Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Interview with Aniruddh Bansal of Metal Assault

Photograph by Jennifer N. Martinez

As a child growing up in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Aniruddh Bansal was like most of his peers growing up in Northern India. He dreamt of being a professional sportsman, specifically a cricket or tennis player. And while he was good at both, he was never given the proper training to develop a career playing sports, so like most kids in India, he concentrated on something that was a bit more realistic. His choice was computer science.

It was, in a lot of ways an odd choice for Aniruddh. He grew up in a household that didn't have Internet, and his exposure to computers was genuinely limited. Still though, he realized that the future was in electronics, and a computer science degree would give him the the best chance for success. He decided to pursue his Bachelor's at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Suddenly he found himself in an entirely different world. While Uttar Pradesh is the most populated state in India, he actually grew up in a "small town" called Allahabad. It was a relatively quiet and laid back upbringing, a far cry from the rabid streets of Los Angeles. The music scene in India at the time was pretty basic. There was the traditional Indian music of course, and some jazz, and the obligitory American pop music that filters through and occupies the shelves in record stores world-wide. But there is so much music that don't get exposure in India. In terms of new sounds, Aniruddh was like a blind man seeing colors for the first time.

One day his college roommate was playing an Iron Maiden tape, The Dance of Death and immediately it caught Aniruddh's attention. It was like nothing he had ever heard before, and he fell in love with it. He began to listen to more Maiden, and more metal. Soon he found himself writing about new CDs he listened to on his Myspace blog. Little did he know then that this would evolve into something that would change his life.

One day he was contacted by Tim at Full Metal Rock, who had amazingly come across Aniruddh's writing. He liked what he read and invited Aniruddh to join FMR as a staff writer. It provided Aniruddh an opportunity he didn't have before, with direct access to bands, publisicts and concerts. Suddenly the kid from a small town in India was a full blown journalist writing for a respected heavy metal webzine.

Being a computer science major he had his own ideas about how he wanted to design a website, so he slowly incorporated these ideas into a page of his own. The rest is history. Aniruddh, despite his unrelated upbringing has developed one of the most comprehensive heavy metal sites in the world. He has recently relocated back to India where he continues to write for Metal Assault, and help to encourage a new but budding metal scene there.

"The best lesson I've learnt as a youngster was to give a 100% effort towards whatever I do in life." He said to me. Obviously, this attitude has paid off. He is respected by writers and musicians alike, and his reviews, interviews and rock and roll shenanigans are sought out daily by the masses of heavy metal fans.

Andrew... Tell me about Metal Assault Magazine, and how it came to be.

Well, Metal Assault wasn't my first ever outlet, to be honest. The first outlet I used for writing my reviews was actually, believe it or not, my myspace blog. I will forever be grateful to Tim from, because he came across my myspace blog and saw something in my writing that he liked, and asked me to join his staff. He gave me the first opportunity to be a journalist in the hard rock/heavy metal world. During those months, I started gaining recognition and appreciation from various bands, record labels and publicists, and they seemed to really like my style of writing. But being a computer science major, I had my own ideas on how to run a heavy metal website, so it made perfect sense for me to start my own. In February 2010, I launched the Metal Assault website, and because I already had good relations with people in the industry, it took off straight away. I was getting approved for high-profile shows right from the get go. In fact, the first show Metal Assault covered was the Arch Enemy/Exodus show at the House of Blues in Hollywood, just a couple of days after the website was launched. So that's how Metal Assault came about.

Really... Your Myspace blog?

I used to write reviews on my myspace blog in those days, and just posted the links around on various forums where I thought people might be interested in reading. Tim read my work through one of these forums.

So, it was a pretty smooth transition... What are some of the obstacles you DID face?

Yes it was a really smooth transition from the myspace blog to FMR to Metal Assault. The only obstacle I would say I faced was the name itself. Along with my initial staff members, I went over quite a few names before Metal Assault came to mind, and it stuck immediately as the one we wanted. Other than that, I don't think I faced any obstacles.

