Albatross have been one of the most well-received metal bands in India, especially after the release of their first full-length album – ‘Fear from the Skies’. This band have amassed fame and critical acclaim for their horror-tinged heavy metal assault with lyrical compositions that can send you on a morbid, unnerving journey. ‘Fear from the Skies’ has taken the theme-based traditional metal to a new extreme. At the onset of the album’s first anniversary on May 20th, Moni talks with the band founder and bassist, Riju Dasgupta, about their struggles and accomplishments.
TO (Moni Jha): What inspired the name Albatross for your band? It’s definitely more than the white oceanic bird soothing your eyes.
Albatross (Riju Dasgupta): It’s the same word and the same bird. However, this avian was the protagonist of a poem entitled ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which also inspired a song by Iron Maiden. In that epic poem, the bird was a symbol of both fortune and misfortune. Like the archetypal Gemini that I am, I chose this nomenclature for my band.
TO: What was the biggest challenge that you faced in your band’s career?
Albatross: Real life. We all know how little money there is in this style of music, and to keep a band like Albatross moving along at full steam, I have to put a lot of my other aspirations on hold. Every single show or recording session is a day away from work, not just for me, but for everyone else in the band, and in Sahil’s words, more often than not, their burden is mine.
TO: Most of the members in your band are reading enthusiasts. Tell us how this quality has shaped your expression of music? Any set of challenges you encounter while writing story-driven songs?
Albatross: They’re not, really. I think except for me, and Bipro and maybe Varun to an extent nobody is really a reader. I know Viggy and Jay watch a lot of films. Which is great, because everyone in the band has a unique creative approach that they bring to the table from their own experiences. I have been a reader most of my life, but even that’s fallen to the wayside off late. Thanks to the WWE Network for just $9.99.
To answer the second part of your question, no. To me, music paints a picture in your brain, and I pen down the description of whatever picture has been painted in my own. Or vice versa. Music without a story, without a beginning, middle and twist at the end seems pointless to me. If you ask me to write a non-concept driven album, I’ll suck at it.
TO: Albatross are one of the most well-received heavy metal bands in India and abroad. What makes you so popular but at the same time keeps you well-grounded? Any specific quality of yours that makes you connect well with metal fans from around the world?
Albatross: Thank you. One quality is the fact that you just mentioned- every album is a concept album in the truest sense of the word, not the half-baked vague term thrown around casually these days. Secondly, we are not a heavy metal band; we are a horror metal band, which is unique in itself. Each song of ours is rooted in a theme, with ebbs and flows as per the lyrics. Thirdly, and most importantly, we’ve honed our craft to such an extent that we try not to put out sub-par performances. Every single wrong note is regretted, and how. And lastly, I ensure that before any new release comes out…the previous one has gotten its due tour support, promotion, publicity and PR (with Sahil’s, Madhav’s and Kunal’s help for the three releases of course).
TO: Why are you called Dr. Hex? Any specific reason why Dr. Hex wears a blood-stained lab coat and a mask?Why aren’t other members seen sporting any stage outfits? Anything to do with depleting Dr. Hex’s hex?
Albatross: It’s a tribute to Dr. X, a character from one of my favourite concept albums of all time- ‘Operation Mindcrime’ by Queensryche. Before I’d joined Albatross, I was a part of Workshop, which is a band rooted in theatrics, and I knew what kind of impact theatrics could have on the overall live impact that a band makes. I have different signature hand gestures that I use for Workshop, Albatross and Primitiv. I guess I learned a lot of this from pro wrestling, something I’m addicted to.
I had suggested that everyone in Albatross dress alike, but the idea was shot down by the other members. This was years ago. Today with everyone having a distinct personality, from Nishith’s leather clad look, to Bipro’s workshirt and Varun’s bewakoof.com tshirts, it would be injustice to change any of that.
TO: I have been told that ‘Fear from the Skies’ is probably the highest selling album from the country in recent times. It’s estimated that your edition of 500 physical copies will be sold out within a year’s time from the release date. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think your label has helped you achieve that figure?
Albatross: Absolutely. KC’s always been a friend, and he’s overcome so much to start Transcending Obscurity from scratch. I didn’t believe in his vision of bringing almost every band in India under his banner, but I’ve become a believer. This is the first time ever that we’re in the green after an album release, and it’s primarily thanks to him.
