Bhelliom celebrates their 10th year of existence this year. We managed to catch Vivek, Damien and Edward for a chat about their history, their experiences and upcoming tours and releases.
Hi guys, thanks for granting us this interview with you. Firstly, give us a brief introduction and history of Bhelliom.
Damien (guitars): Bhelliom started around the end of year 2000, when I was not in the band yet. Joe and Ryan and 2 other guys actually formed in our NS days. We started off by doing cover songs by Metallica and some other bands. Around 2001, one of the guitarists left and since we were all from the same army camp, they approached me and asked me to join the band. We then started jamming and started writing some originals. From there, we had a few lineup changes. Joe was actually the vocalist all these while but he started playing bass after our original bassist left. He later got his brother in who unfortunately passed away due to a car accident, and Joe went back to his vocal duties. We then had some reshuffling in the lineup until finally we got Vivek and this current lineup.
How did Bhelliom progress from being a cover band to a band writing their own originals?
Damien: Slowly we got bored by covering songs, after awhile we tried to write some songs, which wasn’t easy at first. We started out as a heavy metal band but we started to write and fuse with something else that we like very much, which were stuff like melodic death metal and progress to where we are today.
What does ‘Bhelliom’ mean? How did the name come about?
Damien: It’s actually from a David Eddings novel. Joe, our bassist is a big fan of David Eddings, a fantasy author. Bhelliom is actually a sapphire rose. We liked that name so it stuck with us ever since.
Vivek (vocals): By the way, it’s a sex-enhancement drug. Something like Viagra i think. If you actually go to Google and search for Bhelliom you will find that it’s a sexual enhancement drug. Luckily we haven’t gotten any crap from those fuckers, so far so good, let’s keep it that way!
|Pulp Summer Slam 2010|
Bhelliom will be taking the stage in Philippines at the Pulp Summer Slam 2010, alongside with thrash legends Testament and Lamb of God. How did that come about?
Vivek: Our manager, Bret [Mourningsound Records] actually knows the organizer of this event for a couple of years already, and he kept in contact with them. The Pulp Summer Slam has been going on for a couple of years.
Edward (guitars): 10 years actually.
Vivek: Yup, 10 years. We basically got into contact again with them a year or two ago, but we could not go up last year. They finally gave us a slot this year because everybody could make it this time round. We are heading down on the 16th, and the show will be on 17th.
Won’t that be a bit too much of a rush?
Vivek: We all have full time jobs so we don’t really have the luxury of time. If you’re talking about touring, usually we don’t normally get to sight-see so much, because we play, finish up and head down to the next venue/city. Personally for me, I’ll be heading to Philippines on Friday and then be back on Sunday. Two days only. Go there, get drunk, kick ass, come back and then nurse the hangover for the whole week. Haha.
How is Bhelliom preparing for it?
Vivek:I’m learning a lot of Tagalog lessons from him (Edward) so I can go there and work some charm with some Filipino chicks. [Laughs] Only kidding.. I mean, we are still jamming in preparation for the show. We are going to play a mixture of old songs and a couple of new songs that we have written. We are trying to get the perfect setlist, it’s a half an hour set so we are get on stage, let the metal flow, leave an impression and proceed to drink with our new friends we meet there.
How does it feel to be playing at such a festival, which is practically not feasible in Singapore?
Damien: Extremely excited.
Vivek: I think a festival like this, with the fact that it has been around for 10 years, it is what it is today but they probably started small. It’s a huge gig, at a very big stadium. Apparently there are going to be like 20,000 kids?
Vivek: Yeah, 20,000 to 30,000. Each of them apparently gets a free slice of pizza when they enter the gig venue. That’s the thing. Sponsors play a big part. Unfortunately in Singapore we don’t have the ability to actually do really big shows on our own. That’s where the sponsors come in with the capital. And with the capital you get the big bands like Testament and Lamb of God. But I think it’s actually not impossible here, it can happen, just that we have to get the right contacts to know the big sponsors and get this done. It’s really fucking tough.
|Bhelliom in action|
Do you have any pre or post performance rituals?
