Interview with Priya Panda of Diemonds – July 5th, 2016

By Mike Bax
Lead Image photo by Nikki Ormerod

There’s a few bands in Toronto that I consider to be a must-see good time, and I consider Diemonds one of them. A five-piece band almost a decade into their career, I got turned onto the band when they opened a Steel Panther show in Toronto four years ago and enjoyed what I heard and saw. When Diemonds latest album (entitled Never Wanna Die) got released last year, it was an album that very quickly made it into my car to be cranked at top volume and ultimately rocked out to on an uncountable number of times. I’ve since seen the band numerous times in assorted venues around the Highway 401 region and have always left their shows impressed.

Diemonds were asked to open Steel Panther’s Canadian summer tour, all of the shows pretty much sell-outs within 24 hours of going on sale. London is Monday July 11th at London Music Hall and the last night is Waterloo July 12th at Maxwell’s Concerts and Events. Lead vocalist Priya Panda took 20 minutes of her time to talk a bit about this summer tour, the guys in Steel Panther, recording with Eric Ratz and her love of Stephen Pearcy after stepping off a plane in Saskatoon the afternoon before their first show at O’ Brian’s Event Centre.

Mike: Everything good? Are we cool to talk for a bit?

Priya: Everything is great. We’ve just landed in Saskatoon.

Mike: I wondered if you flew in today.

Priya: We just landed and had some food. We’re going to find something to fill some time for a little bit here today.

Mike: The first time I saw Diemonds was opening for Steel Panther. So I think it’s cool you are going back out with them again.

Priya: It’s been a while, but yeah. It’s definitely great for us. We are so stoked to be on this tour with them. Steel Panther are really good us – very supportive. It’s a great double bill. If you come out to these shows you will get a couple of bands that you’re going to dig. If you like one you are going to like the other. It’s fantastic.

Mike: I agree. Was that just the one date you did with them back in 2012?

Priya: Yes, it was. I’ve been on tour a few of the other times when they came back. But I did get to see them last time they came around and they were amazing. I hadn’t been able to say hi to them in a while. So last year they played again at Sound Academy and went out and said hi and checked it out. It was awesome.

Mike: Are Steel Panther as crazy backstage as they exude onstage?

Priya: (laughs) They are definitely goofy dudes. They are funny. Of course, to an extent there is a little bit of a performance going on when they play. And we respect that, right? It’s awesome.

Mike: I would hope that’s the case. I wouldn’t think they’d be able to keep up if they were doing everything they were singing about on stage. Diemonds have been pretty busy since your album came out last year, especially with that Juno nod. I was super happy to see that you were included with those other four artists this year.

Priya: Thank you. We were too. It was super exciting. To be an underground band like we are, it kind of legitimizes all the work we’ve put in over the last decade – to be recognized by a legitimate board of musicians and industry types who recognized a little metal band from Toronto with that nomination.

Mike: I agree. I would take that as a definite feeling of vindication. That said, Never Wanna Die is a really top notch album. It’s a clean sounding body of work; it’s tightly produced; there isn’t a dud song on that album in my mind. So it should rightfully be recognized.

Priya: Thank you very much.

Mike: If you had to lose to any of those bands you were up against, that’s ok. You were in good company in that category.

Priya: Totally. Everyone we know in metal, rock, hard rock – we’re all really supportive of each other’s bands and really supportive of the scene. We want all of the bands we know to succeed because we want the scene to succeed and flourish. We are always looking at the bigger picture. To be alongside bands who work really hard and make great music, that people connect to, it’s cool to be a part of that. We just put our heads down and made music that we like over the past few years, so it’s great to be recognized and know that people out there are also interested in hearing this music we are making for ourselves.

Mike: Do you ever think about what it is to be an independent heavy rock musician in Canada?

Priya: Oh, of course. It’s hard not to feel the effects of being an independent musician in Canada. Driving across the country alone, add in hard costs and gas, that alone will prevent a lot of bands from making the trek from coast to coast. A lot of things that bands with a lot of financial support – or a support structure from their team and their label, they won’t necessarily have to consider all of the things we have to consider if they accept shows or tours or bookings. We have to make sure that we can really afford to be there. It has to be a worthwhile opportunity for us to be a part of. We can’t say yes to everything. It’s just not in the budget. So it’s different for us, for sure.

