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Home » » Interview - KUNAL CHOKSI and TRANSCENDING OBSCURITY RECORDS - I work hard and hope for the best!

Interview - KUNAL CHOKSI and TRANSCENDING OBSCURITY RECORDS - I work hard and hope for the best!

Interview with Kunal Choksi from label Transcending Obscurity Records.

Translated by Duzl, thank you!

Questions prepared Jakub Asphyx.


Greetings to India. I hope you are well. Depending on amount of recently released new albums by your label, it looks like you are doing fine. How do you get an idea to create the label nowadays, when everyone is downloading albums from the Internet? I would also like to ask you for a short introduction to TRANSCENDING OBSCURITY RECORDS and a look into history. 

Hey Jakub! It’s an honour to answer your interview! Thank you very much for taking out the time to do this man! Things are getting better no doubt even though they could be better planned at my end. More releases mean more work and it’s been a year almost since I went on a holiday! I didn’t think about the response or how I will sustain things when starting off. I started off simply because I wanted to sign bands that others weren’t signing, the real underground ones that showed real promise. Sure illegal downloading sucks and that’s especially true and prevalent where I come from. I’m indebted to those few handful of supporters that allowed me to get to where I am now. Without their support, the label probably would never have taken off. 

For the uninitiated, Transcending Obscurity first existed under the name of Diabolical Conquest, which started off as a webzine way back in 2005. We never had ads and were brutally honest with our reviews. It was all done to promote deserving bands and then there was a name change to reflect our overall approach towards all of this i.e. to help obscure bands rise. 

I have been following your work from the beginning, and I must say that I really enjoy your access to music, bands, and promoters. You do a lot for underground. It is known that this is not just a job for you, but a big piece of heart. What were your beginnings in metal? Somewhere I read that the first album that brought you to it is Metallica's - Master of Puppets album. What was it like growing up as a metalhead in India? 

Thank you for your kind words. I like to be accessible and be accountable for my work. I work with full transparency and inform bands on things as much as possible. I’m just a fan honestly. I started off as an overenthusiastic metalhead and yes, being one in India was very difficult in the ‘90s when I started off. We didn’t have access to original CDs and merch, and the way I got music was through friends who recorded tapes for you at their homes. Yes, my first tape that was given to me was Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’. It was exactly what I had been looking for all my life (till then) apparently. The guy who got me into metal was Sherwyn Pinto. His method was different – he actually educated me and gave me a lot of information on bands, the music, differences between genres and so on. All this information wasn’t easily available on the internet back in the day. Because of this, my base in metal became strong and then I spent the next decade and a half writing about it – you know I too ran a webzine which makes me appreciate your work with your webzine more than others. And it was when this band The Dead approached me asking me to find labels for them (in vain), that I realized that perhaps I should try and support the band if no one else is interested. That led to the formation of the record label. Things were very slow initially and to support the local scene, I even started sub-labels. Nowadays however I’ve phased them out pretty much and I’m focusing completely on the main and only label, Transcending Obscurity Records. 

As I said before, a lot of fans prefer the digital music format today. You, as a label, also offer it. Do they buy music in this format a lot? Or do you sell more CDs? And what about vinyls? But we cannot forget about the cassettes, do you also publish them? 

Even though I’m an old school guy and prefer having it on the physical format, I realize the importance of not being stubborn and offering the bands what they need. I wasn’t big into vinyl honestly but many bands demanded that. I got into metal with tapes and it seems I’m back to it again, after a gap of almost a couple of decades. So at the moment, we’re offering all formats – CD, digital, vinyl and cassette. Not only that, we’re even offering box set versions of the same, just to make it that much more special. It’s a pain in the ass but if the customer is paying for it to get something physical and treasures it, I feel it’s good to give him more while you’re at it. 

The question is, how are you selecting bands for your label? Do you have any requirements in terms of concerts, are you talking to band about cover, making a CD, etc.? Or it up to only on band? Would you like a personal meeting? What about the contracts? Do you have a lawyer? 

Like you, I’m pretty experienced listening to bands of all styles (at least the extreme ones) and writing about them. I guess that gives me a fair idea of what I like and what I don’t. Personally I prefer bands that push the envelope in terms of sound or impact but such bands are few and far between. I’m not a very good businessman because I follow the heart and often do things instinctively than what will help me achieve the breakeven point – it’s the fan in me taking decisions most of the time. 

