I started to get to know Kunal from reviewing and interviewing a couple of bands on his ever expanding roster. Kunal is from Mumbai, India from where you would not think it possible to build a record label from scratch but Kunal has devoted his whole life to the metal scene, starting off with the Diabolical Conquest webzine right through to where he stands today with Transcending Obscurity Records. He has amassed over eighty releases through his label and Kunal simply doesn’t want to stop there.
Metal is in his blood, ladies and gentlemen, and he works tirelessly to give us listeners an opportunity to listen to fresh newer bands such as Jupiterian as well as keeping the flame burning for the older acts like Paganizer. Kunal should earn each and everyone’s respect for his dedication for overcoming obstacles on a daily basis in order for bands, music and fans to survive. Respect to you Kunal and I wish you every success with your label and endeavours.
Simple question first. Are you mad running a record label in the world of internet downloads? How do you survive and flourish as a label and sign new acts under the severe pressure of a diminishing market?
Well, there’s always a risk. I’m not the best businessman out there but it does affect me greatly when I feel I haven’t done enough to promote the album. I’m just very thankful to people like you who help out and the customers out there who keep it all going, even though I’m based in India. Looking back, I want to know that I did my best and I can live with that.
How did your life in heavy/extreme metal begin? What was it that brought you to this form of music?
It was when an engineering colleague of mine lent me his Metallica Master of Puppets tape. That changed my life. I couldn’t put it in words but I knew that my search had ended. It gave me a very strange sense of satisfaction. And then I discovered that there’s a lot of music like that, what with the subgenres in metal, and I couldn’t be happier and devoted most of my time to getting to know them all.
How is the extreme and heavy metal scene in India? Is it growing to become a real force in music in India or will it always be an underground scene in your opinion?
It’s the same like everywhere else – metal is never going to be as much as mainstream music simply because it’s sonically extreme and not everyone can get that. Moreover, most people in the country listen to Hindi/regional music but that’s changing and more and more people are getting into English music which is a prerequisite of some sort before you get into rock and metal. It’s still better off than other countries in the region and I must say that I’ve witnessed a lot of growth in terms of professionalism and output.
What is the scene like in India for music shops, venues for gigs and recording studios?
They do exist of course but it’s definitely not as entrenched as it is in Europe, for instance. Gigs do happen frequently though and there are many recording studios here, although they may not yet be internationally renowned. There’s scope for improvement and hopefully with better equipment and expertise, the quality difference will be minimal.
You also run a webzine, Diabolical Conquest, which also used to be the name of your first record label. How do you find the time to continue with this venture and will it always be a part of you to do?
I started Diabolical Conquest in 2004, first as a forum and then as a HTML site. I spent countless hours on it and used to balance it after my full time work got over. It will always remain special for me because I struggled so much for it and learnt a lot in the process. I used to upload every single piece of content that went up on the site (being an HTML site, I had to do it manually) and I also proofread everything. There was tight quality control and we were strict with ratings too. These days, I must admit that I have no time left and I deeply regret that, but there’s little I can do. It’s all thanks to my friends for making the show go on and I’m indebted to them for that.
You changed the name of Diabolical Conquest to your current name of Transcending Obscurity. Was this to fit all of your ventures in the music industry under the one moniker?
Other than the fact that it was an original name, it captured the essence of what I wanted to do. The same essence applies to all areas, be it the webzine, PR company or record label. I understand that the name is long and that’s why I have a shortened version of it in addition to transcendingobscurity.com which is TOmetal.com.
How many people do you have helping you run the label? Has this grown considerably in the last couple of years?
It’s largely been just me all along with just part time people occasionally helping me out with the packing and logistics. I can’t afford to hire the services of a professional PR company so I have to do all the promotional work myself. It helps that I don’t completely suck at it, probably thanks to my prior writing experience of over a decade. I’ve made about a dozen layouts too just to expedite the release process and also because I can’t afford artists all the time for everything. I still make my own flyers, banners and mock-ups for every single release. I’m very passionate about this which allows me to work over seventy hours a week. Thankfully my girlfriend Moni is very supportive and helps me out with this too. I can’t say that it’s hugely profitable but 2017 has been the best year for the label so far and I can only hope that I’m able to sustain this and do even better for the bands in 2018.
What would you recommend bands do in order to attract your attention and get themselves signed to your label?
I’m not a fan of the casual ‘whatever’ approach. I still respect professionalism and good presentation. I mean, take some effort mate. We all are working hard and the last thing you want is a lazy band who wants you to do everything for them. With that said, I would say I’m immensely lucky to work with some great bands and just when I think that I’ve got enough on my plate, more bands reach out and sometimes the quality of their music is astonishing. More bands means more work and I get tired and broke putting out stuff and pushing everything out there all the time, but so far so good. I’m not renewing contracts with all the bands I’ve worked with but that’s because I’ve got limitations and some semblance of a personal life too. And I’ve got five pets to take care of.
What level of pressure are you under every day in order for deadlines to be met and what setbacks can you face running a record label?
