October 20, 2015 Interview – Hiran Deraniyagala of Battlecross
Battlecross is a Thrash Metal band for the people. The band found its origin in Canton, Michigan and has quickly built a reputation as hardworking, road dogs. In 2010, Battlecross demanded the attention of Metal Blade records with the release of their debut record Push, Pull, Destroy. At the same time, personnel changes brought Vocalist Kyle “Gumby” Gunther into the band, triggering the re-recording of the album. The new incarnation would be released by Metal Blade Records in 2011 under the name Pursuit of Honor. That record produced three singles and propelled the band to the forefront of their genre. They hit the road and toured for the next two years, raising their profile further. Now in 2015 the band pump out their third offering, Rise to Power, to critical acclaim. Currently featured on GWAR’s 30 Years of Total World Domination tour with Born of Osiris, Battlecross look to put a choke hold on the American Metal scene. Recently we were able to catch up with founding guitarist Hiran Deraniyagala to discuss the tour, Battlecross’ new album, their future, and more.
CrypticRock.com – Battlecross has been a hard-working band for over a decade now. In the last few years, the band has really seen tremendous strides forward. What has the experience been like with the band thus far?
Hiran Deraniyagala – It has been awesome man, definitely a roller coaster ride. It has been crazy, starting from doing little clubs and just trying to get on whatever tour we can, to doing these huge festivals like Mayhem, the Orion festival, and all that shit. It has been cool man, the growth of the band from where we started in the local scene to now, it is just amazing to reflect back on how much we have done in three or four years. It has been a learning experience and it has been a lot of hard work, but it is that steady pay off, slowly, one thing at a time. A lot of people see the success from the outside and think, “Oh man, you guys are blowing up and you’re probably making all kinds of money.” That is not the way it goes, I mean you get over one hump and then you gotta climb over the next. It is a continuous upward climb, but it has been awesome.
CrypticRock.com – Of course, but the hard work is obviously paying off. Two-thousand and thirteen’s War of Will was certainly an eye opener for Metal fans on a grand scale. It followed by extensive touring on everything from Mayhem Festival to tours with Killswitch Engage and Death Angel, to name a few. What were some of the most important things you learned from that record and touring cycles?
Hiran Deraniyagala – Definitely, from that record, we, more or less, matured and realized that songwriting and having dynamics to the songs carries over a lot better compared to just constant, fast songs in your face sort of thing. We learned a lot from doing a song like “Beast,” which is a sort of a standout song on War of Will as it is much slower and groovier. I think fans really attached to that song. At first, we did not think we would play it live. The studio said, it would be more of a filler song, so when that became a popular song with the crowd, we thought, “OK, we don’t have to go a million miles an hour to impress your audience.” Also, we learned that just having different dynamics and saying every song does not have to be the same, each song can have its own character.
We definitely learned that on War of Will. There were songs that had their own dynamic, but I feel like we stepped more into that realm with Rise to Power. Then, as far as touring goes, we learned that you could do all of this really great shit, one after the other like Orion and Mayhem, but then sometimes you got to step down for a little bit and do different things. You are not always going to get the biggest and best tours that come around. Not to say that anything we did was not great or was a step down, but sometimes when you are on the high rise of doing one big thing after another, you cannot expect that to happen every time. Sometimes when you see a certain tour that you really want and you get passed over, you have to say, “OK, we can’t have it all, but we understand that we need to keep working no matter what.” I think we learned that from the different tours that we did. It was like, one tour would have its own audience; like Mayhem had a wide variety of fans in the audience, and Orion festival; which is huge, and then you go and do Death Angel; which is more Thrash oriented, then you go back to do some club stuff, and then you do Killswitch Engage; which is a whole different audience. We are playing to these different audiences, and you have to learn what in your set works with the audiences and what carries over.