Aniruddh and Rob Halford
Photo by Jennifer N. Martinez
What was the crowning moment when you thought to yourself, "Man I am doing something right!"... Was it a show you got credentials for, or was it one particular interview that you landed?

I have enjoyed every show I have covered, right from the early stages of the website's history, but if I had to pick one crowning moment from those days, it would have to be the interview with Bobby Blitz from Overkill, and I remember the exact date, April 20th 2010 at the House of Blues in Hollywood. That was my biggest interview at that time, and my first on-camera interview as well. When I was approved for that one, I honestly did think to myself, "This is really amazing. I must be doing something right to be able to get this interview."

Is there one interview that you've done that left a bad taste in your mouth, or at least didn't quite meet your expectations?

I've had great experiences with just about all interviews I've done, but the one bad experience that truly sticks out in my mind is the interview with Korn bassist Fieldy. He was a total prick to me, and a racist one at that. That was easily my worst ever interview, and it turned me off so much that I vowed never to promote that band again.

What did Fieldy say to you?

Well, basically I asked him a very simple, and positive question about what effect Korn's 10-month hiatus in 2007 had on him in terms of the songwriting. And he said, "What the fuck are you talking about? We've been going non-stop. It must be called a hiatus in the part of the world you're from!

Not only that, there was another point in the interview when he was talking about his merchandise company, and suggested that I should try out the girl shirts they have in store.

He was just downright nasty to me. Never encountered anyone worse than him.

Ok. Gonna switch things up a bit here. Tell me about growing up in India and your exposure to music?

Growing up in India, I had absolutely no exposure to metal. Back when I was a kid, and even in high school, I had no internet at home, and music stores didn't carry anything other than Indian music and American pop music. There were no metal shows either. It was only in college, when I was doing my bachelors' degree, that I got introduced to metal, through my roommate at the time. He had an Iron Maiden Dance Of Death tape with him, and he was the first one through whom I first listened to Iron Maiden, still my favorite metal band. of course I was constantly exposed to Bollywood music when I was growing up, but lost interest in it once I discovered metal.

What genres do you listen to other than metal?

Other than hard rock and heavy metal, I do enjoy listening to jazz a lot. I can't think of any other genres I am fond of. I despise pop, dance and rap, and any kind of music that's associated with those styles.

Aniruddh with Lemmy
Tell me about some positive interviews you have done.

Positive interviews ... there have been lots of those. My favorite interview so far is most definitely the Lemmy interview. He was incredibly funny, made me feel totally comfortable in his presence, and we struck up quite a connection right from the outset. I've interviewed Devin Townsend twice, and both of those have been really enjoyable for me. What stood out about the Devin interviews was the fact that he made it pretty clear that he enjoys talking to me. As an interviewer, that is the most reassuring and confidence-boosting thing you'd hope to hear from the musician you are interviewing.

Who were you maybe a bit leery about who absolutely gave a great interview?

I would cite the interview with Rex Brown and Vinny Appice at the Key Club in early 2011, a few minutes before they hit the stage for the first ever Kill Devil Hill gig. I didn't really know what to expect from those guys, but they gave me a very cool interview. Another one that comes to mind in this sort of category is the one I did with Mille Petrozza from Kreator in early 2010.

One thing I have noticed living here in the Midwest... Every once in awhile, I will read one of your interviews with somebody on the West Coast, and then will see them on a bill playing here in Des Moines the next week, or shortly thereafter. You mentioned Kill Devil Hill, I noticed that with them, as well as Gypsyhawk and Lazarus AD. Who are a few of the bands you have seen play that are a bit above the others in terms of talent, that haven't yet gotten the recognition they deserve?

