Bloodywood: “We’ve always written songs with a purpose. We like to be very direct and impactful with our message”

Indian alt. metallers Bloodywood got booked for Germanyʼs huge Wacken Festival without having played a single show. From there, theyʼve exploded. As they prepare to hit the UK, band leader Karan Katiyar tells all about their lightning-fast rise, and how theyʼre using their position for good…

Bloodywood: “We’ve always written songs with a purpose. We like to be very direct and impactful with our message”
Steve Beebee
Ishaan Vajpayee

The Indian philosopher Hazrat Inayat Khan once likened life to music. ‘Life is a symphony,’ he wrote, ‘and the action of every person in this life is the playing of their particular part in the music.’

The same principle of using a skill or talent to make other people’s lives better also seems to drive Bloodywood, easily that country’s most significant metal band. For them, it’s not just about achieving success in commercial or artistic terms; it’s about being part of something bigger, of being able to give back.

Talking to Karan Katiyar, the band’s founder, guitarist and main composer, there are several moments in which the ever-smiling musician seeks to deflect all trace of personal glory. Like when we ask him about playing Germany’s epic Wacken Open Air in 2019. As seen in their life-affirming documentary Raj Against The Machine, Bloodywood attracted a 15,000-strong crowd early in the afternoon. Any band yet to even release an album of original material could’ve been forgiven for staring at each other in amazement, thinking, ʻThis is it; we’ve made it,’ and luxuriating in the telling for years after. Not Bloodywood.

“There’s two ways of thinking about that,” considers Karan. “We began to understand the level we had reached when people in Europe came up to us and spoke about how important our songs were to them. Some of our songs have helped people through difficult times. So that’s what caused us to think we’d ‘made it’ – that’s ‘made it’ in the sense of finding our calling.”

As they prepare to hit the UK for a seven-date tour, it’s just another few feet in their incredible ascendency. As Karan says, “Now, all of us collectively feel that this is something we can do for the rest of our lives.”

Bloodywood’s roots were laid in 2016. Back then it was just Karan and vocalist Jayant Bhadula throwing ideas around and letting off steam by recording metallised covers of pop and folk songs. The duo worked – and sometimes slept – in a friend’s New Delhi studio.

“It wasn’t exactly a real studio,” Karan sniggers. “It was tiny and it would get very cold at night. We didn’t have any blankets, so we pulled the curtains down and used those instead. It wasn’t that we were poor; we were just too lazy to do anything about it!”

Both men also thought it best to hide their activities from their parents.

“When you’re from India there are only three parent-approved professions: doctor, lawyer or some sort of government official. For sure they were not going to be okay with it, but I’m pleased to say they are now.”

A pivotal moment came when the duo met rapper Raoul Kerr, who became the band’s third and final full-time member. Today’s touring band also includes drummer Vishesh Singh, bassist Roshan Roy and Sarthak Pahwa who plays the dhol, a traditional Indian double-headed drum. It was the addition of Raoul, an intensely impassioned frontman, that cemented the Bloodywood vision.

Appealing to the band’s drive to become a force for good, Raoul had already rapped his way through a solo song called For Her, its strong message lambasting sexual violence. Today Raoul almost always wears a muscle vest adorned with the legend No Flag, giving consistent evidence of Bloodywood’s desire to unify rather than divide.

“It was clear from the moment I met him that we shared the same vision,” Karan recalls. “Or maybe not the moment itself, because at first I thought he looked like a wrestler! His rhyme and flow – that was the one piece we were still looking for. We didn’t exactly know we were looking for something, but we found it anyway, and he fit right in.”

A breakthrough came in the form of Ari Ari, a rocked-up reimagining of an Indian folk song that caught the attention of Bollywood star Ileana D’Cruz. More important than the publicity garnered from Ileana’s Instagram was the effect on the band’s morale. Inspired, they set about perfecting a style of music that incorporated western alt. metal influence with traditional Indian instruments – the dhol and flute – with Jayant and Raoul vocalising in English, Hindi and Punjabi.

With a covers album behind them, the band’s original material soon began to capture the imagination. Songs like Endurant, almost impossible to classify, emerged into dark waves of intoxicating sound, and Jee Veerey, perhaps Bloodywood’s most immediate earworm, spoke openly of depression. In a move that proved typical of what was to come, the band opted to turn words into action, offering access to pre-paid online counselling to fans who couldn’t afford it.