You learn from the different audiences what works and what does not. The one thing that never changes is that we do not ever hold back on our stage presence and what we give to the audience. It does not matter if it is a few people or thousands of people, it is still gonna be the same set. We did Protest the Hero and that was a step into a realm that maybe we do not necessarily fit into. Those bands were a different dynamic, it was still somewhat in the Metal realm, but more of a Progressive Rock sort of thing, and here we are this Thrash, Death Metal band stepping in there. That was one of those things to us, that we were not afraid to play with anybody, we are going to go in with any band and just do our thing. I feel like we can fit in anywhere in the Metal world, as broad as it is. I mean, we have done tours with Five Finger Death Punch, to Trivium, to Death Angel, so it is just a wide variety of audiences that we can resonate with.
CrypticRock.com – Being able to play to those different audiences allows the potential of new ears. Now, the band is back in 2015 with your third overall studio record, Rise to Power. What was the writing and recording process like for this record?
Hiran Deraniyagala – We definitely matured as musicians and songwriters. I think that we are much more confident as far as putting out an album. The industry sort of looks at you and says, “OK, they did a second album, what can they do on this third one,” and you get more of that pressure. The second album, you get that pressure; “You did a first album, let’s see if you can follow that up strong.” You are still a little green in the industry, and I think after the experience with Audio Hammer and going back to Audio Hammer for the second time, we sort of knew what to expect. This time we worked with Jason Suecof more one on one. He was engineer and co-producer along with Mark Lewis, and with him, it was a different approach. He did things differently than Eyal Levi, who did War of Will. Both were at Audio Hammer, so we knew a little bit of Jason because he had helped us with some stuff on War of Will.
We went in with some demo ideas that we were happy with, but they still needed work. We needed some guidance and direction, and that is where Jason and Mark stepped in. They said, “You guys got some cool stuff here, but let’s make them better.” Having them guide us helped shape the record. We shut out the pressure from the label and we did not worry about trying to deliver for them. We trusted ourselves to write a great record and that was our approach. We started building songs and we were not afraid to do stuff we did not normally do. That is where the dynamics came from. Some stuff was real 80’s and some stuff had a slow heavy Doom feel to it, but it still had our essence. We did not rely on what was successful last time. Jason Suecof is an experienced and talented producer. He has worked with Trivium, Black Dahlia Murder, and Job for a Cowboy, so he knew how to bring out our best performances. At the same time, he was able to take the pressure off of us by joking around and making the process fun.
CrypticRock.com – That is great, because you do this becasue you love it. Right off the bat, this record sounds much tighter and even darker than anything you have done prior. Was it the band’s objective to sort of refine the sound this time around?
Hiran Deraniyagala – Everything was very organic and natural. We did not say we are gonna write this record this way; everything just came natural. Working with Jason and Mark, those elements helped shape the way things came out, but I think overall, it was just our attitude and what we were feeling at that moment. To me, an album is just a piece of time. It is what you are going through at that moment and what you are feeling. That is why each album is different, because you are in a different place with a different mindset.
CrypticRock.com – That is very true, an album is a snap-shot of life in the moment. This was also the first record working with Alex Bent behind the drum kit. What was the chemistry like with him and the rest of the band in the studio?
Hiran Deraniyagala – It was awesome. We got to know him from doing about a year of touring before we went and did the record. We got to know him from being on the road with him. It immediately clicked. The connection he had with the band on stage and jamming with him was great. This was technically the first record that we wrote together. On War of Will, Shannon Lucas stepped in on drums at the last minute. Pursuit of Honor was different because Kyle “Gumby” Gunther stepped in later when the lyrics had already been written, so this was the first time where we all wrote together. We were sending Alex songs and asking him to come up with parts and he was sending us his input. We got to jam with him a little bit, for about a week, and go over new songs, but because of the distance, we did not get to work for weeks on end with him writing songs. Overall, it was a good experience. Alex has his experience with his previous bands and I think he has a good idea of how to write with guitar players, so that connection was just there.
CrypticRock.com – That connection is important. The band is on the road again, this time with GWAR. What has this string of shows been like?
