Interview With Epitaph
Appeared on ktmROCKS Mag Issue 14
Interviewed by: Umes Shrestha
Formed around 2002, Epitaph has been a consistent band in the underground metal scene of Kathmandu. Friends since their childhood, the members of Epitaph are Khagendra Raj Ghale on vocals, Krishna Gurung & Yoban Gurung on guitars, Niraj Dhakal on bass and Pujan Manandhar on drums. All band member have their own influences and thus the mix up is able to form a tight band with a unique style of thrash mixed with death metal. The band was recently in Vinapa Studio, Naxal to record its debut album titled “Barbaric Regulation”. ktmROCKS caught them up during the mastering of the album, here’s the interview with three members Khagendra (vocals), Niraj (bass) and Pujan (drums) along with Abhisek Bharda, studio engineer of Vinapa.
For how long have you guys been formed?
It’s been about 6 years. We started around the year 2000. However, in the beginning, the band was not intended to be something major and formal. It was just for time pass and an ordinary hobby. Our first gig was the Metal Mania held at Station pub. The crowd response was quite strong towards us which soon prompted us to take the band a bit more seriously.
There was this big gap right after the Underground Uproar 2 (a ktmROCKS gig) till some recent gigs. Were guys involved in anything else during this time? Did you guys crave for more gigs?
Well, we basically just hung around and played in our locality. We played at parties and stuff in and around the Koteshwor-Baneshwor area. We weren’t really desperate to play. We were in situation where it was okay even if we got gigs or not. Besides, if one band plays all the time, the crowed would get bored as well.
From the time you started out, till today while you’re recording your album, has the musical direction changed in any way?
We don’t sight any noticeable changes regarding our music but as far as lyrics are concerned, in the beginning the lyrics were just simple and not written according to any fundamental basis whatsoever. But as we started to take our music seriously by getting ready to record an album and playing more gigs, we added some political concepts to our lyrics.
Tells a little something about recording experience you had while recording this debut album, Murda ko desh. How do you feel about the band when comparing the sounds of the first single that you recorded some years ago to your current status?
I guess I can say that we were beginners back then. We recorded the album at Station pub.. oh wait, haha.. I meant Studio 2000. I always mix up their names. haha. One of our songs even came out on the Music Isle compilation. The dai’s of Xmantra set us up to record the song for the compilation. But we didn’t have any recording experience and since we did the song in one day, the output wasn’t very satisfying. Whereas, the album we’re working on now has been up to the mark. The drum patterns and beats have improved. Back then, we were only beginners and had basic ideas of music back then.
What kind of differences do you see between the studio you recorded at before and the studio you are currently recording at?
We didn’t feel ‘at home’ during our first recording sessions. We were nervous and uncomfortable since we had never recorded a studio before. The presence of the recording engineers who were a bit “buda” didn’t help ease the discomfort. On contrary, it has been much better this time around. We aren’t nervous like before. We’ve also gained some recording experience and musical experience on the whole by doing a lot more gigs. We do feel at home here.
The album features 8 tracks. This is quite a risk and also tremendous hard work for an underground band. Not many record a full on album, mostly just demos. What encouraged you to record such an album? Was there a major stand point that induced you guys to carry on with a big album?
Our friends and parents started to tell us that we only do concerts, we only practice for concerts and nothing more. So they all suggested that we live to our full potential and reward our regular practice by recording an album. We then felt that an album was the thing to do. At first, we were planning on recording a 6 track EP. But then we thought , “gare pachi ekaichoti garumna”.
You mentioned that even your parents suggested on recording a new album, right? So, do your parents know what kind of music you guys make?
Yes, I guess. But that doesn’t really matter because at least all our parents support us for the cause of making their children happy. Pujan’s parents especially support the whole band a lot. We even get to practice at his place. There have never been problems of complaints or anything like that there.
How long did it take for you to compose all 8 songs?
It took quite a long time. We did it gradually with patience. Since we don’t have enough and proper instruments and also because of college, we were only able to get together to write music on holidays.
What kind of music or bands has inspired you especially during composition of originals?
When talking about inspiration, I can’t leave out Slayer, Sepultura and Death. We are mostly influenced by thrash metal.
If thrash metal is the direction of your music, what is your lyrical direction?