Vivek: Yes. Apart from the usual warming up on the guitars etc, alcohol plays a part Before we go up, that’s one thing that we always do… Drink! I become like the Tiger beer auntie, every time persuading the rest of them to drink and we always like bringing our beers up stage as well.
Anything else besides the tiger beers?
Vivek: Well, usually we warm up by doing the usual stretching and playing guitar, and a few other warm up exercises. Whatever it is, the whole point of the matter is to have fun and we hope that the crowd has fun too. When we see the crowd enjoying themselves, it’s a certain adrenaline rush. It’s very psychological. So basically we just psych ourselves up, go in there and have fun.
And as a vocalist, how do you warmup?
Vivek: In terms of warm-ups, hmmm… I don’t really do them. As a vocalist usually, it’s mostly psychological. Getting myself in the mood to kick everyone’s ass on stage and to make sure people mainly have a lot of fun in the end.
Bhelliom celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. How does it feel to have been around for such a long time?
Are there any plans to celebrate Bhelliom’s 10th year of existence?
Damien: We celebrate every weekend!
Vivek: Actually what we are planning to do is we are intending to go on tour again in July and August, to hit the places where we have played and been fortunate enough to get a good response from the crowd. The dates are being finalized at the moment, nothing is confirmed but definitely it is a priority for this year. Also, we are having thoughts of doing an EP, releasing some new materials. An EP is better because we want to showcase some of the newer songs that we have written. So definitely, there will be a release this year.
How has the scene changed from back then till now?
Vivek: I think right now the scene has changed in the sense that a lot more younger people have the ability to attend gigs. Previously in the 90s, to see younger kids was quite rare, maybe because of the fact that a lot of gigs back then were held at clubs and pubs and there was the whole age restriction thing going on. Nowadays, it’s a two way thing where you got shows at places like Blackhole where even though the place is small, there is no age limit. As a result it allows the younger crowd to attend shows regularly. I think the scene has of course become much bigger than what it was before.
Damien: More girls now…
Vivek: Yeah, more girls now.
Damien: Previously was like all guys.
Vivek: Yeah, it used to be a fucking sausage-fest.
What about the changes in terms of the music that bands play?
Vivek: I think back then it was predominantly death metal and black metal. But now there are bands that are experimenting and fusing different styles, which is good because of the diversity it presents. Nowadays I think the music has changed because people are really opening their ears to a lot of new stuff that is going on, and it’s good that they incorporate their music instead of just sticking to one style.
Bhelliom toured Australia last year, and have also toured other countries like China and Taiwan. What were the reception at these countries, and how different are the crowds compared to Singapore?
Vivek: Let’s talk about Australia first. Australia is a place where they have gigs practically every week, and usually bands get paid. They have gigs there often and they see cream of the crop bands play. We did this festival in Adelaide, called Against the Grain and a month before we went up I happened to go online and checked out the other bands that were playing and I fucking pissed my pants and I was always wondering “how the fuck are we going to match up to them”. We were actually quite anxious. One thing good in hindsight was that we were the only Asian band to play at that festival so as a result, proving ourselves was a bit easier. I have to say that the reception we got was very supportive and the bands were very good. All of them have been playing for like 6 to 10 years so they have achieved their fair share of experience in terms of how they can play and their individual musicianship etc. We learnt a lot because the bands that were playing all sounded different too. For a festival of 18 bands we had 18 different sounds, unlike in Singapore, given a similar situation, half of them will sound alike and 2 or 3 will be complete clones. It’s good to actually wear your influences on your sleeves to a certain extent, but do not go all the way to copy them and make your signature sound as what their sound is.
So the crowds there were actually very supportive even if you aren’t an Aussie band?
Vivek: Yeah, our first show happened to be on a Thursday night and the turnout consisted of the typical weeknight gig crowd. But the response at Brisbane and Adelaide were great. Comparatively in Singapore with a smaller scene, we tend to have gigs quite often sometimes even on the same day itself. As a result, People will tend to choose to attend gigs that the bands they want to see are playing, and this makes the other gigs suffer.
What was the experience in China like?
