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Watt’s the deal with touring India?

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Lochlan Watt. A name synonymous with metal and heavy music – especially in Australia – and one that instantly comes to mind when you think about passion towards the scene. Renowned for his role as the host of The Racket, a heavy metal radio show on triple j, Lochlan has made music the priority in his life for as long as he can remember. Having recently toured India with Psycroptic for the first time as their fill-in vocalist, HEAVY sat down to have a chat with Lochlan about life on the road as a musician, working in the music industry, Psycroptic’s Indian tour, and more.

India is indeed a very different part of the world in many ways, and having experienced the culture of many other countries, Lochlan shared what the most fascinating thing was for him about India. “I think the thing that hit me the most was, that after a few shows, realising just how different each city was, and coming to terms with how many cultures exist within India. From my limited knowledge as an outsider who never really had a huge interest in learning more about India, I expected to experience a more homogenous culture. I was instead blown away by just how much everything changed from state to state: whether it be the language, religion, laws, food, or even the colour of people’s skin. I had a much more one-dimensional perception of India before actually seeing so many different parts of the country.” For many, stepping into India for the first time would undoubtedly be sensory overload given the diversity of the country, but this wasn’t the case with this Australian musician. “In terms of a ‘culture shock’, however, it wasn’t as huge for me as it was for other people in our touring party. I have toured ‘developing’ nations before, having spent two weeks on the road in Java, Indonesia, as well as playing DIY shows in Malaysia and Thailand – so many elements of living in that part of the world I was already familiar with – and in fact, I was surprised at much how much India seemed to be quite similar to South East Asia in many ways.” There was one very obvious thing, however, that did seem to leave a strong impact. “Something that did stand out a little more was the huge wealth disparity – the divide between the wealthy and those who live in poverty seemed plainer to see than in any other country I have been to. It was a little saddening at times, to realise that the shows we were playing, and even the ability to play music on this kind of level, must be completely financially and socially inaccessible to a whole lot of people. In Australia, it’s pretty easy to be a bludge on Centrelink and still be able to pay rent and play in a band. India doesn’t have that kind of security. ” As sad as that may be, it is the truth. But having gone on this tour and experiencing the music scene in India, the band certainly had the opportunity to view live music from a different set of eyes. We talked about what his expectations were and whether the reality was different to which he replied, “I expected a lot more people to come to the Delhi show for some reason – probably because it was the capital city – but it was still a great show. That 30-60 minutes of sharing music with people every night, and drinking beer in foreign cities, and meeting new people at shows, don’t change a huge amount no matter where in the world you are. It’s just more exciting and unpredictable in places that are a little more detached from the rest of the professional touring circuit.”

The live music atmosphere in India is surely an experience of its own kind – and certainly different in a few ways – from what international artists have seen in other countries that they have toured. Lochlan shared his thoughts on gigs in India. The atmosphere was awesome, and I found the more rural we got, the better the reaction was; as is the case with a lot of tours I’ve done. The fewer tours people get to see, the more excited they seem to get for the ones that do come through.” He is right; the band did get quite rural while hitting cities such as Shillong and Chennai which, in terms of geographical location and culture, are quite primitive as compared to the other cities included on tours such as Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore. But each place did seem to have its own charm. It’s hard to pick a favourite, especially when most of what we got to see was just airports, roads, hotel rooms and venues, with just a few tourist spots where time allowed. Pune was probably my favourite show of the tour, in terms of how we played, the audience and the venue, and Shillong was cool as fuck because we played in that wild outdoor setting on a festival-style stage made from bamboo. Chennai seemed really nice, although I would have liked to have been able to spend a bit more time there relaxing. Overall though, I guess I would have to say Hyderabad, simply because we got to spend 3-4 days there and sank our teeth in a little more.”

Having done a few tours now and travelled to various parts of the world, I was curious as to what his thoughts were on his first Indian tour, as I’m sure there was a lot to process. India does have that effect on a person. “The main thing that made the tour stand out was having to fly between each show. Other hugely populated and dense countries like Japan and Indonesia, I have toured extensively in a van with no worries. But because the roads were so notoriously packed and poorly maintained, the fact that it was so much more cost and time effective to fly between every single show was, for whatever reason, surprising to me and made the touring experience a little different. I’ve done everything from getting paid to do professional bus tours in the USA and Europe, to paying money to do bare bones DIY expeditions in South East Asia, and honestly, if you put aside the comforts of having your own backline and the same bunk bed to sleep in every night, the actual touring experience is fairly similar no matter where you go.”