Most of your lyrics are the kind that spread political awareness. As the theme on the album, basically, we have included a portion that speaks of the corruption in our nation today and we have to do about.
Does that mean that you guys are politically active/aware for real? Ki gaaf hanya, haha?
Haha! If we weren’t aware of what’s going on in the country politically then we wouldn’t be able write about it. There are a lot of things that are dissatisfying. It probably appears that we are living happily under a roof having enough to eat, but there are so many evils that affect the mass. For example, during the civil war, the bandhas, the crude act of police beating up whoever they see on the road and entering other peoples’ properties without any authorization to beat up them too, etc.
So what kind of impact do you think this album will make? What are your expectations?
We hope that the album will uplift even the slightest political awareness at least in the under ground scene. We haven’t really expected anything. We have already got the appreciation and support we need from our family, friends and the underground scene. We are happy with what we have already acquired. We don’t require non metal fans to listen to our album. Thus, we haven’t expected anything more to happen.
Murda ko Desh, seems to be very aggressive. How aggressive are you guys in real life, especially on stage?
We don’t really concentrate on being aggressive that much. There are limitations when talking about stage. We try to show as much as aggressive stage presence as we can. Usually the sound system lets us down. For example, sometimes one member can’t hear the other member playing; sometimes the guitarist can only hear himself. Therefore, we have to focus more on playing the music rather than jumping around.
I’m sure this stage is one of the hardest for you guys because it’s now that you have to choose whether to make a career in something else or continue in music to provide a pathway for the younger generation. What are your plans?
Till now, we haven’t made any plans regarding taking music professionally. We have our own academic goals for building a secure career. Music is basically just an interest or a hobby for now. We are still continuing our studies in other fields which are higher priorities than music.
If a commercial record deal is offered, will you take it?
We would never go commercial. Even if we were offered double or more of what we get from our independent albums, we wouldn’t go for it. We are happy the way we are. We’d like to limit ourselves to what we are doing right now.
What did you see in metal that made you want to play thrash-death metal? Why not progressive-metal or any other sub genre?
Thrash/death was the one sub-genre that attracted us the most. Since thrash/death metal type of bands started the whole growling vocals technique, we really liked it. We feel that this genre illuminates the most aggression. Thrash/metal seems to be the most respectable type of genre for us.
Why do you have brush cut hair dos.. why not long hairs? Is it a trademark of any sort?
Well to tell you the truth, I’m not up for growing long hair. It requires more care and it’s hard to maintain. So keeping short hair is for ease. I don’t go for shaven-head as well, because we have a narrow-minded society. Parents would scold us by saying, “Do I look dead to you ??”
Would you like to say anything to the upcoming young bands? Any advice, suggestions?
I would like to advice all the young musicians out there that you guys should to focus more on originals than covers. You can play covers for personal satisfaction and a mode of learning. However, if you form a band and what to take it seriously, then it is highly recommended that you start off with originals. If some one asks you, “Are you in band?” and you say, “Yes” and then he asks, “Do you have any originals?” and then you say, “No”, then it would be a joke.
Are there any Nepali underground bands that have influenced you? Which ones do you like?
We haven’t been influenced by any Nepali bands although we like early X mantra and Breeding Pestilence a lot.
What was the most memorable gig or “crowd moment”?
A gig we had at Shankamul is probably the most outstanding of them all. We performed at the end when everyone in the crowd was wild! Usually there’s a point in a concert when only the people in the front are enthusiastically involved whereas the people at the back are just standing. But when we played, everyone was having a great blast!
Since the situation in the country is sort of unstable, wasn’t there any kind of fear before writing the politically motivated lyrics?
No, we weren’t scared.
Don’t tell me you guys in some party? Haha
No. haha! Hamro aphnai party ho! Haha! If we were in any party, then we would bring the party flag to the concerts, hehe.
What kind of improvements do you guys see individually in each your respected skills now that you have played for some years?
Pujan (Drummer)- I didn’t have nor do I currently have full confidence. I have improved though. But it wasn’t a rapid improvement. It was very hard. I still have difficulties when it comes to “molden method” (the technique of vibrating the stick on the snare)
Niraj (Bassist) – I have improved a lot.. hehe.
What are your influences?
