Editor's note: Music writer Anurag Tagat spent 10 days on the road with the indie band Goddess Gagged, as they travelled to cities like Mumbai, Shillong, Delhi etc, as part of the 2Stroke Tour. The following is an account of his time with them. For part one of the series, which profiles what the 2Stroke Tour is, click here.
We’ve just arrived at bassist Krishna Jhaveri’s aunt’s house in Kolkata ahead of his alternative metal band Goddess Gagged’s first of seven shows across India and things are looking a bit grave.
Tour manager Uddipan Sarmah, founder of Ahmedabad-based company BlueTree that is hosting Goddess Gagged on the fourth edition of the 10-day 2Stroke Tour, has just flown in from Malaysia to Chennai to Kolkata and is completely lacking sleep. To compound his woes, Goddess Gagged’s powerhouse vocalist Siddharth Basrur greets Uddipan with news that his sinuses are acting up and he’ll need some steam inhalation. Guitarist Arman Menzies, who’s properly playing a guitar after months, says he’s slightly nervous about nailing their melodic, juiced-up riffs, while drummer Jeremy D’Souza has just woken up and wants some coffee, stat. The band’s co-guitarist Devesh Dayal (who currently studies at the Berklee School of Music in Boston) is busy working on the band’s set flow on his laptop.
Fast forward to a week later, the band is waiting to board their last flight on the tour, to play what became a rousing, full-house homecoming set in Mumbai on 4 September. If there’s any tiredness, they’re not showing it. Of course, Jeremy was still catching up on what seemed to be an unattainable amount of sleep, but the rest of the band — who came together in their current avatar in 2010 — have the confidence of stage veterans by now. Siddharth jokes, “I just want to make babies with everyone in this band. I don’t mind producing them.”
A regular singer on ad jingles, Bollywood songs and his own independent alt rock projects, Siddharth has pushed away most commercial work on tour, but ended up recording a radio jingle just as the band was soundchecking in Delhi on 31 August. The big lesson, when Krishna speaks on behalf of the band, is that you have to learn to pace yourself when you’re playing seven shows in 10 days across the country. Krishna, who has gone on month-long tours in the past with Devesh in their multinational progressive metal band Skyharbor, says, “The lesson learned is that you should take your breaks. If you’re going to be flying around everywhere, don’t try and go all out.”
Surprisingly, travelling in and out of seven cities in 10 days was not as nearly as tiring as it had seemed. We returned from playing to over 250 people in Kolkata — the band’s favourite and most surprising show that lifted even Uddipan out of exhaustion — at 2 am and set out for a Guwahati flight at 4 am. Then we took two taxis to Shillong, checked into a hotel and watched Goddess Gagged and city rock band Dossers Urge kick out the jams. “We didn’t have a lot of early morning flights this time. All these previous tours had early morning flights and it was way more hectic than this tour,” says Uddipan.
While they had stellar support from crowd-pullers and experimental metal band What Escapes Me in Kolkata, Goddess Gagged felt a bit apprehensive coming into Shillong, because the last time they played there, they were confronted with every band’s worst nightmare — the police forcing them to cancel their performance. Devesh says, “Shillong, my expectation was we’d get shut down again. But we played the whole set. It’s definitely redemption.” Uddipan too, wore a vexed look considering soundcheck was heavily delayed due to the unavailability of gear in Shillong, but he always broke into a smile after the show was wrapped up.
Between shows, what’s most evident about tour life is the waiting. There’s loading the luggage, the travel, the check-in at the airport (where the band was often charged extra for excess luggage, something that Uddipan says didn’t even happen when they had two bands touring together in previous editions of 2Stroke), the flight (where the dread-locked Arman and Jeremy were almost always subject to ‘random’ security checks), getting to your place of stay (the band alternated between staying with friends or family and at hotels in different cities) and of course, soundcheck — where Krishna seemed most prepared for every contingency with broken drum thrones and stands and loose cables. Then you play the show.
Click below for photos from Goddess Gagged's tour:
But Uddipan and the band made the most of their time. When they weren’t catching up on sleep, they Snapchatted away, took hyperlapse videos and made a few ‘your mom’ jokes and a dump of scatological humour (which has clearly found its way into my writing now, for better or worse). Whether it was breakfast, lunch, dinner, between performances or flights, everyone in the band loved to make it known they were going to take a poop. Devesh even made a joke about needing to use the toilet when he was on stage at the Humming Tree in Bengaluru, playing to nearly 400 people. But when he was asked by someone in the audience if he was high, he shot back, “These songs are really hard, so I can't be high right now.”
They played to a small but dedicated gathering in Guwahati alongside experienced alt rock band Lucid Recess and prog band Dark Carnage making their own comeback of sorts, and Delhi brought out over 200 fans on a Wednesday. Even Pune, where Goddess Gagged had played their last show in January 2014 before they announced a break, hosted a crowd ready to party down. As for the homecoming show in Mumbai, it was a faultless performance of a band that had everything on its side.
Over the span of 10 days, you watch the same set over and over and it feels like clockwork. It feels like watching someone do their job and do it well. The humanising effect is that the job is sometimes done with a smile, a grimace and a whole lot of energy.
Uddipan said why he wanted this band to reunite after nearly three years was a sort of selfish motive. “Initially what I thought was that I wanted Goddess Gagged back. I was talking to Basrur one year ago about this. From then on and we’ve been planning. I never thought, ‘Okay I want this crowd for Goddess Gagged’ or something like that. I just wanted them to play,” Uddipan says.
That necessary selfishness is something that drives Goddess Gagged as musicians as well. Arman told me in Delhi, “For me, it’s just about getting on stage with these guys and playing. It doesn’t matter where. For me, at least, this is for us. We’re doing it for each other.”
The band will now roll on past the high of the reunion tour, definitely working on new material (Arman has a few “epic choruses” in mind) and hopefully another tour in the near future, when Devesh visits India next. Krishna says he was always hopeful of a reunion. “We didn’t disband. Everyone decided to take a break because it wasn’t possible. And now, that break doesn’t need to happen, because we have the ability to work the same way that Skyharbor does and tour in different cities. The ability to use the Internet to write songs.”