Throughout the length of their first Indian tour, Psycroptic were joined by two Indian metal acts in their prime, Godless from Hyderabad and Fragarak from Delhi with support from various local bands in each city giving the band an opportunity to experience Indian metal. “There were a lot of impressive bands on tour! I think from what I saw, Indian metal is almost on par with the rest of the world. All that’s really holding it back is exposure, and the ability to do more extensive tours to become more well-oiled, road-worthy machines. I guess money is a key factor here. Out of all the bands we saw, Godless impressed me the most. Not only were they stylistically the most appealing to me, but they seemed to have it all sorted out: a great stage presence, killer songs, relentless playing, a solid image, and no bullshit. I’ve honestly had some of their songs stuck in my head ever since the tour. Fragarak were not so much for me, but some seriously impressive players, nonetheless.”

The first time performing with Psycroptic is quite an achievement. How did it feel, especially performing in a place like India? This was Lochlan’s ninth time filling in for a band on vocals and first time performing with Psycroptic; a massive achievement and milestone on both counts. “I’m no stranger to filling in for bands and having to learn a whole set of lyrics that are not my own. I had months to learn the set and even got to have a couple of jams with the band beforehand, which hasn’t happened with a bunch of my previous fill-in gigs. However, I was still a bit nervous, and was going over lyrics right up until about 10 minutes before going on stage for the first time – just terrified that I’d forget where I was and fuck it all up. Once that first show was out of the way, though, I felt great; although my performance was far from perfect. By the last few shows of the tour, I felt like I was doing the band the justice it deserved and totally nailing the set. To be able to say that I got to do that for a band that I’ve been listening to for almost half of my life – a band that was one of the very first bands that got me into death metal – was super cool, and would have been super cool in any country. The fact that I got to do it in India just made it all the more surreal. I’m happy that everyone seemed to think I did a good job at filling Jason’s shoes, and I’m glad I got to be a part of sharing one of my favourite bands with so many people who had never before had the chance.” The life of a touring musician is one of a kind, and of course, I asked him to share what he loved most about it.I love touring more than anything, so it’s hard to put it down to one exact thing. But I do love the fact that every day is different. Sure, you develop a routine, particularly with some styles of touring more than others, but a tour like this Indian one was particularly exciting in that you never know exactly how the day is going to go; who you’re going to meet, what you’re going to eat, and what the show is going to be like. It keeps me on my toes. I feel more comfortable when I’m living out of a backpack than I do sleeping in my bedroom.”

Touring with your own band would certainly be different from filling in for one, and he’s done both. Thus comes the question of how much the dynamic changes when you perform with a band or if it’s essentially the same on every tour. “While the core basis of touring stays the same, there is a huge difference in dynamics from band to band. Each band has their own language – their in-jokes, their own rules, their economy, their own hierarchy. So, how I play into this is all dependent on so many factors. Is the gig just a fill in? Is it a ‘trial run’? How long have I been friends with them for? Is the band a known entity, or more just a local getting out there for the first time? Is the band making money? Are you being paid? How much time have I had to prepare?” In terms of preparation, there was one thing that was different for Lochlan with the ‘Echoes to Come’ tour. “I did have more time to prepare for Psycroptic than most other fill in roles I’ve taken on before, and the band have been my friends for a long time. I’ve toured with them before – both in supporting bands and as their merch guy/party tech – and they used to stay at my old house in Brisbane when they were on tour back in 2009. I even lived with Dave for a while after moving to Melbourne, so we’ve been mates for a long time. I was familiar with how they work, and it was a super easy and comfortable position to slot into. Psycroptic is an incredibly down to earth band, and they’re quite used to having touring fill-in members, as well.”