Has it ever happened to you that you rejected a band? If so, why? 

In most cases it’s just not something that appeals to my taste. It’s not about big or small. We’re used to pushing obscure bands, helping them rise. But yes, good presentation and overall aesthetics, not to mention flexibility helps a lot. Some bands just want to go with their poor sound and aesthetics and they don’t even want to improve on it. Of late I’m not considerate for this kind of attitude because it reflects on the quality and image of my label too. If they want their music to be out on all formats, they better be willing to offer the right kind of artwork and masters, or have me at least help them out with that. 

The diversity of the bands you released is great. From black, death, through industrial to doom metal. You must have a great deal of insight, I have not heard from you a bad album. It has to be outside my "field", but it always has something in it. Are you choosing all the bands you're going to release, alone or somebody is helping to you? How many people are actually behind of TRANSCENDING OBSCURITY RECORDS? 

I take the call myself. It’s a bit intuitive at times rather than logic. It’s difficult to explain. But yes, my base as a writer has definitely helped me get a better grasp of the different genres out there. I wish I could say that I keep a close eye on all the demo-level bands out there because of late I’ve just been too busy. And it’s easier for experienced bands to appreciate what I’m doing – the newer ones lack appreciation and expect to be a sensation overnight. With that said, I do check each and every submission that comes my way and also take recommendations of my bands seriously. I do have a staff to help me with the packing and to execute orders but I’m still overworked and hope by next year or so, I can have some time for myself so I can focus on my own art and music haha. Life is just insane at the moment! 

Your label came from the underground. I wonder how metal is in India for fans. Are they supporting bands? Are they going to concerts? Buying CDs, T-shirts? 

It’s obviously not as big as it is in the Western countries, but it’s the biggest in the Indian subcontinent and most parts of Asia. I’d say we’re getting there. We don’t have a language problem or an overly oppressive government so we can easily promote our bands and have bands to come down and play here often. People attend shows, buy merch, but only a few them actually support the music. They have no real qualms in downloading most of the stuff illegally probably because of limited income but with this attitude, there’s no way the musicians here can sustain this for a living or for very long. This line should be respected just as much as any, and it’s no crime to ask for a few bucks for a digital download or a physical format of their choice. It’s a matter of integrity but the fans would rather use that money for expensive phones or shoes or something haha. 

And what about metal shops, magazines, webzines in India? Does it work there? 

It’s very limited. Rolling Stone India shut down their physical magazine last year. Distros are there, perhaps a couple of shops too, but it’s very few and far between. Metal is more of a passing fad here until of course the person gets a job and starts a family, after which his priorities are drastically changed. I can’t blame them entirely but hey it’s music – it’s not like you ought to stop listening to it after a certain age, just like you don’t stop watching horror movies after a point of time. Moreover the camaraderie in this line of music is exceptional and you’ll never be alone at a show even if you go to one after years. 

I like the fact that you also support bands from your region. It's great for us in Europe and America, because we would not get to those bands. Did you manage to break through with someone? Is there any one you thought they was good and today they made you a "name"? What is your best-selling title? 

Hey man I did my best for the scene here. I even did a series of shows here and collaborated with people in other cities in my time and went on to put out over 50 regional releases. It’s more than anyone could I guess, especially as a label that also did PR for them. I never thought of breaking through but more along the lines of doing my best for every band given their style of music. Of course I thought they were deserving of a good chance. And as you can expect, I had to deal with a lot of ignorant bands as what I’m doing is kind of unheard of in these parts and they had different expectations perhaps. All in all, I know I did my bit when I could just as easily have done the same with the international label running parallel all the time. I think the scene here is a lot more aware with better facilities particularly for playing live. Now, as you know, I have phased out the regional sub-labels to focus on the main one entirely as that’s what I now do for a living. There’s no PR company or webzine either, due to lack of time. I need to focus on it and do my best for whoever I’ve committed to for whatever period of time. 

I write for our web site reviews, interviews, and reports from concerts. And I have to say that service from TRANSCENDING OBSCURITY RECORDS is perfect. I get everything always well prepared, I do not have to search for another information. That's exactly how it should be like! What is your relationship with printed magazines, webzines, fanzines? Do you have any favorite? How is the promotion of print and internet media important to you? 

