© Dry State
Interview By Ville Krannila / September 2009
Ville Krannila interviewed Ranjit Menon, singer/guitarist of an excellent heavy metal & Judas Priest tribute band Dry State, hailing from India. Including stories about mass conversions to Priest music, effects from a dubious brand of whisky called ‘Wild Horse’, setting the record for the loudest gig in the city… this is an interview you don’t want to miss!
Ville: First off the obvious question, why did you start a Priest tribute band and what does the music of Judas Priest mean to you?
Ranjit: Great questions! Let’s just say it was a divine coincidence. Four of us met at an Indian design school, called the National Institute of Design. All were from several bands in the past, and were at a frustrating point when it came to finding true to the bone Heavy Metal musicians. We all played different instruments and the band had two experienced vocalists who could do the odd harmonics and formulaic heavy metal singing. The guitars were powerfully influenced by a lot of Judas Priest style heavy metal, which naturally eased the learning curve. And each of us, being rabid fans of Judas Priest, a tribute to the true masters was the most natural thing we could have done.
On a personal note, as a fan, I have always felt a lot of bands were underrated due to marketing monopolies and over hype. It was a sincere attempt to spread the message of heavy metal into the “mainstream metal” masses, as purely as we could.
We are MAINLY a Priest tribute band but we cover the spectrum of the genre with acts like Motorhead, Wasp, Dokken, Mötley Crüe in our tracklist, in other words bands also influenced by the glorious Priest.
Judas Priest is the genesis of metal. The music of Judas Priest is hard to put down in words. The band has been a major part of our lives. The music connects to me from esoteric to arcane, from reckless to spiritual, from classic humor to soulful darkness, from righteous to ridiculous, and it’s the sheer versatility in this whole heavy metal canvas that I’d say, makes them the masters of their genre.
I look at their album catalogue as if it covers a wide spectacular array of styles while representing heavy metal. For me, you can’t take a single album out like you can’t take a rod out of the Eiffel tower, it all builds up to this magnificent structure that is Judas Priest. Without doubt there is no other band in metal that can ever come close to what they have achieved for the genre.
As a live band, they are the most proficient. At a time when bands much younger to them burn out, Priest deliver the goods faster and faster! I saw some bootlegs of the Priest/Megadeth/Testament tour several months back and they ripped the stage apart, just like 1983, just like 1991…one realizes why “priest priest priest” chants are not empty but from a dedicated loyal fan base that really forged from a deep relationship with their music.
Where did the name Dry State came from? It is a state in India, right?
Each one of us come from different states in India. So we are from Bombay (west), Bangalore (south), Assam (north-east), Gujarat(northwest) who happened to meet in the state of Gujarat in north western India during studies. And to make things more complex, our native tongues belong to even more different states.
The state of Gujarat, around 50 years back or so, had been declared a dry state to respect the values of Mahatma Gandhi. There have been other states too in India that tried to ban alcohol and call themselves a “dry state” for political mileage. So, Dry State is any state here where alcohol is banned, and the state we were in, Gujarat, was one of them. The name Dry State, suggested by our bassist, just clicked like crazy since we were all from Gujarat and actually started hogging the limelight with that name. People still laugh first when the band is announced anywhere, and it certainly lightens up the mood for some Priest style heavy metal. The name colors the band personality perfectly, as we are a funny bunch of bootlegging people. The name really clicked when the papers initially had “Intoxicating a Dry State” as one of the first headlines featuring our band and we knew every hypocrite politician would have read that and never feel the irony.
|© Dry State|
How long have you guys been Priest fans, how did it all begin?
I was hooked to the “Painkiller” album back in ’92. It was such a mind blowing record, I just thought this kicks Metallica’s ass which up to that point was my favorite band! In Bombay, after much searching around, I laid my hands on Sin after Sin and the “gull records” compilation of 70’s Priest, that was the only two things available here at the time. That’s it, no magazines, no discography, no internet. A stray MTV cable signal around the same time showed “another thing coming” and I got another amazing glimpse of the band.
Then Metalworks hit the stores, and it is only THEN, once Metalworks hit these shores and started selling out, that the rest of the Priest catalogue got released here! So until I discovered the rest, my Priest was 1977 and 1990, the gap in between a strange enigma for over 6 years!