2017 has been the worst year where this is concerned. I’ve never been so stressed and irked. Sometimes bands give you a hard time with their attitude, other times printers let you down. It’s been an eye-opener and I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve realized that I need to plan things in advance especially when making vinyls and also have a backup plan in place in case things get delayed. I wish I had better printing options here, especially for merch, but I’ll keep trying until I figure the best way out.
Although you started Transcending Obscurity in 2013, it is really in the last two years that you have released a multitude of releases and in various formats. Was it a case of getting things in order before you were able to release music?
Shockingly, I’ve put out over eighty releases thus far. I’ve been working tirelessly and through various sub-labels, I’ve tried to help as many bands as I can. I kept pushing the envelope, learning from my experiences as is always the case and also experimenting with new things so that you don’t repeat yourself all the time. I’m glad I started making box sets, experimented with various printers for T-shirts which gave me a better idea, and this year I also burnt my fingers with vinyls which are super expensive to make. I had to start somewhere and had no time to wait for the perfect moment and release. Multiple releases are planned each month and I had to work very fast to do whatever I had to do without compromising on the quality. So, I managed things along the way but indeed, more than half of these releases happened when I started regional sub-labels such as Transcending Obscurity India and Asia.
What are your ambitions for your label Transcending Obscurity? Our mutual friend Rogga Johansson sees you as a “marketing genius”, so I imagine you must receive numerous demos from bands wishing to be signed to your label due to your ever growing reputation?
I would want my label to be known around the world and also respected or looked up to. I mean, let’s face it – I still lose bands to the big or better known labels. Some bands that I approach have never heard of Transcending Obscurity. It hurts. But then it compels me to work even harder and do better for the bands as far as possible. I’m investing heavily in making official videos for bands and also doing PR for them longer than is the norm. It drains me but I owe the bands that much. I’m just grateful to them for wanting to work with me in the first place. I wish I could guarantee them success or a lot of sales but all I can do is try.
Is there a particular release that you are extremely proud of?
I can’t comment on it from the musical point of view because I like so many of them and they all are pretty much doing their own unique thing, but packaging-wise, I’m pleased to see how the Jupiterian box sets came out in particular. They were unanimously well received and even labels in the US wrote to me asking where I had them made – in India, under my personal supervision.
Do you have any limitations when it comes to bands that you would sign to your label?
I have no limitations as such but genre-wise, even though I’m into all the main subgenres such as death, black, doom, grind and thrash/heavy metal, I’m still a bit of an old school guy. And as far as numbers go, I don’t mind it as long as my schedule can accommodate their releases. I’m trying to cut down heavily though and be more selective as far as possible.
So what is next for Kunal Choksi? Now that 2017 is almost at an end, what are your plans for 2018?
I’m gearing up to put out a label sampler for 2018 which will have a ton of great music I hope that will set the tone for the label next year. The artwork for it is made by Misanthropic Art (US) [That’s it off to the side – Mosh]. I’m going to experiment with more box sets and perhaps streamline the vinyl releases as far as possible. I might just start making tapes as well, just so that I can offer good bands a multiple format deal, with LPs, CDs and box sets. My aim for 2018 is to establish Transcending Obscurity Records as a solid international label and not something that necessarily only has an exotic appeal.
How long do you see yourself doing what you are doing within the music industry?
This is a question that scares me. I hate the temporal aspect of it. The thing is, time is limited and you have to shuffle things in your life to do what’s most important. I might settle down eventually and I don’t know what it will be like to have a family and also put in so much time that’s required for this. On the other hand, I’m learning a couple of instruments myself (guitar and drums) so that eventually I can start a band of my own, and later on, also do my own recording. So it’s a tall order and I just see a ton of struggle ahead but I will do my best not to give up, even at this ripe age! I don’t know how things will be say five years down the line but it’d suck to work so hard only to give up on any important part of it. At least the label work can’t be outsourced like say you could for an artwork or a mastering job. To make things worse, I’m also dabbling in art, in the hope that I can do artworks and logos for my own solo band whenever I become competent!
A question I have to ask at the end of this interview. Is there one band that slipped through the net that you would have loved to have signed to your label?
One? There are many. I also fear the bigger labels swooping down and stealing my bands from under my nose. While I’m doing my best for them, I probably can’t match the budget or scale that some of the bigger labels have. It’s also why I want to work harder and grow faster so that there’s a bit of a fair play and the perceivable gap blurs. But then again, they don’t always go by the music as I do. They want the band to be very active live, to have a certain fan base already, among other things. I guess if you treat bands well, they wouldn’t want to leave you easily.
Thank you for your time Kunal. A fun question to end this interview. If you were a DJ and were allowed to bring five CDs to the party, what would they be?
Given the current climate, I’d probably get these –
- Norse (Australia) – The Divine Light Of A New Sun
- Jupiterian (Brazil) – Terraforming
- Arketh (Australia) – 12 Winter Moons Comes The Witches Brew
- Amorphis (Finland) – Tales From The Thousand Lakes
- Demolition Hammer (US) – Epidemic of Violence
Any last messages for our readers over here at Moshville Times?
I can’t thank you enough for your continued support for our little label over the years! For you to take out so much time to come up with such insightful questions means a lot to us! Thank you once again and cheers to the readers!