“I just got lucky, man!” laughs Karan, considering his band’s unique melange of styles. “When we started out we were just trying to make music. It seemed the only way to make heavy music was to listen to what people were doing in the West, but even before Raoul joined, we stumbled upon something. I tried to incorporate those instruments from Indian culture that weren’t normally included in metal.”

With fans writing to them to say that Jee Veerey had saved their lives, Bloodywood began to understand the power of music. “We’ve always written songs with a purpose,” Karan reflects. “It’s not our style to write songs just for arbitrary or artistic reasons. We like to be very direct and impactful with our message.”

Invited to play 2019’s Wacken before doing a single show, Bloodywood sprang into action, rehearsing frantically in empty venues before performing a private gig in front of 10 people. The first proper show was in Bangalore for around 80 fans. Next was Delhi (200, sold out).

A debut 15-date European tour followed, with 12 of those selling out. First up was Dong Open Air in Germany – they almost didn’t make it, as not all their equipment had turned up. Sourcing what they needed from a music store, they celebrated long into the night. “How’s your head, Raoul?” Karan asks, in the documentary, the following morning. “Bald?” deadpans the shaven-haired frontman.

“We’d all been on the internet studying how festivals work over there,” Karan recalls, today. “The biggest shock when we played Dong Open Air was that we only got a 15-minute line check. That’s unheard of in India. Thankfully it worked out well.”

The other surprise was the level of acceptance they received. Many European fans were already enraptured by Bloodywood’s unique sound.

“People in India had told us to keep our expectations low, but we did receive a very, very good response,” grins Karan.

There were also some entertaining culture shocks. In the UK they ran from diving seagulls. In Germany, a can of Beck’s was analysed, Karan concluding: “This is beer, I think.” The band even hosted an onstage wedding proposal. Although the tour finished with a lucky escape from flooding in Russia, the penultimate gig saw them triumph at Wacken.

So uplifted were the band members that their first instinct upon returning to India was to donate tour proceeds to charity.

“We’d gone out thinking that touring was just something we had to do if we wanted to progress – but we were so happy by how well it went that we wanted to give something back. Even before the tour we’d wanted to do something to support the POSH Foundation [Delhi-based animal rescue charity], and the tour definitely helped us do that.”

The last thing a band on the fast-track to success needed in 2020 was a two-year delay caused by a global pandemic – or so you might think. But this is Bloodywood, and if there’s something positive in the darkness, they’ll not only find it but give it a polish. The band had it “relatively easy” thanks to “amazing support” from Patreon and streaming. And it also gave them the opportunity to lavish time on their debut album proper.

“In terms of creativity, we had it a lot better than so many bands who are dependent on touring to survive,” notes Karan.

The Hindi title Rakshak translates as ‘Protector’, and having had “all the time in the world to get it recorded properly”, the band are delighted by both the results and the acquired studio skills they’ll take into future recordings. Since Rakshak emerged in February 2022, they simply picked up where they left off. And they’re continuing to give back. Their August dates in the UK saw them offer supports slots to upcoming British bands like Lake Malice who opened for them at London’s Boston Music Room.

“It’s awkward for us to have bands opening for us, because we believe that every musician is at the same level,” the enduringly modest Karan explains. “Hopefully we will co-headline with those bands in future.”

The short visit culminated in a wildly successful slot at Bloodstock, on what was perhaps the hottest day of the year.

“It might seem strange coming from an Indian band, but that heat was insane,” he grimaces. “Sarthak went onstage barefoot and ended up with blisters. Aside from that, we could not have asked for more. We felt so lucky.”

Following March’s European tour, Bloodywood will start to work on new music. While some artists can write on the road, Karan understandably prefers to be immersed in his own culture when composing.

“I am doing bits and pieces, but the process of writing will officially start in July. That’s when we take a break from touring and will focus entirely on the next album.

“For now,” he concludes, with a grin that is equal parts gratitude and excitement, “we just want to play as many shows as we can and give the best performances we can.”

If what we’ve seen so far is anything to go by, it’ll be bloody exciting.

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