Our guitarist, Longbir Kathar comes from North East India, where the hard and heavy sort of music remains ever popular and 80’s rock is still huge there. In his teens he came across more tapes of metal and realized that Judas Priest kind of music meant more that just something playing at the background while doing homework and bought the Metalworks album like most of us here. Also he was kicked out of the state of Assam almost for turning a relentless deaf ear to “parental guidance” 🙂
Jayawant Tewari, our bassist, comes from the city of Bangalore, in the south of India. He got into metal in school, and was hooked to the classic metal bands and Judas Priest of course stands taller than most.
Arnav Kumar, the drummer, was playing with his first band Asylum when he encountered the music of Priest.
Of course singing the songs originally done by the Metal God himself isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Do you practice the metal screams or do any vocal training?
I didn’t discover that I could sing any tune until I gave it a shot in late 2003. In Bombay, where I live, we have apartment flats. To do something loud and heavy like heavy metal, even if you’re alone it is not an easy task without inviting the wrath of the entire society( in Bombay alone there are over 20 million people..and 1.25 billion in India!). In chaotic Bombay, nowadays practicing takes place in special “practice” rooms that bands hire by the hour.
From the time I heard Judas Priest, it had made its connection somewhere deep. I barely open my mouth to sing anywhere, except the stage and practice. None of us have any formal musical training for guitars or vocals. What has truly helped though is intense listening, where you internalize the music.
Singing Halford is definitely not easy, and most people think it’s about hitting the right notes. It’s also the diction and his delivery that truly grips the song. His passionate commitment to his genre shines forth in every line. If you don’t contribute that, personally speaking, you can hit all the notes you want but it will still somewhat fall flat. Halford is the one true “metal god” that has spawned a lot of clones, including myself.
Another thing with Halford is that his screams are taking-no-prisoners with a piercing and powerful timbre. It’s almost an out of body experience sometimes when you do a Halford. I don’t really analyze so much while singing, and it’s more passion driven when it comes to Halford but of course, having the correct feel and technique is very vital. Or else a great scream will remain a great scream, it will never be a Halford.
On the other hand, Halford the singer can’t be emulated by me. I have sort of my own voice and style, inferior never the less compared to the master. We went to studio to record “A Touch Of Evil” for a cover version…and that’s the real place during sessions, when as a vocalist one realizes his amazing singing abilities.
© Dry State
How much practice in general it takes to make a successful tribute act?
To make a successful tribute act, you need members who are crazy about the band in question. Or else you lose out on motivation and chemistry. But again we are not talking about Backstreet Boys here; its Judas Priest and they have a monumental musical legacy. So really need talented people who can get into the skin of the original members playing wise and personality wise.
Dry State members were in the same design school. We had a practice place in the school, a “music room”. With financial help from our school, we set up drums, sound system, the microphones and everyday after classes, the “room” was where you would find us, toiling away at our sounds.
Our band had very good chemistry from the start, but in spite of it, we had to be focused and hard working. Practice is subjective, and so is success. But if you are paying tribute to your favorite band, one has to be ever so careful. It is always a fantastic feeling if you pull off your favorite song.
Practice is very important though, and there is no such thing as enough practice because it’s never enough. After nailing the songs, we would try and discuss how we could concentrate on the performance aspects, body language, communication with crowd, etc. We started out with about 15 to 20 sessions before a gig and at the moment, we can pull off a tight show with just about one or two jams.
What “gear” are the players currently using?
Ranjit Menon(vocalist/guitarist) uses:
guitar: Mexican Fender Stratocaster.
processor: Boss GT-8 processor
pedals: Boss DS1, Whammy 2 and Dunlop Crybaby Wah pedal
amp: dont have decent stage amp yet!
strings: d’addario strings(.09)
Longbir Kathar(guitars/backing vocals)uses:
guitars: ibanez RG350DX, Cort acoustic and epiphone FAT210.
guitar strings: d’addario strings(.09) and ernieball SLINKY(.09)
Amplifier: marshall MG15CDR (!!)
Guitar processor:zoom 707, digitech RP250
Jayawant Tewari(bass) uses
guitars: Ibanez BTB555, ESP B-405SM
processor: Line 6 Bass Pod XT.
Strings: Ernie Ball and Elixir Strings.
The drummer, Arnav Kumar, has more keyboard gear than drums, a very multi- talented prodigious guy he is. He used a beaten up Chancelloer kit back then though, and Tama pedals.
I’ve to add that In India most bands depends on digital signal processing as the high cost and under developed western rock culture makes it difficult for bands to experiment with a range of analogue equipment. Not to mention lugging it around in venues in overcrowded trains where sound/sound guys are sort of unpredictable/unprofessional. So “line out” works for many.
What’s the hardest Priest song to play live? Which one took most work to get done?