I used to write not only for my own webzine but also contribute to about a dozen others back when I had the time. So I like this line man. I love writing. It’s a shame I can’t do it anymore because I have to run my label. Till about a year or so back, I also had my PR company going so I learnt to be very professional with that, and then I use a bit of my art experience to make sure the presentation is up to the mark. I’m very particular with all of these things. I’m glad it’s getting noticed! Having been on the other side of things as a writer, I have an idea of what information one would need, so I make sure everything is up to the mark! Being from India, I know I can’t have physical presence at shows so I’m 100% dependent on the promotion of print and internet media to spread the word. I spend most of my time with this kind of stuff but even that is less I feel! Hopefully I’ll be able to do more in the coming year.

I do not understand one thing a little bit. You have a lot of released albums, you care about the bands, the promotion. Behind all this is a lot of job. Are you ever resting sometimes? And how? Is TRANSCENDING OBSCURITY RECORDS your main job? If not, what's your main job? 

I badly need a vacation man! I’ve been working WAY too hard but it’s also important to do things in a significant way than just existing and doing things as and when it all happens. I constantly need to justify the faith the bands have put in me by doing everything that is needed for their releases, and even though I’m lagging behind a bit, the progress in the last year or so in particular has been tremendous. From working from my bedroom and coordinating things over phone, I have actually shifted into a proper office downstairs where I work in the company of my staff which definitely makes things more efficient. I’ve hired a metalhead friend to help me out with the promotional part of things so that’s exciting. It’s still a tiny operation but to think that we all are doing metal full time, it’s something of a dream come true. I don’t think I’d happily put in over 14 hours of work every day of the week if it’s not something I’m as passionate about. But yeah, I need to chill now. My body aches. My blood pressure is high, I’ve just learnt. But hope is on the horizon. I definitely want to be able to get out more and not stay put in my chair that’s started giving me back problems because of overwork! 

I, as a death metal fan, have been very happy with the release of SATHANAS, PAGANIZER and MASTER recently. Everything is European bands. How did you get together? 

Thank you so much! I just try to do my best for every band I work with and then the word spreads and one thing leads to another. At least that’s what happened with Paganizer, with whom I started working with for just an EP at first. Rogga Johansson was happy with my efforts so he let me work on the ‘Land of Weeping Souls’ full length too which really was a phenomenal release and it ended up being a huge release for the label as well. It was he who recommended my label to Paul Speckmann for Master, and it ultimately clicked. It was a dream come true to work with a band of that stature, one that we all grew up listening to. Sathanas are an excellent band – honest-to-goodness and they’re quite frankly setting the standards on how it is to be done within the style. I don’t care about the ultra-noisy black/thrash crap, but real riffs are what it’s about. The guys are genuine and we hope to do better next time around as well! It’s a bit of a shame that the kids are out of the loop but with sincere efforts, results will show. 

Do you have a dream, a band you want to release? 

Well, it’d sure be epic to put out stuff by Incantation, who happen to be one of my favourite bands. In fact, it was their ‘Diabolical Conquest’ CD which I ordered in the mid-90s that started the whole madness with the webzine and what not. I have several favourites of course like Suffocation, Napalm Death, Immolation, Gorguts, all of whom I’d LOVE to work with, but it’s just dreaming at this point of time haha. Perhaps a decade or so later, it could be more tangible, who knows? 

What about you and concerts? Are you going to metal or are you organizing live performances? And is there any band that kick your ass by their live show recently? When you have a time for yourself, you sit down and want to play your favorite music, what you will play? 

I last attended an Immolation concert. It was pretty kickass. I used to organize shows myself a few years back but nowadays I just don’t find the time. When I’m done with work, I spend time with my pets, especially my dog Dash and of course my six cats every now and then haha. It’s very therapeutic for me. I also love watching movies! I listen to music on and off when I’m working (well, it’s part of my work!) but yeah, in my free time when I can listen to stuff peacefully, I listen to my own albums thoroughly, especially the ones that are coming out so I can start thinking ahead and plan things in my head. There’s no rest there haha! 

Thank you very much for the interview. It's an honor for me. I wish you TRANSCENDING OBSCURITY RECORDS to be successful and doing well in your personal life as well. Thank you for a lot of great releases. I am glad that even in today's world there are people who support metal with a heart like you! 

Thank you so much for all your support Jakub! You’re way too kind and I don’t think if I’m deserving of all what you’ve said haha! I just work hard and hope for the best. There are ups and downs, surprises as well as disappointments when you expect things, but the important thing is to not let up. Cheers man! 

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