Oh, there are lots of bands like that. You mentioned Lazarus A.D. and Gypsyhawk already. Holy Grail is at the top of my list when it comes to underrated bands, bands that deserve a bigger fan following. Danava is another one. So is Graveyard. Skeletonwitch also comes to mind. I can go on and on. Another great band I discovered recently is Los Angeles based rock 'n roll band The Shrine.

Even among the not-so-young bands, there are quite a few that should be way bigger than they currently are. Motorhead never got nearly enough recognition in the States. Death Angel is a criminally underrated band as well. The list is endless.

In your opinion, what is it about a band that seperates the great from the average?

In terms of the music, a band has to have something unique in their style. That's what attracts me the most. And that music should translate in the live setting. It's an absolute turn-off for me if a band sounds great on the studio albums but cannot pull it off live.

So is that something you keep in mind when reviewing an album?

Yes, absolutely. Plus, if I'm reviewing an album which happens to be the band's fourth or fifth album (or beyond), I look to see whether they've developed and progressed musically, and aren't simply repeating themselves based on a previously successful formula. The new Lamb Of God album is an example. While it's good music, I don't think the band has done anything new with their music.

Let's say you get to "know" a band and you really like them. Then they release an album that's not so hot. Are you able to be honest and say that their album sucks if that is the case, or do you find a way to sugar coat it? Do you have any examples of this?

Yes I'm totally able to be honest and say that the album isn't as good as I expected it to be. In fact, I'm that much harder on bands whom I'm a huge fan of, because I expect more from them. The latest Iron Maiden and Children Of Bodom albums also received very negative reviews from me, and I love both bands.

Speaking of Iron Maiden, you just attended NAMM in Anaheim last month where you met Nicko McBrain, amongst others. What's it like meeting somebody you are such a huge fan of?

Meeting and getting to talk to Nicko meant the whole world to me. That was the first time I was getting to meet a member of Iron Maiden. If not for them, Metal Assault wouldn't have existed. So they're a very important band for me, to say the least.

Aniruddh and Nicko McBrain
I read that you met Alan Parsons at NAMM. What was it like meeting him?

Meeting Alan Parsons was surreal. I could not believe it. Even more surreal was the fact that he was so incredibly nice to me, and was completely down to earth.

Any other meetings that stick out in your mind?

As for meeting musicians, Lemmy yet again sticks out in my mind. But the first band I ever got to meet, believe it or not, was Metallica. So that will always remain a special memory to me. I was very, very nervous going into that meet n' greet, and the manner in which I was able to handle my conversations with the likes of James Hetfield gave me the confidence to approach musicians at shows from that point on, and I think it the confidence built from that Metallica encounter played a major role in my becoming an interviewer eventually.

So you are back in India. What now? Are you going to continue to write for Metal Assault?

Yes absolutely. The hard work done over the past 2 years cannot suddenly be undone. So yes, Metal Assault will continue. From my end, I will continue with the album reviews, and interviews via email, phone and Skype. In LA, I'll have my writers and photographers cover shows for me.

And of course, now I'm really excited to start discovering the Indian metal scene. It's a lot better than you'd imagine, and I want to show that to Metal Assault readers.

And you are there on the ground floor to see it, in it's infancy. Awesome. The Indian metal scene is lucky to have you Andrew. Thank you so much for your time.

It's been a pleasure, man. Thanks for having me on your blog!



Metal Assault

Full Metal Rock


Praveen Rajaretnam said...

Quite an inspiring read...

A new beginning with a new set of challenges! Hope things work out. I wish you the very best in life man.

BTW, he is also a huge football (soccer) fan!

Anonymous said...

Nice guy, but his taste in music is quite narrow. While metal is a vast genre and unparalleled (personally, I find Thrash, Death and Black Metal the best forms of music on the planet), pop ain't so bad either. Some artists know how to do it right.

And carnatic music is one of India's greatest contributions to the world. Ancient, philosophical, complex, invigorating, dynamic, mystical...nothing like Shobillu Saptaswara!