Pujan (Drummer) – Slayer’s Dave Lambardo. Sudip Hada of Holocaust and Alec Schiama of Atomic bush are the ones I like from the local scene.
Niraj (Bassist) – Well, I was a guitarist at first. I was inspired by Kerry king and Vader’s guitarist. Iron maiden’s Steve Harris was definitely another inspiration.
How much do you practice individually?
Pujan (Drummer) – I don’t want to brag but I do practice a lot on my own. I really want to improve a great deal. I used to even practice at night. But my mom scolded me because obviously it would be too loud at night.
How do you guys compose music?
We come together and compose. Usually the music comes first followed by the vocals and lyrics.
Don’t you guys quarrel sometimes? Aren’t there any arguments ever?
Till now, there hasn’t been any type of quarrelling. Usually Krishna (lead guitarist) comes up with the riffs. Then we build on it. Together, we decide whether whatever each of us come up with is good or not.
Being the front man, what kind of control do you have while composing? How do you contribute to the whole process?
Well, as said before, we as a team decide whether something fits or not. For example, if do vocals over a certain part of the song, we all decide if it fits or not.
Have you guys ever had a serious fight amongst you?
No. Nothing like that has happened. We are fortunate that our relation as a band has never reached a low point. Even when sometimes our guitarist goes to play other gigs for money or something like that, we don’t nag him by saying, “hya, tyasto ma kina gako??”
What pisses Epitaph the most?
We hate when others complain and rudely question us about our music.
Do the neighbours never complian?
We only got about 2 or 3 indirect complaints till now. We practice during office time. Consequently, most neighbors aren’t home when we make noise.
Are there any other interests?
We used play a lot of football when we were younger. Baato tira daang dung garinthyo
In the new album, is the output quality up to your expectations?
In comparison to the old recording, it is way better and satisfying. But we still need to tweak some elements as we go listening further on.
This question goes to Abhisek Bhadra (Vinapa Studio) – how hard or easy was it for you as a studio engineer to record with Epitaph?
Abhisek: I have to say it was a bit hard. In the studio setting, I had never worked with this type of music, i.e. death metal. Despite the difficulty it was fun.
Some bands don’t give a shit about their gear, about the tone, etc. What was the extent of the quality you found in this band?
Abhisek: Compared to a lot other people that have come here to record, Epitaph definitely made it easier for me as they possessed good recording knowledge somehow. You know, there are people that don’t even understand when told precisely, but I didn’t even have to thoroughly instruct them. It was a great experience. Ramailo bhayo!
(To the band) How did the fact that your recording engineer was already involved in a metal band, affected you?
It was easier because we don’t have to explain him the type of music we are recording. It was easier for us to explain to him what kind of sound we wanted. We didn’t even have to tell him most of the time. Whereas when we recorded our first single, it was very hard to explain to the engineer who had no idea about metal.
(To Abhishek) So how do you feel listening to Epitaph’s music?
Abhisek: I have enjoyed their music a lot. I have been a fan from quite a while ago since their early gigs. Ramailo cha! While recording with them, it doesn’t feel like I’m just doing my job. Ramailo huncha!
How long did it take to record the album?
Abhisek: The recording took 10 hours over 2 days. The mixing took 2 hours.
Amazing! Wasn’t there any pressure? Was that enough time for 8 songs?
Abhisek: They came and recorded really quickly. There were hardly any re-takes. There were only 8 takes for 8 songs for the drums!
(To the band) Timi haru sab “one taker” haru ho ki kya ho? So does this mean you guys had already practiced a lot?
Yes we had. We were fully prepared. As I said before, we have limited gear, so we didn’t take a lot of time setting up and stuff.
When will the album be ready for the local listeners to listen and how do you plan to release it?
It should be ready in a month time (from date of interview). We are planning to do everything on our own. We’ll probably distribute the CDs to people we know and perhaps in concerts.
Does the increase in piracy make you feel insecure?
There is no point in feeling insecure or disappointed regarding piracy because it happens and it will happen no matter what measures you think of. We trust the “real” metal listeners. I’m sure they will buy a CD rather than copy them. As for others, who don’t care about the local scene and don’t really listen to metal, we don’t care about them. What ever they do, it won’t affect us.
(P.S. Epitaph have already released the album.)