Mike: I’m going to assume that you all maintain some form of work / money making while you are doing Diemonds.

Priya: Absolutely, yeah. We work in order to play music. Obviously, we all hope that one day that will change. We’d love for music to become what we do. But until that happens, we are more than happy to keep doing what we do so that we can play music. Because, at the end of the day, a lot of people work and they don’t get to play music. So I feel pretty happy and blessed that we have set up our lives to be able to play. Yes, we have day jobs, but most of our peers do too. It’s just kind of a way of life.

Mike: Have you all talked about what life might look like if it was viable for you to all be full time musicians? Is everybody on board?

Priya: Oh, of course. You know, we talk about that all the time. It’s fun to talk about it but right now where we’re standing it’s a little bit unrealistic. But yes, that’s the dream. “Holy shit, we will be on tour for nine months out of the year and we will go here and go there…: Once you get out and are putting yourself out there more and more, opportunities will just keep coming your way. So, of course, the more you put into it the more you get back. That is why work and music is such a balance. You don’t want to get your head too much into your day job that is just earning you money and that takes you away from the music. It’s a really fine balance.

Mike: What steered you towards metal when you were a young girl, Priya?

Priya: Oh, man. When it comes to alternative music – metal, punk and underground music, probably one of my best introductions was through my best friend, Meagan. Her brothers were huge metalheads and punk fans. They got me into the Misfits and Guns N’ Roses and Hole. Those were some of my early influences for heavy music and metal. Yeah.

Mike: Is there a particular concert that you saw back in the day that you would describe as being a game changer for you?

Priya: Yes. I guess one of the first punk concerts I saw was Sum41 in one of their earliest incarnations. It was a local Toronto show at the Opera House. I think it was a battle of the bands deal. I was like 12 years old. That one was of the first big shows that I’d been to. I guess it wasn’t even that big of a show – it was a small show, but it was the first time I felt less like a freak and more like I was amongst like-minded people. It was therapeutic. It got me going to shows and making lots of friends in the music world. It made the not fitting in at home or at school easier because I had friends at music shows and underground shows. That’s where I could have friends and meet guys and finally be myself.

Mike: Would you mind reiterating how Diemonds first formed?

Priya: Yes. Diemonds was formed by me. It was actually with my friend Meagan who I mentioned earlier. She was our first original guitar player. We were doing a couple of keggers and just writing some songs. But the band got together seriously when I was in New York. I interned at MTV and I was on a tour bus for the Nine Inch Nails / Queens of The Stone Age / Death From Above 1979 tour and I met CC. He was a roadie for Death From Above 1979. It was in New York City, too. I’d never met him in Toronto, nor any of the shows that I’d been to. It was surprising that we hadn’t met each other. And the thing that really got us talking was him asking if I liked RATT. I was like “holy shit, I finally met somebody who likes RATT as much as I do”. And at my age too, I felt like this was going crazy. So I went back to Toronto and I was still doing Diemonds and CC walked into a bar that I was DJing at. And I was like “Oh, hey, remember me from New York?” We went back and forward filling in that I was in a band, looking for new members and he was looking to play. It all just kind of came together from there. I’d say our mutual love of RATT started it all off.

Mike: Right on. Stephen Pearcy. I love it.

Priya: I love Stephen Pearcy. Definitely one of my vocal idols and my style idol as well. He’s really up there for me in terms of an entertainer.

Mike: One of the first bands I saw when I was young.

Priya: RATT? Ooooo.

Mike: They opened for Ozzy on the Bark at The Moon tour. That is kind of showing my age, I guess. It was cool to see them with Ozzy. That, to me, was a great double bill.

Priya: Yeah, no shit?! That was such a good era for Ozzy, too. Eighties Ozzy is the shit.

Mike: It was. I was huge into Ozzy back then. What would you say has been the biggest hurdle for Diemonds so far, Priya?

Priya: Hmm. Everything is a challenge for an independent band. But I think we’ve done our best to work with what we have. We are pretty much self-booked. For a band that likes to be on the road as much as we can allot 12 months out of the year, it’s difficult to be on the road and try and keep up with the booking. These tours happen because we book them. Artists that have a team behind them doing this sort of thing while they are working, playing and out on tour, more tours can happen smoothly for them. We seem to have that little break: we go on tour, we come home and book more tours and then go on tour again then come home and book more tours. So we have a different cycle – that’s just the way it works for us.

