For the release of his new EP, And This Too Shall Pass, the spearhead of Metal in India, Sahil Makhija, also known as The Demonstealer himself, answered my questions.
Hello Sahil and first of all, thanks a lot for your time! Would you mind introducing yourself for someone who never heard about Demonstealer please?
Demonstealer: I’m a metal musician from India and I’ve been making music for 20 years now. Most of my career has been as the frontman and main songwriter for the metal band Demonic Resurrection, my project that’s completed 20 years this year and has released 5 albums, 1 EP and a live album too. I call myself Demonstealer, it’s my stage name and under this moniker I write solo music. I’ve done 3 albums and a few singles. With this project I’ve collaborated with incredible musicians like George Kollias, Krimh, David Diepold, Arran McSporran and many others. I also have a few more projects but this is enough of an introduction.
And This Too Shall Pass, your new EP, just came back from the mixing studio, can you explain us the steps of its creation? How did you find the EP’s name and what does it mean for you?
Demonstealer: This coronavirus pandemic has been my inspiration. There has been lots of political unrest in India and the rise of a very right wing facist government that uses religion to demonize people and also is basically working very hard to destroy the democracy of the country. All this has given me a lot to think about and I felt like I needed to write some music. This EP was born from all this. It’s almost like we expect everything to just eventually pass and normal to return but maybe we are too foolish to realize the reality of things. I guess this EP encompasses the world and its people. In terms of creation I just locked myself in the studio and just jammed, whether it was guitar or drums, I was just playing and writing and I had riffs and ideas here and there. In July I decided to put it out properly in a form of 4 songs to make the EP. And then I just recorded everything.
You composed the EP during the Covid-19 pandemic, is this why lyrics are pretty pessimistic about the world we live in? What else does inspire you to create your music?
Demonstealer: Yes that’s pretty much it, Just think of how we are almost in a state of reverse evolution. People are ignoring science, they ignore facts. We have to argue with people that the earth is not flat. We have to fight against people just for equal rights and to treat other humans like humans. The world over it’s becoming a very sad state. I’ve always had music to express my anger and sadness because it is what keeps me sane and grounded. When I am happy I enjoy that moment I don’t want to turn my happiness into a song, maybe that’s why I don’t write Pop music. I guess my inspiration to write in the recent years has largely been the world and what’s happening. I also like to write fantasy based stuff so sometimes I guess TV shows, novels and movies inspire me with ideas for stories. The sonic aspect is always just inspired by music I listen to.
There is a great diversity of influences on your music, from the violent This Crumbling Earth to the atmospheric From Flesh To Ashes, how did you manage to melt all your influences together?
Demonstealer: I don’t really know. I think this has been my signature since day 1. My mind cannot stick to one thing and neither does my music taste. I can’t stick to 1 instrument even. I think this is me as a person. I love doing many things and that’s why my music reflects that. So many times I think, the next album will be super brutal or maybe it will be completely melodic or maybe it will be a slow album or all songs will be super fast but then at the end it’s just a mix of everything. I guess too many ideas in my head and they all find their way into the same piece of music.
About From Flesh To Ashes, I clearly felt some Ihsahn and Leprous vibes in your clean voice, do you agree? I know that it’s not the first time you use clean vocals, but how did it came to your mind to use this much clean vocals on this song?
Demonstealer: First of all I have to say thank you. To be even mentioned in the same breath as Ihsahn and Einar of Leprous is like the biggest compliment for me. I love both their voices and aspire to be as good a singer as those two. I don’t know how to describe what makes me decide on the vocals except that I listen to the music and just sing, if it fits then it goes on. Sometimes I try clean vocals on certain parts but it doesn’t sound good or I cannot make a convincing part and then I don’t do it. But in this song I just knew it was mostly going to be singing. I just felt it.
It is the first time since your first solo album that you did everything by yourself, without a single guest on the album. Why did you choose to come back to the “solo project’s roots”?
Demonstealer: Well I did it because musicians take too much time. Hahahaha. I mean I’ve worked with many incredible musicians and when you have so many different people in the project it takes time. I wanted to release something this year. My last release was in 2018 and I did not want to wait to put together a project and wait for all the musicians to be ready, record and send me things. It would take me a year easily. I think it just made sense to me that I need to do this EP by myself.
You started your musical journey more than twenty years ago, what are the main differences about making music professionally now and before? Are things easier with technology and internet, or is it harder?
Demonstealer: I guess for me it’s been an ever evolving journey. Many things have changed over the years. Technology has made things easier for sure but at the same time everyone can do it so there is more competition. It’s a tough business to be honest. I’ve struggled a lot over the 20 years. In fact for the last 2 years I was very disillusioned with the music scene because even after 20 years I was struggling at the same things so for me some things are better and easier and others are not. Like for example today I don’t have to sit and pack every single CD myself and there are companies that will run my entire e-commerce for me. So definitely lots of changes.
Do you remember the first time you picked up an instrument? When and how was it? Why did you choose this one?
Demonstealer: I think it was in my friend Arjun’s house that I first picked up a guitar or maybe it was my friend Sunil. But I do remember immediately trying to write a song on it even though I was just playing 2 notes. Our entire group of school friends decided that when we finished school we would form a band. I was actually more interested in being the vocalist but I thought I should learn the guitar so I could write songs. Then I decided to learn drums so I could program them properly and then finally I learnt a bit of bass and keyboards so I could do everything on my own.
How did you discover Metal music back in time? What was the very first Metal song you ever heard? And which one made you think “I want to create a band and play on stage”?