Hiran Deraniyagala – It has been awesome. It has been fun. We are familiar with both bands from touring with them previously. We did three shows with GWAR before at the GWAR B-Q, and we did Mayhem with Butcher Babies, so we are friends and it is cool to come back to that and get reacquainted again. It has been awesome and the shows have been fun. It is cool because I think each band brings a different audience to the shows, so we are pulling in new fans all the time. Our fans may not have seen the other bands, so it is cool to be able to share fans. That is why we do these things, we can play to a whole new audience.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, definitely. You will in fact remain on the road through the end of November with GWAR. Does the band pride themselves on being a live band?
Hiran Deraniyagala – Yes, you have to go out there and hit hard. A lot of what this industry sees, and a lot of the feedback we get from bands is, You guys are just out there on tour non-stop.” You have to get out there and let people know who you are. We play Thrash Metal and there are a million bands out there doing Metal. We are not reinventing the wheel, we are just trying to do our own thing; we do what we do. I think where we stand out is our live show. We are trying to bring back the fun and energy to the live show. We want people to walk away having had a great time and appreciating not only our music but our live show as well.
We have fun up there and people connect with that. We appreciate being able to do what we do. The industry has changed so much that live shows are where it is at. Touring is how we build our fanbase and it is how we let people know who we are. Kyle and Tony both have kids. In fact. Tony just had his kid recently, so he is sitting this tour out. We realize how important family is, but we also have to keep this train rolling, so we have our friend Joe Cady who has been our tech and has handled merch for us for a few years, on the road. He stepped right in and has been doing awesome. We do not stop for anything, we keep going no matter what. We have all sorts of shit happen, but we always find a way to get to the show. We do not want to ever disappoint the people who paid to see a show. We work hard to keep this thing going.
CrypticRock.com – It is great that you guys put so much hard work into your live shows because, these days, its all bout the live experience and fans appreciate that. We would like to ask next,what are some of your musical influences?
Hiran Deraniyagala – Definitely Pantera, Slayer, and Metallica, those are the bands I connected with. I was also influenced by my local scene. Tony and I would go to see a band called Summer Dying that had a great influence on me. I would go to shows and wish I was up there. I learned a lot about stage presence from watching intense local bands perform. It was a mixture of all of that, and my taste expanding out to include more extreme Metal. I am more of the Death Metal, Grindcore guy. I try to bring in a good balance of that to our music. There are some Extreme Metal bands that can hold a groove, like Cannibal Corpse and Dying Fetus, and I try to incorporate an element of that so that it is catchy and fun, but still technical and challenging.
CrypticRock.com – That is a pretty cool mix of influences. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Hiran Deraniyagala – It is funny, I was just talking to a guy who works with GWAR about Horror movies. He was wearing a The Beyond (1981) shirt. I was a fan of Lucio Fulci’s stuff. The Beyond, Zombie (1979), City of the Living Dead (1983), House by the Cemetery (1984), stuff like that. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is one of my favorites, and The Exorcist (1973) is probably my favorite just because I remember going to see the re-release where they added the extra footage. Just seeing it again in a theater, it scared the shit out of me again. This movie holds the test of time as being one of the creepiest fucking movies ever. That, to me, is one of the scariest films.
I love when a movie can create atmosphere, and it is not just what you are seeing, but the soundtrack. I am a big fan of the movies that have weird soundtracks, that create this eerie sort of vibe as well. Like, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it did not have a lot of music in it, but what it has in it is creepy as shit. I have been a fan of some of the gore shit too, like Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985). Cannibal Holocaust (1979), that movie was insane. It was one of those movies that you watch and get depressed afterwards because it is so fucked up. It is disturbing and fucked up, but you can still see the genius in it. The director was put on trial because they thought it was real. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was awesome too. I am not generally impressed with a lot of new Horror, but the last new Horror film I liked was It Follows (2015). I thought that was cool.