Vivek: For China, we were initially quite unsure about what it was going to be like over there as well,because you know, it’s… China. [Laughs] Our experience actually turned out awesome andunexpected. Except for that place where we went to…
Vivek: Yes. Tianjin! How many people were there?
Vivek: Five. I think because a lot of these people from the show in this city were heading down to Beijing for the next show. So I think a lot of them wanted to save their money and go straight to Beijing. One more thing I would like to add is that one of the places that we enjoy and would go there in an instant is Taiwan. Taiwan is like a second home to us, because even before I was in the band when they went up in 2006, they got a very good response. Everybody there is very supportive. In Taiwan, if they like your band, they will buy your stuff: your CDs, band tees, without hesitating. They will come to you and ask you to sign their stuff and take photographs. It really makes us feel good and feel really worth it taking the trip there.
China’s censorship control is known to be very strict, often banning harder music such as metal. How did you guys manage to perform in China in 2008?
Vivek: As Damien was just saying, in China we have gigs that are actually organized on a total underground basis, whereby we had this experience at the Behemoth show that we did in Beijing, what happened was, the gig was not publicized and it was not legal or official, a totally underground show. So what the organizers had to do was to get everyone who went down to the show, including the bands, to not leave the premises at all. So for 5 hours straight, you are stuck in the venue, no one is allowed to leave because if the cops see, they will pull the plug on the show. And when they had big bands like Behemoth, big money is going to be lost. So it was kind of an eye-opening experience for us because we don’t get to see these kind of stuff here. But I think however much metal is banned, people will always somehow get their hands on releases. That’s the beauty about metal. The more it is kept away, the stronger it gets
So even though it was underground, the crowds there were supportive?
Damien: In China, the crowds actually are different in the north and the south. What the Chinese people told us was that people from the south like Guangzhou and Shenzhen, if they see the show and they don’t like your music, they just stand around or walk away. But the northern people, if they like you a lot they will just go crazy. But if they don’t like you or they don’t like what they see on stage they will just start throwing things. We were lucky nothing were thrown at us.
Vivek: Lucky we didn’t get pelted haha!
Was every gig in China underground?
Vivek: I think only the major ones in Beijing. Tianjin’s gig was not really counted since there were only like 5 people who turned up. I think Guangzhou and Shenzhen there were 2 other dates that we did where the crowd that turned up was at a good volume. Whether or not those shows were authorized we do not know, we were only told about the Behemoth one in Beijing. We wouldn’t mind going back to China again. It was a good experience, a nice place.
|The Colossal Tragedy|
You mentioned that there will be a new release this year, so what can fans and listeners look out for?
Damien: Now we have Mag who just joined us in the songwriting as well. We are currently already writing a few new songs and they definitely sound slightly different because it adds a new dimension to the songwriting. I will say right now our songs are more brutal. [Laughs] I am kind of a more melodic person, and he is more into brutal stuff. So now our news songs will be in that direction and we are very happy about it.
Vivek: I would say it’s going to be thrashier. We are still going to retain what we think is our signature which is our melody breakdowns and the stoner rock bridges. But we definitely want to up the intensity because what we found out about our previous release is, to be frank, a lot of people felt that it was a bit too much for them to take, to a certain extent.
Too much, meaning?
Damien: A bit here, a bit there, too much of a little bit of everything.
Vivek: Yeah, too much of everything. I believe that every band has to aim to outdo themselves for every album. We want to just change the style a bit.
Where does Bhelliom draw its musical and lyrical influences from?
Damien: Everything man. I am from a very hard rock and melodic death background, so I like to just combine them and just write whatever that comes to my head and try to fine tune what I have thought of.
Edward: I come from different genres as well. Glam rock, punk rock, hardcore, thrash metal. My main style is melodic stuff.
So it’s like a mixture of everyone’s musical preferences.
Vivek: Yeah, it’s like Rojak you know, like a big melting pot.
What about lyrical influences?
Vivek: With the lyrics, it’s just basically drawing influences from daily experiences. That’s the best thing to talk about rather than basing the lyrics on something in particular because each and every day is a new step for everyone with new experiences, so you encounter different things and I think that’s the best thing to put into words. My lyrics usually basically on different things that you encounter everyday, people that piss you off, things you are happy about, Issues happening in the world that you feel strongly against etc.