Mike: I’d like to know a little more about Never Wanna Die. How long did that album take you all to put together from start to finish?

Priya: We were writing the songs for quite some time. Before we even recorded The Bad Pack, some of those songs already existed in their early inceptions. So when it came to the songwriting on this album we took a lot more time with it. We didn’t just put the first things that came to our mind down on tape, which is 100% what we did with The Bad Pack. We didn’t have a producer for that album, we didn’t work with anyone. We just had a recording engineer, so it was a “Hey guys, is this good? Yeah. I guess. Cool. Let’s keep it.” And then with Never Wanna Die we challenged ourselves. Questions like “Don’t you think we could do that better?” “What if we tried this? Or that?” We had more time in the studio for Never Wanna Die. And we were lucky that we got a government grant to help with the finances, which is why we got to work with Eric Ratz, and how we could afford to work with Eric Ratz. He is a very successful rock producer in Canada so he was our goal. It was really great when that all came together. Eric was definitely tough on us. We were in the studio every single day. We worked on music every single day. That’s the work ethic we have always wanted to have – that experience where you are just immersed in a project for so many months. But that often comes down to the finances. We never had the opportunity to work so completely and wholly on music as we did when we put Never Wanna Die together. I would say it took maybe three or four months overall.

Mike: Were you able to record it all in that booked block of time with Eric? Or did you have to go back into the studio to fix songs up over multiple bookings?

Priya: Lots of sessions. We recorded the drums at this huge legendary studio called Phase One and then we recorded our guitars mainly as Vespa Studios which is owned by Harry Hess from Harem Scarem, and he is super to work with. So supportive and such a talented musician. Being around these types of people inspires the hell out of us, you know? We had the opportunity to work with some really talented people that upped our game. I think that helped us put out a better record, to write better songs and to write better lyrics and write better riffs. We really got to be at one with that record, so to speak.

Mike: Is there a particular song that sticks in your mind as having changed a fair bit from demo to album version on Never Wanna Die?

Priya: Yes. I would say ‘Ain’t That Kinda Girl’ probably went through the most changes. That was the most typical Diemonds song that we could ever have written that is the most out of our character and out of the box for us. It went through such a big change… we kept the chorus in the end, but pretty much the whole verse, the whole rhythmic pattern and structure – everything changed on it by the time it was recorded. We’d actually never performed that song live before it was recorded, because it changed so much in the studio. Again, that’s something we had never experienced. You tend to hold onto something that you’ve written just because you are attached to it or you feel at one with it, but then the reality is that you could do better with it. You could improve on it. It sometimes takes another person to push you, and Eric was that guy.

Mike: Can you tell me how the Never Wanna Die Pale Ale came together?

Priya: Yes. The guy who is the co-owner and head brewer at Rhythm and Brews, which a local craft brewing company in Toronto, he is a huge Diemonds fan. He’d been listening to Never Wanna Die since the day it came out and he knew all of the words to our songs. He came to us with it, even though it’s something that we’ve all always wanted to do (of course). We are so much that band, we are all about having a good time and relaxing and drinking on Friday nights and the weekend. That’s us to a T. Having our own beer is just so right. It’s full circle, you know what I’m saying? it’s that thing you’d talk about at band practice after a few beers, you know? Having a laugh about it. “Our own beer would be awesome.” But you’d never, ever expect it to come to fruition, you know? And now we have our own beer. It’s surreal. Daniel Dekay, our guitar player, is the one who spearheaded this, working with the brewer and really defining the flavours. So it’s pretty floral, it’s an easy drinking IPA that has a high citrus flavour to it. It’s easy drinking beer. Very tasty.

Mike: Is that something that can be bought anywhere? Or is it only available in certain clubs in Toronto?

Priya: We have them in maybe eight or ten restaurants in Toronto. You can get it on tap right now. We only made the bottles especially for our lanuch party. C.C. made all of the labels – one side is the label and the other side is a patch made out of canvas that you Put on your denim vest or your leather jacket and represent. So much of our aesthetic went into that beer and launch party. We are really happy with the way it all turned out.

