIP lounge drinking the most expensive whiskey and eating the most delicious sausages ever!! What was even more unbelievable was the fact that we got an encore after our show, and Scorpions needed an MC to come and ask the crowd if they wanted more of Scorpions. Getting an encore while opening for an international act is a feeling I can’t even explain!

Iron Maiden show was a lot more like a job! We weren’t treated as well as we had hoped and we barely got a sound check. The line-up of the band was also not the original line up, so the show wasn’t as tight as we had hoped either. The response was better than we had expected, but I would say the best part about that show was getting the opportunity to watch the legends do what they do and shaking hands with the gods of metal!

HB: You’ve been dabbling with a lot of different music off late. Progressive thrash metal with NerveRek, melodic death metal with Apollonian Quest and acoustic music with Brainfry. Why this vigorous experimental spree?

Chiq: Well, this is not exactly an experiment. It’s more of a chance to do what I love doing! I am a musician who enjoys music of many, many, many genres! My all time favorite artist is the late great Michael Jackson! I listen to the likes of Simon & Garfunkle to Meshuggah! So by playing in bands of different genres, I get a chance to keep in touch with all my favorite styles of music! Just so u know, NerveRek is not progressive thrash metal. Its more Progressive rock/metal. But then again, nobody gives a shit about these things!

HB: We’ve seen you on stage with an Ibanez RG, Jackson Rhoads, a Fender Strat and more recently, a PRS guitar! Tell us more about the equipment you’re on right now. And don’t stop with just the guitars; go on to the effects, the clothes on your back and the beer in your hand!

Chiq: Well the Jackson was just a phase, since I was such a big Megadeth fan! I still use my Ibanez which is a great guitar! I manage brands like PRS, Vox, TC Electronics, D’Addario and more through Furtados, so I get to sit and experiment with all kinds of professional equipment. The equipment I use for my shows is pretty straight forward. I use an Ibanez RG 350 and a PRS custom semi hollow guitar, run through a Vox Tonelabs ST which is a tube processor based on some of the best vintage and modern amps in the world! For recordings I also use some TC electronic racks like the G System and G Major. I use Jazz 3 picks and Planet Waves circuit breaker cables. These cables come with a LIFETIME warranty! 🙂 I wear clothes that bring out my build (?) and muscles and I drink anything that gets me high!

HB: It’s not often you hear the frontman of a metal band being referred to as Chiq. The ‘Q’ doesn’t change anything, and you don’t seem to be taking an effort to remove the tag. Why the fancy name, and what are your comments on this?

Chiq: Well, there comes a time in everyone’s life when u have to ask yourself, ‘Do I want to spend all my time being a wannabe, or can I actually be someone?’ It is at this point that you get an awakening! Names people call you, and tags that people give you sometimes end up being your identity. In my case, the ‘chick’ tag came up sometime in my 12th grade, because of my silky straight hair and lack of facial hair. The facial hair is finally out, but I was still more popularly known as chick, so I just decided to start introducing myself as Chiq to people. It kinda works as a stage name as well ‘cause it’s not really easy to forget something like that! The Q is not a disguise, but a unique factor. You don’t really get [email protected] easily, so I tried [email protected] and it worked 😉 I don’t see why people NEED nick names, but once it’s given to you, you may as well live with it. I didn’t start calling myself Chiq, but I do so now! It’s almost like calling yourself The Demonstealer! 🙂

HB: So what are you listening to right now? What’s spinning on your player?

Chiq: Well, I’m paying tribute to one of my biggest influences in the world, so there’s a lot of Michael Jackson in my system these days. Besides that, Pain of Salvation, Meshuggah, Incubus, Karnivool, Alter Bridge, Simon & Garfunkel, LOTS of NerveRek :), Scribe, Thermal And A Quarter, and lots of other stuff!

HB: Is there anyone you’d like to thank for all the support and encouragement?

Chiq: I know the whole “I’d like to thank my parents and family” bit has been overdone, but honestly, my family’s been EXTREMELY supportive all along! So I’d definitely like to thank them. The fans and friends made all my dreams come true so I’d be nothing without every one of them (that includes Madhav)! Every artist needs inspiration and I was lucky to find that in my bestest friend in the whole world so I’d like to thank Renuka Vasu for just being there for me! Last, but not least, every member in every band I’ve played in has taught me something, so thanks to them for being a part of my life!

HB: Any last words?

Chiq: Last words? I hope I am not dying any time soon, so I would like to think I have ample time to think about my last words…. But thanks for this opportunity and it is an honor to be The Featured Artist Of The Month on Headbangers India! Keep rocking!