TO: What do you think was the strongest reason behind the critical success of ‘Fear from the Skies’? What are you planning to come up with next — an EP or a full-length album? Any stories that have started cooking up in the Albatross kitchen yet?
Albatross: We amped up our production with Ashwin and Daniel both pushing themselves to the hilt to deliver an amazing product. The songs were stronger, the stories more gripping and we challenged ourselves to deliver the best album possible. Chacko outdid himself in the art department, and KC was par excellence with PR. Everything fell into place.
About the next release, the stories are done, but the music isn’t. I’m always keen on releasing EPs, but I’m sure Kunal will say- “arre teen aur gaana likhle, aur album bana de na” (write three more songs and make a full-length album).’
TO: How do you juggle between your work and passion? Have there been testing times when you were required to make a choice between the two? You guys have been in the Indian metal scene for quite some time now. How did you manage to keep the torch lit with the wind blowing from all directions?
Albatross: I have a very nice understanding with my employers where they understand how important my passion is to me. Bipro’s wife, Mukta and Nitin’s wife, Alka often fill in for me, when I’m on the road. Except for Bipro I suppose, who has a full-fledged job, all of us work in sectors which allow us to play on the go. We’ve been at it for so long, because, personally speaking, this is all I can do. If I stop being an entertainer, I have no other skills. I will not have a purpose left in life except coffee flavored vodka.
TO: Many new bands from India look up to you for your music and professionalism. I’m sure they are curious to adopt the same technique you use to attract audience. Any pearl of wisdom for them?
Albatross: Tour your asses off. Don’t say no to any shows. Don’t over charge. You aren’t worth squat. Ensure that if you do receive a gig, that the place is full. It’s great to emulate your idol, but bring your own flavour to the mix as well.
TO: Riju, you are also involved in organizing shows. Can you tell us how important they are to the band’s sustenance?
Albatross: Live shows are just as important as releasing music. One is the heart, and the other the soul. Supplement your live shows by releasing kickass music. Take your music out on the road, and evangelize the world with the force of metal.
TO: Do you think your music is under threat from the newer, more crowd-friendly forms of music? What separates heavy metal from other styles, in your opinion?
Albatross: There’s enough space in the CD shelf for everyone. That being said, heavy metal is about glory, honor, pride and holding your head up. So we’re ahead of everyone in this very CD case. But this is probably because we’re first alphabetically.
TO: Where do we see Albatross going from the sound established on your debut full length? Are you going to explore an Indian theme, perhaps horror-based, any time soon? What will be the theme of your new album? Is it going to be very different from your previous album?
Albatross: The new album will be dark and dreamy. And certainly not based in India. I don’t want to reveal too much as the concept is the essence of the musical direction usually. You are probably aware that I’m as obsessed with fantasy as I am with horror. As a consequence, I don’t base my characters or stories in established worlds, but like to create my own. The city of Raptorsville has been a recurring theme in all Albatross albums. However, this one’s not based in Raptorsville :). That’s as much as I will say now.
TO: Albatross is known for its guitarists. How did you end up picking them? It’s not common to see three guitarists in a band over here. Does it cause any creative differences during the song-writing process?
Albatross: Many years ago, when Albatross was formed, Matt Thompson from King Diamond had told me that he’s in a very special band where Andy LaRocque plays the more feel-based guitar solos, and Mike Wead is an absolute shred-master. But if they’re asked to reverse roles, they can. I thought to myself then- this is the dream band I want to be part of. And today, each of these guitarists fits that role. We have so many multi guitar parts, that they work together while writing the music. We’re generally always on the same page.
TO: Thank you very much for this interview. Please reveal your plans for what’s next for Albatross.
Albatross: As of now we’re booked for just one show, which is a Motorhead tribute in Mumbai. This is happening on the 28th of April in Hard Rock Cafe, Andheri. We’re looking at pushing our latest release in cities we haven’t visited such as Ahmedabad, Chennai, Cochin, Bhopal, etc. Hopefully something works out soon.
Before we sign off, Vineet Sharma has created what is, definitely, our most attractive T-shirt yet. Pre-orders are up now. It captures the last scene from the ‘Fear From the Skies’ album, where (spoiler alert) the assassin emerges from the bust. I can’t wait for my own shirt as well! Kunal asked me to reveal the pre-order link for the new tees here, so voila! Or as they say in Indian metal- Toila!
Image credits – Sagnik Karmakar (Deadshot zine)