A tough question. Generally speaking all are hard, because you need the right chemistry to sound precise. So unless you have that kind of band, even Living after Midnight will remain tough. Technically, the guitar work in the Painkiller album is almost possessed. But then the whole album was designed as a battering ram, and to under estimate the 70’s or even 80’s Priest guitar work would be stupid on my part. Both Glenn Tipton’s and K.K.’s guitar work are very intricate you SO can’t get away with anything. And there is only so much you can improvise as to not take away from the aesthetic context of the song. It’s a beautiful challenge and between K.K. and Glenn, you transform from a caged guitar demon to an intricate guitar surgeon.
From the songs we chose, the toughest one to nail has been Victim of Changes. If you ever visited any huge Indian temple you see huge looming spaces to massive pillars, gigantic ornate roofs to tiny entrances, artwork of demons interspersed with gods…similarly for me, that song is a complete architecture in heavy metal, showing every shade of the band. It is a tough song to play live because you have the guitar harmonies, the harmonies on vocals, key intervals and changing textures and the ripping Halford scream and “last rose of summer” mellow crooning. We didn’t take much time to nail it though, because we dived right into it. I guess if you love something, time passes quickly. There are tougher songs of course, recently I mastered “Reckless” lead and believe me it wasn’t easy, it’s one of the best leads in the 80’s ever in my opinion. I guess as a band , Painkiller would be an achievement is we do so.
If you could add any song to the Dry State set, which would it be?
Currently we play Hell Bent for Leather, Hellion/Electric Eye, Victim of Changes, Heading out to the Highway, Night Comes Down, Before the Dawn, You’ve got another thing coming, Living after Midnight, A Touch of Evil, Night Crawler, Bloodstone, Diamonds and Rust, Hell Patrol, the list really goes on..
Additions to the list would be definitely some new exciting stuff from Angel of Retribution, like Hellrider or Angel, old stuff like Dreamer Deceiver, Savage, Tyrant, Hot Rocking…see how tough it is to add one song? We want to play them all!
Have you recorded any Priest songs in studio? If not, do you have plans to maybe cut some demo versions of Priest classics?
Yes, we have. And it is for this great interview that we decided to do “A Touch of Evil”, which you can listen to on our Myspace site. I just wish the rhythm guitars didn’t sound so terrible, but it was a bit tough coordinating with the members from 4 different states and flying them into studio..
What is the most memorable gig that you’ve played and what made it great?
The most memorable gig we played has to be at the National Institute of Design “backfields”. It was a football field in our design school, mainly used for traditional festivities. But after our successful stints playing outside, our executive director talked us into doing a gig for the institute. And an extravagant gig, the overall cost ran into over 100,000 Indian rupees(funded by our director himself).
And there was no way on earth someone there would have been able to raise that kind of money for just one bands gig.(without any sponsors). And lo and behold, here was this band, heavy metal missionaries, Judas Priest disciples getting such a huge audience in every sense. The president of India was to arrive for the main function day, and this gig was introduced as a “kick off” to that special day.
It would be the loudest gig ever in that city, around 40,000 watts. Perfect for heavy metal. On the night of the gig, people didn’t know what to expect as people weren’t really the Donington types. And I had rented a pair of handcuffs for my stage getup to do a little bit of Halford, and I had to get through red tapes in the institute cause the cops wouldn’t let me rent it. The crowd was as diverse as a zoo, and if you’ve ever traveled to India you might know what I mean. There were no entry tickets and I think that was the coolest part, as so many came in!
Finally we reached, dressed up in leather and chains and just picked up the guitar and boom..the wailing hymns to the “hellion” started from nowhere, with a saber lights strobing down semi automatically with a bit of life of it’s own. By the end of “Electric Eye” the 5,000 strong docile crowd came right up at the front and were transformed into raving metal maniacs who wanted us to “ram it down”. It was a mass conversion.
We played a 3 hour set, about 32 songs. Believe it or not, the music servers of all institutes in that city were jammed with Judas Priest songs the following fortnight. No BS!
© Dry State
Are there any interesting “Dry State on the road” stories to tell?
Well we can’t really pretend to having toured in a Greyhound or issuing backstage passes, however there are some spectacular moments for even little bands like us. In what was supposed to be the “farewell” gig of sorts for the band at “Ahmedabad”, we received the notice to play about 2 hours in advance. We bought some illegal alcohol in true Dry State style and the party had just begun then. Now because alcohol was banned in this state, we get a lot of weird brands from around the country for an excess rate, this time it was a whisky called “WILD HORSE”.