Dead Kings, Idylls, Defamer, Cross The Lips of Grace, Brazen Bull, Marathon are some of the bands that the Melbourne-based vocalist has filled in for, but another prominent Australian band that Lochlan has had the pleasure of performing with is Thy Art is Murder. Filling in on vocals last year and having toured with them a fair bit, we continued talking about what is done to be ready for such tours. “I think just the fact that I’d already done Thy Art had prepared me a lot for this tour – that band has significantly more international profile than Psycroptic, and there was a lot more riding on it, with having to fill the shoes of the larger than life character, voice, and idol that CJ is. There was also the possibility with that band that it would become a permanent position. So, it felt like there was more pressure there, and in reality, I only had about three days to learn the material. I didn’t even get to have a full rehearsal with them before the first show. It wasn’t perfectly smooth sailing, but after a week of shows, I had it locked in. This will sound cocky, but if I can pull off singing for Thy Art Is Murder, I can pull off singing for most other death metal bands in the world. That’s not to say that Psycroptic didn’t have its challenges – some of the older material especially was very hard to get locked in, with some tricky rhythms I wasn’t used to, and some indecipherable lyrics, so I just had to go over the songs a heap to get it committed to memory. The music of Psycroptic is a little less covered in vocals than Thy Art, and despite some of the insane rhythms they have at times, there’s a bit more of a chance to catch your breath in the songs. Psycroptic suited my natural range a little better also, where as with Thy Art, I felt like I had to force it to try and hit some of those low notes.”

To be honest, I could only spot the bright side of filling in and going on tour. “It’s a pretty good deal! While I have put in a huge amount of time, money, and energy into my bands over the years – and I wouldn’t be in this position if I hadn’t – as a fill-in, you’re essentially getting to just walk straight into the payoff of playing sick shows, seeing the world, and in recent cases, actually getting paid to be on tour. You don’t have to be directly involved in the ‘hard yards’ it takes to get there, and as a front person, you get a lot of the glory on the night.” But then, surprisingly there are a few disadvantages to it as well. “The downside is not being able to express my own thoughts and feelings on stage, and sometimes not even liking what some of the songs are about. For example, I never felt entirely comfortable singing the misogynistic songs from Thy Art’s earlier catalogue. Even with my previous band Colossvs, I walked into a situation where the album was already written, and even though I recorded the vocals, they weren’t really my own, and we ended up only getting to play one song that I had written by the end of it. Despite generally feeling the vibe and agreeing with a lot of the topics these bands all contain in their songs, having that personal creative outlet is something that I miss. Even still, after performing a lot of shows with a band, I still tend to develop a connection and a sense of ownership to the band and its songs. I’ve spent my whole life since I was 17 having my identity very strongly tied to the bands I’ve been in, and walking away from that can be hard.”

That being said, I had to find out if this young talent has anything of his own in the works having previously been in a few of his own projects as well as collaborations. Some of Lochlan’s old bands include Nuclear Summer, Western Decay, The Surrogate and Ironhide, but is there anything new around the corner? “After Thy Art, I started working on my band once again – we wrote a few songs – I poured my heart out over some sick post-metal/metalcore demos. Everything was seemingly going well, but then, just like that, the project was scrapped through no call of my own. That left me feeling pretty bummed out, and I haven’t gotten stuck into anything else since. Maybe I’m too picky, maybe I can be hard to work with, but either way it’s kinda hard to find people around my age who are still keen and still committed to this lifestyle, and actually, have what it takes without already being in active bands. I’ve had a few offers too, but after touring as a part of the level of bands that I have, it’s gotta be something truly fucking sick or I’ll just be settling for less than satisfactory. There are some things new and old on the horizon at the moment, but until one of those things is 100% happening, I’m not gonna say much more than that.”

India, being a country rich in culture, tradition and history, as well as a stark contrast to the West, is bound to leave an impression on you in one way or another, teaching you little life lessons along the length of your journey. Lochlan shared what he’s taken back with him from this tour, and his answer is quite humbling.It was a huge reminder of the quality of life we have in Australia, and the Indian experience reawakened my empathy towards those who have to leap over mountains just for the chance at a shot at life in our country. However, it is impossible to comprehend the true depth of humanity, and at the same time, the experience of the poverty I witnessed (even though most of it was from behind car windows) was on such a huge level that it also hardened my soul. Overall, it left me incredibly thankful for what I have here in Australia. To be in the position I am in – to be able to tour the world through playing extreme metal – is just such an incredibly unrealistic dream for so many people, and the fact that I have been somehow lucky enough to achieve it is truly staggering. To be a little less deep about it, it’s nice to experience heavy metal is a truly global culture, and know that I am part of something bigger: something that transcends borders, ethnicities, religions, currencies, and language.