Mike: Good for you. That’s awesome. I’ve heard that you enjoy riding your bicycle around Toronto. Is that accurate?

Priya: Very much so. This year has probably been the most I’ve been in the city since I started touring with Diemonds. So I have actually gotten a lot of riding in this year. Some years I hardly touch my bike.

Mike: What kind of bike do you have?

Priya: I have a single speed called a Fairdale. It’s a small company from Austin Texas. It’s not an easy bike to find. It works for me. It has back peddle brakes. I’ve never ridden a bike with a hand brake. It’s actually pretty hard to find an adult bike with coaster brakes. That was kind of my stipulation.

Mike: Very cool. I would also love to know if that track that you recorded with Liam from Cancer Bats lives anywhere right now.

Priya: Yes, it’s on YouTube. The metal medley thing?

Mike: Yeah. Will that be released? CAN it be released might be the better question…

Priya: I don’t think we are going to release it. It’s not like we have clearance from Justin Bieber’s people or Drake’s people. It was just totally done for fun. That’s why we offered it up for free. If we wanted to sell it, that would be a whole new ballgame as far as getting in with some big guns legally that we aren’t really in touch with. It was totally just for fun. When you asked me that I was wondering if you were talking about that track that is Danko Jones, me, Liam, Brendan Canning from Broken Social Scene and a few other people, we did a track too. That one never came out.

Mike: I saw a clip of that on your Facebook Page a while back. But it didn’t sound like a cover.

Priya: It was a cover. But it was a cover of a local eighties hair metal band from Toronto. So it’s not like a super well known track or anything like that.

Mike: Alright. Cool. I dig that you and Liam were together making music. You should do something serious together down the road. Guest vocals.

Priya: Me and Liam? Yeah. Totally. We love the Cancer Bats. They are super nice dudes. A band like Cancer Bats are such an inspiration to us. They are an underground band who have made their following just by going out there and touring relentlessly. It’s been a very slow build for them – they have probably been a band for close to 15 years now. It’s inspirational. They are never gonna get played on the radio. They are never gonna get that type of mainstream success. But they have a huge underground following and they have rabid fans. For us, that is what we are aiming for, too.

Mike: Right on. I have one last one for you. I understand that you are already working on some new material.

Priya: Yes. Tonnes.

Mike: Can you talk a little bit about that?

Priya: Sure. We actually have a weekly recording session. We get together and demo stuff and work on music every single week. Normally we aren’t around in the summer. This year we are home a bunch. We are making a big use out of that. We are being productive. In winter when we are doing songwriting, we are Canadian and part of our experience is winter, but to be 100% honest it can be very uninspiring. It’s cold out. You can’t leave the house. You do it, but you don’t love it. Now, this is inspiring. You go out, you get the nice weather. I leave my house and enjoy Toronto. I haven’t done that in almost a decade, you know? It’s been really nice. It’s been great to be around my friends and family and all that kind of stuff, going to all of the barbeques that we’d usually see our friends at while we are away touring – or the shows they are going to that we can’t attend. It’s nice to be able to do some of that this summer. Having that familiarity of home, we are putting all of those good feelings into our music right now. We are definitely evolving as a band.

Mike: Right on. I’d heard your previous two releases. And when I first heard Never Wanna Die, I literally sat forward at one point. I don’t know whether it was the songwriting, the production, or the musicianship on the album, but it felt right away like you’d changed your game, and I’m glad it’s getting recognized.

Priya: Thanks so much.

Afterwards, we talked a little bit about Never Wanna Die, and then Sam Dunn, who both Daniel Dekay and Priya have done guest clips with discussing thrash metal and glam metal respectively. Both of those clips can be found on the Banger Films YouTube channel. While every band will sing themselves up as the hardest working band in their genre, Diemonds genuinely ARE one of these bands. If you haven’t yet, get out and see a live show. C.C. Diemond & Daniel Dekay are both excellent guitar shredders. Tyrone Buccione and Aiden Tranquada round out the package with Priya bringing the looks and the razor sharp voice to the package. These Steel Panther shows are a bit more expensive than a usual Diemond show, which typically runs about $10 – $12, a total deal for the fun you’ll have at one of their shows.

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