Text by Girish Subedi
On January 20, Underside released their second studio album/LP at Purple Haze Rock Bar, which was houseful with their fans. Titled 'Satan In Your Stereo', the record marks the seventh year of this Nepal-based iconic metal band that has already performed in known international festivals of the same genre.
“It was in 2010 when it all actually started," reminisces Bikrant Shrestha, guitarist, and one of the founding members of the band that includes Avishek K.C. on vocals, Bikash Bhujel on guitar, and Nishant Hagjer on drums. In fact, the band's gig at the first Silence Festival was a startup marker of its successful and ongoing career history.
Justin Hill, vocalist of Sikth', a UK-based metal band, and a good friend of these talented musicians, mastered the songs of this latest record. He is someone the band members don't forget to meet when they go to London during their tours. They had met him for the first time during the fifth Silence Festival and had shared the same stage during one of their musical tours to India. Previously, they had premixed and sent the final song files of their first studio EP/album, Welcome to the Underside, to Behemoth's producer Malta for their postproduction and audio finalization. As Bikrant puts it, the new LP has a 'much refined' sound, although they all believe that the previous one was a good one for its own time.
I could not agree less with him, as he described how the core music theme of the band remains unchanged when it comes to incorporating thrash and modern elements with old school metal, along with groovy compositions. "We love playing the music that we make," he says. When asked about how he comes up with his own part for the band's music, Bikrant describes getting some automatic vibes and feeling that makes him realize that he should sit down with his guitar at times. These are his moments of creativity that would also speak his emotions. It is only during his personal review that he realizes where his influences had made their subtle marks during the compositions.
"Either Abhishek comes up with the vocals and we add the instruments as I put up the guitar parts, or vice versa. Sometimes, he comes up will everything!" he explains. Eventually, it works out for them from a subconscious level that results in the refined music with the other band members—something that all of them are always accredited for by their admirers. When I ask him about their lyrical themes, especially of the title song, Bikrant refers to Abhishek's ideas of outcry towards some disturbing social issues that anyone can relate to in their daily lives. He gives an example of how the singer-songwriter describes an individual's rights to hate someone in the song 'Right to Hate'.
Songs in this LP include those recorded since 2015. Although the earthquake had diverted their attention towards raising funds for the bereaved here and abroad by organizing 'Metal For Nepal' and requesting their many friends abroad to help the Nepali people, he makes it clear that he and his band mates do not want to produce an album just for the sake of it. A total of more than twenty songs are already in their vault, and they do not seem to require any official attention at the moment, as these numbers tend to speak out the musicians' emotions and musicality when needed the most. Followed up by a recent review and a complimentary distribution of around 32,000 CDs of the band by UK's known monthly magazine Metal Hammer', the title track reminds their fans of its music video that was already published in YouTube in 2015.
Likewise, the song 'Make Believe' has a music video based on a live performance theme, followed by a lyrical video of 'Enemy Within Me'. Bikrant also informs me about the making of a music video for the song 'Scare' this week, that has been scheduled to be completed before the members of Underside hit the road for their national stage tours to Chitwan on the 10th, Butwal on the 13th, Kakarvitta on the 15th, and Itahari on the 17th of February.
Their LP launch at Purple Haze had been a successful one, as around a thousand people gathered at the venue to watch the band perform. Bikrant believes that his band has very loyal fans, all of whom show their care and respect in many different ways. This includes them singing the lyrics of almost all of the band's songs during each performance; buying the band's merchandises and wearing them during the shows and public places; messaging the band members in social networks consistently; following each of their new song/video releases as well as activities, and showing their support each time in the same way that they would have done before.
"We are super proud to be a part of this big family of ours," says Bikrant. He feels humble and grateful towards them at the same time, and confesses that each of his band members feels the same. They reciprocate by putting up a lot of effort onstage, as he claims that they even go by the metronome clicks while performing live that is exclusively simulated in their stage monitoring. At the moment, it seems that the band is gearing up to take this 'precise performance' to all of their eager fans in these local tour venues.
When asked about the start of Silence Festival and the band's involvement in it, he shared his team's vision to promote Nepali local music scene at the international level. "We wanted all the musicians to experience how its feels to share the same stage with international metal bands and learn from them at the same time," he says. He also makes it known that each of his band and crew members pushed their limits to work things out for the same, despite the odds that they almost face at times even after putting up such a beneficial effort for the sake of all the local musicians.
Underside's optimistic approach towards their activities makes the whole team of this band a 'super active' group, as described by Bikrant. "We want to do our work properly, and care less about how others are perceiving us, as we are hard work musicians, and not magicians or manipulators," he states. Being active in the present music scenario of Nepal is also an example of how they have stayed true to their cause at the moment. Their story, of course, has also been narrated in four pages of Metal Hammer recently. "Your music will speak for itself, and if it is not good, people are not going to like it. It's as simple as that!" he adds, along with a suggestion that musicians can also work on their merchandizing to some extent if they want to get noticed by their fans.
Bikrant's understanding of the hardships that local musicians face despite their talents leads him to confess further that Nepali bands are far more better than many of the bands in the neighboring countries. This is an obvious wisdom that he has gained after touring extensively with his band members. "The lack on independent policy might be one of the main reasons for these talented musicians to get stuck between their passion and vision for their creativity goals," he guesses. Running a recording studio with his band members has also led him to realize how difficult it is for many other musicians to muster up sufficient funds for their artistic endeavors.
Coming back to his initial statement on merchandising, he emphasizes on how musicians can make some money out of their multiple endeavors. "We sold about a hundred hoodies and about five hundred CDs on the LP launch at Purple Haze," he says. Although this is just a promotional act for the band that hardly adds five hundred dollars to its online digital sales account, their high budget performance charges cover up most of their costs as international touring musicians. And we both agreed on the fact that it was only in the 90s when some Western bands were able to buy a jet plane of their own just by collecting their royalties.
When asked about the songs' composition as compared to the previous EP, I was told that it was a bit different in terms of the instruments used, as the latest one also included some electronic music samples. Bikrant's inspirational favorites from the 80s to the early 90s, and its combination with the other members' choices of inspiration from musicians of the late 90s, is also leading them to work passionately on an upcoming album that will showcase yet another artistic phase of these creative individuals.
After completing their upcoming Nepal tour, the band has schedules to go and perform in Australia, some countries of Europe, and the United States, as well. They have been receiving some offers to do so at the moment by fans living in those nations, and have already received positive feedbacks for the songs that they have just released. "We are very proud of this album and have plans to tour a lot and make this even bigger," he says.
Having already performed at international festivals and stages amongst crowds of around 3000 people till date, Bikrant's experiences have led him to believe that hard work is the only thing that pays off in the end. "If you're playing onstage and your music is not good, then it is going nowhere," he concludes.
The writer is an executive member at R.K. Studio Nepal, an audiovisual production company.