All I can say is by the time we hit the stage, the wild horses had taken over. When our band DID hit the stage, what happened almost landed the whole band in jail. (crashed set, mikes, alcohol poured into pa, etc)
Also playing heavy metal in India has its share of incredible moments, like 80’s beat it style dancers coming up on stage and break dancing away..to fathers dancing happily with their little kids on stage during “delivering the goods”…unpredictable response at each different location..We sometimes play in the open to a very diverse crowd of people who may not even have accessed Western music ever in their lives..and then its great to see people tapping into a heavy metal subconscious as they’re grooving!
Have you ever seen other Priest tributes? What sets Dry State apart from other JP tribute bands?
Sure, we’ve seen Iron Maiden, and we don’t come close (laughs).
Well, I’ve seen Sad Wings, PriestOne, JustPriest, Xciter on the net…they are all really talented and so totally into it. In fact what separates us would be in not being able to dress up like them here in India. We would need to really get into the whole metal studs image like them cause we have played several of our gigs without even a single leather jacket 🙂
Perhaps what really sets the State apart is the context of India..in finding Priest Heads to form such a tight tribute act in this country which faces many odds to getting a basic audience even– that too in a conservative, alcohol banned part of the world with the metal word only associated with trash cans. And oh yes, you cannot miss the accent!
What kind of metal scene is there in India at the moment and how hard is it to get recognition over there as a heavy metal band?
I always say this – “You can tell a country by its metal.” The subculture here in Bombay is quite American centric in terms of adapting to new metal sounds. There was an active metal scene in the metros, that looked promising in the early 90’s. Bombay had great hard rock bands in the 80’s to early 90’s, like Rock Machine/Indus Creed however Bangalore has seen a lot of talented metal acts since then. 80’s style glam rock/hair metal might have been popular among metalheads at some time, but access to that music was very restricted. Extreme metal has a following, but for reasons similar to getting piercing or tattoos excessively just to get attention away from crowd. That’s valid too I guess.
The North-East portion of India is a true metal land with hundreds of talented musicians in conflict-ridden places; most sadly fail to make it to the active scene. Overall in the rock scene there are sadly a lot of bands into covers and copying other band’s sounds rather than working on their own thing. Even if bands do original stuff, the environment is simply not a breeding ground for rock. So bands often end up doing their own songs, but always trying to sound like some big band..On the other hand, here in Helsinki(where I am at moment), the creativity of a basic band is extremely refined..I feel we have some talented musicians, but originality often leaves a lot to be desired.
The image often precedes the substance or the music, but that’s probably a global phenomenon now. Everyone jumped onto the nu-metal wagon of course, and that’s true all over the world. And its funny that the post rockers are looking up old Alice Cooper and Judas Priest videos on the net and saying..this is the best thing we ever saw/heard!! Heavy metal is an attitude that never fails to connect.
In India, the hard rock/metal or music scene in general, has language and cultural barriers that has to be crossed when entering the national mainstream. A lot of competition-oriented band spirit makes bands lose their focus outward rather than inward. On the ironical side, it is also interesting to see people under different languages and cultures uniting under a metal roof, with a common identity.
India is of course in a major transition, where western cultural signifiers are mixing with the traditional Indian ones. I would rather that metal and rock cuts through as a counter culture rather than superficial crappy and twisted images of the west propagated through Bollywood cinema..
Still our horrible mainstream film culture defines people’s attitudes with an overwhelming power..and it’s a potent carrier of trends. Recently there was a mainstream film about struggling rock bands over here, and suddenly rock is “cool” among almost 700 million people(leaving the other half who probably don’t have access to media or basic resources?)
There are bands beating around the bush, making videos..compromising creativity and even language to cut through the masses. Of course just to be able to sellout..not really “for the masses” as such…
What’s up next for Dry State?
Wait eagerly for the penultimate Judas Priest to touch Indian shores. The band may not continue as I am in Helsinki at TAIK design schoolas a masters student!
This interview was going to be delivered a while back and sadly this might be the end of Dry State in 2 months. We might be having a farewell gig soon in December.
In the meantime, hope some Priest rock keeps spreading in India, blasting the cannons of metal truth. We will definitely play gigs once we get back together, and there is a gig planned in December in Ahmedabad, once I go there during the winters.
Thank You! Keep playing and keep bringing PRIEST fans an excellent tribute!
Check out one of Dry State video clips (Victim of Changes) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fgdyQMKaEU
and their myspace with some live bootlegs