Given how much of the world artists such as Lochlan see on account of touring, we talked about travel outside of tours as well. “Touring is so regimented, so when I’m travelling outside of music, I like to have as little planned as possible. I’ve been on holidays in the past where I’ve rocked up to a country with no plans, and just worked out what I was doing as I went along. This has lead to some of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had as a backpacker, and put me in situations and lead me to people that would otherwise not happen by following a rigid or typical tourist style. If we had had more time off in India, I definitely would have disappeared for a while and come back with some crazy stories.” Sharing one of his most memorable travel moments, Lochie continues, “One time in Japan, me and a friend just took a bullet train and ended in some rural town that isn’t really on the map. And when we got there, it was raining heavily, and we ended up booking a room for one night in a five-star hotel which happened to be the first place we could find to get out of the rain. We were a few days into the trip, and my travel mate wasn’t stoked on my travel style, he made plans to head back to Tokyo and meet up with some others the next day and had an early night. Instead, I went up to the sky bar of the said hotel, met and drank fancy drinks for free with the owner of the entire chain of hotels and the bar manager, as well as some guy staying there that used to be an animator on the original Dragon Ball Z series! My friend went back to Tokyo, and I went on to discover all sorts of wild sights that weren’t on any itinerary in rural Japan. I’ve got heaps of stories like that. I love to tour, but that’s not how I like to travel if you know what I mean. The two are separate things to me.” As they should be. 

I picked his brain a little bit to find out what’s on his playlist at the moment and there are some tasty choices in there. “That new track from Humanity’s Last Breath is the nastiest shit I’ve heard all year, go listen to that. I also got into the new Decrepit Birth album the other day – super sick technical death metal. I’ve also been giving the latest efforts from Thy Art Is Murder, Cursed Earth, Make Them Suffer, The Acacia Strain, Incendiary, and Justice For The Damned a heavy listening. Venom Prison, Youth Code, and Anaal Nathrakh all released hella tight albums last year that I’m still jamming. The Godless EP has been getting a good run since India, as well. Over the last year, I’ve also gotten heavily into this kind of newer style of electronic music called synthwave, and have been listening to a bunch of producers/bands like Perturbator, Carpenter Brut, The Midnight, and FM-84. Metal and hardcore are stronger than ever, but I’m getting excited by this new wave of electronic stuff as well. Catch me pressing buttons at a rave in 2018.”

For someone who has been in the industry for more than half his life, and having worked all sorts of jobs, it’s inspirational, to say the least, the milestones Lochlan has achieved in the industry. Along with being a musician, he is immersed in a number of other things, one of which includes being the only person employed by the Australian government to specialise in heavy metal. “I’ve had so many setbacks and failures, and to put it simply, I’ve been fucked over a lot, and I’ve fucked myself over a lot. There have been so many times where I felt I should have quit and just decided to do something in the ‘real world’. While I have at times had to have brief forays into corporate life or physical labour in order to pay my bills, for whatever reason, I never gave up on the dream, and am now in a pretty good position where I can survive 100% off of my work in the music industry through The Racket and EVP Recordings. The bonus is sometimes getting paid to tour as well. It’s all so surreal; the radio thing was not something I ever even really aspired to do. The job just came up, and I went for it.”

Lochlan has one last message for people who are aspiring to work in the music industry and let me tell you; it’s pretty solid advice. “It’s nice to be paid enough through music to survive, though making money was never the primary motivation, and if you’re looking for that in extreme music, I’d say just get out now, because people will see through you, and there’s not a gigantic amount of it to go around anyway. But, having a normal life just didn’t appeal to me, and I just wanted to do music. I wanted to see the world through it. It’s pretty cliché, but all I can really say is that if you want this as your life, don’t give up. If we’re being realistic, many people give it their all and never quite get there, but it’s better to have tried and failed. I’d still be involved in this thing in one way or another even if things hadn’t worked out as well as they have.”

Tune into ‘The Racket’ on triple j every Tuesday night from 10 pm to catch Lochlan Watt and heaps of great metal.

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