What is the songwriting process like?
Vivek: What we are doing nowadays is that we bring everything to the studio. Writing starts there. What Damien will do is that with all the riffs in his head, he will come to the studio and we will start jamming it out, getting the drum beats done then I’ll sing over it. The when the music is done, I’ll get to work on the lyrics. Sometimes we do recordings of our jamming then we go back and review, and we come back the next week and try to piece it together again with fresh ears. It seems to be a good process that seems to be working well for us.
Damien: It’s better this way. Previously I was the one who wrote everything. But now with Mac in the picture, we will throw in a bit of ideas here and there and we will just try things and just mix and match. It’s better for us.
So do you guys jam at home then bring to the studio the ideas that you had?
Vivek: Yes, but like mentioned previously, the main thing is done in the studio.
2 of your members are also from the band Truth be Known. Do any of the other members have other bands as well, and how do you juggle between your bands?
Vivek: So far it’s only Gene and Damien in Truth be Known. Juggling up till this point has not been a problem for us, because one good thing we do is that we jam on the same day. So it makes it easier and they don’t have to book two separate days and have everybody come down on two different days for each band and tire ourselves out.
Damien: It used to be twice a week, for example Tuesday is for Bhelliom and Thursday is for TBK. But as time goes, our work schedule has become busier so as a result, we’re making the jam sessions on the same day.
Any upcoming shows in Singapore planned after the Pulp Summer Slam 2010 festival?
Vivek: So far in Singapore, nothing has been confirmed. We are still looking into maybe one or two shows in the middle of the year, probably before we head off on our 10th anniversary tour. In Singapore, we are definitely keeping our options open for more shows.
|Opening for DragonForce|
What is one ultimate band that you will die to open for?
Vivek: Truth Be Known.
Joshua (Truth Be Known): Then for Truth Be Known we want to open for Bhelliom.
So Truth Be Known wants to open for Bhelliom.
Vivek: We already have half the band on stage anyway! Haha! Personally to me I think either Iron Maiden or Depeche Mode. Hahaha! Seriously, I’m a huge fan of Depeche Mode, so I have to say that it’s a personal thing for me. I would kill to open for them but that’s probably never going to happen so I guess I’ll settle for Iron Maiden.
Damien: I will open for any band that comes.
Vivek: I think we have been fortunate enough to open for a few big bands before. It has been a great experience for us watching them set up, sound check and tear the shit like there’s no tomorrow.
Edward: Any American or European metal band!
Meza Virs last year took part in Baybeats, and Meltgsnow are performing this year as well. Any chances of Bhelliom auditioning for Baybeats in 2011?
Vivek: Hahaha. We are lazy ass bastards and thus auditioning through a few rounds is gonna take some mega-convincing for us to consider. Although I have to say we’ve talked about it before but I guess it’s been shelved because of the arduous process of auditioning. Take for example, Meltgsnow’s time slot I think was at 9 a.m. Too damn early la. But of course, kudos to them and the other metal bands from both years for flying the metal flag high @ Baybeats.
Any preferred gears/instruments/brands?
Damien: Just use Ibanez guitars. Stick to Ibanez guitars.
Are you an Ibanez fan?
Vivek: He literally has a guitar shop at home, what are you talking about? Hahaha. Ibanez, Dean, Schecter? Wow.
Any parting words for other bands and fans?
[Joshua points at himself intensely]
Damien: Just do what you like.
Vivek: Yeah, just do what you like. Don’t think, just do
Damien: Don’t think so much. If you think so much you’ll be 40 years old already. You will think so much about your job, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, time will just slip away.
Vivek: For fans, thanks a hell lot for the support, we will definitely catch you all wherever we are headed to. It’s only been 10 years… And we sure as hell ain’t done yet! Oh, and look out for details on the new EP, conservatively speaking, for release during the July-August period, so yeah, watch out for it! Horns up!
That’s all from us for now, and thank you for taking the time off for this interview!
Bhelliom performs at the Pulp Summer Slam in Philippines on 17th April 2010.
©2010 Heavy Metal Tribune | Hong Rui