Demonstealer: Well I actually was first introduced to Metal back in 6th grade I think by a friend who gave me the tape for Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden. I only remember listening to two songs Running Free and Phantom Of The Opera and I remember being blown away. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before. However I think I forgot about it and moved on to listening to popular music till my 9th grade when my friends gave me some Metallica to listen to. I remember not liking it at first and finding it quite heavy but then the next thing you know I’m listening to Metallica, Maiden, Sepultura, Pantera, Fear Factory etc. I think it was just Metal music that made me want to create a band. Not one particular band but like all of them. I just knew it then that making Metal music is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
I know that Covid crisis fucked up a lot of things, but how did you deal with it as a musician? How does India deal with the situation?
Demonstealer: I am actually fortunate that I do not depend on music for a living. My job that pays my bills is making Keto recipes on my Youtube channel. For me personally nothing was affected because I was working from home and my channel and blog are still going strong. I think I was only not able to go shopping for food like I used to but apart from that I still had the same life. I’m very grateful for this because the situation is quite bad in India. It’s a complex country and hard to explain but let me just say it’s going to take a long time and it’s pretty bad right now we’re heading to be the #1 country with covid numbers.
While we are talking about India, your country, how was the Metal scene before this crisis? How did it evolve with time?
Demonstealer: Like I said I’m lucky I do not depend on Metal music for a living and neither does any other musician in India. Metal music is no one’s job so yes, shows have stopped, some bands which had some tours lost money and that’s all bad but all Metal musicians generally have some job. However yes for other styles of music there is a big blow, musicians, sound engineers, the entire music industry is definitely taken a big blog. I don’t even know if our government has announce any help. I mean there were 1000s of workers stranded across the country walking 1000s of miles to get home because of the terrible government decisions, many died along the way but they don’t care. So yeah it’s pretty bad.
But to answer your question, the scene exists, it’s evolving slowly. It was a scene with mostly cover bands, now bands write their own music. From having no international bands tour here now we have many coming through. We have our own Metal festivals and just in general it’s growing. The main issue is the number of fans who listen to Metal doesn’t grow as much. Most of the audience is younger, like 16-24 years old and then they kind of ‘leave the scene’ or ‘grow out of Metal’ which is a big problem for the scene to become a viable financial endeavour. We definitely have more older metalheads now but we need a lot more of the fans to remain fans.
Where does your name, Demonstealer, come from?
Demonstealer: When I was 16 years old and ready to form my band I wanted a stage name. All my fav musicians like Ihsahn, Shagrath, Galder, Dani Filth etc had stage names and I didn’t read much at the time and I had no clue about norse mythology so I had to decide between Demon Slayer and Demonstealer and I picked the latter. The name just stuck with me. I didn’t feel like changing it. But yeah it’s my silly 16 year old self that came up with this name.
We talked a lot about music, but I also know that you are a chef, known on YouTube as Headbanger’s Kitchen, how does this passion come to you back in time? Do you have other hobbies?
Demonstealer: As I mentioned earlier this is actually my job now. I have always loved cooking, even before I got into Metal and I wanted to be a chef when I was like 12 years old. I had plans to open my own restaurant as well. But once I discovered Metal I forgot everything else. But since I always liked to eat good food I never stopped cooking. In 2011 I started Headbanger’s Kitchen as a Heavy Metal cooking show and it was a good way to also promote my music. After 4 years there was hardly any viewers and no money so I just said I will do this with 1 camera when I have time and since I was on the Keto diet I made some videos and suddenly everything just clicked. So today it’s my job. I guess just music and food are my two main passions. I don’t really have any other hobbies but maybe I should think about getting some. Hahaha.
What if I ask you to compare Demonstealer’s music with an indian dish? Which one and why?
Demonstealer: Oh man I think if I had to compare my music to an Indian dish I guess I would say I compare it to a mutton biryani. Because it’s a complete dish, it’s got a bit of rice, a bit of meat and it’s packed with loads and loads of flavour. Just like my music 😉 (or so I like to think)
What is your best and your worst musician experience ever?
Demonstealer: I think my best experience would have to be a tie between Inferno Metal Festival in 2010 because that was our first ever international concert and first Metal festival outside India as a Metal fan so the experience was definitely a highlight of my life, not just the musician part. Also Bloodstock festival in 2018 playing to a packed tent was again a huge high for us. If it’s only about Demonstealer then of course having George Kollias play on my album, definitely a dream come true experience.
As for the worst, there have been so many all the shows in my home town Bombay where the crowd booed us, threw stones, bottles and all sorts of shit at us, when some rival band’s fans came and disrupted our show and created trouble, when some local band’s fans came and gave flyers to Sam Dunn (who was filming our concert ) that said, these are not the bands that represent metal in India. I mean so many terrible memories of all this stuff. So yeah they all suck.
Which bands would you dream to tour with? I let you create a tour with Demonstealer and three other bands of your choice!
Demonstealer: Wow there are so many bands I would love to tour with. I think for me a dream tour for Demonstealer would definitely be with Behemoth and I’d love to get Galder’s (Dimmu Borgir) band Old Man’s Child out from hiding and get them on tour. It would be pretty sick. If not I’d also love to do a tour with Benighted and Aborted. I mean I can just keep naming bands really.
That was the last question for me, a huge thank you for your time, last words are yours!
Demonstealer: Thank you for this interview and thank you to everyone reading. I hope you will check out the new EP and I do hope you enjoy the music. Cheers & Stay Demonic! \m/